Dying to Do The Work: How Psychedelics Shattered My Ego - And My Mental Health

Apr 20, 2022

Abstract:
Within the promise of the psychedelic revival, the psychedelic-induced healing process is sometimes pedestaled and prioritized over the actual wellbeing of the person. Who gets to decide what ‘healing’ is and ‘healed’ looks like? And after being shunned from society for over 5 decades, what is the insidious cost of our missionary-like collective psyche’s attempts to reintegrate (to merely prove our worthiness)? Shiri Godasi, a visionary activist and integration innovator, takes us on a multidimensional inside-out ride to reveal the down-home culprits of therapeutic psychedelics. How boundary-lacking and plain unhealthy projections of individual and group ego inflation perpetuate holier-than-thou narratives that can very well be the root of greater cultural dis-ease - and what happens when they (are doomed to) shatter.

This is a personal story about my journey with psychedelic healing, integration and mental health re/dis/covery. Devoid of any Bronner’s-sponsored clinical review for supportive evidence, I’ll start with the anecdotal findings: psychedelics did not heal my anxiety, depression, PTSD, ADHD and Bi-Polar-spectrum symptoms. Rather, in some ways they have exacerbated these illnesses while inducting me into an advanced level of tribulation. This article offers a subjective interpretation of intentional psychedelic use; a less popular opinion that may not fit within the psychedelic renaissance paradigm, shared to help offset the glitz and glamour that is notoriously attributed to psychoactive substances. Psychedelics possess an incredible ability to induce visionary and mystical states, and integration has claimed its stake as a stand-alone field that sets the stage for earthly anchoring of subjective higher visions and yes, for upleveling humanity. While both are welcomed (if not necessary, considering the dire times we are living in) additions to the existing body of knowledge of psycho-spiritual inquiry and multi-billion dollar industry of self development, they can respectively produce some pretty gnarly, potent and unnecessarily-rough outcomes that can alter one’s life course and communal integrity - and not always for the better. 

Background and disclosure: I began participating in the psychedelic revival in 2012, first as an individual user, then a community activist. Decolonization is the desired end to my means and I have initiated multiple grassroots psychedelic support organizations, proposed educational frameworks and trained professionals - all within the budding field of integration in which I have been dubbed a matriarch and pioneer. I am curious about examining tenets of both personal and collective healing and am fascinated by what threads bind to make up context within this particular realm. Observing the rapid, exciting and somewhat-alarming evolution of third-wave psychedelic therapy and support, my ears are peeled to expression of opinions and dialogues as the pulse measure of the people which I aim to serve.

Current dominant discourses I’ve been observing are “Everyone should take psychedelics” & “I am here to serve medicine” - statements made typically by those who are relatively new to the so-called medicine world; and “One must be healed to help heal others” - rolling off the tongues of more seasoned psychedelic/spiritual community members. 

I mention this as each of these statements have personally affected my journey: the first time I’ve familiarized myself with the former two was when I, the self-proclaimed The Psychedelic Integration Coach, heralded those exact same words. The latter opinion triggers questions of semantics and ethics - what is healing; who is healed; and who gets to decide on who can heal, or who is healed? It has also acted as a North Star guiding my meandering through the uncharted waters of psychedelic integration support while still somewhat a concept, not yet translated into an actual professional role. Also, I was just beginning to stumble through my own integration and healing wormhole. Both had turned out to be a tumultuous affair, ions ahead of what I had bargained for even as a person that was fully sold on the idea that psychedelics are the ultimate psychospiritual therapy tool. 

My path of coming of age is laden with trauma. I am a daughter to a nuclear family that would be considered as lower-middle class, hard working and good-natured immigrants of Middle-Eastern descent who fought to make the most out of circumstance and provide us with a better life. Along with unspoken challenges of assimilation in a new country, like others in our culture I was fed heavy conditioning of the roles I am expected to fulfill, and who I am expected to be - clouded with secrecy, scarcity, fantasy and instability. We enmeshed with and modeled ourselves after complex and deeply traumatized personas, pure criteria ingredients that are the nuanced recipe for multiple modern-day mental health diagnoses, though undiagnosed and untreated. I became the problem child in effort to retain some sovereignty and to disrupt the system, growing up to feel unrooted, depressed borderline suicidal, and insecure without permission to exist outside the ingrained pathway. Adulthood was marked by overworking at one unfulfilling job after another, hopping between apartments and continents; turning single again in my mid-30’s after a string of multiple failed relationships. Filled to the brim with sadness and rage, and purposeless, with the only direction in life a desperate “must find someone to marry” to ease the perpetual cycle of shame upheld and transmuted by my lineage for generations. My heart was hard, sense of Self obsolete, critical thinking nonexistent, consciousness meaningless. The legacy was shallow and narrow.

But I rebelled against it with all of my might. After some years of re-creational psychedelic use in the transformational festival circle in which I found a sense of belonging, one night I accidently ingested a very large amount of MDMA. It was Sunday night at Coachella of 2014 and I had left my group and headed towards the Lana Del Rey stage on my own. There was zero knowledge of any concept of psychedelic safety, set/setting/dose etc. - and thus, zero fear. I was completely alone and together, undulating in an ocean of fans, dancing with the palm trees in the desert night sky and listening to Lana’s ethereal voice. There was a softness quality that I’d never previously experienced and didn’t need to express... It just was. Social anxiety evaporated and communication with others was crystal clear without uttering a word. It felt like each soft gesture rippled across the thousands of people that were swimming in this cuddle pool of love. And the softness was generated from me, simultaneously emitting and enveloping. This was just the beginning of an unforgettable evening - a transcendental experience that has revealed to me undeniably-palpable universal forces of unity, connection, intimacy, abundance, joy, and love. On the ride home the next day I watched the passing desert hills blanketed in deep tears of gratitude for just how fortunate and lucky I am to live my life. I also thought, I wish everyone could experience this. Everyone should experience this. 

The next 6 months, I learned, were but a segway into what some people would call an awakening. Psychedelic therapy kept showing up serendipitously. Another romantic relationship had ended dramatically, spiraling me into a heavy depressive episode - though I couldn’t name it at the time. Never meditating a minute in my life, I began practicing meditation religiously as a coping strategy and for retainment of some shred of sanity. One night, on the dirty carpeted floor of an old motel room in New Orleans where I was on a business trip, I found myself undergoing a visionary spiritual emergence, without psychedelics. 40 minutes of a Youtube breathwork meditation and I woke up reborn as a conscious being of light, no less. I was reprogrammed with a novel knowing that I am here to be of service - and that my camino is in psychedelic healing. 

I immediately enrolled in a psychology master’s program with the goal of becoming a psychedelic therapist; I also proceeded to use all the psychoactives I could get my hands on including ayahuasca, mushrooms, LSD, MDMA, cannabis, 5-MeO-DMT, N,N-DMT, and kambo. Additionally I cultivated a strict daily spiritual practice that included early rising, meditations, exercise, journaling, reading, hape snuff and weekly spiritual services at Agape International Spiritual Center. My festival shenanigans were far from over and there were weekends of stepping out of afterparties in the LA underground, face adorned in glittery diamonds and airbrushed makeup, and driving my Lexus hybrid straight to 6 am Sunday meditation service at Agape. Synthetics like cocaine, ketamine, tastings of various dance party paraphernalia, as well as alcohol and cigarettes, were in the mix. Magically, I was keeping up with full-time school obligations, working and successfully managing my household independently. My language was filled with love and light as synchronicities, manifestations, attractions and connections had filled my universe. For the first time ever, I had felt content, purpose-filled, on track, and in friggin control! It was my first year walking the earth as “woke”, with the wide-eyed and coy eagerness of young consciousness arising, employing intentional, psycho-spiritual psychedelic use, while still bridged if not shackled to the life I was pruned to uphold. And doing it all in the name of “inner work” and service was getting me high.  

Inevitably, constant ceremony participation had caught up with me. Integration was not yet the trendy buzzword it is today. In fact, I had only first heard about it in Sept. 2015, at a plant medicine conference I'd attended in Los Angeles - and immediately knew that this would be my niche in psychedelic support. Before leaving the conference I was dead-set to contribute to this budding field. That weekend, I had also met a special man with a shared devotion to entheogens. We quickly merged on the accelerated route getting to thoroughly know each other not through dinners and movies but through shamanic circles and Hofmanns; submerged in love and mutual purpose, we married at 6 months. 

In the entrepreneurial world, it is said that “we are always our own first client”, that our soul is ever-evolving towards wholeness and that we attract the means that will help us get there - whatever it is that will resolve any unresolved business. I can see now how I was drawn to integration as my spiritual bypassing was the dawn of a downward spiral into emotional destabilization and mental dis-ease that were already etched within me. I enrolled in a program to learn psychedelic support turned integration therapy, as they were absent in my own life. However, I was so deeply traumatized, dissociated and yes, unconscious, to a point where without even minimal awareness that the trauma theory we were studying in class was relevant to me in any way. Avoidance and repression were keyless steel doors. I was lacking proper psychedelic-positive processing tools, a supportive community or a therapeutic container where the influx of insights could be held, explored and analyzed in a validating and non-judgmental way. I quickly began projecting these insights into my relationships to create some harrowing and undesirable situations in my life. In psychological terms, we call this “splitting”; psychedelic work was not healing me, making me whole nor bringing my life towards balance and harmony - it was causing raptures in my personality structure, disconnecting me from my daily reality and fragmenting my inner world. I remember clearly how in the depth of the split in early 2017, I sat before one of the shamans I was working with at the time, who compassionately ‘held space’ for me, while I revealed I had felt possessed by ayahuasca, audaciously adding that “one day I will serve medicine” because “ayahuasca told me so”.

And so I had entered a period of what is termed in depth psychology a “dark night of the soul”. Shadow work has become synonymous to my existence. Most of my relationships as well as prestigious professional opportunities crumbled. Within the container of an elder integration coach and a psychedelic-friendly clinical psychologist/Jungian analyst we had dissected the display of symptoms that are outlined in the DSM as criteria to various mental health disorders including Bi-Polar mood disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, PTSD, ADHD,and Generalized Anxiety Disorder - with diagnosis to the latter two. In that time I also had a child, a standalone peak experience that would undermine any person in their right mind; it had pushed my anxiety and mood swings to new heights, induced postpartum depression that was diagnosed only 2.5 years post-birth, and what appeared to be a super-mild case of postpartum psychosis. I was still engaging with psychedelics, though more judiciously, as time and space became even more a precious resource. I’ve also become increasingly sensitive to these compounds and didn’t need much in the way of dosing, to tap into abyss-like intrapersonal aspects of myself. The veil was constantly thin as I was operating within an interim world, one leg floating in the ether while the other tied with a flailing string to a rock that is my infant daughter. Over the course of the first 2.5 years of her life, I’ve had psychedelic experiences profoundly shattering to the extent that I have refrained from returning to visit these medicinal realms at all - including those induced by ayahuasca, psilocybin mushrooms and LSD.

Also in that time frame: I had managed to create no less than 5 psychedelic organizations including a professional integration service/networking platform; a registered non-profit community; a private coaching/consulting business; an virtual education platform; and professional training/certification program for integration coaches. I created a groundbreaking integration theory/methodology and wrote a book about it (out in 2023). I’ve created and presented programs, courses, seminars, academic workshops and scholarly articles. I direct an online school and mentor dozens of integration coaches in the making, dedicated to providing what I aim to be the best professional psychedelic integration support framework available - and to produce psychedelic professionals of the highest caliber. These are products of me heeding the call to serve in the psychedelic renaissance: all well intentioned, some ego-based from the get go, 100% an interpretation of my/our innate visionary nature and creative limitlessness. I was a woman in service, initiating solutions to what I perceived to be problems - really, my own problems - and living for validation by people who had reinforced the positive impact I had on their lives. This was the saving grace for me, a purpose-filled escape as I was working through bottomless buckets of trauma, intergenerational curses, HD-grooved behavioral patterns and sheer acceptance of my humble humanity. 

As the integration field took shape so did self-appointed gatekeepers, and every so often there would be dark-alley encounters of feedback corner of criticism, questioning the qualifications, credentials, methods, ethical standards or plain ‘healed-enough’ levels of various psychedelic support providers within the larger community, yours truly included. I appreciated and leaned into the vigilance and constructive mentorship of the elders and found toxic righteousness and supremacy in the rest. Balance came through random testimonials and expressions of gratitude and inspiration for doing what I do, for changing lives for the better and for daring to be me. These were strange booster-shots of humility tinged with dirty speed: I read that my work has an impact, and deduced I must deliver the goods, at any cost - including that of the goods themselves. The coach has abandoned her Self and her own integration practice because she was busy taking up as much space as possible to prove to everyone, including herself, that she - her *I* - exists. 

The short of it is the ego took over, a demonstration of a grandiose psychic split. I was so incredibly focused on erecting integration obelisks that I forgot to kneel and check the ground first, to pay reverence and receive its blessing. There was an addiction to doing, to building more, to being the first and to being the best. Facing the hologram illumination of the cosmic joker to which I had blindly handed my ass over in the name of “service”. Indeed it served: as an avoidance mechanism, keeping me head under water, a workaholic choked-full of busy-ness while the deepest wounds festering, drowning me in self-deceit, on the brink of mental deterioration, psychic meltdown and suicidality. I was a person that turned to psychedelic therapy to remedy trauma, with the long journey taking a twisted turn that I wasn’t prepared for. I thought I was working on becoming my highest Self - and found mySelf trapped in a sadomasochistic cellar of her own creation, working double shifts. There *I* was, a hostess meeting & greeting unanticipated guests dressed as horrific anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, obsessive ruminating thoughts, paranoia, a debilitating depression, and manic-like energy spells that acted as fuel; and at the end of the day, *I* was returning to psychedelics as the primary means to heal them - all of them. 

As one may imagine - this couldn’t have ended well. The utter exhaustion and desperation to regain control over my life - through the ways that I so believed in - have led me to lifeless and desperate acts with the aim to find repose, including one night of engaging in extremely risky behavior under the influence of LSD, and nearly dying. It’s been 15 months since that surreal event and I haven’t touched that sacred substance since. 

As I was disintegrating under the magnitude of my own delusional undertaking and with no way out, for the first time in my life I attempted to manage my mental health through pharmaceutical medication. I started taking antidepressants and natural mood stabilizers for reasons I believe to be a byproduct of psychedelic use. While I was working on my sanity and basic daily functioning, somehow I managed to keep working in integration support and education the whole way through. 

A cornerstone in my psychedelic integration theory is that it acts as a bridge between the 8th and the 3rd dimensions of reality. A Super-manifestor, there I was, 8 feet under the weight of a false pompous masterpiece with no cape and with all the back-braking day-to-day responsibilities of humaning - there was simply not a moment to waste practicing my own trademarked integration method. Existing in a fragment of my own dreamscape, the so-called “Matriarch of Psychedelic Integration” was naked. 

The past 6 months have provided a welcomed turning point; the bubble has burst. Finally caving under the weight, I accepted the current and stark reality of my life and assumed (more) responsibility for my actions, including the many people in my circle they have affected. Stepping up as an amateur to stand on a makeshift pedestal, no matter how noble I had thought my contributions to the movement were, had planted my intimate process in the public eye. I had never consciously intended on becoming anyone’s leader, and was not prepared for this in the least. Nevertheless, a main insight I was able to pick up regarding leadership, is that it is not about doing the popular thing, but about taking a stand. Beyond facing reality and the momentary stunting that had accompanied it - I was demanded answers. It was time to speak, and speak from the heart. There was no more hiding, pretending, sweeping under the rug, Botoxing the shit out of it. The only way out was through, paradoxically, that same vulnerable nakedness; except this time, “I” was lucid AF. And sitting in the fire, in roundtable; cozying in a heavy cauldron to alchemize what looks to be a sticky, murky, psychoactive brew; having raw and what can be difficult conversations, tossing in what is real in the moment; absorbing, gestating, processing and reflecting a non-dual experience collectively generated by a myriad of psyches, dreaming up an alternate reality. Unifying moments that, curiously, embody such concepts as “you are me - I am you - we are one”. Overall, the “healing” and the integration journey weren’t at all as expected, for anyone. Then again, experienced psychenauts know better than to expect anything when downing that cup. While there may have been anticipation of relief of psychological symptoms, a balanced and harmonized life, overall wellbeing, unadulterated clarity and aligned soul purpose - all delivered via an automated and stripped-down runway - I/we ended up meandering on a complex and spiral-like Mobius strip. 

Psychedelics took me on a ride of a lifetime. I’ve willingly offered myself as sacrifice for the sake of ‘the mission’ in the name of demonstrating their potential. I’ve purged once or countless times, challenged myself and have never ceased to show up and “do the work”. The truth is that I’ve worked myself to near death. And thanks to my background, I’ve arrived for “the work” with an already-weak personality structure, without any concept of boundaries and discernment that are vital for safe psychedelic engagement. These were learned in too-hard of a way. Had there only been some type of warning label on these powerful substances, the outcomes may have been different. But my heart was invested in belonging to the feathered new-earth medicine tribe, buying into the emerging and dangerous stigma of psychedelics and plant medicines being the natural, ancient and superior wonderchild of healing and wellbeing. 

And Now: learning to breathe while sitting in the ash of the dying coals, I’ve begun to take simple if hugely-underrated steps to reclaim my sanity and sovereignty: insisting on 8 hours of sleep, tweaked nutrition and physical activity, cutting loose of toxic people and social media apps, minimizing workload and stress, spending time outside, creating rituals. Daring to not bury in busy but to bask in spaciousness. Making room for my art. Reframing everything I think I know about “doing the work” and accepting that I don’t want to work another minute of my life - I want to play! And weaving, not to say reworking, these realizations into my integration programs. 

About drugs: the antidepressants were thrown down the toilet immediately following a medication-induced panic attack (don’t try this at home). I substantially minimized my psychedelic engagement, to the point of experienced clarity of no desire, not hearing any calls nor picking up the phone. The integration task at hand is not to realize visionary insights (seriously, enough of that), but to take amazing care of myself, learn to allow love in and to be happy with “good enough”. And as it turns out - it’s friggin’ great! Without psychedelics and with integration I’m probably in the best shape of my life, and lucid.

Concurrently, I hold awareness that it was in my dharmic path to go through this nearly 8-year long peak experience/roasting not in vain, carefully observing to articulate what is transpiring from this stint. First, while Michael Pollan pollinates the people and brings psychedelics to the forefront of discussion, we still have a ways to go in building the unbiased educational infrastructure necessary to support the souls coming of age. Second, there is a double-edged sword in psychedelics being romanticized for being the breakthrough medicine that will heal addiction, anxiety, depression, PTSD and existential dread. While this can be true for many people, I believe that for just as many, psychedelics can be destabilizing, damaging and yes, dangerous. Simply put, they are not for everyone. They may not cause mental health disorders in most people, however they can absolutely be the cause of an inflammation of their symptoms in people that are at higher risk and predisposed to these conditions - such as history in the family, living a stress filled life, being in crisis, or simply lacking awareness of just how deeply traumatized they are. Also while this group of drugs may be supportive of cutting physical and behavioral addictions - the psychedelic experience and its current cultural catnip “doing the work” can absolutely be psychologically addicting. While companies use Facebook ads to pedestal psychedelics as “7 years of therapy in 1 week”, one too many people are logging into social groups and wondering aloud why their depression was not healed after 1 ceremony and 2 integration sessions. In our spiritual thirst and communal haste to reintegrate psychedelics into society we are projecting unrealistic expectations on a modality that, while revolutionary, could stand a solid study and trial period that would draw more realistic and grounded conclusions. The residual outcomes of the war on drugs will continue to seep into the new reality we are attempting to create and surely this is a major challenge the psychedelic revival will need to intercept. For both trailblazing leaders and sideline enthusiasts there is room to own that after being banished from Western culture for over 5 decades and without permission to exist, the psychedelic renaissance is not unlike poetic justice cradling a desperate attempt to redeem our rejected, anciently-wounded collective ego. The sooner we realize we are still in a rebound period and that our vision is sugarcoated, the better. 

Lastly, while the question of ethics requires careful and constructive conversation in psychedelic support, it’s worth examining if ethical supremacy has any place within this field. To say only healed people can help heal others/the world, is to perpetuate the sick compulsion we have with ‘healing’ culture, and to oppress the diverse wilderness of human nature that defines our connection with nature and creation. Every person has something valuable to contribute and psychospiritual mending is at its most potent when done in the context of a relationship. As the professional psychedelic support field is shaping we may naturally resort to the concepts, tools, methods and terminology that have served us. However there is a real opportunity here to design a novel, holistic health format and a profession that can utilize the best of all relevant supportive modalities, creating a revolutionary structure that is grounded not in outdated paradigms but the presenting situation/circumstance. Those in leadership positions have the responsibility to cultivate a collaborative culture and demonstrate creativity in creating both service solutions and opportunities. At the least, we should be wary to not replicate the patterns of the systems that encourage personal and collective splitting and may have caused our burning need to heal in the first place. Shaming and canceling culture will continue backfiring as they don’t necessarily motivate people to uphold improved standards but rather send them to operate in the dark. Inclusive communities that aim for harm reduction through education, dialogue, accountability and elder mentorship can come a long way in encouraging ethical support in what is a slow and ancient colloquy appropriated into a rapidly-evolving and Westernized playing field. Integrate and bridge the diverse human and spiritual embodiments of opinions, ideas, styles, methods, techniques, wizardry, personas, representations, traditions and values; the evolved and “enlightened” tandem the “unconscious”. With a sober, humane stance allow ourselves and each other to share our authentic, unique soul medicine. Integrate to embody compassion; and the healing we may all be working overtime and nearly dying for may just manifest itSelf.  

 

Author’s Bio
Shiri Malcolm Godasi (She/Her) is a teacher, visionary creatrix, depth poet and mother. She is best known for her pioneering methods in the field of psychedelic integration and community activism, including founding 5 psychedelic harm reduction organizations. She is now focused on helping folx come into right-relationship with psychedelics through her professional training program for psychedelic integration providers and emerging creative leaders, The Psyched Soul PlaySkool of Integration & Soulpreneurship. She is passionate about creating a psychedelic-positive counterculture and empowering others to step into radical authenticity/radical action to co-create a just world. Her website is www.psychedsoul.com.

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