Written by Jessica Joy Jerome.
Art by Savanna Fortgang.
In 2015 I traveled into the Andes mountains in Peru and sat with the medicine over the course of 6 traditional ayahuasca ceremonies, led by a shaman of Shipibo lineage named Ronaldo.
I think it is important to explain a bit about where I was at, going into this journey. The Why of it all. My State of Being. I was 29 and feeling very lost, for starters. The idea of going into a dedicated healing space where no phones, no computers, no Netflix or Uber Eats, or emails or alcohol, no Tinder, or sex, or weed, or validation of social media -where no external distractions or numbing devices would be available to me for ten whole days- seemed like a good place to start trying to figure out who I was. Who was I, without all of these at my literal fingertips? I was feeling numb and apathetic, the highs and lows of life had seemed to flatline.
Despite a keen awareness that most of my damage comes from living as a woman in a fat body in the context of a culture that is systemically oppressive, fatphobic and cruel to fat adults and children alike, I had an innate understanding that what was really wrong with me was internal. While stigma and hatred of fat bodies creates a heartbreaking barrier of access to compassion and love in this world, I knew it was not my body that made me unlovable. I was rotting from the inside: a ripe, juicy peach that, once bitten, dark, bitter, sour sludge would come oozing out.
My first ceremony gave me exactly what I had asked for: zero distractions. There were no visuals, no downloads, no blast off; just a constant oscillation between fear and disappointment. I listened to the icaros, and those around me in a symphony of purging. I imagined the tortuous possibility of every ceremony being just me, alone with my thoughts, in the dark.
Being fat in a culture that shames you, consistently, daily, in both big and small ways, is a trauma. Add to this the very ingrained idea that a woman’s worth lies in her body and it becomes very clear, from a very young age, who is and who is not deemed worthy of success, happiness, love.
Anticipating the second ceremony, I felt a shift: a great well of long buried emotion bubbling up. It terrified me. I cried quietly into my cup as I held the medicine in my hands before drinking. In a psychedelic practice “set and setting” is one of the pillars. ‘Set’ = mindset. Your intention. This night I would come to understand the true force of intention when it is an energetic state of being rather than simply words on a scrap of paper. Mine, repeated over and over through tears, went: “Mother Ayahuasca, I am so grateful to be here with you. I am lost and very afraid. I don’t recognize myself anymore. I know I need to leave behind the thoughts holding me back. I don’t know what to do. Please help me, please guide me.” This plea was in my bones, it poured out of me.
As the medicine came on, She made her presence known, quietly, lovingly. I thanked her for being there. I could feel her, working within me. Blast off, I did not; but instead stayed decidedly, gloriously, grounded within my body in ways I had not previously had access to.
To be taught to hate your body from the time you are aware enough of yourself to understand that it is seen not just as wrong, but despised in the eyes of your culture, is to live in shame. Shame, repeated over time, becomes trauma. Being fat in a culture that shames you, consistently, daily, in both big and small ways, is a trauma. Add to this the very ingrained idea that a woman’s worth lies in her body and it becomes very clear, from a very young age, who is and who is not deemed worthy of success, happiness, love. I was, at this point in my life, extremely disconnected from my body and a star at dissociation. I lived above the neck.
I began to be aware of my primal womanliness, suddenly reaching new depths in my understanding of the experience of womanhood. I felt powerful and ancient and wild, with a beauty and sensuality that had nothing at all to do with being earned, awarded, or acquired: but essential.
As I swam, accompanied by the felt presence of Mother Ayahuasca, through the darkness of my being, traveling downdowndown deeper within, there appeared a light, growing in the darkness as we approached – a marquee! There it was, in bright, flashing lights:
I’M NOT GOOD ENOUGH.
She had guided me through the darkness and delivered me here at the foot of this blindingly bright announcement flooding the dark expanse of my core and all at once I understood. This was it. This was the poison. This noxious phrase had infected so many parts of me and I could see the way it lived so fully and comfortably within me, colouring the way I moved through life, with me at every turn. Almost simultaneously, I understood with overwhelming clarity that this disease was not a part of my inherent being and that the phrase itself was a complete falsehood. It was such a convincing lie, but it was a lie. Without doubt or confusion, I am worthy became truth.
I began to sob. Big, purging sobs. I was so overcome by happiness and gratitude for these discoveries – pure joy in a way I had never experienced. I reached up to wipe my face and as I did, the act of my own touch struck me as beautiful. It was such simple pleasure. I caressed my arms and ran my hands over my belly and hips and thighs. I began to be aware of my primal womanliness, suddenly reaching new depths in my understanding of the experience of womanhood. I felt powerful and ancient and wild, with a beauty and sensuality that had nothing at all to do with being earned, awarded, or acquired: but essential.
The healing I received that night fundamentally shifted me and the way I live and think and love. I do not live blissfully free of “I’m not good enough” and I continue to experience life as a fat woman in a fatphobic society, so retraumatization is a part of my reality. This healing path is not linear and ayahuasca is no quick fix. While the work that can be done in a single ceremony, or series of ceremonies, is deep and profound, it is not a one-and-done. The rewiring of my neural pathways to “I am worthy” continues to be a practice I fall in and out of feeling successful at. Ayahuasca offered me a path back to myself, back into my home: my body. She gave me an awareness that continues to inform my understanding of and relationship to my body, its intuitive wisdom, our culture, my sense of Self, my relationships and the way I give and receive love.
About the Author
Jessica Jerome is a whole ass woman who splits her time between Toronto, the forest and New Orleans. A multidisciplinary artist, writer and filmmaker, working primarily as a production designer and set decorator, Jesse focuses on projects with a priority on women, POC and queer led stories. Her interests include ritual, magic, consciousness and psychedelics. Jesse is currently in development on her project, PSYCHEDELICACIES, a podcast about psychedelics, entheogens and plant medicine through a queer, feminist lens. www.psychedelicaciespodcast.com
Follow on IG: @ __psychedelicacies_____