Heart Medicine: How Iboga Helped Overcome Addiction
Elizabeth Bast, Guest
Author, mother and medicine worker Elizabeth Bast wrote the book Heart Medicine: One Couple’s Quest For The Sacred Iboga Medicine And Cure For Addiction. This deeply personal story of healing with plant medicines is extracted below.
He missed his flight into San Francisco that night. He never misses his flights. His travels usually flowed with military precision.
He was able to catch another flight into Oakland airport, arriving at midnight. I was exhausted. My journey to pick him up was stilted by a traffic accident and then a factory fire. Cars backed up. My body ached. So tired. So stretched thin. But there were no shuttles running at that time. I just had to go get him.
Resentment simmered as I sat in traffic. He couldn’t save me like this if the situation were reversed. I was the one with the car and the insurance. So I had to do all the driving. I was the ox in the family. Or so my story went. I simmered often, I realize now.
I pulled up, drawn to his favorite siren-red hoodie like a homing pigeon. Broad shoulders slowly swayed side to side, readying to pounce into our car. Chor’s travel-weary face looked up.
For the first time since we’d met, he’d grown his beard out a little. It was well groomed with thick chops and sharp lines. He looked a little rough around the edges. He’d been working so hard. His once golden skin appeared to be enshrouded in grey smoke. The strong bones of his face were hidden under subtly swollen flesh. His gaze was softer than usual; it floated over and through me.
He got in the car and leaned in to kiss me—a tender, full kiss on the lips. Wow. What a strange treat these days.
I could taste the heavy cloud of booze and cigarettes on him that night. He’d started drinking and smoking heavily during his work trips the past three years. Before that he’d been sober for a decade. And before that…well, that was a different lifetime altogether, I thought, a different person even.
He’d lost some of that light when he invited alcohol back into his life. A cynical scowl now permanently adorned his brow. Though he’d left a trail of brilliant accomplishments in his wake, he rarely seemed truly peaceful.
I accepted him, for he was still my love, albeit a little dusty. My heart led me back to him daily, and I trusted that inner compass. After that long, sweet, exotic kiss at the airport curbside, I took a good look at him.
What had come over him? He looked especially weathered that night. Heavy bedroom eyes. His expression, somber. He was living his dream, apparently. Painting the world. He’d been on the road for most of the past two months. I knew he was overdoing it, burning the candle at both ends. He’d been working himself to the bone, literally, with no sign of slowing down.
His scent was different that night. Strange, sick, synthetic, cough-syrup sweet. “I think I’m coming down with something,” he muttered.
That evening as he lay smeared on the couch, he pulled me to him. Deep, painful breaths. Heavy silence. Then, “Baby, I can’t party like that anymore.”
“Yeah, love. I can feel it’s taking a toll on you.”
“Elizabeth….” More silence. A long sigh. Staccato breaths. I could see that he was struggling inside of himself. He wanted to tell me something. I coaxed him.
“Love,” I said gently, “you can talk to me. I can feel you want to. I’m here for you.”
“I…I didn’t just drink when I was down in San Diego this time,” he said ominously. My heart sank.
“What else did you do, Love?” I asked softly. “You know what I did.” No.
“Say it, Chor. I need you to just say it.” He looked away, into some other world. “Heroin. I did heroin.”
I fell back on the couch next to him, stunned. We lay looking at the ceiling. The sky fell.
How could this happen? He had left that dead-end road over 13 years ago, long before he met me. His greatest fear had been relapsing. His greatest hope had been staying clean. He had vowed to never return. “So…do you intend to heal?” I asked. “Are you going to stay away from that shit?”
“Yes,” he said desperately. “I NEED to. I can’t go back to that. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I feel so ashamed.” “Did you inject it?” I asked bluntly.
“Yes,” he answered, soft and open. “How many times did you use?” I asked. “A few.”
“Did you use clean needles?” I probed with urgency. “Yes!” he answered emphatically. “I bought them myself.”
Then his words grasped, as if for a life raft. “I won’t use again. I promise.” Famous last words.
“Do you still love me?” he implored, with all the power and pride drained from his face. A frightened little boy lived in him. “I need you. Don’t leave me. I love you. Please, Elizabeth—don’t leave me.”
“Of course I still love you. I love you unconditionally,” I paused, pensive, “but living here and being with me does have some conditions. I need to keep this home safe for my son and for myself. I will always love you, but there have to be some boundaries here.”
I was a mama lion. My son, Kyle, was just 15 and lived with us part time. I had to protect his heart as well as his safety. He looked up to Chor. He respected Chor’s public stance against drugs. I didn’t want him to see his hero like this. What if Chor couldn’t stop using? What if he brought drugs into our home? What if…what if ? A million tragic scenarios ran through my mind.
I’d always thought I would never tolerate drug addiction in a relationship. No way. Not me. That would end the game, if anything would. But instead I listened to that still, small voice inside of me. Pray. Wait. Listen.
“You must get treatment,” I said desperately. “Of some kind. Immediately.” We collapsed in pain and confusion for a while.
Breathing. Thinking. Feeling. I rose up and straddled him, looking deep into his dulled eyes. I formed my hands into eagle claws. I roared in whispers as I raked the air above his heart in long, slow, sweeping gestures. I combed this invisible demon off of him and shook it away into the abyss behind him. Chor just looked at me with wide eyes and indulged this unusual gesture.
You won’t take him, I vowed silently to the demon. “I’m sorry,” he said again, and we fell into a deep sleep.
The morning after Chor’s confession, I went for a walk alone. Shell-shocked. Heart heavy. I mentally armored myself for impending devastation, separation, even death. Not again. No. Even through my dark cloud, I prayed with every step.
Then, I remembered something… or something remembered me. I had the bizarre feeling that some force from beyond my little self was clawing its way through the watery depths of my subconscious mind. Indeed, some years prior, I had heard of an obscure sacred plant medicine from Africa called iboga, but I couldn’t remember exactly from where. Only the vaguest details had registered in my consciousness.
I had experienced a few ayahuasca, wachuma, and peyote ceremonies over the years. I had friends who’d studied various indigenous spiritual traditions from around the world. Somewhere along the way, iboga must have come up in conversation.
Iboga…is known to help cure addiction? Did I get that right?
I hustled home to search the internet. The iboga medicine was indeed known to physically and psychologically disrupt all kinds of substance addiction. An addict could essentially be given a clean slate. A complete detox was said to generally take only one to three days, instead of weeks or months. Astoundingly, this medicine eliminated the horrors of opiate withdrawals. Could this offer hope? Or was this too good to be true? I launched into a broader mission of research.
I was devastated to learn that serious heroin addicts generally have a 90% chance of relapse within the first year in our Western medical system. Even the fanciest rehab centers had this meager success rate. Many addicts simply traded in their drug dealers for doctors, switching from illegal street drugs to legal drugs—equally toxic and addictive elixirs such methadone, synthetic opiates, anti-anxiety meds, stimulants, or sedatives.
I was hip to the importance of harm reduction. Yes, legal drugs alleviated some of the risks associated with the black market, but they did not offer true healing or lasting freedom. Sometimes people in recovery would be “recovering” for years or even decades with such pharmaceutical “drug replacement therapy.” I read countless personal reports of addicts who existed as functional zombies with such treatment. People who made it without replacement drugs often struggled against an eternal craving.
Furthermore, abuse and overdoses of legal prescription drugs were all too common. I discovered that pharmaceutical drug reactions were the 4th leading cause of death in the United States, and more people were dying from prescription painkillers than heroin and cocaine combined. A future with big pharma was dim, and I prayed for another way.
I found many stories of complete healing for addicts with the help of iboga—and also with ibogaine, the pharmaceutical extract of the primary alkaloid in iboga, sometimes produced semi-synthetically from the Voacanga africana plant rather than the Bwiti sacrament known as Tabernathe iboga.
I also read personal accounts of iboga serving as a potent tonic for the human condition. It was reported to alleviate emotional and psychological issues such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, fear, and anxiety along with many physical diseases as well. The medicine could elevate many different beings and treat a broad spectrum of issues. What a generous plant.
I also found a few tragic tales of psychological disturbance and even death with iboga on various inter- net forums, though the medicine seemed to have been misused in those cases. When digging deeper into the threads, I discovered that it had been administered by inexperienced people or mixed with other drugs.
Iboga and ibogaine were apparently rigorous and powerful medicines. The deeply introspective and immobilizing visionary journey was reported to last up to 24 to 48 hours, exceptionally long for any entheogen. It seemed like a daunting commitment.
In the cases where iboga worked, it seemed no less than a miracle. Could iboga get to the root of Chor’s demon?
This has been an extract from Heart Medicine: A True Love Story. One Couple’s Quest for the Sacred Iboga Medicine and the Cure for Addiction, used with permission by the author.