US model Shea Preuger struggled with heroin addiction for six years. “I was a little bit wild I guess. I was bored and I was young and I wasn’t thinking. “I’d been through a few difficult things and heroin just completely numbed any feelings I had. But then, it was difficult to get off it, you know? At the time I wasn’t mentally strong enough to do it.”
An addiction to heroin always sparks up intense reactions. The recent death of Peaches Geldof from a heroin overdose created one of the biggest reactions yet. However blaringly obvious Peaches’ addiction was from her tragic childhood, her wild youth and her frail frame, the world seemed to turn its gaze away from her. Unlike Peaches, Shea’s failed attempts at coming off heroin led her to ibogaine, an alkaloid derived from the psychoactive plant iboga which grows in West Africa. This natural medicine is kept quiet in today’s media.
“When I came out of ibogaine, the first thing I said was that I couldn’t understand if what I’d seen had come from my brain or from this plant,” says Shea. “It was unlike anything I had experienced. I had always viewed the world as strictly black and white, but coming out of ibogaine gave me this new perspective that this wasn’t necessarily the case. There was something missing in my life. It was now more interesting to be part of the real world, to know what I could accomplish with my own mind and my own spirituality, which I guess I’d been seeking through drugs. Before then it never even occurred to me that this was possible.”
Shea had been to see two psychiatrists, each for two years. “I got way more out of one ibogaine session than I did through those 4 years,” she says. “People describe ibogaine as years of therapy consolidated into one experience. I think that’s quite accurate. With ibogaine you’re dealing with yourself and there’s nowhere to hide. I could see that I had this totally fine life and what I had done to it was so destructive. I was able to see how my actions had affected other people.”
Ibogaine works at discarding layers of the self. Eric Taub, a pioneer in the development of ibogaine as a treatment for addiction, describes it as peeling layers from an onion. As Shea explains: “There were many self-identifications that my ego was attached to and it really showed me in this disgusting light. It made me hate myself. By viewing all of these identities I was able to completely discard them.”
But discarding these layers – becoming stripped down to what can only constitute the real you, is this something that can work in the society we live in? “I think being ‘awake’ in this world is more interesting but it’s definitely more difficult. For someone who has been using opiates every day, relearning how to feel emotions is probably the hardest thing I’ve had to do. I never had to feel upset or sad, those feelings didn’t exist. I got used to the ritual of being an opiate addict and having this euphoric answer to every single morning. Being ok with feeling bad, that was really difficult for me.”
As well as a massive wake up call the ibogaine experience is not an easy process. It’s psychoactive nature has led to it being labeled a drug in itself, but it’s about as far from recreational as you can get. There are extremely difficult physical side effects – nausea, ataxia… “It’s not a pleasant experience. It’s not recreational and it’s difficult to see yourself in this very true light that maybe you’ve been ignoring for a long time. There’s no lying to yourself on ibogaine. It’s a wake up call and it’s difficult.”
However, once Shea came out of her first ibogaine trip, her heroin withdrawals were gone and she was able to begin her life again. The outcome is almost always the same – a new understanding and a life away from using.
“Ibogaine is all about you. It’s individualised and direct. It’s rooted to this planet and this earth, where you come from, and your own brain. Some people feel a glow the day after, others call three months later with a profound story, people are always experiencing something different.”
The rationalisation of modern times has pushed spirituality into the realm of the absurd. The digital revolution. Independence. Isolation. Everything forces us further and further away from our true selves. Most of us are addicted to something, whether it’s drugs, food, smartphones or work, yet the only way to truly cure addition is to heal the psychic wound within.
“I don’t like this idea that addiction is this thing you can’t fix and you have to be an addict forever,” says Shea. “Addicts are usually navigating a very difficult and painful world in the best way they know how, it’s not something people should be ostracised for.”
Shea Prueger can be reached by email – email@example.com. She is currently working alongside Lex Kogan in Costa Rica
Article by Gemma Rowbotham