I took ayahuasca and finally found inner peace – Metro.co.uk

I’m drowning in mud, my brain has turned into noodles, and I’ve just tipped a bucket of my own vomit over my head.

This is the reality of doing ayahuasca, a transformative hallucinogen.

Despite a terrifying trip involving ghosts, broccoli, and frogs, I’m so glad I did it. I’ve finally found inner peace and my life has radically changed.

But let’s rewind a bit.

There’s nothing like turning 30 back at your parents’ home, after breaking up with a long term partner, while working a job that could finish any minute, to have you on the verge of a third-life crisis.

At 30, I felt further away from knowing what was going on with my life than I did at 20.

Constantly plagued by stress and anxiety, I knew something had to change but had no idea what that drastic measure would be until my sister told me about an ayahuasca ceremony she had attended in Brighton.

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Her story and, well, the universe compelled me to buy a ticket to Peru and convince Metro.co.uk’s incredible illustrator Ella to do the same. A couple of months later, we found ourselves in the middle of the Peruvian forest with the Shipibo tribe.

Preparation and the ayahuasca diet

Ayahuasca is a medicine that Amazonian tribes have used for thousands of years. It contains the psychoactive chemical DMT – the world’s most powerful hallucinogen – and is traditionally used in times of crisis, lethargy and grief. Locals drink it when they want answers or to connect with their dead relatives. Some people do eight-week dietas [the commitment you make to doing ayahuasca, from preparation to actually taking the drug] dedicated to certain plant spirits which can involve doing 30 ayahuasca ceremonies over two months.

But whether you’re doing a full 8-week dieta or a one-off ceremony, the ayahuasca journey starts before you take a sip.

You’re supposed to stick to a specific diet to prepare your body for the medicine and it can start a month ahead or in our case, three days.

As a vegan, I don’t eat the vast majority of the foods on the banned list anyway, but it’s important ahead of drinking the medicine that you avoid sugar, salt, oil, alcohol, drugs and sex (you’re also supposed to swerve dairy and pork).

The first three make sense given that you’ll probably throw up at some point so you’re preparing the body with bland foods to make it a more gentle process. The booze, drugs and sex are about rebalancing your energies, making sure that they’re compliant with the healing nature of the medicine.

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The forest that surrounds the city of Iquitos is an ayahuasca and medicine hotspot and there are lots of retreats and centres you can visit for a taste.

We were fortunate, thanks to ayahuasca-guru and healer James, to get a place for three days at a healing school affiliated with the Ayahuasca Foundation, where we were to do three ceremonies.

The retreat dished up vegetable broth or oats in the morning with limes and boiled eggs, while lunches consisted of lots of carrot, beetroot, boiled potatoes, rice, limes, dhal and eggs, and sometimes boiled chicken and fish.

We weren’t allowed to use our phones or any technology during the retreat – hence the lack of photos of what on earth I looked like while I was tripping out and covered in my own vomit.

how to fuel your body for an ultra marathon
In the run-up to taking ayahuasca you’re supposed to avoid sugar, salt, oil, dairy, pork, alcohol, drugs (Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)

What it’s like to take ayahuasca

On the day of the ceremony, you have your breakfast and lunch and then fast for about seven hours before the ceremony is due to kick off – stopping drinking water an hour before. You want to make sure that your body isn’t wasting energy digesting and dealing with external things when it wants to be wholly concentrating on mobilising the ayahuasca.

The ceremonies are always in the evening so that the visions you get are stronger and more visible. The Maestro (in our case, a Shipibo healer called Enrique) invites each participant up to take their medicine by shining a torch in their direction.

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The taste? A generous description would be marmite mixed with bile. Some hard nuts can drink two cups but I challenge anyone to down a full cup without gagging.

After everyone’s gone up to drink, the Maestro starts to smoke mapacho – a powerful, healing tobacco which not only offers protection but also gets you higher. Once he’s sufficiently high, he starts singing, sharing his high with everyone else. The moment he opens his mouth, you’ll find yourself slipping under.

The trip

It’s worth saying that every trip is different and not everyone will get visions every time. The first ceremony I did, I only drank half a cup and nothing happened – I had a blockage that stopped the medicine from working. Maybe I wasn’t as open to the medicine as I thought I was.

On the second day, however, I drank more and I was fully ready to submit. I prayed to the medicine to teach me something about myself and within about 15 minutes of drinking I was under.

They say with ayahuasca that you should set your intention before you drink and that there’s no such thing as a ‘bad trip’ – only lessons and teachings from the plant that you work through.

Purging (being sick) is a vital part of the ceremony and acts as a way of releasing negative energy and things buried deep within your subconscious. Some devotees take certain medicines alongside ayahuasca with the express purpose of being sick so that they remove even more of that energy. I vomited within minutes of the Maestro singing and experienced quite a few vomcanoes over the course of the trip.

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The trip started with me sitting on the leaf of a plastic flower, part of a big wall of intricate plastic flowers that slowly moved towards a gate. As it moved closer, my eyes dilated wider and wider until my vision became pixelated and I burst through the gate into another world.

My trip was divided into two parts: the terrifying and the ecstasy.

I started with visions of being a frog living in a stained glass pattern – along with Ella who was belching and eating flies.

We were quite beautiful in our kaleidoscope of green and amber glass, chilling with the sun coming through our little bellies. Every time the music and singing changed, I genuinely felt part of my throat twitch like a frog’s. If only Ella would take a break from eating flies, I thought, this would be quite a nice life.

But pretty quickly, other things started to happen – and quickly. I started seeing loads of broccoli and moving between different patterns and thinking that my mind was bending. I struggled to articulate that feeling and was only able to say ‘brain noodles’.

The faster these loops between broccoli, being a frog, and brain noodles got, the more panicked I became and before too long, I was deep in a manic episode of darkness, screaming out for help and for it to stop. I was being enveloped, drowned in mud.

I was being asked to say my name and struggling to get the word out, sporadically yelling out ‘MIRANDA’ when I managed to get my mouth around the vowels. As a way of trying to get control over the situation, I started to build a plastic layer in my mind to trap all the dark stuff beneath and to give me a break but I was aware that I had just sectioned off part of my mind and that everything awful was still continuing.

I became convinced that I was going to be one of those mad people who were lost in a trip forever and wound up completely insane. I knew that if I ever came to, I’d be the sort of person who loses their job, friends, family and anything else familiar.

That part was all about the fear of losing control, of going too fast, of losing my identity. Things about my family came up and about the way we treat each other which manifested in horrible, dark ghosts and visions.

I was continuously falling forwards, my upper body moving before my feet could catch up. I felt horrendously sick and scared.

Meanwhile back in the real world, the Maestro called for me to be handed water – which I promptly threw over myself – before being given more which I eventually managed to drink.

After that, I was violently sick again and again, each time falling face-first into my bucket, which in my vision saw me falling through into the dark place. Terrified, I was gripping my bucket so hard that my fingers cracked the sides.

In the end I picked up my bucket, which contained litres of sick, and tipped the whole lot over my head.

And then everything changed.

My visions cleared into beautiful, peaceful bliss.

The ghosts turned to dust, which I blew away as I came to settle at the foot of a beautiful oak tree in the middle of a dark, safe forest. The soil was warm and soft and all around me was beautiful foliage and nature. My heart swelled with peace and gratitude and I realised that I was home – that this was where I was at my happiest.

I started walking through woods which were full of birds and little critters, reminding me of how important veganism, nature and environmentalism is to me. I also realised that so much of my stress comes from living just enough for London life when my true happiness is based in the natural world. Trying and struggling to say my name in the darkness had been a sign that I had lost myself but this part of the trip was about finding what makes me, me. I saw the alphabet bouncing around in all different colours – a nod to my key skill and passion: writing.

The next bit involved me standing in front of a mirror and reflecting on having broken the sick bucket. All my life, I’ve been told to slow down, to avoid running too fast after years of accidents and to be ashamed of my strength (at school, I was forever getting in trouble for unintentionally being too rough). This mirror showed me the potential athlete I could be, wearing incredible trainers and looking really muscular. A voice told me that the only thing that was holding me back from running faster, being stronger, and feeling more confident in my body was me – it was all there for the taking. As they said that, my body was filled with new, crimson blood.

Eventually, everything sped up again until it all went white.

‘Day One’, a sign said.

A timeline showed that everything before this day had been erased and that today was the first day of the rest of my life.

I came back to soil at the base of the tree, curled up with woodland creatures and safe in the knowledge that I was where I needed to be in nature. The ghosts of old had left and I finally started to come around to the room; the ceremony had ended and my friends were chatting.

I tried to open my eyes, but found that I had X-ray vision and was still seeing kaleidoscopes. I just about managed to crawl into bed with Ella and lay there (still covered in my own sick, I should point out) blissfully smiling at the journey I’d gone through.

I felt like I’d run a marathon and my sleep was deep. I woke up the next morning feeling refreshed – there was no comedown, only an afterglow.

Ayahuasca experience
The three of us travelled together that night to another plane of reality (Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)

What I learned from doing ayahuasca

It was the most intense, life-changing experience of my life and going through that with anyone automatically makes you a soul family.

The terrifying moments made the high even higher; I felt like a weight had been lifted from my chest.

Sure, I was wet and putrid-smelling and I was pretty shellshocked by what my subconscious had brought up but I also had an overwhelming sense of calm. It was probably the first time since I left university that I felt truly at peace. I’ve never felt the serenity and contentment that I felt in the afterglow of the ceremony. I’ll do ayahuasca again for that alone.

They say you can ask ayahuasca and the plants for favours but they’ll give you what you actually need. On the first night, I learned patience – nothing happened because I wasn’t open to it. On the second intense night, I learned more about standing in my power than I could ever imagine, and in the afterglow, I learned gratitude.

Every day the ayahuasca offers new teachings; the end of the ceremony is only the start of the transformation.

I need to be more proud of who I am and I need to take responsibility for my body. My trip taught me that unless I learn to love myself, I’ll continue to attract the wrong kinds of relationships and interactions – we manifest what we hold onto inside.

If my passion is the environment and writing, then that’s what I should be pushing more to do – not getting sucked into random career avenues that don’t offer anything other than a mediocre salary.

I’ve begun to understand that when it comes to stress and stress-related ailments, there may be an element of manifesting issues. Brooding and dwelling on negative emotions and situations is a cornerstone of anxiety but I’m starting to work on reframing the conversations I have in my mind. My job is stressful but I hope to go back to it with better coping mechanisms than tearing my hair out at my desk.

Round two – with San Pedro

A few weeks later in our travels, we decided to dip into plant medicine again – this time trying San Pedro.

Ayahuasca is known as ‘Grandmother’ and San Pedro is ‘Grandfather’ – so they have a relationship. San Pedro is a cactus grown mainly around the sacred valley and unlike aya during which you’re only about 20% conscious (if that), with San Pedro, you can move, talk, and function.

This time, the ceremony took place in the middle of a beautiful garden above Cusco. Setting our intentions, we supped the green sludge and then settled down to write our intentions, to meditate and just relax.

Two hours later, as I was coming up, I found myself being led to a tree. Sitting under it, I found a crusty twig wrapped in gnarly, black skin. I started peeling and twisting and uncovering fresh flesh beneath.

Suddenly I had this awakening that I was this twig; I was clinging onto so many old anxieties that simply didn’t matter. Overwhelmed, I put my forehead to the ground and wept with relief. Relief that all the relationship stresses, work issues, family strife, politic angst just didn’t matter anymore – I had chosen to cling onto them and had made them a part of my identity. Being free was a choice that I could make simply by choosing to shake off the shackles.

I cried with relief a number of times during the day. I still feel two stone lighter.

The interesting thing was that the beginning of this trip was the end of my last one – finding comfort, communion, and connection in nature. For me, God hasn’t existed in churches necessarily but out in the wilderness. God is in the wind, the mountains, the intricate designs of petals.

Our San Pedro house was covered in images of various deities, including Jesus and the Virgin Mary, and at one point, we were invited to do a light activation workshop to find the colour of our auras and to ‘meet’ our divine maker.

It may sound odd but out here, religion and plant medicine are really intertwined. Peruvians are both incredibly Catholic and rely upon plant spirits on a daily basis. There are big communities of ex-pats who end up in places like the Sacred Valley, looking for healing and connection who although aren’t religious, say that they know God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit are real because they’ve met them.

For me, God is PachaMama (mother earth) and plant medicine has really provided me confirmation about my place in the world.

I am finally at peace and I’m more confident than ever in my spiritual connection both to the earth and to a higher power.

I was drowning. Now I feel like I’ve been offered a life raft.

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