Psychedelic Preparation and Integration
A Canadian Armed Forces veteran living with c-PTSD was at wit’s end. After a decade of managing crippling anxiety, hypervigilance and anger, Dan* was desperate for relief.
Together we spent 8-hours planning for his trip to Peru, where he drank ayahuasca with indigenous healers. Upon his return, we spent an additional 8-hours together building an understanding of the experience and plotting a path into the future.
By the time Dan was 18, he was looking for any path out of his parent’s home. He found that path with the Canadian Armed Forces. By the time he was 25, Dan spent 24 months deployed overseas, “doing things he had to do, seeing things he wished he hadn’t seen”.
Upon his return, Dan left the armed forces. This is when his life grew more complicated.
His sleep was severely dysregulated; he rarely made it through a night without night terrors. When he awoke in the morning he rarely felt rested. His new job, which relied on his ability to drive safely, was complicated by his lack of sleep and his anxiety. Vigilance in traffic quickly escalated into road rage that terrified his partner.
Despite his ongoing use of several anti-anxiety medications, Dan didn’t find much relief. He received a prescription for cannabis, which worked to calm his nerves for several hours before sleeping. However, Dan resented this strict regimen. He sweat profusely, regularly taking a few changes of clothes to work. He experienced brain fog and confusion that impacted his ability to quickly make decisions, which impaired his effectiveness at work. His loss of equilibrium inhibited his ability to workout, which dampened his morale.
Yet, The Hero’s Mindest, as he calls it, compelled him to keep moving forward. As the father of three young children and a devoted husband, he wanted more from life. He wanted to attend a bbq without spiraling into a flurry of planning for the after effects of a forecasted storm.
Dan wanted to build a life worth living, and he’d do anything to achieve that goal.
Dan reached the decision to pursue psychedelic therapy before we met. He’d talked with peers from his military life, and decided on a visit to a well-reputed centre in Peru.
Before making the trip to South America, Dan wanted to prepare himself for what might happen. His minimal therapeutic experience included meeting with a psychiatrist for long enough to get a prescription for trazodone (night-terrors) and amitriptyline (migraines). He hadn’t explored his emotions, and believed this was a significant missing piece in changing his life.
Dan found me after reading Dr Gabor Mate’s book When the Body Says No. He’d done some research on Dr Mate’s work with veterans, and knew of a training program called Compassionate Inquiry led by Dr Mate. He wanted to experience this method first hand, especially because it was frequently used for psychedelic integration. As a graduate of the Compassionate Inquiry program, and an experienced psychedelic advisor, my services fit the bill.
After meeting with Dan for a 1-hour consultation, I created at 16-week preparation and integration program. We’d meet for 8 consecutive weeks before the ceremony, and 8 weeks after.
Dan set his first priority in our consultation: he sought a safe, attuned presence that he could see in person upon his return from Peru. He knew that the centre offered integration sessions online, and he wanted the security of knowing someone would guide him through the healing process after the ceremony.
At first, Dan was reluctant to share the extent of his experiences during his deployment. Instead, we investigated his early childhood experiences. While these were painful, they were more accessible than the memories of his service.
By starting off with his childhood, we identified some patterns that persevered into adulthood. Over the 8-weeks prior to travel, Dan grew comfortable with shining a light on his painful experiences, and really embraced the idea of befriending his sensations and emotions.
After his return from Peru, Dan was ready to build a new approach to life based on his work at the centre. We worked together to piece together his experience with ayahuasca, exploring the visions that were confounding and revelatory. According to Dan, our work before the trip helped him lean into the discomfort. When it grew too intense, he was also comfortable enough to ask for support. Unlike the man who entered coaching with the Hero’s Mindset and the idea he had to go at it alone, Dan was ready to ask for help when emotions ran high.
A few weeks after his return from Peru, Dan landed on the idea that he’d been running from what plagued him for most of his life. This was a significant ‘aha!’ moment, and one that we celebrated - then explored.
Dan questioned why some of his peers managed their anxiety and emotions so well after returning from overseas, while others (like him) seemed to suffer. He was angry at the turn his life had taken, angry at the world, angry at the city he lived in.
And then he saw it: anger was his protection from deep hurt. He adeptly identified that it wasn’t an adult set of experiences he was running from. He was running from unsettling, unhealed childhood emotional wounds.
By week 4 of integration sessions, Dan was actively working with the memory of his wounded childhood self. He was embracing it as a valuable resource, even when it challenged his sense of what was real and what was fabricated. By rebuilding his relationship with himself, he was also mending his relationship with his family and friends. He hadn’t really noticed how his anger had alienated him from his family, and how they limited their interactions with him. With an understanding of his childhood experiences in hand, Dan was able to tend to his emotional needs without exploding. Which meant he was present and pleasant in social settings for the first time in years.
After 8 weeks, Dan expressed a curiosity about tapering off his more potent antidepressant. He was interested in what life would feel like without pain numbing of amitriptyline and cannabis. He was curious about how life could be without consuming 3-6 drinks a night. Dan was ready to explore life as a present, conscientious person. By working with his physician, Dan made a plan to start to explore life with lower doses of medications he depended on for a long, long time.
Long Term Perspective
Two years after Dan’s experience in Peru and with our prep/integration sessions, Dan’s life has changed immensely.
Dan returned to school, studying something that always interested him but he didn’t think he had the attention span for. He realized that his ADD diagnosis was much more about his untended needs, and that he didn’t need to live by the label. He felt compelled to change the conditions under which he operated so that he could manage his ADD in real time. For Dan, this meant giving himself more time to work on projects, taking time to rest, dedicating time to be with family and friends, and clearly communicating when he needed to be alone.
Dan still enjoys a few drinks with friends, and he is willing to use antidepressants if life gets hard. Now that he has a new perspective on his emotions and tools to find regulation, Dan isn’t afraid of viewing the pain in his life, or of holding it.
* Dan asked that I use a pseudonym to protect his privacy.