When I tell people that I spend my vacations in Mexico, they think that I’m sitting on a beach sipping margaritas and frolicking in the blue waters of the Caribbean. But for the last few years, a better portrait of these excursions involves me sitting in the jungle, pouring the contents of my guts into a bucket, and being thankful for the experience.
In fact, I just got back from two weeks in the Mexican jungle, extending my knowledge of entheogens — earth medicines used to treat a number of physical and mental health conditions commonly found throughout the world and endemic in the United States. As is typical of these events, yes, I puked my guts up. Sometimes, that’s just how the medicines work, part of how they teach. They also show us our connection to the world, to each other, to our past and future, and in ways I cannot describe here. They are beautiful medicines with equally beautiful spirits.
But more importantly, for the purposes of this commentary, I got to see people on a journey of healing, confronting lifetimes of trauma that otherwise had them trapped in a regimen of psychotropic drugs, dulling the pain but also dulling the grandeur of life.
Interestingly, many of these earth medicines — or more precisely, their molecular contents — are illegal, listed on various drug schedules of banned compounds. So, as a policy practitioner, I find it fascinating that it’s perfectly legal for people to be prescribed any number of antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and other drugs, which they will be required to remain on for the rest of their lives, but access to alternative treatments that do more than just mask symptoms is so offensive to the government that U.S. citizens must travel to another country or risk an encounter with law enforcement to get the medicine that could actually help them begin their healing journeys.
In the last few years, I’ve seen people from all walks of life, from all over the world, confront the trauma that otherwise would have them turning to the pharmaceutical industry and medical welfare programs for help. I’ve seen people successfully start to cope with the loss of a child or a spouse. I’ve seen people successfully navigate and begin to heal from the aftermath of rape or other forms of sexual abuse. I’ve seen veterans who watched their friends literally be blown apart or killed in war begin to process their experiences and deal with their PTSD, not merely try to suppress it. I’ve seen people with intractable, seemingly untreatable physical pain confront past trauma that they’ve long forgotten had formed that pivotal moment that quietly steered the direction of their lives and contributed to their agony.
Suicidal behavior, doubts about decisions, and, indeed, the very reason for being have all been part of these medicine circles. These earth medicines are not a miracle resolution. They are “teaching medicines” that help people begin a process of writing a new story for their lives. As for me, when I participate in these journeys, when I help with the healing of others, I help heal myself.
In raw dollars, the money spent on Idaho’s medical welfare program called Medicaid has grown by about 672% since 2001, from $600 million to $4.7 billion in the current fiscal year. Lawmakers are understandably concerned that costs are out of control, but they’re focused on “solutions” that don’t really address the underlying societal issues and human trauma.
And the numbers tell only part of the story. They reflect a decision on the part of the political establishment, heavily funded by the medical-industrial complex, to keep people away from alternative forms of treatment and keep them on programs and prescriptions that do nothing but focus on symptoms. A side effect of programs such as these is that it keeps us from directly participating in the healing of others.
The fact is, I’ve seen more healing come from out of the jungle than I’ve seen come out of any statehouse hearing room or from any program that policymakers might conceive. It really does not have to be this way.
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