Hi! I’m Jeanae, one of the owners of New Life Ayahuasca. I wanted to introduce myself and share a little about where I came from and how I got to be where I am now. I’d like to describe my story in my own words because it’s the most natural way for me to write and I think there are parts of my story that most people can relate to from mental health struggles & addiction to the path to self-discovery and acceptance. My journey with plant medicine has never felt like one I specifically chose but more one that chose me. I couldn’t be more grateful and humbled by the journey life has taken me on, even through the most difficult parts and I hope that by sharing my story honesty, it offers some inspiration to see that sometimes the most beautiful outcomes in life are born in the darkest moments of the soul.
I struggled with my mental health as far back as I can remember. I was raised in a secular household that was devoid of religious or spiritual influence. While as an adult I appreciate that there was no indoctrination pushed on me, I felt that the lack of any spiritual practice in my home created a void inside that made me question the purpose of my existence. I suppose that’s natural and normal to some degree, but combined with being bullied by both my peers and my siblings and not having any real friends to speak of, I ended up a very sad and lonely child.
This internal solitude and isolation bred me into a people pleaser of the highest degree, and my self-worth became directly determined by the validation I received from others. As I matured into a young woman, this validation-seeking behavior turned to the affections of men, so when I was an impressionable 15-year-old and I started receiving the attention of an older man in a position of influence, I completely submitted to his control. This led to a highly toxic, emotionally abusive, and manipulative relationship that continued for almost 5 years.
I would say that I lost myself in that relationship, but I’m not sure I ever knew who I was in the first place. I was so easily controlled that when the relationship finally ended, I realized that I had worked so hard and put so much energy into defining myself by someone else’s expectations that I truly had no idea who I was.
I descended into a dark depression plagued by obsessive thoughts of suicide. I didn’t want to live but I was too scared to die, so I decided being numb was the next best thing. When the pain finally became intolerable, I turned to heroin. Some people fall into addiction by accident or circumstance but not me - I chose it. The very first time I used heroin I overdosed. I woke up in an ambulance and had to spend the night in the hospital for observation. That was enough to make me leave Chicago and stay away from heroin for about a year, but as soon as I moved back to the city, I found my way to it again.
It didn’t take long before my addiction became so consuming that I couldn’t keep a job. It continued to get progressively worse. I was kicked out of my home, I was arrested multiple times, I was hospitalized for infections that required surgery, and I overdosed 5 more times that required medical intervention. I went in and out of jail, rehabs, and methadone/suboxone programs. Finally, in 2014 I violated my probation and was sentenced to 30 days in jail.
While I was incarcerated, my sister heard about an alternative addiction treatment called ibogaine. Ibogaine is a visionary plant medicine that comes from central West Africa but because of it’s is psychedelic properties, it is illegal in the United States. However, there were plenty of treatment centers in Mexico and Costa Rica and everything online indicated it could be a promising treatment for drug addiction so when I was released from jail, she and my mom asked me if I would be willing to try it.
The truth is I was scared. I was terrified because despite how painful it was to be living as an addict, the life I remembered before heroin was even more painful. I wasn’t sure I was ready to stop using, but I had few options left. Most of my family had already cut me off and my relationship with my mom, my last source of support, was hanging by a thread. I knew if I didn’t change, I wouldn’t have anyone left so I agreed to try ibogaine.
Iboga, in its traditional use, is at the center of an extremely complex spiritual practice and while researching places I discovered that there were two types of treatment centers. The first used ibogaine in a strictly medical sense offering detoxes in a clinical setting. The second used ibogaine in a spiritual capacity, offering some ceremonial work in the treatment program. Being the atheist that I was, I wanted nothing to do with anything spiritual or ceremonial, so I chose a place in Mexico that was very sterile.
I started preparing for my trip but something inside felt off. Spontaneously I changed my mind and decided to go to a place in Costa Rica that included the spiritual elements and ceremonial use of iboga(ine). I’m not sure what sparked that pivotal decision because it was so contradictory to the type of person I was at the time. It’s not that I was against spirituality, I just couldn't understand it. I assumed all religion, faith, and spiritual practices were fantastical stories made up by people who were too scared or intimidated by the unknown that they had to invent something that would assign value to an otherwise meaningless life.
So, what made me change my mind? I don’t know if I believe in divine intervention but it certainly felt as if something outside of myself made that decision for me. And so, I arrived in Costa Rica on July 7, 2014. (7,7,7). I went through the ibogaine treatment and tried the best I could to keep an open mind about the ceremonial practices but at the end, I felt angry and defeated. Ibogaine did not work as I had hoped. I did not have any ‘visions’, I still went through withdrawal (which ibogaine was supposed to alleviate) and I certainly didn’t find any internal peace, acceptance, or understanding. I felt utterly broken. If I had tried everything else available to me in the United States, and even flew to Central America to try one of the most powerful psychedelics in the world and it did nothing, was I destined to be a lost & miserable drug addict forever?
Matthew, who had just completed his own treatment and was now volunteering at the ibogaine center, suggested I try ayahuasca. He had recently attended his first ceremony and it obviously had a big impact on him and so he thought maybe it could help me too. I had never heard of ayahuasca and I was skeptical but willing to try anything. Less than a week later, he took me to my first ceremony.
My first ayahuasca experience was difficult to describe. It was so intense that I was unable to comprehend the things I was seeing and the intensity of the feelings I was having. It was so incredibly overwhelming that, in the moment, it did not make any sense to me. But after 5 hours of questioning if I had descended into a madness so profound that I’d never make it out and be trapped there for eternity, I slowly but surely returned to reality.
It was in the state of regaining consciousness that I started to realize I was not seeing through the same eyes or with the same perspective I had started with. I began having revelations and awareness of things that had been right in front of me and seemed so obvious but I hadn’t been able to recognize. First, I felt gratitude like I have never experienced before. Gratitude for being in Costa Rica, for the warmth of a fire under the stars, gratitude for my family and their support but more than anything, I felt grateful to be alive - grateful that I was not slumped over in an abandoned house on the West side of Chicago with a needle in my arm and I cried. I cried for all the people that I knew from home that were still stuck in that life but I knew that I never would be one of those people ever again.
Second, I understood spirituality on a level I could never comprehend before. I understood the connection of all things, humans to nature, the duality of life, and the divinity that is ever-present. With time I’ve come to realize that I was being guided all along to choose the ceremonial ibogaine place, to meet Matthew, and to find ayahuasca.
The next two years were a bit of a whirlwind. Matthew and I started dating and we both volunteered at the ibogaine treatment center until it closed at the end of 2014. From there, we volunteered at an ayahuasca center for 4 months and then returned to work with ibogaine for another 4 months. In June 2015 we went to Peru for the first time to meet Ron Wheelock, who we are honored to now call our teacher and friend. All this paved the way for us to open a retreat of our very own and we decided to called it ‘New Life’. We have been operating since September 2015 and have welcomed nearly 2,000 people across hundreds of retreats.
Working with plant medicine has been a humbling path and one that I continue to learn and grow from. It has afforded me and Matthew many amazing opportunities, including going to Gabon, Africa in 2017 and being married in a beautiful ceremony after Matthew’s initiation with iboga. It is a true honor to be a part of other people’s journey with ayahuasca and I am always inspired by the effort to heal. I continue to learn as much from the people that attend the retreats as I do from the medicine itself. It's magic. Real magic.
If you had asked me back in 2013 to describe what I thought my perfect life would be, I couldn’t have even imagined anything that could compare to what I have now. For the longest time being alive felt like a punishment I had to endure but ayahuasca helped me see that life should be celebrated and that joy is always available to us. The greatest lesson that I have learned is that we are capable of so much. We really can heal and we really can create the life we want.
Everything I have is a direct result of the positive impact ayahuasca has had on my life and the gifts that Matthew and I continue to receive by dedicating ourselves fully to this path. I wouldn’t have it any other way.