Citation: Jerry H. "First Flood: An Experience with Tabernanthe iboga (root bark) (exp105398)". Erowid.org. Jun 4, 2018. erowid.org/exp/105398
A day in the life. On Iboga.
“I read the news today, oh boy
About a lucky man who made the grade
And though the news was rather sad
Well I just had to laugh.”
The wind wakes me long before the 4.30 alarm, a multitude of literary clichés blowing through my bedroom window:
“Unearthly, like that which strips bones from their flesh…”
“Ripping tiles from roofs as if t’were confetti, harbouring a portent of wickedness to come…”
“Boiling like surf through the lofty trees with a trembling moan carrying the sound of approaching doom...”
But most of all:
“A wind that screams like a banshee...”
A wind – that sounds ill. Certainly quite unwell and such that can bring nothing but trouble.
Bent naked I reach into the darkness and slam the windows shut, airlock portholes sealed against the raging night, the cold stretching my skin taut against my ribs and hips I retreat once again beneath the covers, praying that this moment might last forever and I can stay safe and small and warm in my North London loft.
Soon though, way too soon, some ancient numbed out programming raises me from my cocoon and I dress and find my way downstairs to meditate and pray – today seems like a good day not to skip my practice.
I’m gonna need all the help I can get.
The cab arrives. Early. I sit in the back grateful that the driver’s not a talker. Of late I’ve been finding it increasingly hard to describe to people what I’m about to do without slipping into a grandiose and melodramatic, “yeah man, it’s pretty hardcore stuff y’know? Not for the fainthearted, yeah I know – it’s gonna be heavy…” a style reminiscent of when I was sent to boarding school when I’d bully my little sister by telling her I was never coming back. It’s not that I really wanted to upset her; I just wanted someone, anyone, to appear to give a shit that I was going away.
And much as it shamed me, I’d had to admit there were echoes of the same manipulative behaviour with iboga – I liked the look of concern on the faces of people when I explained what I was doing… But right now I’m happy that my chauffeur doesn’t know my secret mission and anyway, it’s too early, I just don’t have the energy to big myself up. Instead I attempt to film myself on my phone looking sternly out of the window, the notion that I might make a movie of the experience already half-baked in the knowledge that I just don’t have the confidence to ask a total stranger to film me whilst I’m ‘under’.
I lose myself in dark thoughts of my own death. On average one person a year dies on iboga. With this in mind I’ve had all the required medical tests, electro cardiogram for my heart, blood pressure, kidney function, all of which seem to suggest that the likelihood of my survival is quite high, but nevertheless last night I’d written a will, made that much more depressing by the fact that apart from a leather jacket and a few choice guitars I have fuck all to leave anyone. And now, regarding the outskirts of London in all its dirty, concrete neon-lit greyness I imagine with scant satisfaction how my funeral will be, and who will come and who will care and what kind of sandwiches they’ll have at the wake and just how quickly will I become a fond yet distant memory?
Approaching Heathrow Lolla calls.
Lolla is my special friend, it’s six o’clock in the morning and Lolla doesn’t do six o’clock in the morning, so I know this is a big deal. Beyond the call of duty. I try to make it worth her while by sounding upbeat and together and confident, but I doubt she’s fooled, even at this time of morning.
I barely remember the flight other than we’re delayed for ninety minutes and I sleep with my head on the fold-down tray, seated besides a couple of young dudes headed to Amsterdam for a weekend of new year debauchery that I can only imagine is going to have very little similarity compared to my trip. Maybe similar levels of vomiting.
At Schiphol, once I’ve negotiated the ticket system, the train arrives exactly on time, although a very laid back and really quite sexy and somewhat stoned voice informs us over the tannoy that some of the trains might possibly be a little bit disrupted maybe because of snow and this might go on for, I dunno, a couple of hours or so…
I pass the journey filming myself looking sternly at passing windmills and contemplating my imminent demise.
I text Noor, at twelve the oldest of my daughters, who’s on her way with her sister Tara to spend New Year in Ireland:
Safe trip. I’m on the train in Holland, lots of love xxx
Ooooo yay hav fun!!!
I don’t think she’s quite grasped what I’m up to. Over the last few days I’ve attempted to explain to Noor the difference between drugs and entheogenic plants:
“You’re going to Amsterdam to take drugs aren’t you?”
“I don’t take drugs, it’s a plant medicine.”
“Sounds like drugs to me.”
“Well it isn’t.”
“What about that time you smoked that little pipe last summer and your eyes went all red?”
“That’s… that was different…”
Fuck – I can’t explain to myself what I’m doing here, let alone a pin sharp streetwise twelve-year old… I’ve been interested, but too scared of, iboga for about seven years now since I saw Bruce Parry take it on the TV show Tribe. It was his description of it as ‘brutal’ that somehow captivated me, and all I know is that now, at the age of fifty, I feel ready for some brutal medicine.
I try calling Lolla a few times but she’s not answering and in a way I’m relieved that I don’t have to make out like I’m ok.
At Assen, my destination two hours north of Amsterdam, the cab driver is again, thankfully, mute, although the radio’s playing ‘All Over Now’ by the Stones. I decide that as omens go this one could go either way.
The house is small, set back from the edge of one of those beautiful yet foreboding northern European pine forests, the sun low in the waxy sky making the warm glow of the shelter that much more appealing.
Celine, a serene woman of Bengali ancestry with deep brown eyes that told of a multitude of psychonautical adventures takes my hand and welcomes me inside. Incense, an open fire, a bundle of white sage, a mattress on the floor. A bucket. All the trimmings of a new age Cape Canaveral.
Incense, an open fire, a bundle of white sage, a mattress on the floor. A bucket. All the trimmings of a new age Cape Canaveral.
Outside again we walk amongst the trees, and as we talk I can feel her weighing me up, assessing who she’s dealing with here, who she’s about to launch into deep space and what the possible implications of dosing me with the world’s most powerful psychedelic might be.
Back at the cottage I shower and change into loose clothing. Celine gives me some pastels and paper and invites me to draw some images to focus my intention. I draw a furry blob to represent my ego, a hungry mouth for my addictions, a smaller blob for my manipulative victim side. She instructs me that she will be giving me a teaspoon amounting to two grams of pure ground iboga bark on the hour up to a maximum of eight doses. She says that the full force of the plant usually kicks in after about five. I’ve read that in Bwiti ceremonies in Gabon, where iboga originates, initiates take up to fifty grams in one dose. Sixteen seems manageable.
She hands me a bowl containing the precious powder and has me offer prayers whilst holding it to my different chakra points, and then gives me a full spoon, showing me how to place it in the corner of my mouth. I’ve been warned that the bark tastes like sawdust infused with battery acid, but having taken ayahuasca a few weeks before I figure I’ve already tasted the most disgusting thing known to man.
Of the two – which is worse?
Hard to say – ayahuasca really is the most disgusting thing I’ve ever ingested, but it’s down in a second and you get a handful of grapes to mask the taste. Iboga really does taste like battery acid flavour sawdust, perhaps not quite as bad as the south American vine, but you have to hold it in your mouth and chew it, the saliva glands go into overdrive and suddenly your throat is drenched in the most bitter, acrid, bile flavoured gag inducing fluid and it goes on and on and on.
At the first swallow my chest convulses in a dry heave but having eaten nothing for over twenty four hours I manage to keep the dry powder down, swallowing repeatedly to try and clear the intense bitterness from my palate. As I pour it into my mouth I managed to spill some down my front – I raise my hands in shame and try to look as apologetic as possible but don’t speak for fear of blowing yet more powder in my guide’s face. Celine looks awkward but suggests I take the sacred dust and rub it into my body.
I lay on the mattress and wait. It’s dark outside now, the room lit by the glow of the fire; traditional Bwiti music plays quietly “to irritate” explains Celine and I close my eyes and begin to shake as my body temperature drops significantly.
In what seems like no time at all she is by my side with another heaped spoon.
“Jerry. It is time for more medicine. You can wash it down with water if you like…”
It seems I’ve passed the test of getting the first batch down dry, and so I gratefully wash the dust into my stomach, although it takes three deep swigs to clear all the powder and my mouth is still left infused with the harsh, acrid aftertaste.
Over the next hour I feel nausea rising steadily and I enter into an inner debate as to whether it would be better to purge or not. I should say at this point, I really hate throwing up, and I have what can only be described as a princess stomach, a weakness that over the years has probably saved my life from the self-induced debauchery, preventing me from getting as poisoned as I would have liked.
A few weeks earlier at the three-night ayahuasca ceremony I think I was sicker than anyone else and somehow I’d hoped that the amount of cleansing that I’d experienced might somehow spare me the horrors. It doesn’t. As Celine approaches with the third spoonful I’m able to mutter that I’m feeling nauseous and it takes very little encouragement from her before I’m vomiting painfully into the bucket. Somehow I expect her to back off with the spoon but as soon as I pause she’s straight back at me with,
“Jerry. It is time for more medicine.”
All I can do is ignore every part of my being which by now is crying out, ‘please, don’t make me swallow any more of this shit…’ I wash the sawdust down, it hits the back wall of my stomach, does an immediate about turn and comes straight back out again without even sparing the time to get acquainted. It’s just as bitter second time round, and burns my lips terribly, to the point that I actually believe it’s acid blistering the delicate flesh, but on reflection I can see that I’d been biting the skin from my lips in nervous anticipation of what was to come and now they are raw and bleeding and hypersensitive.
My stomach now tells me I need to go to the bathroom. Great. I’d hoped I’d be spared this indignity; I’ve even read that iboga has a tendency to constipate. Iboga does not have a tendency to constipate. It does have a tendency to render you incapable of walking and so I stagger like Bukowski propped on Celine’s arm to the bathroom.
She tells me not to lock the door.
I’m determined to prove that her concern is unnecessary, but on attempting to stand up I almost black out. Maybe this stuff is coming on stronger than I imagined, contact with my body seems reduced to the need to expel, all other senses are gone.
With Celine’s guidance I make it to the mattress, collapsing like a sweating dead weight as she covers my corpse with the duvet.
The vomiting continues. I listen for the loud buzzing that people report as being part of the onset of an iboga trip but I can’t tell it apart from the loud buzzing that I habitually experience as a result of my lifelong affliction of tinnitus. Unlike ayahuasca there are no visuals as yet. I listen with dread to every minute movement that Celine makes like a sickly Pavlovian dog, already familiar with the sound of the spoon in the bowl. Shit – I’ve only had three doses, eight seems like an awful lot all of a sudden, especially as I’ve only managed to keep two down so far…
I’ve been told that sometimes people have encounters with African tribal elders who might impart incredible wisdom. I find myself experiencing a falling sensation and suddenly I’m in a living room in Harlesden and three or four elderly black guys dressed in bad, beige, 1980s zip-up cardigans are looking at me with a kind of quizzical, ‘what the fuck are you doing in our living room’ kind of gaze, but before I can engage them in any kind of mystical intercourse they vanish and a serious voice interrupts:
“Why are you here?
You are only here so that you can tell people that you did iboga. That is not the correct intention; this is not something to boast about. STOP doing shit like taking iboga to prove to people that you are worthy. This is not what makes a man. A real man does not need to prove himself by slaying dragons, scaling mountains or fighting wars. A real man has honor, self-respect, and above all else integrity, he follows a code that he alone has written, he defines his own code of conduct and follows it fastidiously.
And whilst this may sound simple, ask yourself how many men you know who have achieved this?”
That he alone has written.
That he alone has written.
This phrase keeps repeating over and over again in my head. And with this I know my iboga experience is over, there will be no ancestral or extraterrestrial visitations, no childhood flashbacks, no time travel, no past life experiences or conversations with the dead. Iboga has given me what I need, all that remains now is to continue turning my stomach inside out for another thirty six hours.
I keep the fourth spoon down. The fifth bounces back with ferocious immediacy searing my tenderized lips as Celine suggests that maybe it’s my body’s way of saying that I’ve had enough.
“Yes, I think that’s right,” I manage to mumble whilst inside a voice is screaming, ‘dear God, please say I don’t have to do anymore, I know I’m bailing on this experience but I just want it to STOP, I admit I’m a fraud and that I came for all the wrong reasons, but please – I cannot swallow another crumb of this awful stuff…’
Celine senses my internal dilemma.
“It’s ok,” she says. “The plant knows when you’ve had enough.”
“Really?” I manage. “I feel like I’m fucking up.”
“No. You’ve had a big dose. You are having the full iboga experience.”
I’m reassured but still find it hard to accept. Surely I’ve failed? I’ve attempted five spoons, not eight, and only managed to hold down three. Whatever – I know I can’t take anymore and so I sink into the mattress and that’s more or less how I stay for the next twenty hours, bar the ceaseless, shuffling trips of an old drunk to the bathroom.
I’m neither awake nor sleeping during this time, I inhabit a strange in between world of nothingness, no thoughts, no emotions, when I close my eyes waking dreams of the most mundane, pedestrian and meaningless nature come and go without fanfare or intrigue, the only one I actually recall involves me changing the bag in my upstairs rubbish bin.
I am emptying… the trash.
At some stage I become aware that light is seeping through the curtains. Celine had told me that she would give me soup at six o’clock in the evening, and all I know as the dawn creeps into my sarcophagus is that I haven’t eaten for almost forty eight hours, I feel like I’ve vomited all of my internal organs and I’m empty, as empty physically, spiritually, existentially and emotionally as I can possibly be.
As clichés go I could say time stands still. But it doesn’t. Time simply doesn’t exist. It’s hard, with our super regimented defined conditioned timetabled mindset to even describe this experience of time-less-ness. There is no time, just a drab, grey, blank breathing in and breathing out. And don’t get me wrong, it isn’t horrible. Nor is it pleasant. It’s not scary, it isn’t sublime. It just is.
Nevertheless the day passes at its own pace, the sun settles and the room is once again lit but the fire. Celine has been by my side, mostly in compassionate silence, occasionally burning sage or shaking a rattle, throughout. A strange gift, to spend so much time with a stranger without words – I’m reminded of Osho’s statement, ‘language is for those who do not know how to love.’
Celine brings me a bowl of vegetable soup.
It’s good soup.
It takes an age to eat. And then fruit, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries.
I ask if I can shower. She says no. It doesn’t matter.
She says there is one more thing to do…
Another spoon of iboga.
Which feels like reaching the end of a marathon and being told there are five more miles to go. I take the spoon, I eat the powder – this one I’m keeping.
She says I should go to bed, that I will sleep now. I do, a sleep of sorts, broken with periods of electric awakeness interspersed with the now routine trips to the bathroom.
Dawn arrives and I rise with it.
Celine feeds me boiled egg, yoghurt, cheese and more fruit. Still I am unsteady on my feet but I know that my departure today depends on me proving that I’m fit enough to leave. I shower and dress. Celine has me take my drawing from the first night and ceremonially burn it in the fire.
We walk again in the forest. I pick a pinecone from the floor and bury it beneath a tree to symbolize the planting of my intention. The day is bright, the sky icy cobalt, air you can taste, the taste of snow.
A cab is summoned, we walk up a drive, this woman whom I’ve known barely thirty-six hours who I’ve known for all eternity who’s watched over me in silence and fed me and comforted me and kept me safe and warm and guided me when I stumbled now asks me if it is ok to give me a hug as the car approaches…
It is good to meet these people along the way. I watch her walk back towards the cottage as the cab moves away. Later today she goes from here to guide an ayahuasca ceremony. Her work is not done.
At the station I thoughtlessly buy a hot chocolate. Thoughtless because I don’t do sugar or dairy, thoughtless because Celine has given me strict instructions – no sugar, no drugs including all medication, no alcohol, no other plant medicine for at least two months after iboga.
“You are as clean as a new-born baby now, these things will harm you.”
As my train approaches I try to leave the waiting room, but like a fly banging against a window I can’t find the way out, I just keep pushing at a wall of glass until I realise that the door is wide open just a foot to my left. The woman behind the counter smiles at me – maybe she’s used to strangers with tattered bloody lips arriving at her station and then leaving again days later without the basic motor skills of door negotiation.
I call Lolla. She answers. It’s wonderful to hear a familiar voice from home. She leaves me smiling.
I text Noor:
I’m leaving here today, hope you’re having fun.
Yes I am and hav a good journey back! I hope you had fun to. I accidentally bought an app so I’ll pay you back next time I c u
Ha ha ha ha ha! It’s fine xxx
Are you having a good time? I miss you!
Yes it’s great I miss u to! How was your thing?
I was SO sick!
What was wrong?
Nothing was wrong. I feel good now x
Looking out the window, I find myself laughing.
A week later and what do I think iboga has done for me? I suspect it’s too soon to say, I’ve been extremely tired, my moods have been up and down but mostly up, but one thing I know is that unlike any other psychedelic I’ve ever taken the main experience seems to be the after effects rather than the time spent under the influence. What I appear to be left with is a super high level of self-awareness, a very clear voice in my head that simply will not let me get away with bullshit of any kind. The minute my ego pipes up, so does the voice, the minute my martyr, victim or manipulator starts to get some airtime, the voice chips in with something clean and level and adult.
And so, the images I drew before the ceremony, seem to be being addressed – ego, addict, victim. Does iboga ‘cure’ addiction or any of these behaviors? I would say definitely not. Has iboga given me a depth of consciousness that may boost my ability to deal with these issues more directly? I would say definitely yes.
Has it made me the greatest psychotherapist on the planet? No, but it’s helping me to be the greatest Jerry Hyde style psychotherapist on the planet. As to the claims that a session on iboga is equivalent to twenty years of therapy, on balance I’d say that may well be the case. But you still got to do the work.
Was it an ordeal? Yeah – there were few bright moments but I’ve had worse viruses, I’ve had hangovers on a par. My feeling is that I’d chosen this experience for better or for worse so what’s to complain about? Would I do it again? Well, iboga kicked my arse for doing it this time, but with a bit of renegotiation, yeah, I think I might. In time.
I’ve heard it said that people liken iboga to a meeting with your stern father.
My stern father seems to have moved into my head.
I hope he stays.
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