What’s It Really Like To Drink Ayahuasca? Abby Williams Tells Us About Her Experience With The Plant Medicine

In recent years the entheogenic plant mixture Ayahuasca has become increasingly present in mainstream media as Westerners have begun to explore its ancient healing properties.

shaman-431960_960_720A powerful hallucinogenic brew, Ayahuasca is a combination of the ayahuasca vine and a shrub called chacruna, which contains dimethyltryptamine (DMT).

Used for centuries in many cultures, although mainly South America, the psychoactive tea induces altered states of consciousness that have historically been used to heal mental and physical suffering, providing people with profound spiritual insights into the nature of themselves and reality.

And while shamanic tribes have utilized this plant medicine for thousands of years, it’s now become a “trend” of sorts in the Western world. Celebrities such as Lyndsay Lohan and Michelle Rodriguez have raved about the life-changing effects of partaking in Ayahuasca ceremonies and backpackers now flock to retreats across the world to tick it off their bucket list.

But what is the reality of embarking on an Ayahuasca journey?

While the legality of Ayahuasca is a little blurred in the UK, ceremonies and retreats are held across Europe and beyond where the plant concoction has been deemed legal.

sacred-art-764919_960_720In 2012, aged 22, I took part in two Ayahuasca ceremonies. This was not a decision I took lightly. It followed a year of research and several months preparation which involved weaning off medications that would interact with the brew and also following a special diet, or “dieta”, beforehand.

The truth is, there is no fixed experience one can expect from an Ayahuasca ceremony. Every journey will be different, just as every mind functions and perceives differently. However, there are several fundamental truths that emerge time and again that have been consistently recorded and relearned throughout history.

What most people can be assured of is to be challenged greatly and for the mind to open in ways it never has before.

Having suffered from severe ongoing mental health problems since 2006, I had grown disillusioned with Western medicine and its tendency to medicate symptoms rather than treating the root of the problem. I realised, after experiencing many failings of the health system, that my survival and recovery was in my hands alone.

The ceremony was led by an experienced shaman and trusted friend, and I also had a loved one there who would not be drinking the brew as an extra guide should things become too difficult.

fire-777345_960_720Traditionally, ceremonies are carried out in darkness. We sat on cushions and blankets on the ground and listened to our ceremonial “guide” play gentle, Shamanic songs and chants known as Icaros that are used throughout the process to summon healing spirits and conduct healing energy to the participant/s.

When it came to drinking the tea, it was essential to keep the putrid, thick, brown substance down for around half an hour (which was tough, it tastes absolutely foul). I can only describe the next 12 hours as a mind-bending rollercoaster ride that forced me to look into the depths of my very being, and which can be crudely broken down into three main “states”: Resistance, Purification and Release.

It’s not unusual to experience fear and panic during the initial “cross-over” stage. The mind that is so dependent on control and intellectually comprehending its reality must let go and delve deep into the unknown. I was terrified and for a short while it was almost unbearable.

Then came what is known as “purging”, which basically involved a LOT of vomiting. This process of purifying is very important and it was then that I began to give in to the experience. There was an immensely strong sense of love and compassion, as if I was being guided, and I began to experience strong hallucinations and communication with what can only be described as other-worldly beings who reassured me the entire time.

meditation-1384758_960_720I felt dark parts of myself – fear, anxiety, judgment, ignorance, depression – all begin to dissolve as I realised they were an illusion created by the mind.

I soon lost sense of time and over the next few hours fell into a much deeper state where my ego was stripped away and I was shown the true nature of reality: Nothing as we know it exists, as such. Our anger, anxiety, depression, and suffering are all delusions created by the intellectual mind that has been structured from birth. What is real is that pure, equanimous state of mind of non-judgment, where there is no “good” or “bad”. Everything just is, and it’s perfect the way it is. It is from this state of mind we all originate and where we will return.

Traveling into this alternate dimension, I witnessed a lot of what seemed to be my past lives (although I’d never believed in this previously). I regressed to a childlike mindset and for the first time in my life, I felt as if I’d come home. It was the truest, purest and most certain thing in the universe and can only be described as perfect peace. I think at one point I thought I’d possibly died and had awoken in nirvana.

It would take an entire book to describe the visions and lessons I learned on this journey. I later discovered that many of the realisations I had were universal and common among those who have drank the brew.

fractal-764921_960_720Ayahuasca is like a fast-track tool for those who are stuck, who are unawakened to the nature of reality and suffering as a result. It is 15 years of therapy in one night, a huge jolt into waking up.

But it is also just that…a tool. A person must be willing to face their shadow self, to work with the plant and to let go of negative thinking patterns which have kept them trapped for so long. Ayahuasca, to me, is a loving guide: An extraordinarily special gateway to the spiritual realm, whatever that may be to you. It is something to be respected and worked with sacredly.

I knew I had lots more work to do, but drinking Ayahuasca was the catalyst to my recovery. The journey continued over the next couple of years with meditation, lots of resistance and relapse, and eventually a life that is filled with love and balance based on all the truths I learned during that ceremony. Considering I have experienced damaging thought patterns since childhood and spent several years being utterly suicidal, that alone is a miracle.

girl-1427180_960_720Westerners are flocking to Peru to undertake ceremonies and, with anything that can be profited from, there is a danger of the plant brew becoming commercialised. There are, of course, dodgy shamans, dangerous retreats and the risk that you will not be properly guided and looked after during a ceremony. Hence why research, preparation and trusting your gut instincts is essential.

Ayahuasca is not a quick fix. Like a teacher, it can show you the way but it is ultimately you who has to walk down that path.

The real work begins when you leave and go back into the “real” world, which it turns out is filled with collective lies, ego-delusions and a lack of compassionate understanding. That will never be easy.

But if you do ever embark on an Ayahuasca trip? Don’t worry, you’ll come back. You just won’t be the same, and that is most certainly the best part.

About the Author

Abby Williams
Belfast based author/writer specialising in entertainment, mental health and human interest.