Itzel Barakat

In this episode of Plantscendence, we talk to Itzel Barakat, a Panamanian-American veteran who served in the US Air Force for six years. After returning from deployment and encountering intense challenges, including emotional numbness, uncontrollable anger, and insomnia, Itzel found solace and transformation through various encounters with plant medicine, ranging from psilocybin and ketamine to ayahuasca and 5-MeO. Throughout their conversation, Itzel and Jon discuss everything from ancestral visions and intergenerational trauma work, to the importance of destigmatizing mental health in the military. Itzel also talks about the profound impact that animal encounters have had on her healing journey – whether it be equine-assisted therapy or accidentally coming face-to-face with a bear while doing mushrooms in the woods – and her commitment to helping veterans impacted by PTS (post-traumatic stress), and other trauma-affected groups, gain access to these alternative healing modalities.

Itzel Barakat is a Panamanian-American who served six years in the United States Air Force. After her service, she returned to California and resumed her federal service as a Wildland Firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service. After her first deeply impactful plant medicine journey, she began apprenticing as a facilitator at plant medicine retreats organized by several veteran non-profit organizations. She serves as a veteran liaison and board member of the organization War Horse Creek, which provides equine-assisted coaching for trauma-affected veterans and first responders. Aligned with these organizations, she aims to provide veterans impacted by PTS(D) with unique healing modalities. Barakat is pursuing her master’s degree in clinical psychology to become a Somatic Therapist. Her goal as a therapist is to provide a whole-person approach in assisting veterans, first responders, LGBTQ+ individuals, and other trauma-affected groups.

War Horse Creek

Living Free Animal Sanctuary

Chacruna: Queering Psychedelics

Episode Transcript

Jon Reiss

So, we’re here today and have a really special guest, Itzel Barakat. And it’s also interesting that it’s Veteran’s Day weekend. And here we are interviewing, you’re my first veteran so and which I’m really excited about because I know that this, I’ve, you know, I’ve talked to many people, and I’ve seen a couple of documentaries and how important this is. So, it’s really exciting to have a chance to talk to you. And thank you for being here. 

Itzel Barakat 

Thanks for having me. 

Jon Reiss 

All right. So, well, we usually jump straight into your first experiences, and then your more significant experiences.

Itzel Barakat 

So, when I got out of the military of active duty in 2009, some of the first things that started to show for me were the lack of sleep. So, I immediately developed insomnia after my second deployment. 

So initially, my first source of non-pharmaceutical, plant-based medicine, I guess medicine was cannabis. And a friend of mine introduced me to that. We went and got our medical papers at the time when Prop 265 was around, and basically a year after that she said, let’s go camping and let’s go do psilocybin. And at that time, I knew that I was different. I didn’t come back the same. And there weren’t a lot of people that I could talk to about that experience. 

Jon Reiss 

How do you feel you were different? 

Itzel Barakat

Well, I had deployed about three times, and by the second time I just felt like a shell of my former self. Just kind of operating on autopilot and not understanding that those effects were going to carry out. About ten years later, I just kind of kept pushing because that’s what we’re trained to do. We’re trained to compartmentalize really well and continue doing our job. 

Jon Reiss 

Right. And what did you actually do in the Air Force? 

Itzel Barakat 

I was an aviation operations manager, so and, just to be clear, I wasn’t on the front lines. I was aviation operations support to pilots. And when I was deployed, I was deploying with search and rescue squadrons and in a different facet of them, of the Air Force. So, it was a lot of day in, day out, witnessing and seeing things that other people shouldn’t see, much like drone pilots.

Jon Reiss 

Or you shouldn’t see anyone shouldn’t see. Yeah, 

Itzel Barakat

Right. So, it kind of stuck with me. I didn’t I didn’t think that it would affect me. But I mean, over the years, it did really profoundly impact me. And eventually, it led me to exiting the military. So fast forwarding to our first camping experience, going and experiencing psilocybin, it was the first heart-opening experience that I had had since I had entered the military.

I mean, basically I was trying to shut everything off except my brain. And operationally, I was great at what I did. I was always and have been a person that’s eager to learn. And anything you put in front of me, I’m kind of like a sponge absorbing everything. So, coming from a perspective of nothing down here works, I’m not heart centered, I’m not in tune with my emotions, I’m so numb. To then experiencing psilocybin, it’s working its way through my entire being and just being like, ‘Hey, here’s nature, open up a little bit’. 

And I just, I was sobbing so much. There was a point where my friend and I started to run through – we were in the redwoods, so we were just running through the forest, and I felt like a kid. So, I regressed kind of like to a childlike state. And it felt really good to feel like myself again. 

Jon Reiss

That’s amazing. 

Itzel Barakat 

Yeah. 

Jon Reiss

Where are your other friends, also other veterans? 

Itzel Barakat

No, that was I was the only veteran out of out of that cluster. 

Jon Reiss

And where did you know the people from? How did you know these people? 

Itzel Barakat

One of them I had known since high school. So, we had been friends throughout and kind of a lifelong friend. And the others by default I knew through them. Had it been anyone else, I would have said no. So yeah, I was grateful for that. 

Jon Reiss

And how long ago was this? 

Itzel Barakat

Oh man, that was, I got out in 2009. I want to say that was 2011. 

Jon Reiss 

So, a while ago. And then do you remember did you have any visions or, I mean, it’s a huge shift to have your heart open, you know, from that. How did that stick with you for a while or did it? 

Itzel 

The visuals came in. I mean, the trees were incredible and, you know. 

Jon Reiss 

Were they talking to you?

Itzel 

Yes. And one of the conversations I remember having that has stuck with me to this day was, why are you so angry, they asked me. And I’m like, what do you mean, why am I angry? I’m angry because I got a lot of stuff that I haven’t probably dealt with, you know? And I asked them back, well why are you angry? And they said, well, the world is angry. So that kind of stuck with me. Yeah, it gave me a lot to think about.

Jon Reiss 

Interesting. And that was the main conversation you had with the trees? 

Itzel 

Yeah, it was. It was a group of them. So, it was just basically a tree stand that I was just kind of walking through, and the sun was shining through them. And yeah, that was mainly the conversation I had, and kind of the conversation ceased, and I kept walking, but it gave me just so much to ponder on of like, well, why am I actually angry? And I mean, it gave me a lot of work to do later on.

Jon Reiss

Did you come to any realizations about why you were so angry or? 

Itzel 

I mean, obviously, my time in service, there was a lot to digest there, and I still was in the conditioning of compartmentalizing. Especially because at that time I still wasn’t, I was still very reluctant to going into talk therapy and there was very much a stigma, a stigma around mental health. And, I mean, in the military, you know, you tried to go, or even think about doing that, and your command is looking down on you. And it’s highly discouraged. 

Jon Reiss 

Really? 

Itzel 

At that time, yes. 

Jon Reiss 

So. is it better now, like in terms of the military’s attitude towards mental health? 

Itzel 

I’m not sure about the military so much as the VA. I know that the VA has made more of an effort to focus on that. I mean, at one point they denied, you know, back when they were getting World War Two vets, it was this very big thing. It’s like, PTS didn’t exist until, you know, research started to come up, treatments started to come up. You know, when shell shock was finally established that this is a real thing is when we started to see a different shift.

And it’s taken a long time. I mean, we’re in 2023 now and you go to the VA, and or you call the VA, and now the hotline has you know, if you’re thinking about, you know, committing suicide, call this or text this number, which was unheard of before. So we are, it is a slow move to progress, but the VA is doing what they can. 

Jon Reiss 

I guess, in a sense, they don’t want to acknowledge it because then they are acknowledging a fundamental problem with war.

Itzel 

I guess so. I, I mean, when it comes down to it, the military is really good at training people. Or any government agency for that matter, is really good at training people. But on the other side of it, when people are exiting, it’s like, all right, see you, best of luck. There isn’t this continuity or transitional care.

I mean, they’re doing a lot better now, as I hear, active-duty members that are coming out of the military there are a little bit more resources available to them, but it’s still a gap that is needing to be bridged. As far as, you know, here are the resources and, oh, by the way, just know, especially if you deployed or if you experience, because at this point it’s not just deployments, being in the military has it’s-it’s side-effects, for lack of a better expression, and-and for some being in service even without deploying, they do tend to develop PTS due to their experience. 

Jon Reiss 

Why do you call it PTS versus PTSD? Maybe I’m just like ignorant and behind the times, but. 

Itzel 

I personally have made it a point to use post-traumatic stress instead of saying it’s a disorder because it very much attaches to the mindset of like the 50s of, you know, diagnosing people and saying, you know, this is an illness, or this is a disorder.

And here’s the reality of it: people, veterans specifically, when they go seek mental health services, a lot of the time, yes, this is something that we’re going to experience the rest of our lives, but it can be mitigated through treatment, through entheogens, through different types of therapeutic modalities that enable us to have a better quality of life despite our experience.

Jon Reiss

All right. So why do you feel that entheogens are good for PTS? 

Itzel 

From a neurological standpoint, there’s this rewiring that happens and obviously, there are these new neural pathways that are being created. Ultimately, that allows a reset to the brain. It’s something that gives hope for, at least it gave me hope of like, well, all right, like I can actually change these, these things that I’m experiencing physiologically, neurologically, that I’ve been told I was never able to change. I think that it is very much a life-saving intervention that gives more than just hope, but a better quality of life.

Jon Reiss 

So, you had the one or two experiences in the forest? 

Itzel 

Yeah. 

Jon Reiss 

Were you camping? 

Itzel 

Yeah, we camped, and then we found a trail to go on. The second experience was really interesting because we ended up running into a bear.

Jon Reiss 

Oh my god. While you were tripping? 

Itzel 

Oh yeah. Which was quite the experience because, I mean, it was one of the friend group, like we were just kind of looking off and we were tripping, we saw a cloud swirling and the sky was just gorgeous, and then we just feel this presence behind us. And we both look at each other and I asked him, did you feel that? And he said yeah. We slowly turned around and see this bear coming up the trail, sniffing around, and our other friends were basically on the other side of the trail closest to the bear. So, they’re on top of this rock and I just tell them, just quietly, stay exactly where you are don’t move, I’m sure if this bear wanted to mess us up it would’ve done it already, so just hang tight for a bit. And they were just freaking out. And the bear just kind of went up the hillside and disappeared, but yeah it was quite the experience. I personally was just in awe having this psychedelic experience and then also seeing this like monstrosity of nature just kind of, just popping in to say hello. 

Jon Reiss 

Did you feel like you had any kind of like connection with the bear?

Itzel 

I definitely felt no fear, and I just, it sparked curiosity in me, because I’m just like, I’ve never seen one up this close. 

Jon Reiss 

How far away was it? 

Itzel 

I want to say it was a good maybe 15 feet. It was not that far away. It was like ok. 

Jon Reiss 

Wow

Itzel 

Yeah, talk about profound connection with nature. 

Jon Reiss 

The trees are talking to you, the bear’s kind of coming to check on you. It’s kind of an amazing first experience. So, what was your next experience after that? 

Itzel 

That was not as memorable of an experience, I do remember experiencing more grief, my father had just passed away around that time, so I was in deep grieving, which I think what that experience allowed me to do was kind of purge these heavy feelings that I was experiencing that I didn’t know where to place or what to do with them. 

Jon Reiss 

That’s pretty valuable. 

Itzel 

Yeah. And it was a heck of a precursor for what I would experience in the future because it was kind of like putting a pin in that, like here’s a preview of how you can move through your grief and through these experiences. But, you know, we’ll put this on pause for now, here’s a taste of it. 

Jon Reiss 

Wow, interesting. And that was also psilocybin? 

Itzel 

Yeah. 

Jon Reiss 

Interesting. And so how long after your first experience was that? 

Itzel 

I would probably say that was a year after. 

Jon Reiss 

A year after – and so then, did you see your father or did you? 

Itzel 

That comes later. 

Jon Reiss 

Oh okay. 

Jon Reiss 

And are you still a firefighter at this point? 

Itzel 

No. My firefighting experience began in 2013. So, after I got out of the military I went into school, searched for a bit, figuring out. I landed on an apprenticeship with the Forest Service, which I wasn’t much time there, it just gave me a break to kind of have a taste of civilian life, enough to be like, this isn’t for me, I don’t like it. So, I transitioned into another federal service because it felt right, which gave me a decent cushion because I was still, and this is much like other veterans, just struggling coming out of that whole structure. This is an institution that basically trains you to do everything you need to do for your job, you’re housed, you’re fed, you know, all you have to do is go do your job. To then coming out and then, you know, basically have no preparation to go into the real world. 

So, the Forest Service was a great place to be because it was a very paramilitary organization, there was a lot of adrenaline going, fire engine, hot-shot crews, helitack crews, all of the excitement that I was looking for. Probably one of the best jobs I’ve ever had other than being a coach now. But it all kind of came to a screeching halt around 2015 when I was serving on a hot-shot crew, that’s when my PTS started to kick up. And I really, I had no idea, I did not understand why I was feeling the way I was feeling. 

By 2016, I had made the decision to resign from the Forest Service. And shortly after that, I ended up homeless. And halfway through that point, April, on my birthday, I decided, you know, I might have to go to the VA, and that’s when I went to East LA Vet Center. I got in touch with someone that basically just, he saved my life. He said look, let’s get you service connected because, another common theme is, once you get out of the military, you don’t want to have anything to do with anybody in the military. At least for me, I don’t want to be around any of this anymore, I just want to figure out what’s normal. But I couldn’t. At least not for a while. 

I wanna say by September that year, I had keys in hand for a new place, and I was, kind of on the upswing of, you know, back in school, trying to figure out things, how to stabilize myself and just kind of go back to normal life things. 

Jon Reiss 

Right. And then so when you were in the VA, was there any, like he saved your life, was that because there was some counseling involved or? 

Itzel 

That was kind of like my first positive experience with the VA and with mental health services. Because prior to that, there had been some experiences, few and far between, where I, it just continued to affirm my own bias toward mental health practitioners. And there’s so much irony in that. 

Jon Reiss

In that you’re becoming one now? 

Itzel 

Yes. But it helped me, and little did I know, at that time, it really did help kind of solidify the idea of what not to do. And through counseling, with this particular counselor, it really helped ground me and was kind of a precursor for what I was to later on experience. Because in that process I didn’t know that I had to advocate for myself. 

Jon Reiss 

So, you had had those two psilocybin experiences before this, and then what brought you back to entheogens then? 

Itzel 

So, just a little of background, while I was kind of searching through the VA system, I ended up meeting another veteran in Long Beach who had told me about a treatment called the Stellate Ganglion Block Shot, and it’s basically SGB for short, or known as the “God Shot.” But it’s basically a shot that is inserted into the neck cluster, or where the ganglion nerve cluster is, and it’s a mixture of medications that basically shut down your amygdala for 24 hours. Kind of just shuts down the negative chatter, self-talk, all the things, all the garbage that basically is operating kind of as this operating system in the background on a daily basis. And they were also an advocate for psychedelics, at that time. 

That’s how I met one of the psychiatrists at the VA in Long Beach that was, at the time, really was able to help me kind of put me on track with a holistic way of treatment, for me personally, because I mean, the VA always gives you the gambit of pharmaceutical cocktails and it’s not something that I personally wanted for myself. I mean, for the amount of peers that I had seen struggle, and that continued to struggle, I just didn’t want that for me. So, we looked into different options, we looked into sleep hygiene, we looked into all these different options, and I was also working for another therapist at that time. 

So, she paired me up with a therapist and we made really good progress, and after they were done with their residency, they left the VA system,  and our time was up. However, outside of the VA system, which I felt more comfortable taking this route, and kind of taking things into my own hands, I spoke with this therapist, and I was like hey, I really like working with you, and he was like, by the way, I’m a psychedelic-assisted therapist. I said okay, cool. The VA doesn’t have anything to do with this. Even though ketamine was completely legal at the time, it’s not something that the VA at the time was using. 

Jon Reiss, 

Are they using it now? 

Itzel 

I am not entirely sure. I know that they are in trials for MDMA, but I’m not sure about ketamine. But it was something that he offered, he said would you be interested? And I said yeah. So, we worked with ketamine for, I want to say a good six months, and ultimately that prepared me to do ayahuasca in Costa Rica. 

Jon Reiss, 

So how was the, what was the ketamine therapy like? 

Itzel 

It was kind of an at-home program where I was able to administer troches and have these profound experiences. I mean, my second trip is where I saw my father and my mentor. For my father, it was just one of those things where I felt deep within me that there was peace, and there was happiness, and there was this moment of exchange where he was proud of me for where I was at, even though I didn’t feel very proud of myself at the time. And it just gave me, it just opened up so much. 

Jon Reiss

So, did he talk to you? 

Itzel 

No. there weren’t words, it was just this smile of like, keep going, you’re doing great kid kind of thing. 

Jon Reiss

And did you have a good relationship with your father?

Itzel 

I did, I did yeah. My parents are from Panama, my mother is still alive and she’s back home. But it was one of those things where my mom was the disciplinarian and my father was, you know, the one that you could go to and laugh with, and he was a hell of a jokester so it was nice to be able to have a balance in the home with that. 

aJon Reiss 

What did you feel you needed from the treatment? 

Itzel 

I needed a pairing of a therapist that would be able to understand that experience and would be able to decompress with me my experience and also help me integrate these things. Which, at the time, I didn’t know that integration was a thing. It was just more of like, you know, we’re having these conversations, how can we implement these things into making substantial life changes as you progress forward? 

Jon Reiss

Yeah. I mean, integration is really important. This country has, considering the huge mental health need in this country, the mental health practitioners are not enough as it is, and then to train people to additionally be facilitators in an underground world, it’s tough but so important. 

Itzel 

It’s needed for sure. And having, I think, the duality of having those two things together was super key for me, versus just having a normal therapist that could try to understand my experience. Basically, we had it scheduled where the next day, if possible, we would go into therapy and debrief. 

Jon Reiss 

So how did you end up in Costa Rica? 

Itzel 

So, the therapist that I was working with, his supervisor, ended up linking up with an organization called Veterans of War. Veterans of War was looking for candidates, particularly female candidates for an all-female cohort. And they, much like other organizations, basically prepare veterans to go into entheogenic experiences because they know this is something that will work to help work through PTS and any trauma that has been incurred from the military, or been compounded. So, they were like hey, what do you think of ayahuasca? I said, what’s an ayahuasca? I did my research on it, and I was like, honestly, count me in. I feel like if this is an opportunity and it’s meant to be, I’m sure it’ll work out. And I put my name in the hat, I heard from Wyly Gray not long after. We talked, it was a good fit, and about six months later I was down in Costa Rica with the rest of my peers. 

Jon Reiss

And how many sessions did you do?

Itzel 

We did a total of four ceremonies. 

Jon Reiss 

What was it like? 

Itzel 

There’s nothing to compare it to. I do want to say that I felt like doing the psilocybin all those years prior, leading out to ketamine, I feel like all those things really prepared me for what was to come. Especially through the difficult parts of navigating through each ceremony. It was like a roto-rooter just kinda went through me and it just pulled all the shit that had been sitting there for a really long time, from childhood up to current life. 

Jon Reiss 

Did it actually look like a roto-rooter going through you? What was the visualization of that? 

Itzel 

The visualization was actually vines. So, I was being wrapped up. In my first ceremony, it was very light. I saw my grandmother, which was my mother’s mother, and she passed away about three months after I was born, so I really didn’t get to meet her. And one of my intentions that I went into this experience with was to meet some of my guides. Just a little back story, in 2020 I lost my mentor to a completed suicide, which is one of the reasons I decided to become a therapist in the first place. 

He was also in the mindset of wanting to help other veterans through equine-assisted therapy. And that initially – in that experience, it was my first profound somatic experience. I connected with a wild Mustang that, didn’t know their backstory, didn’t know what had happened to them, and we just connected. And then an hour and a half later, my cohort from the college is leaving back to the campground and I’m sitting there in tears. And heart-to-heart hugging with this 1500-pound animal. So, he came up to me and was like can I interview you, and do you mind sharing what just happened? 

Jon Reiss 

What do you think there was about the experience with that Mustang that affected you?

Itzel 

Unconditional acceptance. There’s no words, there’s just, there’s this wild paired with wild, as we like to use the expression, of this powerful animal, even if you try to domesticate them, that will never go away. And being able to go in there because they are giant bio-feedback mechanisms, so me going in and just her mirroring that of well, if you’re ok, I’m ok too. It really helped me feel that I wasn’t alone. 

Jon Reiss 

I can see it still affects you like a lot. 

Itzel 

Yeah. I can’t say that for very many experiences through my healing journey and I think that’s why I’m so passionate about it and why I’m such an advocate for it and a liaison for this organization, because I know it works. 

Jon Reiss 

You’re still involved with the organization? 

Itzel 

Absolutely. 

Jon Reiss

What’s the name of the organization? 

Itzel 

War Horse Creek. The parent organization is called Living Free, and they are an animal sanctuary up in Idyllwild. War Horse Creek is basically falling under that umbrella of rescuing wild mustangs and then connecting them with veterans. The horses typically go through a gentling process, and basically working at the pace of the horse, time, patience, and ethical and very humane ways of letting them be, and adjusting, and feeling safe so that we can pair them up. So, basically how the program came to be, he asked me hey, do you think that this is something worth creating for veterans, and I said absolutely, what I have experienced right now is something that no talk therapy has given me. And for three good years we worked to develop the program. And unfortunately, in November of 2020, as the pandemic was kind of at its height, he kinda chose to exit. 

Jon Reiss 

So, is he the mentor that you met while on ketamine with your dad? 

Itzel 

Yes. 

Jon Reiss

And did he say anything to you in that session? 

Itzel 

Yeah yeah he did. 

Jon Reiss 

So, I know we’re back-tracking here. I’m kind of curious, what did he say to you? 

Itzel 

When I saw him, I just lost it. I was never angry with him when this ensued. He was incredible at mentoring me and my creativity. Like, I’m a writer, I’m a photographer and he just really had an innate ability to see people’s talents and bring out the best and foster that in people. And he also said, you know, you’d make a hell of a therapist. At the time when I was in school, I was doing IT, which made no fucking sense at all. But I was like yeah, I’ll do that after I’m done. Like I obviously have to pay the bills, right? After I got the news, I basically made the decision to become a therapist right then and there. 

And seeing him in that experience was very much just an opportunity of not asking questions, not asking why, because it’s none of my business if I’m being honest. When decisions like that are made, we could never understand what’s going through that person’s mind. He just smiled and he was like, hey kiddo, because that’s what he to call me, and I was just sobbing. It was as real as you and me sitting here in this room. I leaned over and I put my head on his shoulder, and I just said man, I really fucking miss you. And I’m so sorry that this is what it had to be but I’m glad you’re ok. And I felt that it was basically time for him to leave. I didn’t ask him to stay, I just said I know you have to go, but I just want to tell you I love you. And then he was gone. 

Jon Reiss 

I think there’s this interesting cross-over between psychedelics or entheogens and the paranormal. Because you really felt like he was there, it wasn’t a vision, you weren’t projecting it. You really felt that he came, and just like your dad, they came to visit you. 

Itzel 

Yeah. I carefully share that with folks, and I’m comfortable sharing it here, but it’s not, unless you’ve done entheogens it’s hard to explain that to someone who, you know, would think that it’s just woo-woo, or I’m full of shit. I don’t have to argue and explain myself, it’s just very much my experience and it’s like, I know what I saw, and I know what I felt. 

Jon Reiss 

Ok. So, we’re in Costa Rica now, and so the last we saw you, you were wrapped up in vines. 

Itzel 

Yeah, wrapped up in vines and seeing my grandmother kind of just standing by which was curious. And that’s something that the team that was preparing us for this experience, it was nice to be validated in that respect of like, tap into that. You know it’s real, and they’re there. It’s not a direct way of communication, but there is a line of communication accessible to you. And it was just, I never expected her to show up. It was very unexpected. 

Jon Reiss 

Did she say anything? 

Itzel 

No. Usually in all of these experiences that I’ve seen loved ones, minus my mentor, there were no words it was just a showing. Of things, of timelines, of what I needed to see. So, that first night, it was very, very light. 

Jon Reiss 

So, did you just have visions, or, during that first night? 

Itzel 

Very light, very light. 

Jon Reiss 

Because my first ayahuasca I was like, oh my god, I can’t believe this, this is amazing I have to tell everyone to do this. And then my next night it was like, oh my god, this is really dark, I’m not telling anyone to do this. And I interviewed my facilitator recently and she says well, if you’d had that second night first, you would never have gone back. You know, you’ve got to have a little bit of, you know, an experience of wonder for you to continue, for you to buy into the experience. 

Itzel 

Yeah, it’s kind of like tilling the ground. Tilling the ground before planting the seeds and going through the whole process. 

Jon Reiss

Right, so now I’m eager for the second night. 

Itzel 

So, the second night was a lot more visual. Like things were coming in really clear. The room had dissolved even. It was a very cosmic experience; it went from being in the ground in the vines again to then shooting up into what I can only describe as a place that is space and no time. And lots of, I always see visuals of eyes, like eyes everywhere. 

Jon Reiss 

That would probably freak me out. 

Itzel 

You’re not the first person to say that. I mean, it’s just kind of like, yeah, it’s like a room full of mirrors but it’s a room full of eyeballs. That was really interesting. 

Jon Reiss

But when you saw them, it didn’t freak you out? 

Itzel 

No, no. Just FYI, there’s very little things that can freak me out in this world at this point. It was just like, oh cool, I’m just being stared at right now, whatever, I’m sure there’s a meaning behind this. And that was my thinking at the time, of just go with it. 

So, I ended up in a room full of titans which were probably over 70 feet tall. And when I appeared in this space, they didn’t face me directly, they just kind of looked at me from the side of their eyes. And I’m like hey, I don’t know if I’m supposed to be here right now, but just now I’m not afraid and I have no ill intent. And that’s when they all, there was four of them, they shifted and faced me. And at that point, I was just kind of in awe, because I’m like, how do you explain this without sounding insane, you know? 

Jon Reiss 

And did they say anything to you? 

Itzel 

No, no words. 

Jon Reiss

They were just looking at you? 

Itzel 

Yeah, they were like, if you’re cool, we’re cool. 

Jon Reiss 

And they were humanoid? 

Itzel 

Humanoid yeah. 

Jon Reiss 

Men and women? Or not gendered? 

Itzel 

Yeah, no gender. It was just these giant entities that were kind of humanoid’ish. And even in the conscious world, I’ve never seen anything that big before, so just like this is kind of freaky, but cool. Still a lot of eyes around me, and then I saw a Seraphim. 

Jon Reiss,

So, after the titans you saw the Seraphim and then boom. 

Itzel 

Yeah, I got rocketed back down into my body. 

Jon Reiss 

Did you feel like the Seraphim, since you had asked for guides, and the titans were kind of like guides?

Itzel 

I think they were prepping me for the meeting with my grandma because that’s who I asked directly. It was just kind of like this exchange of, there are things in this realm, and other realms, that while you could have never imagined, just know we exist and we’re here. So, everything you know about reality is, there’s more to everything that you know that meets the eye. Which, the way I saw it, was just an expansion of consciousness and, you know, the more I experience the less I know. 

Jon Reiss

So then when you saw your grandmother on the second night, what was that like? 

Itzel 

That’s when I was kind of like, alright, this is the second night that you’re here, are you one of my guides? And she just nodded yes. That’s when she proceeds to show me all of the traumatic instances that have occurred in our lineage. And then she started to connect. 

Before she showed me, I’m like, I kind of, I had to ask her, I was like, so you’re really grandma, right? And she was like, yeah. And there was a story that my mom always tells me that my grandmother had no dentures, no nothing, she just had gums, but she can eat the hell out of a fish. So, I told her, I’m like, well show me your gums. And she smiled and I was like alright you’re the real deal, I’m sorry I asked. And I laughed because I was like alright it’s you. And I asked her, I’m like, do you know my dad? And she just kind of gave me this look like, Come on dude, really, you’re asking me this? Of course I know your father. And the third and final question I asked her before she proceeded to show me things was: Is he here right now? And she was like no. So that night he wasn’t there. So, then she proceeded to show me each connection. All the instances, for example with my mother, the things that had happened which just gave me profound compassion for my mother, and empathy. 

Jon Reiss, 

Can you give an example? 

Itzel 

Of just, I mean I know my mom has told me that she had a really rough childhood and her older brothers would beat the living shit out of her. So, there were instances when she, vividly, my grandmother vividly showed me: this is the type of life that your mother had. It’s one thing to hear it, it’s another thing to witness it. To seeing my sister’s trauma, and my sister is 14 years my senior so, you know, she’d been around for a little while, had experienced immigration. But again, it’s seeing all these different points in their lives that helped me understand why they are the way they are. 

Jon Reiss 

So, when you’re talking about trauma in your lineage did your grandmother show you intergenerational trauma? Like from previous generations? 

Itzel 

Yeah, people I’ve never met. At first, I just didn’t understand what I was seeing, and I’m like who are these people? And just a little bit of backstory, my grandmother is Indigenous from Indians in Talamanca in Costa Rica. I didn’t get it until she tied it to my immediate family if that makes sense. 

Jon Reiss 

Yeah. 

Itzel 

So, when she showed my mother, my father, my sister, and my nephew then she finally got to me and telepathically told me, like, this ends with you. All the work that you’re doing right now is affecting past generations and future generations. So just know, stay on the path that you’re on. 

Jon Reiss 

I was just talking to a woman, she’s a black facilitator, and she’s setting up a church in Atlanta, Georgia. And she was talking about how you’re solving the intergenerational trauma but you’re also, it’s affecting the people in the past. Which is fascinating how you can be affecting your ancestor’s trauma. 

Itzel 

Yeah, and I mean, when in that space particularly I think we all are existing in a space where time and space does not exist. I mean, going forwards, going backward doesn’t really matter, you’re experiencing this snippet in time and these profound bits of information are being shown to you. And then, what do you do with that information? 

Jon Reiss 

Right. So, is that the end of the second night? 

Itzel 

Yes, yes. 

Jon Reiss 

Were you purging during the first or second night at all? 

Itzel 

That’s the third night.

Jon Reiss 

Ok so tell me about the third night.  

Itzel 

So, the third night is when I saw my dad and I saw my mentor. Just, there was a lot of being in the ground. I was in the soil. I was with the bugs. There was, what would you call it? You compost and then things kind of you know. So, which that did freak me out a little bit because I’m like, I’m just kind of disintegrating. Which is like okay, it kind of makes sense. 

Jon Reiss 

So, you’re decomposing into the earth. 

Itzel 

Yes. 

Jon Reiss 

Wow. 

Itzel 

And at the time I was just like, I don’t know what the hell is going on but I’m not getting good feelings about this, but I’m going to just roll with it. 

Jon Reiss 

Were there little bugs like eating you and digesting you? 

Itzel 

Yeah, to some extent. 

Jon Reiss 

And like plants like funghi? Because to me, I immediately think they’re eating up all the shit in your body. 

Itzel 

Yeah, yeah. 

Jon Reiss 

Not to put words in your mouth, but is that kind of what you’ve? 

Itzel 

Yeah. It was just this, and it was mainly, looking back, it was mainly in my stomach area, which was kind of the epicenter of what, you know, I’ve experienced a lot of issues with. So, that was happening, and it was interesting because I still got visuals of all these eyes in the room, and as that was happening, the Maestra was making her way through the room. I look over to my left and, I mean, the room is not the room. 

So, I see this lavender dragon over this lake. Like, that is her. And I’m like, wow, this woman is a force to be reckoned with, like she is powerful. And I just kind of got stuck on that for a second because I’m like, this is so beautiful. Who, you know, I’ve never met a human that has this kind of energy, so. It was, I don’t want to say it was ominous, but it was definitely, it gave me a healthy level of respect for what was to come, which, once it became my turn, that’s when the pulling out of shit started. And I was so reluctant because I knew it was going to be fucking brutal. And it was. I mean, she came, and she was relentless with me. She got real close and I could feel it snaking up my intestines. And as soon as it hit my throat I just, I had already prepared. I had my bucket there, and I just went to town. I mean, I puked, and I puked, and just when I thought I was done, she sang harder, she’s like oh, you’re not done. And I’m like, that’s fine I’m good, I’m good, I promise I’m good. She was like, no. 

Jon Reiss 

So, she’s singing Icaros while she’s coming to each person, and then she’s singing to you. 

Itzel 

Yeah. Very specific Icaros where it was just, and I could feel it energetically, she was pulling all the shit out. She just kept going and I kept going. I mean, I remember a point when I just kind of surrendered in my bucket and I’m just like, I was just shaking my head back and forth like no more. And, you know, once she was done, I just kind of set my bucket to the side and I just felt like I got the shit kicked out of me and I just laid back down. But it felt good afterward. 

Jon Reiss 

Right. Interesting, so then do you feel like that kind of pulled everything out of you, in a sense? 

Itzel 

It pulled what needed to get pulled out in that moment. Which was… 

Jon Reiss 

Feels like a lot. 

Itzel 

Yeah. I want to say that’s like a good five, ten years of shit that’s just like, here you go. 

Jon Reiss 

Wow. 

Itzel 

Yeah. 

Jon Reiss

Alright, so that’s the end of the third night. So, fourth night? 

Itzel 

Fourth night was brutal because I kept looping. 

Jon Reiss 

What do you mean looping? 

Itzel 

So I am, my hearing, I’m super sensitive with my hearing and my senses. I don’t know it’s freaky, I have senses like a pregnant basset hound. So, that for me especially, and as you know, in ceremonial places when you’re on ayahuasca, you can hear anything, you can hear a mouse fart and it sounds so loud. So, the person that was next to me was purging audibly, sighs, and laughter. And for some reason, that night I was so sensitive to that. Which, other nights, people were making all kinds of noises around me, and I didn’t give a shit. For some reason that night, and I was getting pissed about it. Because I was just like, what the hell was the point of this, why? I’m pretty sure I got what I needed, and then I had realization that, ok, this is your ego talking. You’re just here for the ride, it doesn’t matter. Do you have control of this situation right now? Can you just tell her, like, shut up? No. So that basically was my entire night of just writhing through, trying to not be upset. Which that was my second intention, of just releasing judgment and anger. And yeah. 

Jon Reiss 

I guess you got tested. 

Itzel 

Yes, I did. Because it was one of those things that I was stuck consistently with looping and being upset and, you know, basically surrendering to that process of, you know, it’s okay. There’s so many other people that are going through probably a lot worse shit right now and you’re just sitting here stuck on this. So as soon as they said that the ceremony was done, I just jumped up and I left the malocas, like I’m done, I’m just done, I need to go to sleep. And I couldn’t sleep that night because I was… 

Jon Reiss

You couldn’t sleep that night?

Itzel 

No. Yeah, so. 

Jon Reiss 

So that was the last ceremony on this? 

Itzel 

That was the last ceremony. 

Jon Reiss 

This is 2021. 

Itzel 

Yeah. 

Jon Reiss

And then how did this lead you on your journey? 

Itzel 

So, one of the members of our cohort was a mind-body medicine doctor, and she conducts retreats in Mexico. And we instantly clicked, like we had common ground that we’re both immigrants. She’s from Chile, I’m from, you know, my family’s from Panama. And there were just things that, again, it was that mentoring where I was so grateful to be able to cross paths with her and she said, you know, I’d like you to come work with me. And I have learned so much from her. I’ve learned so much from each of the groups that we’ve worked with. And continuing to work with ayahuasca and 5-MeO, because I had an incredibly powerful experience with 5-MeO. But it has given me the opportunity to one, learn how to properly be a facilitator, because all the steps that they take at this retreat center are within respecting the traditions, and lineages, and properly facilitating without taking or, you know, stealing, or borrowing.  So, I appreciate that, and I’ve never gone into a ceremony, facilitating or assisting, where I felt unsafe. 

Jon Reiss

And then do you work with that retreat center, works with all kinds of people? 

Itzel 

Right. 

Jon Reiss 

But you work with veterans though too, correct? 

Itzel 

Yes. So, I’m a coach for an organization called Heroic Hearts Project, and they work with my mentor specifically at this retreat center. So, I basically assist with preparing clients or being part of the facilitation team or being part of the coaching team, and basically prepping people to go into these experiences and then, kind of, post-care work. 

Jon Reiss 

So now, you have to tell me about your 5-MeO. 

Itzel 

Oh man. 

Jon Reiss 

That’s actually I think my next, I’ve not done it yet, and I think it’s. The women who I just did a, my psilocybin journey, she also does 5-MeO and so I think I’m going to do it with her, I think she’s really good, so. 

Itzel 

Yeah. Yeah. First time I facilitated 5-MeO, and it wasn’t me administering. It was just me being there assisting as a, as a facilitator. It was like being a spiritual doula. So, you know, witnessing anything from rebirths to, there’s just nothing to compare it to. So that kind of gave me an idea, and it’s the same thing with every medicine that I’ve worked with, if I’m called to it, if the medicine wants me to work with it, then I will. And last October, while I was down at the retreat center, one of the healers. 

Jon Reiss

What part of Mexico is it in? 

Itzel 

This is close to Puerto Vallarta.

Jon Reiss 

Okay. 

Itzel

Yeah. So, it’s a- it’s basically a small coastal town where we, you know, take a boat. And, this healer, he is working with the ship people lineage. And he had 5-MeO and, you know, he asked, are you wanting to participate in? And when he asked, I was like okay. And my intention going into this particular experience was I would like to reconcile the relationship with my body and reconnect. And boy did I get it. When I, I thought my eyes were closed the whole experience, when I asked the shaman, he said that my eyes were open the entire time. I saw pink, I was going through a birth canal. 

Jon Reiss 

Wow. 

Itzel 

So, I was navigating through this birth canal, I was screaming like I was giving birth and being birthed at the same time. And something that I forgot to mention in one of those first ayahuasca experiences: the day after the first experience we were able to meet with the Maestro, and he asked, how can I, basically, be of help to you. And I said I was trying to cry last night but I kept muffling my cries, and he said, if you don’t cry then, you know, basically kind of something to the sentiment of, like, closed mouths don’t get fed. So, if you don’t cry you won’t get your needs met. 

Jon Reiss 

Right. 

Itzel 

So, in that moment when I’m having this 5-MeO experience, I’m like, well let it rip then, just get it out. And it was all the grief that I had been holding from all the loss, from the loss of my father, from the loss of my mentor, from the loss of friends along the way that also had completed suicide. I was carrying all of this grief like a bookcase on my back. And I just, I was like, It’s time to let it go. Like, there’s work for you to do and you can’t keep carrying this. It’s going to slow you down, so let it go. 

Jon Reiss 

it just makes me think that many people have said that the the plants and substances give you what you need. 

Itzel 

Yeah. Not what you want, not what you want. I would have liked to have had a more peaceful experience, but I honestly wouldn’t change it and have it any other way. I am grateful that I got exactly what I needed. And yeah. 

Jon Reiss 

Kind of being birthed and giving birth at the same time, I just thought to myself, wow, what a gift.

Itzel 

Yeah 

Jon Reiss 

It’s kind of amazing. 

Itzel 

Yeah. So. 

Jon Reiss 

And so. Where are you? What are you. So, you’re a coach with this facilitator. But then what are you where are you at now? 

Itzel 

Now, I am in grad school. I am basically a few weeks away from completing my first quarter, doing clinical psychology for my master’s. I will be doing a somatic focus. 

Jon Reiss 

What does that mean, somatic?

Itzel 

Somatic means experiencing in the body. You know, all these things are connected, and if you look from a standpoint of this disconnection, a lot of the ailments and the physical disease that we experience are due to this somatic dissonance that we experience. You know, we’re so disconnected from our emotions, emotions are bad, or we have to curb our emotions. You know, we’re not allowed to feel certain things. I’m grateful that entheogens have been able to show me, hey, there’s none of that’s true.

Jon Reiss 

Right. 

Itzel 

And this is how you can help people. 

Jon Reiss 

So, it’s amazing. So, are you intending to do psychedelic assisted therapy, you know when you graduate? And hopefully will be approaching legality on some level, but.

Itzel 

Yeah, I have an idea of of being able to kind of bring these worlds together, the equine, the entheogenic, and somatic experiencing. They all have a somatic component anyway. So, I don’t know what that picture is going to look like. But I know that each of these elements can come together at some point and provide something really cool for people and something really necessary for people. 

Jon Reiss 

That’s amazing. So, like potentially having horses at the retreat center, you know, something like that? 

Itzel 

Or having people go through their experience, and then the integrative piece could be working with the horses afterwards, which is kind of what I think I might be inclined to do. 

Jon Reiss 

Wow, that’s amazing. Well, thank you so much. This has been amazing. Thank you for being so generous with sharing your story. 

Itzel 

That’s my pleasure. Thanks for listening.