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Matt's Story - HBO's VICE

Get to know our owner and ayahuasquero, Matthew, and how he went from being a heroin addict in Philadelphia to become an ayahuasquero.

Matt’s easy-going and humble nature make it easy to open up to him, which is a great quality to have when working with ayahuasca. It’s important to Matthew to be able to connect to the people that come to us and since his history holds a little bit of everything you can imagine, it's easy for him to bond quickly and really relate to what drives an individual to seek healing through ayahuasca.

Matthew’s journey with plant medicine began in 2011 when after years of battling drug addiction and trying every traditional rehab method available without success (i.e. medicated detoxes, 30-day programs, Suboxone maintenance, support groups, meditation, and personal development courses) he stumbled upon an episode of National Geographic that featured a number of psychedelic plant medicines and their uses. One of those plant medicines was ayahuasca.

The first segment of the episode was about ayahuasca and Matthew felt an immediate connection, mesmerized by the images and sounds. “Thats it - thats what I have to do," he thought to himself.

The second segment featured a plant from West Africa called iboga and centered on its capacity to effectively alleviate opiate withdrawal and treat opiate addiction. This ignited a spark of hope that he thought was lost many years ago.

Matt went online and started to research ibogaine treatment but was discouraged to find that most places cost thousands of dollars for a week-long program. As a struggling addict without that kind of money, he felt once again that healing was just out of his reach.

On a whim, he decided to look up the iboga facilitator that had been featured in the National Geographic episode and reached out to him directly. Matthew shared a bit about his background- first struggling with substance abuse and attending rehab for the first time at only 15 years old, then at age 19 being diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a very rare form of bone cancer and a subsequent volatile and toxic relationship that led him down a road of self-destruction and heroin use, Matthew had experienced a great deal of suffering and he was desperate to change, desperate for healing and desperate for help.

Much to his surprise, Matthew was offered the opportunity of a lifetime. He was invited to be the subject of HBO's VICE episode about ibogaine. Within just a few weeks of seeing the National Geographic episode, Matt was on a plane to Mexico for his first ibogaine treatment, which is documented on HBO’s VICE TV (Season 1 Episode 7)

Unfortunately, at the time of his treatment, Matthew was taking Suboxone which is a long-acting opiate maintenance medication that is designed similarly to methadone. It is taken once a day to 'maintain' the user, to keep them from going into opiate withdrawal. It is often prescribed to eliminate the need for illicit drug use and to help addicts develop a sense of normalcy in everyday life.

The problem with Suboxone, in the context of ibogaine treatment, is that it has a 'binding' and 'stacking' effect on the brain, which means it takes much longer for the medication to leave the system compared to short-acting opiates like heroin or morphine. In 2011, ibogaine was known to work well in alleviating opiate withdrawal from short-acting opiates, however, it was not yet fully understood how it worked with suboxone. Unfortunately, if ibogaine is administered after suboxone or methadone, it's very likely that opiate withdrawal symptoms will return within a few days or even a week after treatment, and that's exactly what happened to Matthew.

When he got back from Mexico, each day the withdrawal got worse until it became unbearable. Suboxone detox can last months and after 3 weeks of misery, Matthew decided to return to a Suboxone maintenance program. Despite this setback, he was still determined that ibogaine could work for him if he could get off Suboxone, so in 2013 he reached out once again and made plans to go to Costa Rica for a second treatment.

Armed with more information, more time off Suboxone, and a plan to stay in Costa Rica, his second treatment was a success. He applied to volunteer at the center that treated him and rededicated himself to a healthier lifestyle, losing 70 pounds in his first year of sobriety.

He also began to explore other traditions that use psychedelic plants. In 2014 Matt finally had an opportunity to try ayahuasca, the plant he felt had been calling him all along. His connection was instantaneous. Never before had he felt anything so profound, so euphoric, something that spoke so deeply to his soul. While he had a passion for iboga and helping other addicts, his connection with ayahuasca was unlike anything he had experienced before, and although he didn’t know it at the time, ayahuasca was already guiding him to work intimately with her.

Over the next few years, a series of seemingly disconnected events contributed, either in large or small part, to the creation of New Life Ayahuasca.

First, Matthew met Jeanae. A few months after his treatment in Costa Rica, Jeanae arrived at the same ibogaine treatment center. She had been suffering from heroin addiction for many years in Chicago and was ready to change. Uncertain of what to do after her treatment, she decided to stay in Costa Rica as well. She rented a small house and started volunteering at the ibogaine center as much as possible. During that time, Jeanae and Matthew grew close, and after a couple of months, they started dating. Matthew took her to drink ayahuasca and they bonded deeply over their new spiritual discoveries, their fresh sobriety, and the evolution of their lives to places they had previously thought impossible.

A few months later, the facility they had been volunteering at closed its doors. Unsure of what their next steps would be and afraid of the possibility of having to return to the United States (an environment that had not served them well in the past) they embarked on a tumultuous year-long journey. They volunteered at an ayahuasca retreat, moved around a few times, then finally found partners to open an iboga treatment center of their own. They finally started to feel like they were getting rooted in some stability and life was starting to run smoothly.

Then, they finally got the chance to visit Peru and drink ayahuasca in the Amazon jungle. It was on this trip deep in the rainforest that Matthew met his teacher, shaman Don Ron Wheelock, for the first time. It was the start of a beautiful relationship and the opening of a door that would reshape both their futures.

When they returned from Peru, Matthew and Jeanae found the ibogaine center they helped build was falling apart, there was conflict with the other partners and it was clear that this wasn't the right path, so they left without any idea where they would go. Back at square one after spending so much energy and their few resources, they felt defeated. What now?

It was then, when it seemed like all hope was lost and there was no other option but to return to the States, a voice came and urged Matthew forward. Ayahuasca is your purpose, don't give up. Open an ayahuasca retreat. It seemed like an impossible idea. They didn't have much money, they had no idea how to run a business, and Matthew hadn't even started his training with his teacher in Peru but there was an undeniable pull forward and it seemed like there was no other option but to try.

As soon as the decision was made, things started falling into place as if the universe was conspiring to help every step of the way. They found the perfect retreat facility almost immediately, Matthew continued to develop his relationship with his teacher Don Ron and Jeanae got to work building a website. When they considered what they should name their retreat, 'New Life' was the most appropriate thing they could think of.

In September 2015, they finally welcomed their first group and since then they've hosted over 1000 guests across more than a hundred retreats.

In 2017, Matthew and Jeanae were married in Gabon, Africa where iboga is traditionally used. They chose Gabon to honor the origins of iboga, the way that they met, what brought them together, and what ultimately gave them the opportunity to realize their dreams and the courage to step forward into their new life.

New Life Ayahuasca continues to evolve as a retreat. We are constantly learning and adopting new practices and therapies. We consistently make improvements to the center so your experience is more comfortable.

Matthew continues to invest in his ongoing training in Peru so that we can offer the highest level of care and provide compassionate, traditional, and meaningful ceremonies. He has completed many master plant dietas under the guidance of Don Ron, and recently Jeanae has started joining him, completing a number of dietas herself.

It was through the lessons from ayahuasca that Jeanae and Matthew were able to transform their life. It is with humble gratitude that New Life Ayahuasca now provides an experience for others so that they too may find balance, peace, and self-love.

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