I Took Ayahuasca to Fix a Health Problem
This piece was originally published in Esquire
Six months ago, I sat outside, on a wooden deck in the mountains, across from a white dude with a man bun. “Do you actually think this can fix me?” I asked him.
The man went by “Kapétt,” a name he picked up while studying indigenous culture in a Peruvian forest, though his legal name was John Thomas Caldwell III, and he was raised in Greenwich, Connecticut.
“I can’t promise that,” said Kapétt/John III, moving his left leg to cross under his right. “But I’ve seen people speak with their deceased loved ones. Others who’ve had their depression instantly cleared. Things you wouldn’t believe.”
Neither of those possibilities interested me.
I’m not depressed and I don’t believe in ghosts or God or an after-life. When we die, we turn off, at least I think so. And if I’m wrong, and my dead relatives do exist, I have no desire to hear from them—loud Jews from the world beyond, floating around my bedroom, judging me for the gay-leaning porn I consume when I believe I’m alone.
But regardless, I, at 31, came to this retreat because of a vestibular balance issue I’d been dealing with for three years—something wrong with my left ear. Every moment that I’d been awake, on a first date or a job interview, on a run, or in a chair, drunk at a concert or sober in bed, standing up or upside down, I’d been mildly dizzy.
I’d seen ear doctors and neurologists, acupuncturists and ayurvedists. Had MRIs that showed a swollen left inner ear, specifically my utricle (a crystal-filled straw that tells the brain which way is up and which way is not), but no one had been able to tell me why the utricle was swollen or how to permanently make it not. And after years of always being a tiny bit off-kilter, causing me not to be fully present with myself or anyone I loved, I began to accept that I would never get better and I contemplated whether living a life like this, constantly distracted and tilted to one side, was worth living at all.
So, there I was, 1,095 days and 26 health practitioners later, sitting on a porch, staring at the face of a ripped-sweatshorts-wearing-hippy, who claimed that a vomit- and diarrhea-inducing hallucinogen from the forest might help.
I glanced down at the journal I’d brought for the weekend. On the first page, I had written, Intention: fix ear. I looked up.
“Either the drug fixes me,” I told Kapétt, “...or it doesn’t.”
“We don’t say drugs, Alex,” he said, staring. “We say medicine.”
Unamused, I stared back.
In Quechua, “aya” means spirit or corpse, while “waska” means rope. To make drinkable ayahuasca, you need two different plants. Plant 1: Chacruna, an uninteresting, leafy green plant, that looks like something you’d ignore at West Elm before finding out it contained the psychoactive substance known as DMT, and Plant 2: Banisteriopsis caapi, an eerie vine that grows up to 98 feet long, wrapping itself around the branches of other trees like a snake. This second plant contains no psychoactive component but instead comes with an MAO inhibitor called harmine, which acts as a lubricant, allowing Plant 1’s DMT to cross the blood-brain barrier and cause us to trip.
The thought of tripping didn’t scare me, but other things did.
The rest of the piece can be found in Esquire.
I felt this article was a fantastic depiction of what is or possibly is on the other side. I could not stop reading. I could also relate completely as someone who has attended an ayahuasca ceremony. Much of this is exactly how I felt. It was great reading from someone who could articulate it so well. I admire your writing ability to transport the reader with joy, humor and a down right great perspective. Looking forward to reading more from you. What an experience! Thank you for sharing.
Great article! Can you share where you had this experience and the cost? Im interested in doing this myself.