How Psychedelic Assisted Therapy Can Help Heal PTSD

On the blog today we have another amazing woman who connected with Lauryn via Brent Hruska. If you have yet to read Maryam’s post on weight lifting for women, be sure to check it out.

Olivia Young has an incredible story about using psychedelics to HEAL. In this post she shares her journey of supressed trauma, how it came through, how she coped, and eventually how she started healing. She dives so deep and really shares every single detail of her how she got to where she is today.

With that, let’s welcome Olivia to the blog.

♡♡♡

Hi. I’m Olivia Young. No one ever called me Liv except my mom or cousin, because I’m Olivia, not a Liv. Until recently I was never living, and I had no idea why. Life was pretty for me. I grew up in Miami Beach, privileged, healthy, happy, hardworking, loving family. But inside, nothing felt easy – I always sought challenge because what was hard felt easy, or at least I became conditioned that way. Much of my early life is a blur to me, or was, until I began psychedelic assisted therapy in September 2020. They say that medicine calls you. It did, and I answered.

Prior, I was living my life in New York City. I moved just after finishing college in Boston. In hopes to pursue a career in food writing, I enrolled in Culinary School before landing a gig at Food & Wine Magazine. The irony was that I never had a healthy relationship with eating. I came to realize, and then later admit to myself, that culinary school was just another way for me to exhibit control over everything. Because life always felt out of control for me consciously, & I didn’t know why, until psychedelic assisted therapy revealed my subconscious memories.

Regardless, I was always up for a challenge and working hard. I was the girl at French Culinary School who never once tasted her seared pork chop, continuously broke the hollandaise for Eggs Benedict, but got high AF in the pastry kitchen, licking every sugar laden thing I could get my hands on.

My body was hungry — I didn’t care, I wanted to be skinny. But I had the tools I needed to get me a bigger gig in New York City. I’d leave a day of class to go work my ass off at Equinox Soho, smelling like melted butter, before suiting up and stepping out for a date of husband hunting. I was unhappy, but my pretty façade never showed it. I learned that trick when I was younger.

My layers of ego were heavy. And still, I didn’t know why I was always ‘going,’ never slowing down and unable to be still with myself. Always wrapped up in fear, unexplained lonliness, and anxiety, no matter how social I was, how fit, how successful, how pretty.

I jumped into working intensely and became my job. I climbed the ranks from celebrity chef assistant at age twenty three to brand director of a global hospitality group working for the former President of Merrill Lynch, opening restaurants and traveling. One restaurant became 18 in London, Istanbul, Hong Kong, Washington DC. I was always moving, distracting. Also going through  boyfriends, and dates, conquering — as hard as I worked professionally, I did the same in dating. I never stopped to ask myself if I liked him, instead was focused on his resume and if we would get married. A similar sentiment to how I saw myself. I never asked myself how I was feeling, I just got to doing and kept going.

Fast forward seven years and I was successful in work but unsuccessful in dating even though I always had a boyfriend. Knowing now it was usally a trauma bond that connected us, nothing else. This wasn’t surprising though, considering I always chose challenge. I’d choose the guy who needed fixing, or caretaking, or was unavailable simply so I could point at it. It mirrored myself, because I wasn’t available either.

Climbing up the corporate ladder took me places globally, I stayed at the best hotels, sipped the best champagne, wined and dined and rubbed shoulders with Michelin starred chefs, built a pretty hefty rolodex, but I was unhappy, unchallenged, unfulfilled.

So the challenge I didn’t feel in my professional life, I sought out personally – really intense workouts, really unavailable men, and entrepreneurship eventually. For years, I’d get up by 5am, lace up my sneakers, regardless of the weather and just start running. If it was chilly, I’d pack on my Chanel ski jacket, sans gloves, and leave my Mulberry Street apartment for the Williamsburg bridge, run to warm up before boxing and yoga. I trained like a fighter, but big hearted, I was playing to win, but never for me, against me.

I’d run every day and think about my dream. Eventually, it clicked serendipitously — movement, more than anything was my therapy, it was my longest commitment, the one thing that had a non-negotiable attached to it, besides early bed time, really.

I started practicing yoga at age 15 and boxing at age twenty. Boxing taught me confidence and yoga allowed me to slow down and feel my feelings. Without these two modalities, I wouldn’t have gotten the big job, had the courage or confidence to be unapologetically me, the me I knew at the time. I would wake up, run, box and then flow in a leotard layered under boys baseball tees and American Apparel shiny leggings at Church Street Boxing. I’d be filthy in Tribeca, sweating buckets of fear, anxiety, unworthiness, and then shower and suit up in stilettos and something sexy to lead a team, host press lunches at Michelin starred restaurants hours later (before a date most likely).

My fitness routine gave me permission to be my best me, to overcome whatever I was facing. The black leotard was my superhero uniform, and the mantra’s I repeated on the boxing bag, to the yoga mat, facing me. Each punch, each breath, up dog into down dog, I released. My fitness was my daily anti-anxiety. And the duality of the fight + flow paralleled the fight within me. I faced my fight every day to find my flow.

I quit my job and decided I was going to start a fitness concept, my modality, box + flow, to allow people to  face themselves, feel what they felt, and let it go. A 45-minute class that incorporated opposition/duality, channeling both sides of self, yin/yang, dark/light, masculine/feminine, strong/soft, to return home to the balance, the self love that often gets blurred from judging, comparing, forgetting that we’ve ALWAYS had what we need, within — when we stop existing and start living, clearly.

At the time I was dating a guy who was a CFO of a major, now public company. I assumed we’d get married and he’d just help me, because he was an operator and I was more forward facing. It wasn’t until I broke up with him that I finally committed to me, fully. I left him at his mom’s 80th birthday: “I love you but this isn’t working.” And took an Uber back to New York City and went to see what would be my first studio the next day, 55 Bond Street.

I had never taught a class before, I was too insecure to just start teaching, and to use my voice, because I hadn’t yet learned that at age 4 and subsequently thereafter, my voice was taken.

The space was 1500 square feet, second floor. The day that I visited there was a trunk show for mens onesies happening, not to mention a crack pipe on the ledge, but it had character, I felt the possibility. I signed the lease shortly after. My landlord Jack Wu gave me the keys, and a few months later, I was opening above a Thai restaurant called Fish Cheeks, that constantly complained about the noise from the metal chained boxing bags swinging.

As soon as I committed to opening, the world opened to me: people offered help, free equipment, I found teachers via Instagram, taught them my method and convinced them to teach. There were no mirrors in box + flow, because it wasn’t about looking, it was about feeling, which was ironic because we opened just after Rumble, when the fitness world became LESS about feeling, healing, and more about fashion and celebrity. But I stayed true to me.

I painted the walls and hung the bags with the help of the superintendent Juan, an ex-con named Tommy and some of my team. Purely through word of mouth, people started coming, moving, facing themselves, flowing through the fight, moving, sweating, breathing. We were building community, humans that were willing to feel, embrace their resiliency. Box + Flow to me was never about technique, rather moving in the music, with the beat: inspiration and empowerment through energy, breath, movement and music, was how I explained it, simple but unique. 

I’d never run a business before and for four+ years, I didn’t sleep. I trusted people who weren’t trustworthy. Employed employees who were less concerned about feeling and needed to make money. But it was never about money to me, which was silly, it was a business in New York City. And still, it moved me. It gave me wings, introduced me to people that left permanent love on my entire being. Classes were full and I was teaching and when I taught, time slowed, I finally felt what it felt like to stop fighting and just flow.

There was magic in those walls, grit, sweat, tears, possibility. I tore down walls to build showers, and began further investing. And then my former boss offered to invest in me, to build my dream studio, 3000 square feet on Spring and Lafayette Street. I didn’t realize that it wasn’t about the bigger or shinier thing, that things don’t create feelings. But we live in a two dimensional world that is often based on imagery and I wanted to fit into that scene — I wanted to be seen.

Inside the bathrooms, selfie mirrors read, Messy Is Sexy. And after entering, a huge sign read Face Yourself to Free Yourself. The doors of the studios said Everything You Need is Inside, a reminder I still abide by constantly. But I didn’t understand the depth of its meaning until I closed both doors permanently. All of my slogans, the branding: I was preaching what I would soon be. March 2020, my dream flagship was opened for only 3 weeks, opened the day after my grandmother died suddenly, and closed for Covid permanently. 

I took the business online from my childhood home in Miami Beach. Closing created space for me to finally stop running and start listening. As the world slowed down, I opened up, and found space to begin healing, still without knowing what I was healing from. Eventually I moved back to New York City, a final attempt to relaunch the business, and hired a new COO to focus on franchising, but New York wasn’t opening. And simultaneously I began dating a man older than me, who was interested in wellness, and had long been involved in psychedelic assisted therapy to soothe his PTSD from growing up in a war time country. After our first time being intimate, he asked, Did something happen to you? pointedly. I rejected his inquiry but I didn’t have the courage to say no in the moment. 

His inquiry infuriated me, but I didn’t have any conscious memory of happenings, just a blur of childhood and teenage years, muffled memories of faces and places that didn’t add up to anything. A few weeks later I was getting my routine colonic and as the therapist pumped water in and out of me, cleaning my gut (so I could trust my intuition more clearly) we were chatting. I was interested in her extensive experience with plant medicine for healing. “Have you ever heard of Bufo? That’s my favorite thing.“The toad medicine?,” I asked her curiously, remembering two years prior when a super hot Aussie chef took me to a Korean omakase dinner, where we made out at the table, and he told me stories of licking a toad and other psychedelics. I dismissed him at the time, but when she said it, I listened. I was ready.

She gave me a number and said “He’s always out of town, but try him.” I got home and stared at the number on my coffee table before texting. He answered almost immediately. “Great timing, just back from a six month sabbatical, free this weekend?” I agreed and showed up a few days later and Janis Joplin’s old apartment in the Chelsea Hotel, with little information but ready for anything.

5MEO-DMT is procured from a rare Sonoran toad, its sap is crystalized, and you smoke it. DMT is the molecule also found in Ayahuasca, and the same molecule your brain secretes before you die. So basically, you smoke it and you die – that is your ego does. The protective shell, the parts of us that we layer on through conditioning, to protect ourselves from being vulnerable, all fall away.

Mike Tyson said it saved his life, Tony Robbins used it to understand more closely what his terminally ill clients were feeling. So I smoked it, died, a twenty minute psychoactive experience that clears the chakras, and took me on what felt similar to Disney’s Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, back into memory of people and feelings, a spectrum of everything, but it didn’t feel coherent. It was too much, too quickly, I left cleansed but confused, wanting more. Curious more than anything. 

They say the medicine calls you when you’re ready. I had never done a drug before, except smoke some pot on occasion in college. This felt different. It called me. I was ready. Seven days later, burdened by curiosity, I was invited to a group sound ceremony with “supplements,” at a loft in Brooklyn. I was nervous, didn’t know anyone but brought my mat, something comfy, a pillow, coconut water, snacks for after and surrendered to not knowing, but trusting that I was ready.

In the mirror prior to beginning, I caught my reflection staring back at me, facing myself to free myself, and for the first time in 34 years, I saw my beauty, “You’re beautiful Olivia, no matter what happens, it will all be okay.” I laid on the mat, and the sound ceremony began, my anxiety greeted me but at some point I welcomed flow, stopped fighting, and reminded myself to just breathe. I had trained my whole life for this, I was ready. And as soon as I surrendered, the memories began surfacing. The first: he raped you, age 17, the medicine told me. I had often had a recurring memory of waking up half naked in the shower at a high school party, blacked out. That was the night my best friends’ father drugged and raped me, left me for dead in the shower, the hot water beating over me. And that was only the first memory. 

I’d always felt like my life was a movie, but not actually. So what do you do when you wake up at age 34 and begin remembering, begin realizing that the majority of your life you’ve been victim to so many terrible things? You grieve. 

As I said, that was just the first memory. For the next two years, I began digging deep. I found people to help me, healers, therapists, functional medicine doctors, to help me both with psychedelic assisted therapy and integration, to integrate my memories into my everyday, and really to just be OK. 

I moved to Austin. Something in me had a knowing that I was meant to leave everything behind me and find more open space for healing. For the next fifteen months I more or less dove into one on one assisted therapy, MDMA, psylicybin, even ayahuasca to face myself, to uncover the demons in my psyche and buried in my body. To learn why for the majority of my lifetime I felt so shut down, alone, & isolated in pain.

All of these memories, were shocking. The hardest part beyond facing me was telling my parents, who did everything they could to protect me, but life had different plans for me. In each session as the memories poured out of me, I was gutted. Every time I showed up, I was ready to see love and light and beauty, surrendering, and each time more and more darkness and sadness spewed out of me, age 5, 12, 14, 17, 21, and subsequently thereafter, always choosing men that were doppelgängers of my perpetrators, that was almost as sad as the abuse I endured.

That the men I chose to date were bonded to me traumatically, I was playing out the story subconsciously, choosing men from my subconscious memory, until I started therapy. For three decades of my life, I was fighting me, running away so I wouldn’t have to face the pain that was inside of me. But something in me had a knowing, which is what brought me to boxing and yoga, to help quell the dissociation that separated me from my body.

When you are violated, you stop trusting your body, your mind takes over which results in fear, anxiety, overthinking. I was never capable of feeling because feeling didn’t feel safe to me, so I relied on my thinking mind, the attic of my mind was safer. But boxing and yoga became my medication, my meditation, Box + Flow was what began healing me well before psychedelic assisted therapy. For years I worked on physical strength & I was strong enough to hold myself up until I wasn’t. And that’s when psychedelics found me, to put me back together, to strengthen my emotional body, to piece together my psyche. 

And two years later, I’ve arrived to a place where I’m no longer living any lie. I see, feel, know myself to a depth that some might consider “too intense,” actually. But I wouldn’t change a thing. If I’d never faced myself, I wouldn’t feel this free. Suffice it to say, my mantra was my key, Everything I needed, my tools and my answers, were always inside. 

Today, I’m no longer existing, I’m alive. But for the majority of my life I was going through the motions on autopilot, because it didn’t feel safe to slow down and feel anything. Because feeling was off limits for me, because I was robbed of feelings, raped, assaulted so many times. And when you’re violated at a young age, you shut down. It is common that you become a victim repeatedly because you freeze, a trauma response. I froze more times than I even remember, and was frozen for decades following.

And in healing, I’m defrosting. I feel love deeper than I’ve ever felt, because I’ve found love for me, compassion, forgiveness, trust in me. And in that love, I see others clearly. Prior, I never felt worthy — no matter how I looked or what I was doing. My confidence was taken from me, but I found it again. You can too. 

Psychedelic assisted therapy led me to the water, but I was the one that chose to drink. I shifted from a victim mentality to empowering the way I see everything, perspective is the most powerful thing. Rumi says, The Wound is Where The Light Enters, and without these wounds I wouldn’t be able to experience truth, embody the spectrum of emotion that I’ve felt – the loss, the love, the fullness, the trust in me, regardless of how much trauma I’ve experienced — I see myself in love completely. 

Studies show that one in every six women are victim to sexual assault in their lifetime and 12 million American adults per year will have PTSD in their lifetime. To put it simply, our society is in pain. I believe that psychedelic assisted therapy can help quell this epidemic of hurt people hurting people, and with proper tools to integrate, including movement, breathwork, integration coaching, nutrition practices, and a plethora of other things, we can start healing. 

My story is not unique, and the words above are a fraction of the experiences I have both endured in real time and via subconscious memory. But what I’ve learned is that we are not our stories … but until we face them and face ourselves, we cannot be free. Because of this work, I feel like I’ve finally stopped existing and can finally see through clear eyes, feel through an open heart, and live, completely.

I have written extensively about my journey via livyoung.co and am currently working on a memoir. In addition, I am a trauma informed coach focused on wellness, (food, movement, intimacy, healing, integration), as well as consultant for both food, fitness and wellness brands. I hope to re-launch Box + Flow with a deeper why in the near future as well. You can find me via @livyoung + @boxandflow on Instagram. 

I always say, work hard to learn you, to love you, to livyoung. And me? I go by Olivia. But I am finally living fully.

~ Olivia Young

+ to read more about overcoming adversity, check out this post.

++ stalk how to reinvent yourself here.

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