Photo: Bryonie Wise
“The face looking back at me in the mirror is a snarl of bloody, cracked skin, oozing a foul-smelling yellow liquid that trickles unchecked down its cheeks. The eyes are lifeless and defeated after months of agony. All features are frozen in place by the knowledge that the slightest twitch of the mouth or arch of an eyebrow is enough to split the skin open once more.
I consider the daunting tasks ahead of me: putting on clothes, walking downstairs, eating breakfast and returning to my room for another session of mindless daytime TV. I sigh and look down at the floor, littered with layers of dead skin. No matter how much I vacuum it’s impossible to keep it clean.
As I do every morning, I inspect my body, hoping to find any evidence that this torture will end. My neck and chest are as diseased as my face. My arms and hands, also throbbing and bruised-purple like my face, are getting worse. They’re etched with deep, infected cuts and inflamed scratch marks, casualties of the interminable itching.
This is my life—a moment-by-moment struggle to survive with severe eczema.
I take a deep breath and reach for the nearest shirt.”
~ Excerpt from Shedding the Layers: How Ayahuasca Saved More Than My Skin
Back in 2005, ravaged by an extreme and aggressive skin disorder, every day was a battle of agonizing pain and sanity-threatening itching that drove me to the brink of suicide.
The doctors in England were less than helpful.
“Eczema is incurable,” several specialists told me, “All we can do is manage the symptoms.”
But even their strongest steroid cream could do nothing for me.
I tried every kind of alternative treatment I could think of without success: acupuncture, Chinese herbs, raw foods, fasting, Reiki and hypnotherapy. All the while a little voice in my head kept saying, “Ayahuasca can help. Ayahuasca can heal you.”
Ayahuasca is a sacred visionary medicine that has been used for thousands of years by shamans in the Amazon jungle to heal all kinds of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual afflictions.
The brew is administered in a ceremonial context by shamans who have gone through years of demanding apprenticeship, in which they learn to manage the medicine spirits of the trees. Through the use of icaros (medicine songs) they guide and direct the spirits to travel through the body and remove illness-causing blocked energies.
The ceremonies are known for their intensity—ayahuasca can bring you face to face with repressed parts of yourself that cause pain and suffering. Experiencing these energies in their raw state—feeling them for what they really are—can be overwhelmingly difficult.
Previously, I’d travelled through South America and partaken in some ceremonies; while they’d been profoundly enlightening, they had also scared the absolute bejesus out of me. “Never again,” I said.
Yet, I’d run out of alternatives.
I really didn’t want to kill myself, but I simply couldn’t go on living with the level of pain my daily life subjected me to. I wore clothes and moved only when necessary, spending most of my life watching television to try and distract myself from the physical torture of the inferno raging inside my body.
Ayahuasca was my final hope…the last roll of the dice.
To say the ceremonies were tough would be an understatement of colossal proportions; I’d spent my entire life running away from problems, using alcohol as a distraction from self-loathing and crippling fears of anything and everything in life. The plant medicine immediately brought me face to face with the buried demons of my past, in a very literal way.
As I flew at breakneck speed through a three-dimensional technicolor landscape, grotesque faces emerged from the patterns, some twisted in agony, others laughing menacingly, with each came a corresponding emotion—anger, shame, guilt, sadness. Along with the feelings, a barrage of mental negativity assaulted me: I can’t be healed. It’s too hard. I don’t deserve to be healthy. Thousands of thoughts a minute whizzed by like cars on a motorway, as I stood dazed in the midst of them.
Ceremony after ceremony, month after month, I visited hell as I fought to overcome the intense negativity I had lived with my entire life.
In addition, I spent each night struggling to remove the illness. My body felt like glue was running throughout it; my bones ached and my nervous system, from where I recognized that the skin disease originated, left me twitchy and restless. At the end of each night, my clothes were a bloody mess from all the scratching.
Little by little, though, the ayahuasca was pulling the illness out.
The healing took a very long time—hundreds of ceremonies over many years. But, ayahuasca helped me to succeed where all else failed.
During this time, the medicine spirits came to me and began to teach me.
I learned that the eczema was a wakeup call from Spirit to radically change my way of living and perceiving the world. Through the guidance of the spirits, I was forced to face and transcend all of my fears, self-hatred and contempt of life itself, whilst the spirits shattered all of my previously held beliefs.
I went from being a rational skeptic who believed all that existed was this three-dimensional physical world, to having direct daily interactions with guiding spirits from a world beyond my normal senses.
Everything really does happen for a reason—a phrase my old logical mind used to mock.
My life now is so different to the pre-ayahuasca days and it is scarcely possible to believe I was once the person in my memories. Formerly a computer programmer, I now earn my living as an astrologer and a writer; I am physically healthy and no longer have any need for alcohol—and, I welcome challenges and change as stepping stones to spiritual growth.
Ayahuasca has helped me to gain a deeper understanding of who I am, what life is and how it works—my entire outlook on life has shifted.
I feel so blessed to have suffered an illness so severe that I could no longer run away from my problems; the combination of the eczema and ayahuasca was the only thing capable of making me face my issues.
It has enabled me to emerge on the other side peaceful, happy and in love with myself—and my life—for the first time…ever.
Mark Flaherty is the author of Shedding the Layers: How Ayahuasca Saved More Than My Skin, which chronicles the years he spent with the shamans in the Amazon jungle healing his eczema. Mark works as an astrologer with an international client base. Find out more or schedule a reading at www.mark-flaherty.com.
Editor: Bryonie Wise
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