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Healing Addiction with Plant Medicine & the 12 Step Program*

*Written by Johanna, a recent visitor of Nihue Rao Espiritual & Sacred Rebels Recovery in Iquitos Peru
I just celebrated 22 months of continuous sobriety.

For the majority of my adult life, I used alcohol and cannabis every day. I believed that these substances made my life manageable, and because I had a job and a roof over my head, I did not believe I had a problem. Even though I struggled with depression, anxiety, and irritability, I never attributed my problems to my drug and alcohol consumption. I felt that cannabis, in particular, was my medicine.

Growing up in an alcoholic home, and an alcoholic culture, I believed that consuming alcohol every day to “relax” was perfectly acceptable as long as I paid my bills on time. Then, in the summer of 2021, I reached a crisis that was physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. I could no longer live in denial as it was obvious that my drug and alcohol habits were negatively impacting every part of my life. It wasn’t easy, but I knew I needed to make choice: I sobered up.  

I already knew the healing benefits of ayahuasca, having traveled to Nihue Rao for 10 and 14 day retreats in 2014 and 2016, respectively, but when I got sober, I hadn’t sat in ceremony in over 5 years. I was grateful to have an opportunity to travel to Nihue Rao once more in spring 2022, and this is when I met Sapha and Makena.

It was a huge gift to connect in this space with others who understood the benefits of traditional Amazonian plant medicine in addition to a 12 step program. Most 12 step fellowships insist on complete abstinence from all mind altering substances, which would include ayahuasca. Thankfully I have a sponsor who understands the benefits of using psychedelics in recovery, such as microdosing mushrooms, ketamine assisted therapy, and in my case, ayahuasca.

My experiences with Ricardo and his team at Nihue Rao, which included following a traditional dieta, a daily dose of a plant medicine called Oje, and sitting in ayahuasca ceremony, have been essential to my recovery. These practices have helped clear away not only the trauma and mental health struggles that lead me to substance abuse in the first place, but also the dark energies left behind in my body, mind and spirit from excessive drug and alcohol use. The powerful icaros I received at Nihue Rao allowed a huge leap in my recovery process, moving me past the places where I was most stuck.

I have met so many people in recovery who desperately want to stay clean and sober, but are unable to quit for good. While the 12 steps and various inpatient treatment programs have proved useful for my friends in recovery, there is often a stuckness that cannot be shifted with mental reflection alone. Abstinence is not enough. Drugs and alcohol have a sticky energy that gets left behind. Those of us attempting to rise above and move beyond our past habits can struggle immensely with this stuck energy.

Thankfully, my time at Nihue Rao Centro Espiritual has cleaned away this darkness in a way that sobriety, healthy living, psychotherapy, various types of body and energy work, meditation, prayer, yoga, and stepwork could not. When I visited Nihue Rao at nearly a year free from drugs and alcohol, I had been improving gradually, but my time at Nihue Rao sped up my recovery process–physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually–in ways that are difficult to measure or adequately articulate.

I wish this medicine was readily available to everyone struggling with addiction. It is not a shortcut, by any means, but a way to go deeply into one’s issues and address them with a thoroughness that I haven’t found anywhere else. It is no exaggeration to say that the Shipibo tradition has changed my life more than anything else I have tried. A year later, I continue to reap the benefits of all that I accomplished with the help of the caring, talented team at Nihue Rao. 

Sapha and Makena are wonderful examples of the power of this medicine and this work. I hope all who wish to can take the opportunity to work with them at Nihue Rao. As for the stigma that may exist around this work, it is ill-founded. This work saves lives. It has certainly saved mine.

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