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Embracing Identity & The Human Experience: Heather’s Story

“I don’t think life is about quelling who we are,” Veteran and Psychedelic Coach, Heather, asserts, her words echoing with clarity. “I think the point of life is to experience what it fully means to be human.” Accepting what it means to be human, messiness and all, lies at the heart of Heather’s remarkable journey. Through years of personal work, in which psychedelics have played a pivotal role, Heather has made tremendous strides on a path dedicated to self-love and acceptance. She understands that healing is a process that she will continue to undergo forever.

Heather’s story begins not with triumph, but with a descent into depression, alcoholism, and the lingering shadows of past trauma. Her military service, meant to instill purpose and structure, became a breeding ground for her internal conflict. Surrounded by a culture of masking pain with alcohol, Heather’s struggles remained hidden. “It’s hard to see yourself as an alcoholic when everyone around you drinks like you,” she reflects. Drinking was a socially accepted escape from her true feelings, but the escape was always temporary.

As a bi-racial child raised in predominantly white communities, a sense of “otherness,” was a core part of Heather’s struggle. She felt herself in a constant search for belonging that seemed out of reach. This lack of truly knowing her roots, compounded by her military and other life experiences, left her feeling unmoored and unworthy. The turning point, a suicide attempt in 2014, served as a wake-up call. Leaving behind an unhealthy relationship, she sought solace in therapy and a 12-step program where she began to face the pain directly, taking responsibility for past actions, and beginning to see truly what was in her power to control.

As Heather’s exploration into her suffering deepened, she made the decision to stop taking the pharmaceuticals that were holding her captive in a haze of numbness. “I realized that the medications were making me feel nothing. I used to drink because I didn’t want to feel my emotions, and I realized I had been taking medications that do the same thing. It’s not really healing.” As she undertook the work of beginning to truly feel and move through her emotions, she turned to psychedelics, which she had learned could help with the process.

After a few experiences with psilocybin mushrooms that didn’t have an effect on her at the time, Heather had a DMT experience that stirred something deep within her soul. She relates the experience to the letting go of many years of pressure “It was like there was a release valve and something opened it.” Intense emotion poured out. The experience was overwhelming and terrifying, but by fully expressing all of the pain, hurt and rage, she was able to release it.

“When it was over, it was like I had purged 15 years of pain,” she recounts. “It was like I finally reached the point I had been trying to reach with therapy & AA for all of those years – like a deep pain had finally left me. And I was left with love as the answer.” She describes a love so profound and so pure, that it transcended any notion of love that she had previously held. She recounts, “This was a feeling of love deep within my bones. I had never felt that feeling before. I didn’t know that type of feeling existed, I didn’t know that’s what real love felt like.”

Although a tremendously impactful experience, Heather acknowledges that her healing work was by no means complete. Subsequent plant medicine journeys have helped her face her shadows, the parts of her that she’s ashamed of and struggles to love. Heather understands that these shadow parts of herself are just as integral as the parts she finds easiest to accept. Through coming to know and accept her shadows, her ability to love grows.

Psychedelics gave Heather profound insight into her complicated relationship with identity. She’s learned that it’s important to own, witness, and accept all aspects of herself but it doesn’t serve her to hold tightly to any of them in order to feel a sense of self. “I’m still working on what identity means for me. It’s a very complicated conversation, I’m still figuring it out.” One way she continues to figure it out is by working to integrate the insights from her psychedelic experiences into her daily life.

The practice of acceptance is at the heart of Heather’s integration. “The daily practice is remembering that it’s all about love, which means when the little girl in me feels alone, unseen and unworthy after being hurt by someone, I have the capacity to love that little girl as well as love the adult me who is trying to protect that little girl.” Heather makes a point to share that just as it’s important to accept herself, a crucial part of healing is offering that same acceptance to others. If someone hurts her, Heather can now see that the other person’s behavior is also “born from their experiences, pains and traumas that have shaped their lens of the world”. The practice of accepting others has given her agency to choose how she responds rather than reacting in ways that don’t serve her.

Heather’s current work as a coach for other veterans has been another crucial piece of her integration journey. Coaching others has instilled in her a deep trust in the flow of life and the power of presence. It’s a constant reminder that true choice lies not in controlling others but in responding with intention and compassion to the ever-unfolding present moment.

Witnessing clients confront their own shadows and navigate challenging experiences also serves as a mirror. She describes the coaching relationship as extremely reciprocal. In the process of helping others, she is continuously presented with opportunities to deepen her awareness of who she wants to be and how to get there. She sees the ability to serve others as a gift, noting that  “To sit with someone on their own healing journey is the greatest honor I’ve had.” Each client interaction becomes a source of learning and growth for Heather herself, reinforcing the interconnectedness of healing and the profound impact it can have on both parties.

Heather’s journey is a vibrant tapestry woven with threads of pain, growth, and self-discovery. It reminds us that embracing our complexities, both light and shadow, is the true essence of being human. While her story showcases the transformative potential of psychedelics, it also underscores the universal power of self-acceptance, responsibility, and love. As Heather continues to navigate her journey, she leaves us with a poignant message: the depths of our pain hold the seeds of our transformation, and within each of us lies the potential to experience what it truly means to be human.

Written By: Tom Mulhern
Former Marine Corps Artillery Officer