When I began attending Pachamama retreats in January, 2023, I had already been deep into active 12-step recovery. I am aware of the controversy between 12-step programs and psychedelics. I get it. If the sole purpose of using Ayahuasca and other native medicines is to stop using substances, then I think the point of both a 12-step recovery and use of native medicines have been lost. I did not seek the plant medicine ceremonies and retreats to ‘cure’ my addiction. I sought them to ‘cure’ my self-hatred.
In the AA Big Book, ‘How it Works,’ it states repeatedly that the ‘cure’ for addiction is a spiritual solution. “We are not saints, but we are willing to grow along spiritual lines.” Anyone working the steps knows that the work is centered on the deep belief that only through an understanding of a power greater than our(self/ego) can lead us to serenity. In the simplest of terms, from that understanding, working the steps leads us into the vast underworld of the pain we have experienced and the pain we have caused. They suggest that healing the past means letting go of it and finding your place in community as a harbinger of peace and not chaos. Once relieved of the burden of ‘an ego run riot,’ we are able to “share the message and practice those principles in all our affairs.”
There is no “How it Works’ or Big Book of Plant Medicine recovery. Plant medicine healing is not linear, in fact the opposite-it’s multi-dimensional-not formulaic. “It is about connecting, or reconnecting, to human community with greater sensitivity, creativity, and effectiveness. It is a path of waking up and growing up.” (https://chacruna.net/ayahuasca-and-the-twelve-steps-an-anonymous-friendship/)
Looking back on this past year, I cannot honestly untangle my growth from 12-step recovery work and my experiences in the medicine circles. So, I want to take a moment to reflect on the similarities that I’ve experienced.
It’s not one and done.
There is no magic in working the 12-steps. Serenity doesn’t happen because you attend meetings. It doesn’t happen because of any single tool offered through the program. Serenity happens outside the tools. It happens when the tools of the program are integrated into your daily life. This has been the same for me in my work with plant and native medicines. Attending retreats certainly provide profound experiences, often offering intense insights into my very being. However, at my first retreat, I was taught that real miracles happen once you get back home.
Integration is key.
My ongoing growth is dependent on facing and working with the struggles of daily life. This requires the fearless practice of integration–knowing what I know now and applying it to my life as it is. In 12-step work, integration is accomplished through intentional work with a sponsor, on-going study, and service. Integration of my plant medicine experiences come through intense work with the Pachamama healers and teachers, meetings with the Pachamama community and study through initiation opportunities.
Meditation links us to our conscious contact with a higher power.
A foundation of 12-step recovery is the 11th step that suggests that through prayer and meditation, we find guidance and strength to continue to pursue a life of peace and growth. It was through our Pachamama community Prastimati breathwork that I learned how to do this. Nearly every single morning, I participate in our community’s breathwork rituals. Frequently, I use the Serenity Prayer as my mantra. It’s through meditation and breathwork that I’m able to safely explore the depths of my shadows and bring them out into the light.
Loving yourself is loving life itself.
One of the most beautiful gifts (that I still struggle with receiving) is forgiving, liberating, and loving myself. In our Pachamama community, we are given the tools to cut ties, to end contracts with the conflicts that we carry -people, habits, past experiences. During ceremonies, we are reminded by our facilitators and healers to talk to the medicine in the language of loving oneself. In 12-step work we learn that “self-love is not contingent on what we are doing, but instead is based on the simple fact that we are worthy because our soul is precious.” (https://medium.com/@AAC_Tweet/finding-self-love-in-recovery-eea7a7c40545)
Neither 12-step work or the work of native medicine integration is easy. What I’ve learned from both is that while our journey is personal, we do it walking with others who seek the same awakenings…the endless gifts emerging from loving ourselves in the context of a loving universe. I am grateful for it all.