My Fellow Psychedelic Space Holders,
As medicine space holders we are in potent positions to both heal and to harm. This role comes with profound responsibilities. When people in our care enter boundary dissolving states and place their incredibly vulnerable and permeable psyches in our hands, it is our work to create safe containers. I think we can all agree on this. And yet, despite this collective agreement, I think we, as a whole, are failing to create safety for each other in one key way.
As a sex and relationship coach and psychedelic somatic trauma resolution facilitator, I am struck by how little attention and resources are being directed to the cultivation of our sexual integrity.
We are offering medicine work in a context where 1 in 2 women and 1 in 3 men have experienced sexual violence during their lifetime. No matter your gender, that is a heartbreaking and enraging amount of sexual violation. If we were to expand our definition of sexual trauma to include the impacts of homophobia, purity culture’s pleasure-shaming influence, and the traumas of neglect that riddle our development as healthy sexual beings, no one reading these words could claim that their sexual selves have emerged unscathed.
As practitioners and wounded healers we are a population of givers and receivers. We need to bring attention to our sexual wounds in both of these roles. The wounds of Eros are sorely unacknowledged in the average psychedelic practitioner's healing journey. The integrity of our offerings is limited by how much we have addressed our core wounds.
When we open up psychedelic states, unintegrated traumatic material is bound to surface. A safe and effective healing container will be prepared to receive such traumas. As psychedelic practitioners we have profound opportunities to meet those traumas with corrective experiences and life affirming responses. Our capacity to offer embodied, response-able presence in relationship to sexual wounding and aliveness is influenced by how much we have integrated the truth of Eros in our personal and professional fields.
What can we do personally and collectively to create safe spaces that acknowledge the honest truth of Eros in the human experience?
We may find ourselves attracted to our clients. They will likely be attracted to us. Like it or not, a full body encounter with a repressed sexual trauma memory can breakthrough right in front of us. A soothing hand on the back of a journeyer's heart could activate an erotic current. Moments later, that very same touch could be the thing that helps a participant's sexually abused inner child feel a sense of safety and trust. Waves of undulating pleasure might take over our client’s body in a medicine space. Do you currently have the ability to be present and spacious around the emergence of such highly charged Eros? Do you trust that you won’t shut down and inadvertently shame them? Might expressions of Eros hook into your unmet desires and activate some graspy, ethically challenging impulses? What do you do then? What do your training and support networks offer to help you prepare for the emergence of Eros in a psychedelic healing container? What safe spaces are there for you to process these challenges and get compassionate guidance, non-shaming education or heart-centered supervision?
Why aren’t we doing more to increase our capacity to hold sexual(ity) hurts and healing opportunities with more grounded presence, skillfulness, and trustworthy sexual integrity?
The standard curriculum of many emerging psychedelic training programs are deficient in touch training let alone sexual trauma training. This pattern of omission is also found in many academic therapy trainings that feed psychedelic certification programs with practitioners. Underground programs and practitioners’ sexual integrity are hard to track. Accountability is near impossible to cultivate in the shadows. Shadows exist for a variety of reasons.
I can’t help but suspect that this phenomenon of avoidance on matters of pleasure and embodiment is an expression of the dissociative fog that our sexuality traumas get lost in.
Judith Lewis Herman MD, author of “Trauma and Recovery” does an excellent job of revealing how the individual symptomology of trauma can be echoed in the shapes found in our cultural’s macrocosmic expressions when she discusses the roots of sexual trauma in the diagnostic label ‘hysteria’ in the history of psychoanalytic theory. The acknowledgment that so many women were victims of disturbing sexual violence from colleagues and respected community members was too hard to hold. Disassociation, gaslighting, and denial reigned. This predictable symptom of disassociation continues to prevail in many forms.
The disconnect that blocks us from healing sexual traumas within our personal mindbody and family systems is the same disassociation and denial that blocks us from healing sexual trauma patterns in significant ways as a culture of providers.
The above ground context of mental health therapy and all its regulating bodies can help create safety from traumas of commission (traumas created from things that shouldn’t have happened like non-consensual sexual contact). Unfortunately, these same limitations can also generate sets and settings that are primed to perpetuate traumas of omission; wounds generated from the absence of needed support.
A trauma of omission (a term I gratefully received from Kylea Tayler in her solid book “The Ethics of Caring”) is trauma that formed from the lack of something needed for our embodied, emotional, relational and, I would suggest, our sexual well-being and development. Amongst these key ingredients are our needs for healthy boundaries, touch, intimacy, body sovereignty, pleasure affirming modeling and somatic attunement. Many psychedelic training programs and therapeutic stances neglect to incorporate skill development in many of these realms. We can do better.
Neglect is a classic trauma of omission. How many of us got the touch, intimacy, affirmation and attunement we really needed to thrive? How many of us were shaped by neglect in our development as intimacy desiring, pleasure motivated, embodied beings? How did our sexual impulses get shaped when our desires were forced to eke out their existence through the cracks of sex-shaming, pleasure devaluing family systems and cultures? Did your mom accidentally catch you masturbating and spaciously positively affirm your sexual expression and while honoring your boundaries? Was your mind just blown at the thought of that? How might a lack of sex-postive affirmation with healthy boundaries influence how we show up (or don’t show up) as psychedelic facilitators? How might that lack of healthy modeling make us more vulnerable to misattunements and ethically questionable impulses?
I believe the practices of repression that we lean on to try to contain the “threats” of sexuality in more regulated settings (eg Oregon’s psilocybin health services) are at risk of perpetuating traumas of omissions in psychedelic spaces. In ordinary state talk therapy we can discuss sex related things with focused intentionality and boundaries, but in non-ordinary medicine states, when the stuff of our core traumas and conditioning rise up to the surface and don’t bother asking for anybody’s consent, I assert that compartmentalization does not cut it.
I believe the corrective experiences that so many of our traumas long to receive are to be found in wordless, embodied communications: the quality of one's touch, the empathy found in an eye gaze, the intimacy of a soft heart, the transmission of trust expressed in one’s prosody, the substance of one’s grounded posture and the attuned responsiveness of dynamic microexpressions. This degree of somatic response-abilty is made possible through the cultivation of our mindbody awareness and integration.
I hold that we need more somatic, experiential training and healing spaces to learn how to meet sexual traumas and expressions of Eros with embodied skill, not just neocortical, top down repressive protocols. The position that the neocortical mind can create the depth of safety needed for wounds held in our limbic and reptilian brains is not unlike other stories of oppression found in our history. Mind over matter. Humankind’s illusionary dominion over Nature. The intellect’s perceived hierarchy over the body’s wisdom. Science’s historical dismissal of indigenous ways of knowing.
These controlling, repressive approaches eventually backfire as they lack integration and all beings in the system suffer for it. Can we stop doing that please? Can we start with how we integrate the stuff in our somas that arise when the wild ‘threats’ of Eros get stirred?
To be clear, I’m not advocating for no boundaries whatsoever. I don’t think that uncontained, dysregulated, threshold disregarding explorations of sexuality in medicine states is what is needed. I’m not advocating for chaos. I am advocating for more integrative systems and practices to emerge in our shared field.
Daniel Seigel MD, in the audiobook “The Neurobiology of We”, articulates a beautiful model for healing and wholeness that is inspired by the fields of complexity theory and physics. In that moral-neutral scientific field of study there is a recognition that open, self-organizing systems are most adaptive, responsive and functional when they are characterized by a balance of differentiation and connection. He uses the harmonious song of a choir as an example of something that balances differentiation and connection.
Lack of differentiation leads to rigidity and fixation. That is the sound of droning, deadened voices. Lack of connection leads to cacophony and chaos. That is the disturbing sound of dissociated, unconscious psychedelic practitioners colliding with sexual compulsions and traumas with little self-awareness, accountability and empathy.
How can we cultivate our sexual integrity from the inside out? By mindfully contacting the sensations, emotions, body impulses, core beliefs, anticipations and perceptions that arise in situations touched by Eros we increase our capacity to be sexually integrous. Contacting the above encoding languages of our core conditioning and traumas with witness consciousness is a whole-making act of differentiation and connection.
This embodied cultivation of our capacities needs containers that are enriched by the essential ingredients many of us failed to receive in our development as sexual, intimacy seeking beings. We need settings that have healthy boundaries, touch, intimacy, body sovereignty, pleasure affirming modeling and attunement.
How can we possibly cultivate our capacity to be response-able in matters of Eros in safe and integrated ways for each other if we perpetuate an ethos of denial and shame in regards to our sexual desires and embodied intimacy needs?
It is the numbing, shame and splitting around our core needs that create the context for compulsions to take hold. It is the disconnect from the embodied fulfillment of our potent desires in our personal lives that can lead to the unconscious leveraging of power differentials in our professional roles in an effort to feed those disembodied hungry ghosts. Let’s not do that please.
I can’t help but think that centuries of denial of the healing value of pleasure, Eros, Nature and the body’s wisdom have bred within our personal and professional systems shadows that perpetuate distrust, harm and neglect of self and others.
What is one way you can help break the dissociative code of silence in regards to how we are holding (or more accurately not holding) the truth of Eros in the psychedelic healing space? How can we powerfully acknowledge the traumas, shames, betrayals, disgusts, fears, humiliations and rage states that lay, neglected underneath this shared field of disconnect? What essential needs, boundaries and values might these powerful feelings point to? How can we call upon the wisdom of our bodies and our medicine allies to help us compost this unintegrated shit and grow something new, healthy and unmolested by shame or violation? What would it be like to take some risks and ask for what is needed for safety, fulfillment and sexual integrity from yourself, your practitioners, colleagues, mentors, training programs and regulatory bodies?
If we don’t vulnerably and courageously invest in cultivating more sexually-integrous spaces for ourselves and each other we risk painful, trust-diminishing repercussions. Let’s not go there. Instead, I hope that we can compassionately acknowledge the disconnects and dare to ask for more– more truth, more alignment, more awareness, more safe spaces, more embodied learning environments, more support, more accountability practices, more supervision, more guidance, more calling in, more information exchange and more integrity in all senses of the word.
Please. Our world is longing for our integrated wholeness.