Celia Peachey, 35, lost her mum, Maria Stubbings, at the hands of an ex-partner and previously convicted murderer in 2008. Determined to overcome the tragedy, she has been searching for mental and emotional release from her anguish ever since. Meditation and campaigning for change has helped, but a profound experience with the psychedelic substance ayahuasca at an Ayahuasca Internacional retreat in Spain has been particularly beneficial.
Ayahuasca is a DMT-laden plant mixture from the Amazon that induces altered states of consciousness, lasting around four to eight hours after ingestion. It has been used by shamans in the jungle for thousands of years for its physical and emotional healing properties, but remains of dubious legality in the West. Below, Celia gives her account of how the trip allowed her to process what had happened to her mother.
It was like something was breathing for me. My hands were completely relaxed and I just lay there surrendering while primordial laughter and hysterical screams of grief came out of me. To anyone else it would look like I was possessed and in some horrible torment, but it was rather as if I was being released of possession. I was not going mad, but, instead, coming to my senses.
It was the first night that we drank ayahuasca together, lying in a circle under blankets in the Spanish villa's ornately-decorated lounge. Vivid and stunning images graced the screen of my consciousness. Cascading colours seemed to amplify my feelings.
With the last remnants of the feeling running through my body, I had thought it was over. I started to laugh as I looked around the room at all of us. Vomiting, diarrhoea, rolling around on the floor. 'What am I doing? This is a mad house,' I said to myself.
Suddenly, I was taken by the ayahuasca again. That's when the eruption of emotions hit and the intense release happened. I was overcome with a sense of being absolutely terrified of love. My mum and her story coursed through my mind.
Because of abuse she had suffered as a child, love scared her. Healthy relationships didn't last; her low self worth made her both vulnerable to and more receptive of people who were likely to hurt her. In that moment, the ayahuasca showed me how this, in turn, had become such a big fear of mine – that if I fall in love, I could destroy it, go mad or attract the wrong person.
During the second night's ayahuasca ceremony, I felt a profound connection to the universe and celebrated all the people I love in my mind's eye, especially my brother. I'm lucky he's alive today, because the man who murdered my mum then followed him around the house to stop him finding her body. My mum was dead in the bathroom, and had my brother found her, he'd be dead too.
It was 15 minutes after leaving a ten-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat in Hereford that I discovered my mum had been murdered. I was standing in a field and I just screamed. I had the thought, 'This either breaks me or makes me,' and quickly decided on the latter. I felt that something cosmic was addressing the balance. I knew I was going to be OK.
My mum was murdered in the most degrading and horrific way. She was sexually abused, beaten, strangled with a dog lead and left in the downstairs toilet. The killer emptied her bank accounts, sold our Christmas presents, sold all her clothes and my brother's toys, and lived in that house for a week, as she lay dead.
I had met the man who took my mum's life. He seemed nice enough the first time we met, but I soon realised something was not right, as my mum became increasingly nervous and confused.
The last time I saw her, I remember telling her I'd take her out for her birthday when I got back from the meditation retreat. She was standing in the lounge and I felt like she wanted to tell me something, but she couldn't. I think he might have been hiding in the house. As we drove to the station she said to me: "I love it when you're around, Celia, I feel so much stronger." That was the last time I saw her. She had hugged me so tightly.
An inquest into her death concluded nine months ago and found that there were numerous failings on the part of the Essex police, including misconduct and negligence. While we received an unprecedented apology, I am now campaigning with charity Refuge to bring about sustained change for future victims of domestic violence.
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We have two thirds of the signatures we need to lobby parliament for a public inquiry into state failure. If we get to the required 75,000, the way the system is operating at the moment will be re-evaluated so that victims of domestic violence get the protection they deserve. Challenging the system at large through this campaigning gave me some relief, but I still felt a need to look at my own internal system.
I had read about ayahuasca, and it initially scared me, as there's a certain amount of letting go of control required. Then a friend of mine discovered this retreat where people took ayahuasca psychotherapeutically, and we decided to do it.
During the ceremony, I could feel a gripping, squeezing sensation and utter surrender, as if all of my fears and self-doubts were being wrung out of me. When I had a vision of bringing people I usually kept a distance from closer to me, I could feel myself about to be sick at the thought. As I had that thought, in fact, I vomited. You can name the things you are purging, and it was clear to me that I was releasing the fear of intimacy that I so crave.
Due to my life experience, I have felt fear in relation to everything. So much so that I couldn't leave the house; I couldn't eat. Ayahuasca really helped me to transcend this fear.
There's a lot of scepticism around ayahuasca, but that's probably because there is currently not enough familiarity around it. It hasn't been advertised, so we haven't yet had the conditioning to accept it, though the increase of information on the internet is changing that. Also, a lot of us are operating from a place of fear in our lives. Ayahuasca makes you face your fears and face yourself. Not many of us are willing to do that.
It's now been about two weeks since my return and I feel safe. I haven't felt safe for such a long time. I have cleared my sadness and freed myself from a lot of grief. It's weird not feeling attached to my sadness any more; I almost miss it. But at the same time, I feel really grateful. And strangely free.
Sign the petition for a public inquiry into police and state agency response to domestic violence here.
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