Hello! My name is Heather. She/her pronouns. I am a third year student of Muay Thai on a spiritual journey of healing myself so that I can help others to heal. I am 40 years old and have spent a big chunk of the last 20 years trying to get to the root cause of my depression so that I might be able to simply live. These attempts involved lots of talk therapy, a variety of medications, hospitalization, religion, isolation, meditation, travel, and huge amounts of alcohol and weed to numb out the pain that just wouldn’t go away. I did a lot of things I’m really proud of in that time, but I never truly healed.
A few years ago, after the death of my brother brought on a wave of gastrointestinal problems with no “real” (ie medical) cause, a dear friend invited me to attend an ayahuaska ceremony with her. I was a little scared but I agreed because I felt I had nothing left to lose and the healing-centered communal nature of the ceremony was unlike any treatment modality I had ever experienced. This powerful plant medicine tore me open, allowing me to begin actually feeling some of my pain and mourning the losses. I cried with my women ancestors over the pain and trauma they carried, and was also forced to acknowledge that I had inherited a profound strength from them along with all that trauma. I was sent on my way by mother ayahuaska with the task of figuring out how to actually be the strong person I already was.
I didn’t feel strong though. I knew I was resilient, able to tread in filthy dangerous waters for long periods of time without drowning, but that’s a whole lot different from having the ability to swim from that pelagic sea back to the shore. I remained open to the possibility that an answer would come eventually, but aimed my focus on working through a PhD program in geography (then in its second year) and the unrelenting work of protesting everything and anything possible in the aftermath of the Trump election. The frenetic energy of collective dissent without a clear path forward mixed with the malaise of graduate student life to send me back down into a deep depression hole. The event of nice white liberals deciding to wear safety pins on their jackets to show Muslims, immigrants, and other oppressed groups that they could protect them against the baddies ignited a tiny spark of anger in me. How irresponsible, how egotistical! To think that the virtue of your own personal goodness could help protect another person against a physical attack by a white supremacist. And that’s when I decided I needed to learn to fight.
It was a random conversation with an old friend that introduced me to Muay Thai and brought me into the gym. Starting to train in a weak, depressed, poorly-nourished, borderline-alcoholic, smoker’s body was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I often think of how much physical pain I was in using certain muscles for the first time when I feel challenged by exhaustion, now nearly three years into my practice. Muay Thai is and has been a lot of things to me over these years, not all of them positive, but all of it engendering growth. In particular my Muay Thai practice was how I began the process of stitching my head back to my body after several years of detachment post-rape. I grew in both physical and mental strength, as well as confidence. I started making different choices for my life and even took my passion, work ethic, and strength with me into the ring for an actual sanctioned fight.
My life improved with my Muay Thai practice in countless ways, but I reached a plateau with how much my heart and spirit were healing in my newly strong body. New experiences with ayahuaska, MDMA, and psilocybin mushrooms further revealed hidden parts of myself but I was still unable to be vulnerable – to let the love in, to just be in my body, in the moment. I started reading more about trauma from a neuroscience perspective and did some work with a therapist who was able to hold space for my inescapable feeling of brokenness in the gentlest way. I learned about complex trauma, that is, the layering of new traumatic experiences on top of old ones, and how our brains and bodies physically change in response to these experiences. I realized that it wasn’t just experiences of emotional abuse and abandonment as a child that animated my current inability to connect and feel love, but also experiences with rape, sexual assault, and financial instability as an adult all interacting together to create a complex of automatic physical responses to perceived threats.
My journey of healing and Muay Thai brought me to Thailand, where I am training Muay Thai until the end of January 2020. This trip took me out of my comfort zone and habits, and brought me new people and experiences that opened me up like a flower reaching out to the sun. It brought me some dramatic endings to perpetual narratives that had stolen my agency and replaced them with love, care, breath, and calm. It is in this place of fresh energy and light shining on my face that I realized that my life’s purpose is to learn how to heal myself so that I can help others to heal. I never had such certainty about my vocation, eventhough I always felt driven to complete some kind of mission that was a bit deeper than a career/family/mortgage.
And so this next chapter of my life begins. I have decided to return to Thailand in April for a full year to focus on connecting more deeply to Muay Thai and Buddhist meditation so that I can continue on this path of personal healing. I plan to take intensive Thai language classes so that I can connect more deeply with my new friends here and learn from them. I am going to re-launch this website with a focus on sharing information and stories about healing from trauma, neuroscience, martial arts and other physical modalities like massage/weight-lifting/yoga, psychadelics, and even kink as it has emerged in my life as yet another healing force. I want to connect with all kinds of practitioners, neuroscientists, psychologists and therapists, martial artists, spiritual mentors, sex educators, and their fellow travelers to further develop this idea of an integrated approach to healing that helps survivors of trauma – in particular violence and sexual assault – to get back into their bodies and start having new experiences that can help re-write neural pathways and help them to fully live without disassociation and avoidance.
My big-picture goal, which I am sure will continue to evolve as I head down this path, is to open a combination martial arts gym/therapy center/bath house (not the sexual kind)/massage studio/and meditation center. And I want the center to focus primarily on the healing of low-income women-identified and non-binary people, who by virtue of history and capitalism are disproportionately non-white and disproportionately victims of abuse, neglect, and violence. I want to focus on this population because in my previous life as an organizer and baby academic, I saw over and over again that the people leading the organizations and doing the research were mostly middle-class or rich, mostly cis men, and mostly white. I don’t aim to exclude white cis men out of some kind of moralistic grudge, but I do firmly believe that the change we need right now that destroys the status quo has to be led from below, by those who have had the most intimate experiences with economic and other types of exploitation. Unfortunately these experiences often leave people traumatized and without the necessary confidence to take on a leadership role. I want to change that. I want to help women heal so that they can lead, so that they can take the scaffolding of support and build something powerful out of their own creativity, empathy, and strength.
In the coming weeks I am going to reach out and ask for support so that I can get to work on this fulltime. I have some savings, support from my father, and the potential to do some remote work in GIS or social media to cover most of my own living expenses. I will be raising money to cover the cost of Thai language instruction, transportation (a used scooter and protective gear), website design/development, a slightly bigger apartment with a second bedroom (so that I can host collaborators in Chiang Mai), and scholarships for low-income collaborators that want to come to Chiang Mai and also train Muay Thai, attend a massage school, practice meditation, or whatever other thing. I’ll keep you posted!