It was August of 2014 and I was 26 years old. Most of my summer evenings I spent unwinding and relaxing at home, sometimes dancing with friends at music festivals. But on this particular summer evening, I was participating in an underground ayahuasca ceremony in a cozy apartment in Brooklyn. I was living in Williamsburg at the time and pursuing a career as a marriage and family therapist. On paper, and even to the eye, everything seemed to be okay. On track. Moving forward.
I had worked with psilocybin a month prior—something I’d been experimenting with my whole life in both recreational and therapeutic ways—during which I received a very clear message from the mushrooms: They told me I must first work on myself if I want to help other people with their healing. And that to do so, I needed to work with ayahuasca.
I sat in ceremony that night with the intention to work on what I believed was the central problem of my life: my anxiety. Social anxiety was holding me back from forming the types of close relationships I truly desired. I kept everyone at a distance and withheld vulnerability, which prevented deep, honest, and true connections from forming. I was so nervous around people that I much preferred to be at home alone, where my obsessive thinking regarding how others perceived me would quiet temporarily.
IT’S A FUNNY THING WITH MEDICINE WORK, HOWEVER: YOU GO IN WITH ONE OBJECTIVE, AND BOTH THE MEDICINE AND YOUR INNER HEALER SHOW YOU EXACTLY WHAT YOU NEED TO SEE, WHETHER IT WAS PART OF YOUR PLAN OR NOT.
What I hadn’t consciously planned to confront that night was my decade-long pattern of binging, purging, over-exercising, and other obsessive compulsive behaviors surrounding food, body, and exercise that were completely and utterly destroying my life. Even though my days revolved around using food to numb out and self-soothe, I was in such deep denial that I did not consciously recognize it as a problem, let alone something I would face with plant medicine. The truth was, I used food like a drug, to numb out, stuff down, push away, and destroy feelings. These were behaviors I participated in very unconsciously, as I would often forget how many times I had purged the day before because I instantly and instinctively repressed the memories, due to the extreme levels of pain and shame that were attached to these experiences.
During this time, I derived a false sense of safety and control from carefully planning things out—whether it was my day, week, career path, or intention for a plant medicine ceremony. It’s a funny thing with medicine work, however: you go in with one objective, and both the medicine and your inner healer show you exactly what you need to see, whether it was part of your plan or not.
I ingested the ayahuasca and spent the entire evening purging. But ironically, unlike the purging I was so familiar with through bulimia which provided me feelings of extreme relief and numbing, this left me feeling exposed, vulnerable, uncomfortable, depleted, afraid, and utterly powerless. My energy affected the group as a whole and I was deeply embarrassed by my experience. The shaman tried to help me, but the purging persisted. It lasted hours which is not typical for an ayahuasca experience, and when it was all over, I felt drained in a way I have not felt since. I had been outed by the medicine, and unless I wanted my life to continue growing worse, I knew intuitively what needed to happen next. I needed to ask for help, something that went against everything I was comfortable with, out of my deep fear of being a “burden” to others.
I HAD BEEN OUTED BY THE MEDICINE, AND UNLESS I WANTED MY LIFE TO CONTINUE GROWING WORSE, I KNEW INTUITIVELY WHAT NEEDED TO HAPPEN NEXT.
At the time, no one knew about my eating disorder despite its mounting presence in my life. Externally, my boss was struggling with my lack of motivation, my friends were angry because I isolated so often, and my family was frustrated with my constantly shifting moods, but no one knew what was going on behind the scenes because I was too ashamed to tell them. I didn’t want to be a burden. I didn’t want to stress my family out; I didn’t want people to worry about me or feel uncomfortable because of my struggle, and so I didn’t say a word about it. I didn’t believe anyone could help me, and if no one could help me, why walk through the shame of telling someone, right? It was a protective lie I told myself as a defensive measure.
Growing up in a Jewish family, food was always used to show love. Around age six, however, I began using food to self-soothe and numb out. My mom and I were incredibly close, and the summer before first grade she was diagnosed with uterine cancer. She received a hysterectomy and oophorectomy and was surgically forced into instant menopause at 38 years old. Due to her own recovery journey, she was not able to be physically available to me much for a year following her surgery, and she struggled with depression, weekly migraines, hot flashes, and mood swings for the next five years. Because she was going through her own healing, I developed a personality that didn’t ever want to rely on anyone else for help. I learned to be polite, sweet, accommodating, and not to express too much anger, sadness, or fear, as both my parents were preoccupied and had their hands quite full during this time.
Learning to only show the “good” and stuff down the “bad” became my natural way of being in the world. I became so skilled at not feeling uncomfortable feelings through the use of food and television, and later on in high school, drugs and alcohol. My issues with food did not turn into a full-blown eating disorder until my first few weeks of freshman year of college. I was away from home, felt trapped in an emotionally abusive relationship, was severely lacking in emotional and social skills, and had zero healthy coping skills (and I mean zero). I didn’t know how to reach out to friends or family for help, I didn’t know what feelings I was feeling, and I didn’t know any healthy methods of self-care. I was so far removed from my own needs and allowed impulsivity to drive my decision-making.
I purged for the first time in college. I had eaten something sugary from the dorm vending machine in order to self-soothe and I knew this food would cause me to feel uncomfortable and unwell, as I didn’t typically eat much sugar. I went to the bathroom to purge and experienced immediate relief and a sense of control. Soon after, I was skipping classes to binge and purge, stealing food from roommates, and buying food from the campus grocery store at all hours of the night. My moods were dependent on how thin I felt, how bloated I was, how flat my stomach was, and how efficiently I purged whatever I had eaten.
The secrecy, binging, purging, and shame continued throughout my entire four years in college. The food addiction would lessen during my summers at home and I would believe all my problems had disappeared, but would start back up once again upon my return to school. This pattern would trick me into thinking everything was under control. Eventually, though, I always wound up back in the bathroom, purging, and praying not to choke or have a heart attack this time and die.
I tried the geographical cure and moved to California for three years, but eventually my problems always met me wherever I was. I attended weekly therapy for years and would talk all about my anxiety and fears, but the bulimia did not get much air time. I was riddled with shame about it. I could barely get the words out to my therapist, and when I did, I never expressed how bad it was, mostly because I had absolutely no awareness of how big of a problem I actually had. On days when I did mention it, I would leave out all details regarding frequency or severity. I’d simply say, “I purged last night,” and would then try to assure myself and my therapist that everything would be under control soon. Because I was never underweight I didn’t even identify with having an eating disorder—in my mind, people who suffered from eating disorders were frail, fragile, and severely underweight. I identified as someone who struggled with binging and purging sometimes, but who didn’t actually have an eating disorder. That is how insane my thinking was, and one more way I blocked myself from being vulnerable and asking for help.
I ALWAYS FELT MOST COMFORTABLE ALONE. WHEN I DID SEE FAMILY OR FRIENDS, MY MO WAS TO PRETEND EVERYTHING WAS ABSOLUTELY FINE BECAUSE IN MY MIND, IT PRETTY MUCH WAS.
This went on for years. I would typically only see friends if drugs or alcohol were involved, as they helped to keep the social anxiety at bay. Otherwise, I isolated and ate. I had one serious boyfriend throughout the worst of my eating disorder, but I was skilled at keeping everything a secret so he never knew what was going on. I engaged in all food/exercise behaviors privately and covered up all evidence when others were around. I always felt most comfortable alone. When I did see family or friends, my MO was to pretend everything was absolutely fine because in my mind, it pretty much was.
Ayahuasca, through the constant, public, and uncomfortable purging, got me to break through the decade-long, cement-like denial and finally, open my eyes. I was forced to consider why she brought me that experience. What was the reason? Why did it happen? What was she trying to teach me? It was very clear to me that she was showing me my eating disorder, and the only way I could see the problem was with extreme force and both social and physical discomfort. Purging during an ayahuasca ceremony can typically feel cleansing, however my experience that evening was not that at all. It was deeply uncomfortable. Each time leaving me more ashamed, exhausted, and completely exposed. I felt ripped open and vulnerable. With my darkness brought to the surface, I was unable to deny, minimize, or suppress it any longer. It was right there for all to see, even if the group didn’t know the exact details behind it. My disease had been living and thriving behind closed doors for years. But now, I had been outed in front of everyone, and unless I was prepared for my addiction to further continue destroying my life, I had no other option than to ask for help.
Soon after the ceremony, I told my entire family I had an eating disorder, joined a 12-step program, and checked myself into a residential treatment center. My parents were shocked. They were sad I never told them what I was going through, as they wished they could have helped me. My siblings were also surprised to learn what was going on, though my family as a whole did know I struggled with overeating sometimes. No one was aware as to what extent. My parents and siblings were, and still are, incredibly supportive of my recovery journey. I am deeply blessed to have a family who supports me going to meetings, getting the groceries I need, eating at certain times, and taking alone time to recharge when needed.
BUT NOW, I HAD BEEN OUTED IN FRONT OF EVERYONE, AND UNLESS I WAS PREPARED FOR MY ADDICTION TO FURTHER CONTINUE DESTROYING MY LIFE, I HAD NO OTHER OPTION THAN TO ASK FOR HELP.
Working with plants, mushrooms, and entactogens has allowed me to walk through extreme fear and shame in order to do what was necessary for my emotional, physical, and spiritual health. My work with these medicines placed me on the path my authentic self desires and has allowed me to be healthy and of service to others. These medicines are not magic. They did not solve all my problems, but they did help to immensely speed up my healing and provide me the courage needed to take the necessary steps to be free.
My work with entheogens saved and dramatically changed my life, so much so that I am committed to dedicating my life to helping others access work with these medicines in a safe way. I received a certificate in psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy from the California Institute of Integral Studies in 2017 and I help individuals integrate past psychedelic experiences in my private practice in New York.
I DON’T KNOW WHAT WILL HAPPEN TOMORROW, BUT I DO KNOW THAT IF I KEEP PUTTING MY RECOVERY FIRST, I WILL CONTINUE TO FEEL CLEAR, PRESENT, AND FREE.
My relationship to food is exceptionally healthier today. I attend weekly 12-step meetings, have a sponsor, follow a food plan, and do not weigh myself. I do weigh and measure my food at home, as this is an extremely helpful tool to help keep me from binging. I follow a food-plan that includes three meals and two snacks everyday. I don’t eat flour or sugar, as these substances are addictive for me. I buy groceries that will nourish my body and I don’t go more than 4 hours without eating, to help keep my blood sugar stable and to prevent me from getting too hungry. I advocate for myself and if I will be at an event with food I cannot eat, I bring my own food. Sometimes holidays, big events, or restaurants can still feel difficult for me, but I know to put extra supports in place on those days (phone calls, meetings, alone time, being in nature, prayer, journaling, meditation). Today I make sure I have what I need, and most importantly, I put my recovery first. Of course, I am human and don’t always do this perfectly, however maintaining and working on my connection to my higher power, whom I choose to call God, keeps me sane around food one day at a time. I am in recovery for today. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, but I do know that if I keep putting my recovery first, I will continue to feel clear, present, and free.
My food addiction and bulimia will always be part of me, but I can dissolve the darkness one moment at a time through my connection to God, the Universe, and allowing myself to feel whatever feelings come up. I have a dear friend who reminds me “All feelings want is to be felt.” And speaking of friends, my social anxiety is 95% better. It pops up occasionally, but I have beautiful friends and an extremely full life filled with people who I connect with on a daily basis. Through my work with psychedelics, I have learned to love myself as I am. I have learned self-compassion, and I now aim to nourish my mind, body, and soul, instead of destroy them. I want to feed my body and heart love, and I want to continue growing so that I may serve others