The Story of My Deepest Traumas
Or: How I became who I am
Note: What follows is an in-depth story of my deepest (childhood) wounds. I wrote most of this in ~June of 2022. Recently I lightly edited it, inserted a few bracketed notes, and added a conclusion. If I wrote it now, it would be different in some ways. I wrote this while I was right in the midst of some huge (birth and early-childhood) trauma healing processes. At times the tone sounds kinda resentful; I feel less of that now—more gratitude. My ego’s need to seem special and wise also comes through fairly strongly in a few places. Nonetheless, I feel this is a powerful autobiographical story containing a lot of valuable insight and meaning-making around (collective) trauma, so I want to share it with you. Thanks for reading. — JB
“Family and friends are life’s greatest treasures.”
— My Dad, Dan Bates
A few weeks ago, my parents, my sister Anna, and Anna’s fiance, Alana, visited us in Azores.
I am so grateful to have a family that cares enough about Tanja, Lila, and I to fly across the world to a remote island in the middle of the ocean to visit us.
We had a wonderful time exploring the enchantments of the island together. The best part was simply being together, as a family.
Family is truly a priceless treasure. I am grateful to have been raised within a large Midwestern extended family that deeply understood and honored the value, meaning, and sacredness of family bonds.
The extended family is one of the last vestiges of humanity’s ancestral history — a history that was characterized by tight-knit tribal communities living together, relying upon one another, and caring for each other.
Yet in this strange modern world, even families are being eroded, and the true meaning of family forgotten. What were once thriving, robust networks of closely-bonded extended families, have gradually been reduced more and more to the ‘nuclear family’ unit, which is now giving way to an ever-rising number of single-parent or zero-parent households.
Consciously and unconsciously, we have designed a civilization that atomizes, alienates, and disconnects us from the things that matter most — home, family, rich bonds, communal life, tribal festivities, wild nature, interdependence, raising wise children, resilience through togetherness, and ceremonies of birth and death and everything in-between. These constitute the very heart and soul of what it is to be human.
For years, I was largely disconnected from these place-based, communal aspects of life.
I left my home and my family at age 18 to wander out and explore the world. First I spent 4 years at university in Lincoln, Nebraska, about 3.5 hours from home. And then I took a much larger leap, moving to Asia in 2013 at the age of 22, where I would live for 16 months. Since then, for nearly 10 years, I have lived nomadically, hopping around the Earth, visiting 30+ countries.
A friend once told me, “In every curse there is a blessing, in every blessing a curse.”
Many people dream of a lifestyle like the one I have lived for the past decade. And don’t get me wrong: It’s been astounding, exotic, inspiring, and I am deeply grateful…
Every path has its tradeoffs. Every path is a cage in some way.
The dark sides of the digital nomad lifestyle relate to un-rootedness, lonesomeness, lack of time with family and old friends, and a lack of embedded-ness in a place-based long-term community.
In my experience, nomads are often running from something. And I sometimes wonder…
What have I been running from all these years?
A Story of Childhood Wounds
Like I said, in terms of family I am profoundly blessed. To grow up not only with two loving and supporting parents, but also with a wonderful sister, four loving grandparents, and many lovely aunts and uncles and cousins—some of whom are like brothers to me—as well as many awesome animal-friends…
Wow, what a blessing that was and is.
Naturally it wasn’t all rainbow sparkles and fairy dust. For all its joy and beauty, life on Earth is a painful and challenging adventure too, no matter which way you slice it.
My parents and family did the best they could—and they did an amazing job. Above all, they truly loved me. They hugged me, they showed and expressed their love. They believed in me. They told me to follow my dreams, and that I could do anything. For that, I am eternally grateful.
Yet, like everyone, they were also operating in our highly dysfunctional civilization. Again, don’t get me wrong: In many ways our modern civilization is miraculous; it’s incredible what it enables us to do, create, and enjoy…
“In every curse there is a blessing, in every blessing a curse.”
The shadow sides of our civilization are numerous.
From one perspective, we have designed a civilization that systematically traumatizes our children from birth, separates us from them, forcibly indoctrinates them, and gradually breaks their spirit to transform them into conformist worker-bees.
To freely educate one’s own children (i.e. ‘unschool’ them), is actually *illegal* in ~90+ countries.
In my own life, the shadows of our civilization showed up in the following ways:
I arrived in this world on March 25th, 1991 in a non-ceremonial, over-medicalized, brightly-lit hospital birth, with various strangers in masks rushing around. One of my very first experiences was to be snatched away from my mother and to have part of my penis systematically chopped off.
My mother did not breastfeed me—did not give me that most primordially nurturing experience of secure attachment—as she had been convinced by her bizarre culture that artificial ‘formula’ is an adequate replacement.
For most of human history, mothers slept with their children. Babies and their mothers would be basically inseparable for the first years of life. I once heard of an indigenous culture in which children do not even touch the ground until they are two years old—they’re continuously held by the mother and other family/tribe members. My mother’s culture had conditioned her to believe that “sleep training” me to spend my nights in a separate room, would be just as nourishing.
Furthermore, in the USA, working women typically receive only a heartbreakingly brief 8-week period of maternity leave. My mother’s employer, a supposed ‘healthcare’ office, asked her to cut this period even shorter and return to work after just 6 weeks.
As such, from a very young age, I was sent to my aunt’s daycare, forced to spend several days per week apart from my mother—the one person I desperately needed and wanted. Certainly I was fortunate to be at my aunt’s daycare, where I would grow up with my cousins, but at that early age, nothing in the world can replace close loving contact with one’s mother.
My mother has told me that she felt a great deal of guilt and pain about this, but ultimately, she felt like she didn’t really have a choice but to return to work, to help pay the bills.
[Note: In spite of all this, my mom says I was a happy and smiley baby. So admittedly it is somewhat difficult to decipher the precise impact that all these things had on me. My understanding of all this is based on intuition, a lot of reflection about my life-path, plenty of research on trauma/wounding/healing, and a number of (psychedelic) experiences in which I seemingly revisited birth and early-childhood traumas.]
As a baby and young child, I was injected many times with various questionable substances that ‘experts’ convinced my mom would help make me safe. One of my earliest memories is of running away and hiding at the ‘doctor’s office,’ trying to avoid the injections, then being found, forcibly carried, held down as I struggled, and injected with further questionable substances.
[This memory is eerily reminiscent of something that happened to me years later: Upon breaking my neck while skiing in ~2012, I was told I would need to receive a catheter. Upon realizing what a ‘catheter’ was, I repeatedly said, “No, no, no, don’t do that, I will pee in a bottle or wet myself, don’t do that,” but I was ignored and pinned down, as medical staff shoved a long plastic tube into my penis—burning, scraping, torturing my body from the inside out. I experienced this as something akin to rape.]
Within a few years of birth, I was then sent to preschool, where I would begin my ~15-year journey of the forced indoctrination and obedience training that we call ‘public education.’ For most of this time, I was forced to spend ~8 hours per day sitting silently in tiny ‘desks’ in small, crowded rooms. I was forced to pass most of this time completing busy-work, memorizing and regurgitating largely-useless trivia. I was conditioned to unquestioningly obey authority figures and to believe that ‘experts’ had already found all of life’s important answers. I was rarely encouraged to follow my own curiosity, enthusiasm, or creativity. Rather, I was taught that jumping through endless hoops was the path to ‘security’ and ‘success’ in life.
In school, I was also conditioned into a twisted teenage culture that mirrored the adult culture in my small hometown—a culture of cliquiness, gossip, harsh judgment, racism, homophobia, and bullying, in which I was bullied and bullied others. In my closest circle of guy friends, we bullied and verbally abused each other constantly, laughing at ourselves, realizing only semi-consciously that we were hurting one another and obliterating each boy’s sense of self-esteem.
Furthermore, my family was Catholic, so I was taught from a young age that I must be a ‘good boy,’ or else I would burn in a pit of flame for all eternity. At age ~8, I was forced to go to ‘confession’ for the first time, where I was pressured to “confess all my sins” to the local priest. Only by confessing sins and asking God’s forgiveness, I was told, would I one day be able to go to Heaven and avoid burning in eternal Hell. This fear- and guilt-based indoctrination affected me deeply, wracking me from a young age with a hyper-active guilt complex and a tendency to torture myself over relatively minor missteps. For years, I felt an almost-pathological need to confess my every ‘sin’ to my mother.
In the interest of presenting a balanced picture, I also want to note here that I see many beautiful things about our healthcare, education, and organized-religion systems. There are many good-hearted people working in these institutions, genuinely attempting to serve and often doing so. In my life I met honorable and inspiring people in all of these institutions—people who impacted my life for the better. In school I also made lifelong friends who I cherish to this day. And in my hometown, many people are largely kind and gregarious, despite the shadows that often lurk behind closed doors. Nothing in life is black-and-white; it’s always many-dimensional.
Nonetheless, these early-life experiences impacted me deeply. I believe I have always been an extraordinarily sensitive being — an artistic, mysterious soul, destined not to fit in any prefabricated box. Perhaps deep down this is true of all of us. While my childhood contained many invaluable gifts, it also consisted in many ways of my being forcibly ripped away from my mother, wounded, traumatized, indoctrinated, brainwashed, bullied, guilt-tripped, fear-programmed, and shoved through a cookie-cutter system designed to mold me to ‘succeed’ within a sick civilization. In the modern age, scientists are finally catching up to what shamans have always known: These early-life traumas leave deep scars that profoundly shape our lives.
“It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
— Jiddu Krishnamurti
It’s not so surprising, then, that something eventually ‘snapped’ within me. When pressure builds over many years, and when deep wounds are left unaddressed, the psyche will eventually create (destructive) situations that allow for a release of pent-up energy.
In my case, this began with various forms of teenage rebellion: Cursing violently on the golf course, stealing from local stores, ‘stacking the deck’ in my favor while playing poker with my own best friends, mouthing off to teachers, pulling pranks at school, disobeying my parents, listening to violent rap music, verbally abusing strangers on Xbox Live, masturbating to hardcore porn, experimenting with my sexuality, driving above the speed limit, and beginning to drink alcohol and smoke cannabis.
By the time I arrived at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2009, I was primed and ready for a full-on explosion of rebellion and energetic release, and that’s exactly what happened. My four years at UNL passed in an often ecstatic, often hungover haze of copious herb smoking, binge drinking, video-gaming, weed dealing, sexual (mis)adventures, one-night stands, ‘keggers,’ ‘frat bro’ festivities, untamed parties, drug highs, drug lows, road trips, concerts, and psychedelic (dark) trips.
Never wanting to disappoint my parents, I had always aced my way through school, and I aced college academically as well. I even found time for a few wholesome extracurriculars to bolster my resume. On paper, I was an outstanding young man attending a fine university on a full academic scholarship. But in reality, outside of doing ‘the basics’ to “keep my life on track,” I was lost, tail-spinning, and on a total rampage—often greatly enjoying myself, yet sometimes tasting extreme depths of hollowness and despair.
It was during this time that cannabis, magic mushrooms, LSD, MDMA, and sometimes even alcohol or other drugs, began to show me another side of life that I had no idea about. These substances, in combination with some funky individuals I was meeting and ‘dangerous’ authors I was reading, began to dissolve large chunks of the programming that had been hammered into me all my life. The psychedelics in particular began to show me that society as I knew it had been designed by other humans who were no smarter than me—designed in a way that was not in my soul’s best interest. They showed me that life had infinite possibilities beyond the life-script I had inherited. They showed me that the “mystery of it all” was alive and well, and that I was meant to become a student of Life, to find my own answers. They began to reveal to me a depth of mystical beauty, profundity, and oneness within reality—indicating a Higher Order and Intelligence operating within the universe.
This sounds romantic, and it often was, but eventually it also became excruciatingly difficult. I will never forget the dark mushroom trip at age ~21 in which I realized I had some degree of ‘bisexuality’ within myself. I can chuckle now, as this no longer seems like a ‘big deal’ at all, but at the time it was a full-on crisis. Raised in a culture of deep homophobia, in which my best friends constantly called each other “gay” and “faggot” as an insult, to be even remotely ‘gay’ felt like the worst possible thing that could happen. I had a near-breakdown at the time, and this was only the beginning.
That dark mushroom trip seemed to render the barrier between my conscious and unconscious mind permanently far more permeable. As such, in the months and years that followed, I began to be tortured by an eruption of ‘intrusive thoughts’ and the agonizing feelings associated with them. I can now see that this was likely an extended healing process of long-repressed energies releasing from my system, but at the time, I was not well-equipped to cope. My mind was often bombarded with taboo images of naked family members, suicidal visions, ‘inappropriate’ fantasies, sexual content, and guilt-infused memories of mistakes I had made, largely during my wildly drunken college years.
I felt like a freak. I wondered if I was going crazy. I felt like something must be ‘wrong’ with me. The shame, guilt, and anxiety were crippling for years to come, often beginning immediately upon waking in the morning—like a demon roiling and writhing in the pool of my mind—with me being powerless to stop the process.
Again, though, there were blessings in the curse: This level of suffering propelled me deeper and deeper into self-inquiry, as I sought to unearth and dissolve the root of my affliction. As a result, I eventually became a hell of a lot more masterful at holding space for myself and working with whatever is arising. Life is still miserable sometimes, but overall I have reached a place of deeper peace.
Getting Way the Heck Away From Everything
Back to the story: So, anyway, my college years were one giant orgy of escapism, addiction, primordial energetic eruptions, and running away from my early-life traumas (while also simultaneously beginning to understand those wounds, heal, and discover Divinity).
But I wasn’t done running yet. Not by a long ways.
On some level, there was still a tiny child in me, with a black spike through his heart, screaming out, “Get me the fuck away from these people who abandoned me, hurt me, and lied to me. Get me away from this society. Get me away from this culture. Get me away from this fucking country.”
And get away from my country, I did.
I got about as far away as earthly possible, moving to the city of Busan, South Korea at age 22, to teach English. I would end up living in Asia for 16 months, backpacking to ~10 different countries during that time. That chapter changed my life forever, further activating and igniting the fires of my wanderlust and thirst for adventure. As I shared earlier, from that point onward, the travel basically never stopped. I became nomadic, rarely living anywhere for more than a few months at a time, and have been wandering the Earth for nearly a decade now.
[Note: At this point in 2023, having an international family, the irony is that I can’t really stop traveling, even if I want to. In recent times I’ve often felt a desire to move back home to Iowa for a long while to be with family and old friends, but I can’t. There’s some sort of saying that says something like, “Choose your freedom wisely, because your freedom will become your cage.” In a sense, that’s what happened to me: I am now indefinitely trapped in a life of international travel, since we want to visit both our families at least ~1-2 months per year. Sometimes I don’t like this and don’t want it anymore, but that’s life. It is what it is. I also appreciate a lot of things about nomadism, so I’ll take the good with the bad.]
Naturally, there are a thousand other stories I could tell of what transpired during those years: Stories of harrowing close-calls, near-death experiences, exotic escapades, preposterous missteps, entheogenic fireworks, run-ins with outlandish characters, romantic infernos, shattering heartbreaks, wild rap performances, vocational revelations, legendary parties, monumental initiations, revolutionary rebirths, and countless purges, releases, and mystical experiences.
Perhaps one day I’ll write it all down—at least the slivers I still remember. For now, let’s keep the focus on family and trauma.
Did I ever stop running away?
Maybe. I’m not sure.
I do feel like I’ve healed in profound ways over the past decade. Life guided me to ayahuasca in 2018, and within a few ceremonies with that particularly terrifying-yet-liberating trickster of a medicine, I experienced an enormous breakthrough. After many hours of sickness and vomiting and astounding visionary rendezvouses with extra-dimensional intelligences, I came out on the other side feeling reborn. At the time, it felt like about ~95% of my guilt, shame, and anxiety had utterly evaporated. Addictive relationships with porn, alcohol, and cannabis seemed to spontaneously heal, to a great extent. The past that had previously felt so real and three-dimensional, seemed to collapse down to something that felt more like a two-dimensional past life. I experienced such direct and indisputable contact with Divinity, that my trust and faith in Life seemed to quantum leap exponentially. I surrendered to the flow of Life on an entirely new level, and for months after I felt almost as if I were floating. I felt free — finally free.
Years later, I can now say that I do feel like that rebirth with ayahuasca was a deeply healing turning point in my life. At the same time, I don’t want to paint an overly rosy picture, or to portray ayahuasca as a panacea. No healing or awakening experience happens in isolation. In my observation, our entire lives (potentially across many lifetimes) are nothing other than healing and awakening journeys, whether we recognize them as such or not. My entire life (and perhaps parallel lifetimes of mine) had been preparing me for that ayahuasca rebirth. I had been consciously on a healing and awakening journey for ~8 years by that point, doing a lot to pre-pave the way for ayahuasca’s consciousness-firehose to clean me out. And, even though at the time it seemed like I’d been reborn into some kind of perpetual bliss-flow, Life would soon show me otherwise. As it always does, the master teacher called Life had more tests in store—many more.
Despite dozens of prior psychedelic experiences, those early experiences with ayahuasca were my first truly ceremonial experiences with entheogenic medicine, in a shamanic context. The power of this context was a revelation for me, and I was called to go deeper. Since 2018, I’ve been called to undergo about ~70 ceremonies, primarily with ayahuasca and Bufo alvarius (5-MeO-DMT). I cannot begin to express what occurred during that great mass of ceremonies. Many lifetimes of multi-dimensional experience were digested. God was discovered with increasing directness to be Life itself—to be the infinite universes and dimensions of manifest Creation, as well as the changeless, ageless Stillness beyond Creation, of which Creation is made. God is all, none, forever beyond. God is pure intelligence. God is mystery. God is Love.
In this time, I delved deeper and deeper into the esoteric art and science of non-dual enlightenment, reading countless books on the subject while cross-checking the texts with my own direct experience. In early 2019, an excruciating romantic heartbreak provided a further catalyst on my path, and in the wake of that event—aided by the words of Eckhart Tolle, David Hawkins, Pema Chodron, and Jed McKenna—I began to see and know the non-dual aspect of reality in an increasingly direct way.
Later that same year, another world-shattering rebirth occurred: After being romantically involved with a powerful shaman for several months, she broke up with me, taking a proverbial jackhammer to my heart right before I was about to attend one of her ayahuasca retreats. In spite of the breakup, I attended her retreat, and for four nights in a row the woman I madly loved served me tall cups of strong, thick Peruvian ayahuasca—and I drank them, setting the intention to let her go. That retreat—and the events that followed—proved to be one of the most utterly insane initiations of my life. I won’t go into all the details here, but suffice to say that I experienced several of the deepest primordial releases of my life. In the second ceremony, after hours of sobbing and vomiting and traveling through realms of darkness, I ‘broke through’ into a space of blinding white light, in which “I” was no more. There was only the luminous peace of God. This non-dual mystical experience was by far my most powerful up to that point, and in hindsight, it seemed to foreshadow what was to come—as it was uncannily similar to a number of later experiences I had with the “God molecule,” 5-MeO-DMT.
After this non-dual mystical experience in 2019, I went through a period of inflation and grandiosity, in which I felt I was now definitively “awakened,” perhaps even “enlightened.” My human persona shifted substantially, and I began to frequently embody more of a ‘guru’ energy. My writing took a fairly dramatic turn, as I began to write in a sort of prophetic voice, making definitive-sounding statements with huge conviction.
When I look back on what I was writing and saying during this time, though I chuckle and cringe slightly at the ‘prophetic guru’ energy, I find many of my messages to be resonant, powerful, valuable, and accurate. To this day, in my experience and observation, the core message I was transmitting is true:
Reality is indeed an infinite, already-complete, hyper-intelligent, loving, mysterious, unitary Being—and you are one with that Being.
God is real, and all is one with God.
As a skeptical 18-year-old who was flirting heavily with atheism, I never would have guessed I’d end up sharing such a message, with great conviction.
But, that’s the way the chips fell. God loves plot twists. The Tao laughs merrily at gigantic surprises.
Something I find really fascinating, though, is this:
Even though I seemingly “found God” and began obsessively reading and writing and speaking about non-dual awakening…
That doesn’t mean I wasn’t still running away.
In fact, to a substantial degree, I think I was.
As Ken Wilber wisely observed, “waking up” and “cleaning up”—i.e. awakening and healing—are not the same thing, and though interconnected, proceed in many ways along parallel paths.
Just because one has had seismic awakening experiences—and even become decently established in non-dual recognition—does not mean that one has healed one’s core wounds.
Far from it, in my experience and observation.
For many—including even many non-dual teachers and gurus—I believe non-duality functions as an extremely subtle and sophisticated mechanism of self-protection, escapism, ego-inflation, and dissociation. By continuously “dissolving into the Absolute” or over-fixating on the non-dual, one is able to bypass or dissociate from many of the swampy, sticky, painful, dual realities of being human.
[Note: Be sure to read my post ‘You Are Not God’ to understand more about my critique of non-duality.]
Interestingly, just because someone is engaging in non-dual bypassing, doesn’t mean the person’s awakening is illegitimate. They may well be mystically advanced, while still in some ways being psychologically deeply wounded, dysfunctional, or immature.
This is how we end up with so many ‘fallen yogis’—gurus who wind up abusing their followers in various ways, or engaging in other dubious activities. Despite their human shortcomings, many such yogis do have tremendous wisdom to share.
So, all of that is a helpful contextual basis for understanding the following assertion:
I was still running away.
One note of clarification here: I did visit my Iowa hometown often during my nomadic years, usually staying there for ~1-2 months per year, sometimes more, sometimes less. “If you think you are enlightened, go and spend a week with your family,” as Ram Dass famously said. Though it would usually be triggering in interesting ways, I generally greatly enjoyed going home to visit my family and old friends. This enjoyment increased as the years went on, and the triggering-ness seemed to decrease, leading me to believe that I was indeed healing on deep levels.
At the same time, though, I would typically start to get the ‘itch’ to leave again after a few weeks, and then I’d jet-set off to the next foreign destination. Iowa always felt surrealistically ordinary, as if it never changed at all. On some level, I think I was afraid of being an ordinary boy from an ordinary small town in Iowa. That might mean that I wasn’t ‘special.’ And my entire (subconscious) identity as the “awakened nomadic guru figure who escaped the matrix” was inextricably bound up with an inflated (subconscious) idea of my own specialness.
From a young age, I had to be special. When I was ‘unpopular’ and bullied and feeling like a totally awkward loser in middle and high school, I began to tell myself, “Sure, that’s how it is now, but I am way smarter than these people. I’ve gotten the top grades, I’ve always been told I’m ‘talented and gifted,’ I’m the smartest person in this school. They’re going to end up working at Burger King, whereas I am going to accomplish great things.”
So this ‘specialness’ complex developed early on—probably much earlier than my narrativizing accounts for—as a protective mechanism to puff myself up and shield myself from feelings of insecurity, rejection, failure, and not being ‘enough.’ I had to be special, I had to be great, I had to succeed, or else I (subconsciously) feared I would disappoint my parents, and they might abandon me again. Of course they hadn’t abandoned me in any permanent sense, but again, I believe I incurred a deep abandonment wound from the infanthood traumas of being continuously separated from my mother, not breastfed, forced to sleep in a separate room, etc.—not to mention the fact that simply being born into this world, and having one’s umbilical connection to one’s mother severed, is in itself a tremendous primordial abandonment wound that we all must deal with in one way or another. Human existence is no cakewalk. It’s a hardcore training ground for the soul, no matter your ‘lot in life.’
So, where were we? Ah, yes, so I’d say bye to my folks and my friends, hop another plane, crack another beer, open another book on non-duality, and sail back out into the ‘wild blue yonder,’ and the cycle would continue. I’d tell myself that I was heading back out on my heroic quest for truth and deeper enlightenment and soul purpose and living my ‘highest excitement’—and on one level, I was.
On another level, I was still running away. Still using my travels and flashy lifestyle and mystical practice to feel ‘special,’ sedate myself, dissociate, bypass my humanity, and at all costs avoid being ‘trapped’ somewhere that might bring me face to face with my deepest wounds.
For as long as I can remember, my only recurring nighttime dream-theme is of being trapped. I’ve had countless dreams of being kidnapped, taken hostage, imprisoned, enslaved, stuck on an island, held against my will, and so forth. One time ayahuasca showed me what seemed to be a ‘past life vision’ of myself in chains, as a slave. The jury’s out on whether that was truly an image from a past life, but in any case, the point is clear: There is something in me that is really, really scared of being trapped and wants to avoid it at all costs.
Naturally, this fact, too, is almost surely connected in some way to my primordial traumas. Why did I spend so many years hopping place to place? Why was I never able, for the longest time, to make a romantic relationship last longer than ~20 months? Why was I the archetypal ‘addicted lover’ who had broken his heart (and other hearts) so many times? Why did I end my first two long-term relationships when things got tough, despite there being a lot of true love and nourishment present?
My guess is that I subconsciously knew that if I allowed myself to be ‘trapped’ for too long in any relationship or community, it would become akin to a pressure-cooker that would bring up my deepest wounding. And I wasn’t ready for that.
Until I met Tanja.
Healing in the Pressure Cooker
Tanja Schomann and I met on the internet, of all non-places. She reached out to me one day on Facebook in the spring of 2020, asking if I’d like to be interviewed on her podcast, a show about the intersection between psychedelics and system change. I had an auspicious feeling about her and agreed to do the interview.
It’s a funny historical fact that our first conversation ever was recorded and is publicly available. It was a fun, winding, fascinating conversation about consciousness and the ‘new paradigm’ and all the things, and I felt almost preternaturally charmed by my interviewer’s sincerity, innocence, and vaguely British accent. Who was this enchantingly sweet German professor?
It turns out that she felt a spark too, and next thing you know, we were meeting up in a Zoom room for a #ThankYouPlantMedicine dance party—a quintessential event in the early days of the Corona pandemic. Soon after, we found ourselves spending hours on the phone nearly every night, conversing about everything and nothing and the spaces in-between.
I don’t remember which of us first suggested a physical meet-up, but it was definitely mutually ‘heavily indicated.’ Due to the pandemic, there were almost zero countries in the world at that moment where a German and an American could meet one another. Mexico was one of the few. Tanja had already been to Mexico and loved it, and I wanted to visit, so the plan was set.
On 7/7/20, our ‘first date’ in physicality began—a lovely 6-week adventure together from Mexico City, to San Cristobal, to the coast in Oaxaca. After returning to our respective home countries for a few weeks, we rendezvoused in Mexico once again to pick up where we left off.
Fast forward a few months to late 2020, and there we were, lying together post-ceremony in the maloca, on an ayahuasca dieta at Kumankaya Healing Center: “Will you marry me?,” I asked spontaneously, having made no prior plan to ask. “Yes,” was her immediate response.
“When you know, you know,” as they say.
I don’t want to over-romanticize things and pretend that Tanja and I haven’t had our conflicts and challenges and moments of doubt and so on and so forth—we certainly have—but to this day, ~34 months after we met online, we are happily and gratefully in partnership, engaged to be married, and joyful parents of our beloved Lila. All signs indicate that this is just the beginning for us, and for that I am excited and thankful.
I didn’t know it when I met Tanja, but she would be the one to ‘trap’ me—or rather, we enthusiastically agreed to ‘trap’ each other—in the pressure-cooker I had feared for so long. And when we opened ourselves to receive a child and found out we were pregnant with Lila, the pressure-cooker was fortified all the more. The stage was set. We had all but locked ourselves in the oven, and thrown away the key.
I guess I was finally ready for it, though that does not mean it’s been easy.
Don’t get me wrong: Tanja is an exquisitely, unprecedentedly kind and graceful being, and I truly could not ask for a more wonderful partner and mother of our daughter.
At the same time, Life, ever the master teacher, really orchestrated the ‘perfect storm’ these past couple years, in order to confront me with my deepest wounds.
I mean, let’s tally the equation for a moment:
There I was: Early 2020. “Minding my own” as a freewheeling ‘matrix escapee’ and online pseudo-guru figure who’s been flowingly wandering the Earth for 7 years. At that time I was fresh off of Envision Festival 2020, chillaxing at an eco-village called PachaMama in Costa Rica, contemplating non-duality. Riding high. Blissfully unaware that my entire life was in many ways a trauma response designed to enable me to avoid facing my deepest early-childhood wounds. Living the dream.
Next thing you know:
ARRIVAL OF LILA, OUR GREAT TEACHER.
MOVING TO VOLCANIC ISLAND IN THE MIDDLE OF THE OCEAN.
EXPLOSIVE, MESSY, GLOPPY, EMOTIONAL PURGES.
DEEP, SLIMY SHADOW WORK.
CREDIT CARD DEBT.
LIVING WITH OUR PARENTS.
REPEATED HUMBLINGS OF MY INDEFATIGABLY SELF-RE-INFLATING EGO.
GRADUALLY, BIT BY BIT, RETURNING TO GROUNDEDNESS, HUMILITY, AND THE HEART.
Quite a “Saturn return,” hah.
I’ve learned that healing can be a messy rollercoaster of a process.
And for me that messy process is definitely ongoing.
Yet I do feel a clear sense of progress.
I feel almost entirely free of addictions in this moment.
And in the past few months I have felt a distinct movement within myself toward groundedness, humility, service, loving presence, and the simple truth of the heart.
I’ve also really calmed down about our situation and challenges. My body feels much more relaxed most of the time and I am literally breathing easier, and deeper. I’m finding a greater embodied trust in where I am. I take these as signals of healing.
I might write a ‘Part II’ of this post at some point to delve deeper into the story and share in more depth about what’s gone down these past couple years since Lila was born. Let me know if you’d like that.
All in all, I’m grateful. My heart feels full. I feel truly close to family. Life doesn’t feel too much like a pressure cooker for now. It feels warm and cozy a lot of the time.
Lila is sleeping on my chest as I write this ‘outro’ in February of 2023. I am grateful that I get to selflessly serve and care for her ~30-40 hours per week. As people say, parenthood is indeed like a demanding ‘full-time job’ that you don’t get paid for, yet I believe it has been the exact medicine I needed—to help me get off my ‘high horse,’ come back to Earth, feel all the things I’d been running away from, and open my heart.
Thank you, God—my Father, my Mother—for your mysterious ways. You know better than I do what it is that I need. I trust you in this moment. I trust where you have placed me at this time. I’ll do my best to be an expression of your Love.
P.S. What came up for you in relation to this read? What have you noticed about my journey that I am not seeing, if you’ve been following along for a while? How has your journey been similar, or different? I’d love to hear your truth via an email reply or a comment on the blog.
P.P.S. I published a novel over the weekend. You can read the Prologue and part of Chapter 1 on Substack here. The full thing is presently only available to paying supporters of my work. I’ll probably make the full novel publicly available sooner or later. I’ve also been releasing quite a bit of music lately on my Bandcamp, if you are curious to listen.
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Work With Me: In addition to being a writer and musician, I am also a space-holder, psycho-spiritual coach, heart healer, and (psychedelic) facilitator. I support people to release old wounds and patterns, return to the Heart, align with Divinity, live their calling, lead from Love, and be what they truly are. I do this work in 1:1, group, men’s work, and retreat contexts. If you feel a spark to experience the spaces I create and hold, reply and let me know, and we can have a heart-to-heart to find out the best way I can serve you.
Brotherhood: I have begun re-opening the doors of Brothers of the Ever Innocent Heart—the men’s circle & brotherhood I founded about 6 months ago. We’re still going strong, and we’ve cultivated a truly beautiful, heart-full space for men to heal, grow, find their truth, use their voice, return Home to Love, and increasingly live their calling. If you are a man who senses that the time is ripe to participate in a sacred weekly men’s circle, reply and let me know, or apply to join us here: