Thank You Plant Medicine — My Story
Sharing our stories helps fight the stigma surrounding mental health and psychedelics. Here's mine.
I’m sharing an initiative with you this week that I deeply care about.
This weekend, Sunday February 20th, is the annual Thank You Plant Medicine day.
#ThankYouPlantMedicine was created by David Grillot and Jonathan Glazer in an effort to end the stigma surrounding psychedelic medicine. The idea is simple: On TYPM day, we share our stories online. The movement has motivated thousands to open up about their healing with plant medicine to raise awareness. There’s also an active Facebook community if you’re looking to connect further.
If you’re a better person because of plant medicine, I invite you to share your story this weekend. Even if it’s not “publicly” online, maybe just with a person close to you.
Below is mine.
How 2 Years of Drinking Ayahuasca Transformed My Health, Happiness, Relationships, and Career
I’ve lived two lives.
Life before Ayahuasca, and life after Ayahuasca.
Almost exactly one year ago, I wrote my first (and most viral) article about my healing journey with the Amazonian plant medicine. It started with “this is the hardest article I’ve written to date”.
It’s no longer hard. My conviction in the healing power of these plants has replaced any shame, stigma, or discomfort surrounding my story.
Throughout my 20s, I told myself that if I was still struggling by the time I was 30, I’d allow myself to call it quits. For almost a decade I’d been drowning in an invisible undercurrent of despair and darkness. It culminated in an eating disorder and depression but perpetuated most areas of my life. A void that no amount of food, drugs, or stuff could fill.
I’m turning 30 in a few months, and I’m happy to report there’s nothing but excitement.
The void has been filled, in fact, it’s spilling over. It’s spilling into family, friends, and increasingly the internet, too.
Writing a before-and-after story feels a bit cringy. There's no single before, and the after is not a moment in time, but a roller coaster ride that extends into eternity. Then again, I’m on the journey to not get rid of the cringy parts, but the parts that cringe.
So me writing this is doing the work, the inner work, the integration work, the work that saved my life: letting myself become who I’d always been.
Life Before Ayahuasca, aka Addiction and Depression Slowly Eating Me Alive
I never had a singular rock bottom. Rock bottom was more of a lifestyle.
A lifestyle I hid impressively well.
My public life was beautiful.
I was breezing through all the milestones of becoming a “successful” human — getting multiple graduate degrees from top schools, landing a high-paying, prestigious job, building a global network of friends. I lived the bougie life in New York, owned a closet full of fancy things, and traveled lavishly.
However, I was living a double life. And the second life was ugly.
I was binging and purging hundreds of dollars of take-out food a week and numbing myself with alcohol and drugs on the weekend.
Once a month, I was also bedridden with severe depression, canceling plans and calling in sick at work. These episodes, sometimes lasting up to two weeks, sucked all life out of me. I learned that they correlated with my cycle and that I had what’s called Pre-Menstrual Dysmorphic Disorder (PMDD), a condition I shared with 5–8% of women in the US. A condition that causes 15% of those struggling to attempt suicide.
My own will to live was slowly fading, too.
My inability to overcome my bulimia after years of active recovery exacerbated my desperation and hopelessness. I’d worked with three therapists and three specialized eating disorder coaches, read hundreds of books, made powerpoints and posters to problem-solve, went on silent retreats, became a yogi, even went to holistic nutrition school. Nothing helped longer than a few weeks.
After the urging of my family, I saw a psychiatrist who, within 20 minutes, was ready to put me on the antidepressant Prozac.
I had my hesitations about medication. While I believed it might help me treat my symptoms, I doubted it’d be able to heal the root causes.
That same week, an edition of The New Yorker landed on my doormat with a cover story titled “the challenges of going off of psychiatric drugs”. It featured the story of Laura Delano, a young Harvard student who, over the course of 14 years, was put on 19 different medications to treat her bipolar depression. As her mental health deteriorated, Laura decided to turn her back on psychiatry and embarked on the cumbersome path of coming off all medications. She now advocates for “the freedom to be with emotional pain”.
I saw it as a sign. I vowed to first try every reasonable alternative method I could find. Medication would be my last resort.
Discovering Psychedelic Medicine and “Hearing the Call” To Drink Ayahuasca
Like many others, I was introduced to the world of psychedelics by Michael Pollan and his best-seller “How To Change Your Mind”.
The book ignited a little flame inside of me, a voice that began telling me that perhaps there’s a possibility I won’t have to live like this forever.
I spent an entire year educating myself before I touched a single psychedelic.
10 months after my first psychedelic experience, I woke up after watching yet another documentary about the intriguing Amazonian brew Ayahuasca and knew it was time.
Time for what everyone called “the medicine”.
Medicine for the soul.
Medicine that miraculously seemed to help people overcome all sorts of mental ailments, including addiction.
People always say that if you’re supposed to drink Ayahuasca you’ll “hear the call”, which I didn’t believe in, until, well, I heard the call.
I booked the same week, 3 weeks later I was in Costa Rica.
There was no fear, doubt, or nervousness. I also had little to lose.
Over the course of one week, I participated in four ceremonies, experiencing my breakthrough during the third night. I relived and processed childhood trauma, experienced that love is the fabric of the universe, learned that I was an empath, and most importantly, that I’d always been enough.
The insight that I was, in fact, not permanently broken turned my life upside down. I quit drinking, smoking, and all drugs (except psychedelics). I left New York to be closer to nature. Suicidal thoughts were gone for good.
I was still bulimic, however.
After one year, I returned to Ayahuasca with the resolution to drink as many times as needed to cure the root causes of my addiction once and for all. Plant medicine was the only thing that had ever helped, and I was stubborn in my belief that I could be completely free, despite professionals telling me I’d have to struggle to some degree forever.
I didn’t want a functioning eating disorder, I wanted no eating disorder at all.
Over the course of four retreats in 2021, working with both Ayahuasca and the psychedelic cactus San Pedro I healed repressed sexual trauma, connected with my inner child after Ayahuasca put me in a six-hour death loop, healed generational trauma, and finally cured the main culprit of my addiction — complex PTSD.
My second life began.
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Life Since Ayahuasca — an Overview
Plant medicines are transdiagnostic medicines.
So, despite the fact that I came to this work to heal my bulimia and depression, virtually no area of my life has remained untouched.
Below I’m highlighting the biggest shifts I’ve witnessed in the past two years.
Mental, emotional, spiritual & physical health
The lines here are blurry. I’m aware of how interrelated these different aspects of our health truly are. Yet, I will follow these buckets in a quest for structure.
No more depression, suicidal thoughts, or PMDD. My depression was multifaceted. The part that often lost the will to live, stemming from the belief that something was inherently wrong with me — that I was permanently broken — vanished after my first retreat. The PMDD-induced depression dissipated after healing sexual trauma.
Full recovery from my eating disorder. After more than a decade, I’ve reached the land I doubted I’d ever be able to walk on: the land of normal eaters. No more restricting, obsessing or binging. Both thoughts and behaviors are gone, I don’t consider myself in recovery, I consider myself recovered. Eating is effortless.
Healthy self-esteem. I felt better or worse than others my entire life. The mean girl in my head that drove me into perfectionism, control and black-and-white thinking is almost undetectable. When she does make a remark, I know not to take it at face value. There’s nothing she can say to make me doubt my inherent worth anymore.
No more phobias. I was afraid of animals all my life. All animals, including dogs. I now have a dog. My phobia of spiders that terrorized me all my life has also completely vanished. Now, when I encounter a spider, I get closer and observe it curiously.
Emotional awareness and literacy. As a result of my developmental trauma, I never learned sufficient emotional coping skills. Plant medicine taught me the emotional awareness required to navigate life. It also lifted the illusion that I was someone who didn’t feel much by reconnecting me with my true nature: a highly sensitive human who, in fact, felt deeply.
Emotional resilience. Emotional awareness without resilience is only half the rent. I was still relapsing. Until San Pedro taught me that my childhood had left me with the core belief that it wasn’t safe to feel. Once I healed that belief, I was finally free to experience and endure the full range of emotions without the need to numb.
Emotional vitality. Being mentally healthy doesn’t simply mean no longer being mentally ill. It also means being mentally vital. In addition to my ability to endure heavier emotions, the biggest surprise this work has brought about is the abundance of positive states I can now tap into much more easily. I experience joy, awe, and wonder in a magnitude I’ve never felt before (perhaps because I don’t remember much from my childhood).
Reconnection. I was an atheist most of my life. I believed in intellect and reason above all else. I was a walking example of a Westerner that suffered from what Native Americans call the virus of selfishness, “wetiko”. My spiritual journey began when I discovered A Course In Miracles. It allowed me to develop beliefs that were later confirmed by felt experiences during ceremonies.
Relationship with nature. My plant medicine work has resulted in deep reverence for mother nature, for two reasons. Number one, the eternal gratitude resulting from the healing these plants have gifted me with. Number two, the realization that spirit, the unifying consciousness that envelops all beings, is physically manifested in nature.
Deep sense of belonging. The experience of unity consciousness during plant medicine journeys, plus the bonding with those I shared these experiences with, has reconnected me to other humans in a way I didn’t think possible. As cheesy as it sounds, since experiencing that we’re all one, I haven’t looked at other humans the same way.
No more alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, or caffeine. After my first retreat, I immediately quit drugs and cigarettes. I got sober curious within a few months. Sobriety became a spiritual practice. I was an enthusiastic user of stimulants all my adult (and adolescent) life, but now abstaining is effortless, because there’s no desire.
Intuitive eating & exercising. My diet is intuitive and balanced now. No longer am I swinging between obsessing about the healthfulness of ingredients and binging on copious amounts of fatty and sugary food. Same for exercise. Gone are the days of HIIT six times a week. I now listen to my body and my movement routine has never been more varied.
Transformed sleep. I was an insomniac all my life. That’s a thing of the past now, too. I attribute this to all of the above. I now sleep a solid 8 hours a day and fall asleep quite easily (unless the TikTok algorithm gets the better of me).
Regular hormonal cycle. After not menstruating for years due to my bulimia, my cycle came back with full force (aka, PMDD). It was unpredictable and incredibly long. Since healing my sexual trauma, I’ve finally had regular cycles with more typical, mellow PMS symptoms.
Of course, happiness is a result of mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health. There are a few additional points I want to make here, though.
Quality of life. Now that I no longer spend half of my waking life trying to fill an invisible void, I actually get to live. Knowing that the present is always safe to be in, no matter how uncomfortable it may feel, it’s also much easier to be present. The amount of joy I experience when I see a pretty flower or a butterfly on my daily walks is almost ridiculous.
Embodiment and self-image. Like most women, I hated my body most of my life. Everything I did to control how it looked only disconnected me from it. After 15 years of body dysmorphia, I finally no longer hate my body but have acceptance and reverence for it. Feeling connected to my body has made me happier and allowed me to tap into my intuition.
Values. I used to prize independence and intellect above all else. My need for external validation also led me to greatly value possessions. Most of my designer bags are now sold and not missed. I’m not a minimalist by any means, but at least I’m no longer a maximalist. I now value community and connection above all else.
Faith in “the universe”. After experiencing the healing power and ineffable intelligence of our universe through plant medicine, I have no doubt about what’s going on. Nothing on this planet is random, nothing is meaningless (or maybe, everything is). Whenever I can’t see the purpose behind something, I remind myself that the universe will reveal it to me eventually.
Vulnerability. Family and friends have witnessed shifts in me firsthand. I’m now able to talk about my journey openly, and not only because I’m past it — I already did so when I was still in the middle of it. This has brought me much closer to those I love. Opening up about my journey has also been a catalyst for incredibly deep, new connections.
Empathy. Healing my trauma, and recognizing that I’m an empath (like because of my trauma) has opened me up to entirely new levels of compassion. Living my own story and witnessing the suffering of all those I’ve met along the way has cracked me open like nothing else.
Community. I felt alone in my brokenness all my life. Through my plant medicine retreats, I’ve met so many others who endured deep suffering. There’s nothing like looking someone in the eyes and knowing they understand your pain because they know it. For the first time, I felt seen.
Creativity. My creativity spiked when I began working with plant medicine. I wrote over 100 articles and started an online community. My phone notes are full of ideas. As Carl Jung said, “The small boy is still around, and possesses a creative life which I lack.” Healing my inner girl has gifted me access to an abundance of creativity that I know will shift how I work and live my life going forward.
Meaning. My career as a management consultant was largely devoid of meaning. I’ve finally found what I was so desperately searching for throughout my 20s, my purpose in life. I know I will dedicate myself to the psychedelic movement, even if I don’t yet know what that’s going to look like. All I know is that all of this happened to me because I’m meant to do something with it.
Balance. I was under the conviction all my life that the goal of a successful life was to have a successful career. I was willing to give whatever it took to get there. Now, I’m no longer trapped in the illusion that work is the primary purpose of modern life. Humans are not meant to sit in front of a screen all day to maximize their income. Humans are meant to live.
Key Learnings From My Journey
So I’ve talked in detail about my journey and how my life has changed.
So what, though?
What does this all mean?
Here are some universal takeaways:
Mental illnesses are not life sentences and addictions are not diseases. Addiction, eating disorders, PMDD, and PTSD are all illnesses that most people struggle with for a long time, if not all their life. My story shows that it doesn’t have to be this way if you find ways to cure the root causes.
The root cause of addiction is disconnection. This disconnection can take many shapes or forms. Often (but not always) it takes place in childhood. Most addicts have some form of developmental trauma, the addiction is a coping mechanism that serves a critical function to some part inside of you.
Happiness and mental health are not a matter of choice but a matter of awareness. For years, I didn’t understand why I wasn’t getting better. It was because I didn’t have the necessary awareness. Root causes were repressed. I was blind. More talk therapy wouldn’t have gotten me there.
Joy, gratitude, and contentment are our default states. They’re not something we need to actively strive for. They become the natural byproduct of doing the inner work to heal our childhoods and traumas.
Integration is the hardest and most important part of psychedelic healing. Psychedelics are no magic pills. They gift you insights, but you still need to do the work. You’ll change only when you turn insights into action.
If you’ve made it this far — wow, thank you for reading my story.
I hope my gratitude for the plants came through.
If you’ve benefited, too, please share and help raise awareness. Stigma is one of the biggest things holding us back, and there’s something we can do about it. Speak up.
Hi Julia, Could you let me know where exactly you have done your dietas?
I have been looking back and forth in your piece to figure out how your career looks like now? How do you authentically support yourself financially? This subject has been with me as a puzzle for years now.