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THE FIX CHALLENGE: Join These Former Addicts in Seeking A Natural State

It's deep clean time - alcohol, caffeine, sex, processed foods, the works - now that Ayahuasca helped get us get past addiction. It's time to seek a total natural state.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: What follows is a challenge to readers, whether in recovery or not or just going about your life with your normal bad habits and ups and downs. We invite you to join these two writers in striving for - and reporting back on - what they call a 33-day "total cleanse." Both have been in recovery, one from bulimia, the other from drugs and alcohol, for many years and tell their dramatic stories here.They will be detailing in the comment section their 33-day detox adventure, which starts Monday, May 26th (Memorial Day). We challenge you to start your own detox along the way and share the ongoing experience in the same space. Whoever we judge as best contributor gets a $200 writer fee. You don't have to be a hard substance abuser to join in - anyone can participate and report back on the results on your life, mindset, emotions and general sense of well-being.

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Okay, here’s the deal: We’re taking on a total cleanse, clear, detox vortex immersion - 33 days, complete abstinence from all consciousness-altering substances and habits - alcohol, drugs, caffeine, tobacco, sugar, sex (alone or with someone), gambling, animal foods, processed foods, preservatives, chemicals, the works.  

We’ve both earned our street cred with addiction and recovery - Doug with drugs and alcohol, Alesha with food. We believe it’s time for a new paradigm in recovery, an expanded model that combines conscious step-work with transforming technologies from science, medicine, psychotherapy, nutrition, meditation, community, ancient knowledge.  

We hold a vision of a widespread shift in the consciousness of recovery from stigmatized disease theory to celebrated spiritual opportunity. We believe the challenges we face and the issues we address in recovery are portals to growth, learning and Self-awakening. We theorize that there is an undeniable connection between the sacramental use of certain entheogenic plant medicines and an experience of Self-revelation of sufficient magnitude to drive recovery.

At the moment, both of us seem to have our demons under reasonable restraint - at least to where behaviors once associated with our primary destructive addictions are simply not present. Nobody’s flipping cars at 3 AM. Nobody’s locked up in the ladies’ room. We’re happy, loving, creative, successful people. Despite these measures of balance we may have achieved with our former behaviors, neither one of us really knows what it feels like to be – well – natural.   

What is our true, clear, conscious Organic State, unsurpressed, unaided? How will we change physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually? How will it influence our vision for a new age in recovery?  How will it affect our own healing consciousness? Will we be more creative, productive, proactive, prosperous? Will we finally get rock star bodies and the energetic vibration of ascended masters? Or will we just feel like shit and want to kill for a spliff and a grande Americano?

We both currently use tobacco, marijuana and caffeine, as well as Ayahuasca and certain other sacramental entheogens. Doug is nobody’s vegan by a long shot, though he's very big on stir-fried veggies and quinoa. He's also a bit of a sugar junkie. Alesha’s much more conscious about the whole food thing. But hey, she’s a professional.

It is our shared view that human beings are powerful beyond measure, not the weak, sick, diseased wretches the addiction industry says we are. We’re profoundly capable of change, and the process is accelerated through focused practice, retraining and remapping the brain. Current neuropsychology puts the time frame for changing an entrenched habit or behavior at about 33 days – exactly the time frame of our great Natural State experiment. Let the good times roll!

Through this intensive personal process, we hope to bring forward a new understanding, to implement our learning into a new model for transformational recovery, drawing from a wide variety of approaches and disciplines. We’ll be bringing in masters from related fields to share their wisdom and guide us on our journey. We challenge you to join us – for the whole trip or any part of it. We ask for your solidarity, strength and support. We seek here to open a dialogue, to invite you to share your own tales from the trail, your own experiences and perspectives about recovery, health and healing.

Here are our stories:

ALESHA: The bulimia really started when I was about 13, though I’d been obsessed with food for as long as I can remember. I was just getting into high school. My body was going through radical changes. I was the heaviest I’ve ever been in my entire life. Everywhere I looked I would see these beautiful, sparkling, perfectly put together girls with unimaginably wonderful lives. I would feel so small, alone insignificant, thinking about all the ways I fell short of perfection.  There was always someone smarter, funnier, prettier or more talented. 

The roots of my alienation had found fertile soil in the rigidly constrained Christianity of my childhood. For as long as I could remember, I’d been talking to God. Problem was the messages of unconditional love and compassion I was getting straight from the Source flew directly in the face of the harsh dogma of sin, retribution and damnation I was being force-fed at church.

I badgered my parents and pastor with questions about their beliefs, about God and Jesus. If we’re all God’s children, then why is Jesus His “only begotten Son?” Why is God a “He” anyway? Where does God live? In Heaven? Everywhere? Is Heaven everywhere? If Heaven is everywhere, aren’t we already there? And if we are, why is there so much suffering? If God is Love, why is there so much hate? If we’re all guilty of Original Sin, aren’t we already doomed to the pit of fire? What’s the point of living righteously if we’re damned before we even start? Their answers rang false and hollow. I was branded a troublemaker, unwelcome in our church by the time I was 10 years old.

Alone and adrift on a sea of lies and pretense, I turned for comfort and control to my old friend, food. I’d shut myself away and gorge on candy, sweets, pastries, yummy delicious things till the world went away. And then I would hate myself.

By the time I was 13, my world had closed down to a small, dark corner, my dreams of love and happiness had devolved into a nightmare of self-loathing and misery. This girl I knew handed me a wild card. I could have anything I wanted, be anything I wanted, eat anything I wanted. All I had to do was make a deal with the devil. I was never a big fan of Satan, or even heavy metal, but I found myself in my heart of darkness thinking about it, wondering about it, wrestling with it. In the end, I never did sign the contract in blood by the light of the full moon. But just the fact that I would consider such a course was evidence of my treachery, proof of my absolute moral and spiritual bankruptcy, my unworthiness in the eyes of God. I was already the walking dead.

My so-called friend offered me a sensible Plan “B”: I could be thin, beautiful and popular, and still eat anything, anytime. I only had to fall on my knees in front of the toilet, stick my finger down my throat and throw up.

So I went for it. Every day. For several years. The whole thin-beautiful-popular thing went swirling down the drain with each flush. I’d see myself in the mirror, sweating, red-faced, eyes bloodshot, snot and vomit dripping from my nose and mouth, and I would think about ending my life. With my innumerable mortal sins and transgressions, how much worse could a suicide be on my karmic scorecard?

My parents finally blew the whistle the summer I was seventeen. At a time when the other girls were shopping for prom dresses and driving their new cars to the beach with their new boyfriends, I was locked away in a rehab facility for eating disorders. Something in me saw this as a chance to set things right with God. I stopped the bullshit, did the work, got myself back together. In a very short time, I was feeling and looking better than I had in years. My private conversations with God resumed. The message was simple and clear: I was forgiven, blessed, returned from exile. I felt empowered, courageous, divine.

I stayed there for three and a half months. The therapists kept insisting that I had been sexually abused at home, that this was the explanation for my behavior. I tried to tell them that this just wasn’t true. No one had ever hurt me or touched me in that way. They didn’t believe me, and pointed to my denials as evidence that I was lying. Until I admitted it, I would never be free of my addiction. Two weeks before my discharge date, I got called into the office. The program director, counselors, and my parents were all there. Someone, it seems, had been throwing up in the girls’ room. They had an “eyewitness” who said it was me. I swore, truthfully, that it wasn’t. The more I tried to convince them, the more they accused me of lying. I was, in their view, a sick, disturbed, deceitful girl who still needed a lot more of their help. They were planning to keep me another four months. My dad already had his checkbook out.

I blew out of there like a bat out of hell, made it about a mile down the road before my parents pulled up. I was fuming, ready to throw down. I told them if they tried to take me back I would jump out of the fucking car. My dad could hardly even look at me. My mom opened the car door, smiling sadly. Her voice quivered. “I believe you,” she said. “Let’s go home.”

The next few years were a time of profound awakening and spiritual revelation. My journey of love, self-acceptance and personal freedom continued to evolve, though not without a few bumps in the road. My habitual trips to the women’s room declined dramatically, though I would still occasionally overeat. When I felt stuffed or uncomfortable, I would sometimes resort to the tactics and techniques that once led me into rehab, but these episodes became fewer and farther between. I discovered cannabis, which proved to be a great benefit to me. For some people, marijuana stimulates the appetite. For me, the effect was paradoxical. It seemed to help relax me, to quiet my urges and eliminate my cravings for food. I occasionally still experienced fear and anxiousness that my condition might flare up again and I would find myself back down the black hole. My recovery, it seemed, required an almost constant vigilance, an intense, daily exercise of will power.

A decade later, I was introduced to Ayahuasca. Grandmother had other plans for me besides relentless self-control and white knuckles. In her endlessly loving way, she asked to me to simply surrender, and didn’t really ask for anything else. I did what she asked. Almost immediately, my obsession with food and the fear that went with it were lifted. I am aware of the strange irony of using Ayahuasca as a treatment for an eating disorder – something like purging the urge to purge. But the benefits are crystal clear to me: It has now been more than 15 years since my last bulimic episode. I eat only what I want, when I want it. I do not restrict myself, and I have none of the craving, anxiety, or struggle that used to dominate my relationship with food. I am living a life I love.  My body, mind, heart and soul are in integrated alignment (most of the time!). And yes, I am beautiful…

DOUG: My own dance with drugs and alcohol began, predictably, in my early teens. It was the late sixties, a time when sex was safe and drugs weren’t addictive. Jim, Jimi and Janis were still alive. I vaguely remember a decade called the seventies, by the end of which I was well married, carelessly shootin’ Cuervo Gold and smokin’ the fine Colombian.

I got real successful in the early eighties, writing and producing for television. 90-hour weeks were the norm. We were gods, masters of the universe, and we found ways to keep our torches aflame. As low man on the creative totem, it was my job to score the blow for our story conferences. Five guys jacked up on Peruvian flake cut with mannitol and phenylpropanolamine blasting stories till dawn. We thought we were geniuses.

Our son was born in ’85. I cooled my act for a while. It was important for me to show up for my wife and son, while keeping impossible hours on the job and running my ways below the radar. Fortunately I was able to work a lot at home. I could also afford good wine and excellent herb, and I became expert at juggling family, work, and maintaining a buzz. Somewhere along the way I found God in a center divider coming home from an all-night poker game. The message was clear: something had to give. I checked into a popular aversion therapy program and threw up in a closet for ten days. That – and my first run with AA – bought me several years clean and sober.

My dad died suddenly in the winter of ’93. We were super close. I came back home from the hospital after a heart-crushing goodbye, walked behind the bar through the shocked looks of my family, pulled out that bottle of Cuervo Gold and announced: “I’m Irish.  Irish people drink when their fathers die.” And so I did. For 11 months.  

We rented a place in Tahoe for the holidays, our first Christmas without my dad. My whole family drank, and the party reached colossal proportions. Since I was maintaining the pretense of being sober, I was the designated driver. How many times did I drive my family up and down those icy mountain roads, open bottle under the seat, pockets bulging with Binaca and Breath Savers? Somehow, I got everybody on their planes, packed up my Jeep and headed out of Dodge.  

Cruising back though Stateline, I made a quick right turn into Harrah’s Casino to play a few hands of Blackjack. I wound up staying for three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, on a wild, spun-out winning streak. Somewhere in there I called my wife, about a day and a half after I had told her I was heading home. She already had the cops searching for me. The morning of my departure, I was sick, wrecked, beyond salvage. It took about six white Russians before I was steady enough to drive.

I had my moment of clarity upside-down on 395. Swerved into a right hand sweeper, ran up on the embankment, flipped that Jeep like a Tonka toy. The cops were cool. I told them I’d been run off the road by a black Bronco. They put out a call on the phantom four-wheeler, performed a perfunctory field sobriety test (which I passed on pure adrenaline), and didn’t make me blow. One of the cops told me they figured I’d had a tough enough day already.

I quit drinking on the spot. After they scraped up my wreck and dropped me off at a fleabag motel, I called my AA sponsor, who listened well and reminded me there was still a seat for me in our meeting room. I showed up at the next meeting, identified as a newcomer, and began another multi-year run in sobriety.

I got hurt in 2000. “Hurt” doesn’t quite make it. I was paralyzed from the neck down in a skiing accident, while on duty as a patroller in our local mountains. My healing from that event was nothing less than miraculous. It quickly became clear that not only could I receive the kind of healing energy that had saved my life, but I could also channel or transmit it – a gift I’ve come to recognize as being present in all of us. For the past 14 years, this fact or phenomenon has been the central point of focus in my spiritual, academic, and professional life. I didn’t change my path. My path changed me.

My walk through the dark fire took me deep into a jungle of pain, medical interventions, and a sizzling affair with opioid pain meds – blended into a happy-hour cocktail of anti-seizure drugs, muscle relaxers, benzodiazepines, anti-depressants and stool softeners, with ADD drugs thrown in like nuts on a sundae. My medical caretakers repeatedly reminded me that this was my life now and I had better get used to it.

After a year and a half living like a rat on a cage wheel, I was drawn to a Qi Gong master in Sausalito who spent about 10 minutes working his juju with me one day. He never touched me, but I definitely felt my spine crackle and pop like I was getting a manual-force adjustment. When he was finished, the master told me to stop taking pain meds, to go drink some water and get a good night’s sleep. I didn’t feel any different; my body still hurt like raging hell. Honestly, I wasn’t holding out a lot of hope. But I did what he said. Downed a 1.5 of Aquafina and headed off to bed.

I snapped awake the next morning, sprang out to my balcony to catch the chilly, misty dawn over the Bay. I had this thing the doctors liked to call “chronic intractable central neuropathic pain” – like railroad spikes through my arms and legs and a million pissed off fire ants invading my skin. Cold and wet were major triggers. As I went through the movements I’d learned from this master, I noticed something: I wasn’t in pain, and I was many hours past my Oxycontin half-life. There was still a remnant, a shadow sensation of my former pain, but I’d gone from a 10 to a 2 overnight – from intolerable to totally manageable. I discontinued all narcotics, with no withdrawal, and most of the other stuff, eventually phasing out all medicines except marijuana.  

I crashed a road bike in a triathlon a couple of years later. Tore up my back, broke ribs, got a brutal road burn. They gave me Norco at the hospital after the race. It still worked. Worked so well, I refilled the prescription. I had a doctor who sympathized with my pain and would write me whatever I needed. Turned out what I needed was more Norco. I kept it on the down low for a long time, telling myself it was all good because I was “within prescription limits.”

Then the tidal wave hit. Bottom dropped out of the real estate market, we went upside down, lost our home, everything. The love of my life lost her mind. I was studying for my masters degree, doing hard distance training and kung fu, juggling jobs to stay afloat, enduring unthinkable pressures at home, stretched to the breaking point. Storm-shattered and shipwrecked, I clung to my Norco like a life preserver. It took away my pain, and gave me a feeling like I could handle anything. I would jokingly call myself “Captain Impervious.” Nothing could hurt me.

During these interesting times, I began working with Ayahuasca. "Grandmother," as we call her, quickly showed me the damage I had done to my body with the pain meds, and insisted that I get off that shit. My first few encounters with her were excruciating, as she located and dissolved areas within my body and psyche which had been blocked and stagnated by the prescription meds. She wouldn’t take no for an answer.  

I listened. It took some work, though I was carried on a wave of intention and grace. I did my week in a cheesy motel room shaking it out. I went deep into meditation retreats, counseling, spiritual practice. With the pain meds gone, all the hurt, torment and tragedy that had been suppressed came suddenly unmasked to be experienced and healed. Over a period of several months, I went through an epic personal metamorphosis, a complete ground-up reconstruction of my inner life. I emerged from my cocoon a newly realized version of myself. My life is simple, authentic and fulfilling. I choose not to use alcohol or prescription drugs, and I have no stress about that. I still visit Grandmother’s house from time to time. My encounters with her now are generally blissful and sweet, though she still demands respect and attention to her lessons. I am strong, balanced, free and happy in a way I can’t ever remember being before. It feels so good to feel good!

The dominant treatment model asks us to accept that we have a progressive, genetic brain disease that only gets worse over time, that we have no control, and that there is no cure. We’re sentenced to a lifetime of dependency on treatment, with no chance of ever breaking out of the wormhole of addiction. We’re taught in this context that we are powerless, hopeless, beyond human aid, that only God can relieve us of our affliction.  

While it is our choice to believe – or not believe – in the presence, power and guidance of Divine Source in our lives, it does not seem to be a requirement for recovery. (It might, however, be an asset.) Statistics reveal that those with a strong sense of spiritual faith live longer, healthier, happier lives than those without. In the words of Graham Hancock, internationally renowned author, journalist and psychonaut, “I recommend about ten Ayahuasca sessions.”

See you next issue with an update. Namaste, bitches!

Doug Heyes M.A is a writer, healing artist and outdoor rescuer from Southern California. Alesha Carlander is on the editorial staff of The Fix. 

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