When I was 13 years old, a boy pushed me off a trampoline when I refused to kiss him. I fell off onto concrete and directly on my tailbone. As I hobbled off holding back tears, I was speechless and in terrible pain. I remember praying that he didn’t see me cry and witness my moment of weakness. As I walked more than a mile home, bawling about my physical and emotional discomfort, I couldn’t get over how shocked I felt by his response. I thought he was my friend. I couldn’t figure out what was worse, the pain in my hips, the seat of my femininity, or the fact that this person hurt me because I didn't do what they wanted me to do.
That day has had a lasting impact on my life both consciously and unconsciously. I’ve been so afraid of men, made sure to obey and be good, for fear there will be physical consequence. It was as if my base and root chakra was so thrown off that I haven’t known my own safety ever since. With that one angry impulse of his, my sexuality and way of the being in the world felt under attack. My anger pushed aside in favor of sadness and feeling hurt. Anger from anyone, especially myself, feels terrifying and extremely unsafe.
Several years later when I was in college, I was sexually assaulted while under the influence of alcohol and I had a similar sense of fear that I couldn’t identify. Only a familiar disassociation, general overwhelm, and loss of self. For most of my life, I have operated in this half in and half out way of existing in the world, unsure of when/if I want to be embodied. I barely eat and mostly run on sweets and caffeine. My sexuality covered over by fear of not doing what someone else wants and having immense difficulty owning my own desires and pleasure. Except for on a rare occasion, I disassociate the moment sexual intensity reaches a certain threshold.
I exist in a way where I constantly feel like prey, wondering whom I need to please to stay safe in any given situation. Feeling overwhelmed by being alive in general and unsure how to find my own steady ground in moments of even a remote sense of fear. My trauma “fawning” response almost constantly on high alert, and my disassociation almost immediate in most cases with any semblance of discomfort. It has taken me so long to recognize as this trauma response, instead of just how I am.
Mostly I’ve also been afraid to name feeling like a victim, not wanting to be damaged or complicated around sexuality or conflict. Afraid to slow down and ask for what I need out of fear of being punished. But it takes me a long time to feel safe with someone physically and most often I override that by going with the flow of someone else.
And so many years later this fear and disassociation away from of my own needs and wants has manifested as major immune issues. Especially the past few months, where I have a constant stream of infections, fever, and weakness. In short, my body has no idea how to defend itself. It doesn’t know how to protect itself from beings that don’t belong, and instead it attacks itself. It blames itself for its invasion instead of doing its best to protect. My adrenals on constant fight, flight, or fawn mode. And I’m exhausted most of the time or working with anxiety.
I’m tired of constantly evaluating my surroundings for safety, exhausted from not enjoying sex the way I want because I can’t stay present with myself, wondering why my energy always seems to elude me.
So, I did what any California weirdo who is desperate would do and decided to try Kambo ritual, a ceremony involving burning a secretion from Amazon frogs into the skin. I heard amazing things about what it is supposed to do for the immune system and figured it was worth a try. After so many doctor’s appointments and mostly people telling me it was just anxiety, I decided to take things into my own hands…or frog legs as is the case.
The phyllomedusa bicolor--sidenote how amazing that is has the word medusa in it--aka waxy-monkey frog or giant leaf frog is native to Amazon rainforest and active at night. It responds to a specific call that shamans use and then they capture the frog and scrape the waxy secretion from its legs onto a wooden stick.
However, to me the most interesting thing about this magical “medusa” frog is that doesn’t have predators—and therefore may not feel fear. Even the process of retrieving the kambo doesn’t harm or kill it. As a reptile it has a reptilian brain, or “triune.” This frog doesn’t seem to have a fear switch and follows its call. I like to imagine what it must be like for this creature. It hears something that intrigues it, it approaches without caution and instinctively knows it will be safe. Something I am not sure I have ever experienced.
Obviously, I am not a neuroscientist, but it felt important to orient more to the brain to offer some clues about, so I did my best to remember some of my basic anatomy class information while using Google for support. In humans the reptilian brain part of the brain is the oldest and most primal part of located in brainstem and cerebellum. The reptilian brain, or basal ganglia, controls our bodily functions such as heart rate, breathing, and body temperature. It also governs basic needs and first chakra activities such as mating, territory, feeding/eating…and fear. All things my body can't quite seem to negotiate.
It is our predatory and prey instinct and helps us determine if we are hunting or being hunted. The basal ganglia wants us to seek pleasure and avoid pain, even to the extend of our food choices and hormones as it releases dopamine as our reward for productivity. Or goal achievement.
My reptilian brain had become really confused, not sure when to be on alert or how to feed myself or know when it wanted to mate. And Kambo was the medicine I didn’t know I needed.
A therapist friend/acquaintance of mine, Jonalyn Blaha, PsyD, who went to my graduate posted on FB offering Kambo and my curiosity piqued. So, despite my normal leaning away from psychedelic or other conscious altering medicines, mostly because I’m afraid of losing control and not feeling safe, I decided to give it a try.
A few weeks later, she arrived at 9 a.m. on a Saturday--of course as an astrologer I looked at the best transits before choosing a day--and while we got situated, I drank around a liter and half to prepare for purging the liquid and possible dehydration. We sat for a bit and talked about what was going on for me physically, emotionally, and spiritually and then the ceremony began with cleansing smoke and tobacco. As she burned holes into the skin on my shoulder, I knew something was about to shift.
I was nervous not knowing what was going to happen. Commonly people may faint, vomit, have diarrhea, none of which sounded appealing, but I was ready for whatever needed to happen for my healing. As the medicine was applied to my arm, I almost immediately felt heat and a quickening of my heart rate. My entire face and jaw lymph nodes felt on fire and I felt an energy shoot into my left hip where I had my injury so long ago.
I crawled to the bathroom preparing myself for a purge, but when I got there all I could do was sob. So, I sat on the toilet with my head resting on the sink across from me and wept. It was old tears and new tears filled with the sadness of not being present for myself, or others. The sadness of missing out on so many intimate moments because I felt so scared. All the pain and hurt feelings and fear of myself and others purging in the form of tears into my arms and bathroom sink.
After the twenty minutes had passed, she wiped the secretion off my skin, and I sat on the floor shivering. I immediately felt shame, as if I hadn’t done it the right way, perhaps I didn’t ask for enough poison or it was too easy on me. We processed a bit and then I took a shower and a long bath with the plants she brought over…mostly flowers, which she intuited perfectly.
Then another purge began, for hours after I was releasing from my bowels. I spent the rest of the day in bed watching my favorite nature docuseries and cat napping with my kitty. As I slept, I could feel something was different, but it hadn’t yet landed in my awareness.
When I woke up on Sunday, I felt hungover and drained, but still present and attuned to myself. I figured I would test myself a bit and went to an outdoor concert, met up with a friend, and then ate dinner with a friend I ran into. My relating felt cautious but still centered in myself, I felt able to name and notice how I felt and even what I wanted. I found myself feeling territorial of my space on the bus and even easily angered. Best of all I was hungry, ravenous actually and ate six times that day.
It has taken me time to feel, but something in my nervous system switched, or in my ganglia (now I just like to type that). I can more easily notice the anxiety I feel when out in the world and sooth myself more easily. I feel okay noticing and naming when something feels off rather than spinning into fear. And while I haven’t had sex or been in a sexual situation, I trust that I can allow the slowness and security I crave to be made real instead of self-abandoning into disassociation and fawning response to please someone else so their rejection doesn’t mean my pain.
While I don’t know how long this shift will last or which aspects may be more permanently integrated, I feel grateful for a frog whom I've never met for teaching me to be less afraid.