When Oregon became the first state in the country to legalize the supervised use of psilocybin, thousands of people from all across the country expressed interest in the service. One of them was an 88-year-old woman in Woodburn. Vivian Anderson has been living with PTSD that resulted from childhood abuse when she was 13 years old. Over the decades, she has tried many forms of therapy, but none of them provided the healing she was looking for. She hoped psilocybin would be different. We talked to her before and after her psychedelic session to find out what the experience was like.
The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer:
Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB. I’m Dave Miller. Last month, we talked with the owners of two of the first psilocybin service centers in Oregon, or in the country for that matter. After that conversation aired, I got an email. Vivian Anderson said that she was scheduled to have a supervised psilocybin session at Epic Healing in Eugene in just two weeks.
“I am 88 years old,” she wrote, “And had been trying to obtain healing from PTSD that resulted from childhood abuse when I was 13 years old.”
I wrote to Vivian to ask if she would feel comfortable talking about her decision to use psilocybin with the idea of doing interviews both before and after her session. She said yes. And we’re going to hear those interviews today. Our first conversation was just a day before her session. I asked if she remembered when she started hearing about psychedelic therapy.
Vivian Anderson: Oh, it’s been quite a while. Several years ago, you interviewed Paul Stamets, the mycologist from Seattle. And he had written a number of books. And his conversation with you was just so interesting about the fascinating life that mushrooms have under the ground. And
I just kept reading. Then he also had a book about psychedelics and psilocybin. I thought, “Wow, that sounds great.” And it just seemed like it was such a benefit for so many people that have, especially, PTSD and so forth.
And then I found out that the government had put it on a Schedule I and it was illegal to use. You keep in touch with those kinds of things, you keep growing and you’re looking around and you’re finding all kinds of information. And then came the news that people were really working on this and trying to get it off Schedule I. Must have been a couple of years ago, I was talking to someone and she said that she had tried psilocybin and it was just such a pleasant, wonderful experience.
Then last October, I belong to a Buddhist organization that offers courses from time to time, just a seven-day course. I enrolled in that. And it just came through on my computer and I watched it every day. These were people who, first of all, had the knowledge to go to Peru and other South American countries that were providing it. And lo and behold, they have been using it for all these years and not just once. But they found it so helpful for their spiritual and personal growth, that they could do it more than once.
There were scientists who were working at Johns Hopkins Hospital and they were developing therapies. Some had made excellent progress on Alzheimer’s. I really was so interested in that. And then sometime in May, came the announcement that the very first service provider in the entire country had been given a license to provide this psilocybin therapy and it was right here in Oregon. And lo and behold, it’s just down in Eugene.
Miller: Have you ever had any kind of psychedelic experience before?
Anderson: No, no, I don’t even smoke cigarettes. No, nothing at all.
Miller: So what made you decide that you would try this? I mean, because as you’re describing it, this is over the last couple of years that you’ve heard and learned more and more about psychedelic therapies and therapeutics, for different reasons and in different places. But that’s different than saying, “I want to do this myself.” Why are you interested in it?
Anderson: Well, from everything I heard, especially from my friend who told me her experience. And I had been diagnosed with PTSD about 15 years ago and I just had never been referred to someone who could help me with that. And I thought, well, maybe this could help. And then in May, when I found out that the Epic Healing Center in Eugene was going to offer this service, I went to her website and she said, “Sign up if you want my newsletters.” And then one day, “Our wait list is now open.” So I thought, “Well, I’ll put my name on it.” And as I’m putting my name on the waitlist, I thought, “Why am I doing this?” They already had about 1,000 names on it. And I thought, “Oh, man, they’ll never get to my name.” But I went ahead and put my name on and it was only just in August, I was contacted by the Center. And, “Are you still interested in going forward?” And I said yes and “Well, I’ll call you tomorrow.” So, OK, all of a sudden here I am going down today and having a session tomorrow. It’s kind of surprising.
Miller: What are you hoping for from the session?
Anderson: Well, I found that hard to articulate when I was talking to Heather on the phone…
Miller: Heather, somebody from the Service Center?
Anderson: Yes, Heather also appeared in the video with Cathy Jonas who is the owner and the therapist and she and Heather have been working together. Heather is a retired registered nurse and so she is involved with this whole process. So as I was trying to explain it to Heather, it’s pretty hard to put into words. And then the next day I read this article in the current issue of the Buddhist Review. And I thought, “Oh, this is such an elegant and succinct statement of what I would like to obtain from this.” It’s this connection and wholeness and healing. That’s what I want is healing and connection.
I don’t have any preconceived notions. I’m not saying this is what I want and that’s it. And whatever happens is fine. I know it will be good and maybe there won’t be anything spectacular. And as all of these people said on that program I watched and the whole thing was this evolves over your lifetime. It isn’t a one time epiphany. It evolves. And I will say, in association with that course was a movie they had made called “Beyond Shock and Awe.” And they were dealing with vets from Afghanistan who had numerous tours of duty and they were some pretty desperate people. They had so many problems. They have a camp in Florida where they would take these Vets, quite a large group of them. And they’d stay in maybe a week or so and they would have the psilocybin. The dramatic change in them was just so heartwarming to see how they have gone from being really emotionally devastated. And their faces were light and clear and it just seems like they seem so free.
So that’s what I’m hoping for and I know it’s going to evolve over a long time.
Miller: You’re 88 years old right now. How long have you been looking for this healing, or the wholeness as you described it?
Anderson: Since 1960.
Miller: What have you tried already in terms of other approaches or treatments?
Anderson: Well, they are always referring me to a therapist. I was a practitioner of Reiki because that offered so many healing modalities. I have tried every kind of therapy that I heard of and they haven’t seemed to have been very much help. That’s why I’m quite open and looking forward to this.
Miller: Are you afraid about any part of this experience?
Anderson: No, that’s the strange thing. And perhaps because watching all those people who just seem so alive and so healthy. And then you interviewed Cathy Jonas just a couple of weeks ago. Oh, and I had a two hour Zoom meeting with her and just looking at her and Heather together. They’re so bright and cheerful and alive and just energetic and enthusiastic, and how would you not want that? So, yes.
Miller: You’re doing something you’ve never done at the age of 88. Do you think of yourself as an adventurous person?
Anderson: Oh. No, I’ve always lived with this sense of fear and dread. That’s always been right there in the back of my mind. That goes along with that PTSD. So, no, so much of my life I have wanted to do, I’ve been afraid to do. And there’s always this fear in the back of my mind, and anxiety. If I got rid of that, that would be wonderful.
Miller: What have you heard from friends or family about your decision?
Anderson: Well, so far, I’ve only told my sister who came to visit me last week to be with me on my birthday. And I wondered if I should tell her and all of a sudden the conversation just…and there was the opportunity. And she said, “Oh, I know just what you mean.” She had been watching something like this on television with a woman. And she said, “If I had known, I would have changed my plans and come later so that I could drive you to Eugene and be with you.” And, oh, that would have been so wonderful. But I hadn’t told anyone. She’s the first one and she’s so enthusiastic about it. That made me feel good.
When I come home from Eugene - I’m the oldest of seven - I will send out a family letter like we do from time to time when we have things to share. And I’ll say, “Well, just guess what happened to me,” and I will tell them the story.
Miller: Have you already planned to listen to any music during your experience?
Anderson: I hadn’t planned it, no, because Cathy said that they would arrange something for me.
Miller: So there’s nothing in particular you want to hear after taking your psilocybin?
Anderson: What I am really fond of is that new age music that I always played when I was also a massage therapist and during my Reiki sessions. That’s that kind of no words and soothing music and lovely sounds. That kind of a thing. But she has plans and she knows what would be appropriate. So I’m just leaving that to her.
Miller: Vivian, it was a pleasure talking with you. I hope your trip provides you what you want and I look forward to talking again.
Anderson: Well, thank you, Dave. This has been a wonderful opportunity and I look forward to getting back with you afterwards.
Miller: All right. Take care. We’ll talk again.
Anderson: Thank you. Bye bye.
Miller [narrating]: That’s Vivian Anderson who is 88-years-old and lives in Woodburn. We talked the day before her supervised psilocybin session. Oregon is the first state in the country to have legalized the supervised use of the hallucinogenic drugs.
About a week after we talked, I got a long email from Vivian. “I’m home” was the subject line. She wrote about the trauma she endured as a child, including within her family. She noted that she did not feel comfortable talking publicly about that trauma. But she said she was interested in sharing some aspects of her psychedelic experience, an experience of ferocious intensity. So I called her up and we talked again.
As a reminder, when she mentions Cathy, that’s Cathy Jonas. She’s the owner of Epic Healing in Eugene. And she facilitated Vivian’s session.
Miller: Vivian. Hello, this is Dave Miller. How are you doing today?
Anderson: I’m doing very well. Thanks.
Miller: Let’s talk about what you experienced last week. Do you remember what it felt like when the psilocybin started to kick in?
Anderson: Yes. At first, I became very cold. It seemed like it was the kind of cold the blankets wouldn’t help. And Cathy said that that means it’s working. As that went on, I had become more intense and I began to feel rather strange. I asked Cathy, “Is it, is it OK to be afraid?” And she said, “Yes, it’s OK.” And she was there next to me. I could hold her hand when I needed it. And I understand plant medicines have an intelligence of their own and they go where they are needed and they do what is needed. And I just had to endure what they decided was going to empty me of this 75 years of trauma I’ve carried around.
I never would have imagined that it would take that kind of response from me, things involuntarily coming out of my body and the sounds and the contortions of my body and the way it thrashed around. As this went on, it became more and more intense and not recognizing any of, how you could imagine those sounds coming out of you? It just seemed like I couldn’t take anymore and it would kind of gradually calm down and I’d have a rest period and I could feel the next wave starting and just continued for the next several hours.
At one point, Cathy said that the healing has begun. It’s working. And that was very gratifying to know that this has been worth it.
Miller: So she said the healing has begun. But it seems like what you were experiencing was much scarier and more intense?
Anderson: Yes, I had no idea that the trauma of all those years would sound like that. Who could have imagined that all that was bottled up inside of you and this plant medicine just allowed it to come out. And I’m sure the voice, all those horrible sounds I made, were carrying all this trauma and pain and anxiety and fear that I felt all these 75 years. That is what it was doing.
One comment I received was “Ha, all the old hippie stuff is back and it’s legal.” And I want to emphasize that this was not some old hippie trip from the ‘60s. This is not anything that you could imagine. I remember once feeling if I had known what it was going to be like, would I have had the courage. And right at that time, I said, “No, I would not have volunteered for this.” I did not know I had that kind of courage.
Miller: Meaning, if you had known in advance how intense and scary this was, how much, in a sense, you would be screaming out - as you’re describing it - trauma from 75 years ago, you wouldn’t have gone through with this?
Anderson: No, I wouldn’t.
Miller: But that’s different than how you feel about having gone through it. I guess this gets us to the integration session which is, just to remind folks, the way this is now set up in Oregon. First, you have a meeting beforehand to talk about what the experience is going to be like. You have the session itself and then what’s called an integration session. What was that like for you?
Anderson: That just was an hour of a Zoom meeting with Cathy. “How are things going,” and, “Be kind to yourself, it’s going to take a while.” And it was kind of like a settling down. And for some people, well for everyone, integrating that into your life takes the rest of your life. So that went very well and I felt very good by the time that was over with.
Miller: So even though, if you had known in advance what it’s gonna be like, you might not have done it, it seems like you are still happy that you did do it.
Anderson: Oh, yes. And since that time, I have thought, truly, it was worth it to achieve what the medicine provided for me. It was worth going through it. And I must say too….after the most intense sessions I had gone through, I suddenly had this thought and I cried out to Cathy, “This isn’t selfish. This wasn’t for myself. I did this for my brothers and sisters.” I’m the oldest of seven and some years ago, in one of my Buddhist classes I was taking,
I heard, maybe I guess for the first time, about intergenerational trauma and how it had to be healed rather than keep passing on. And I said, “Well, I thought I want to do that. I want to be the one to end this.” And if that’s what it took to end the intergenerational trauma of my family, it was well worth it.
Miller: Many people who have major psychedelic experiences talk about some feeling of wholeness or connection to the universe or to other people. They often describe it as a kind of transcendent positive feeling of connection. Did you experience anything like that, in addition to the intense revisiting of decades old trauma that you’ve talked about?
Anderson: Yes. Suddenly I was enveloped by intense light. It just flooded down from the universe and it enfolded me and I lifted up my arms and tried to embrace it and all I could say, “The light, the light.” And I just reveled in the intensity of that light and feeling it around me and thinking so much. There are so many spiritual traditions that speak of the light. And I’m sure it was a validation of what I had just gone through. And so that was very meaningful for me.
And that certainly too, made it worthwhile. I would never have experienced that intense light and the beauty of it and just the overwhelming, I think, joy too, of receiving that kind of a benediction. I felt like it was a grace. So, yes, that was very profound. And I’m so grateful for that.
Miller: You’d said that, as you’ve heard, integrating this experience into your life is the work of the rest of one’s life. It’s only been a week and a couple of days since you had this experience but do you already have a sense for how it might change you?
Anderson: No, that was something discussed with Cathy in the integration. Certainly, she knows it from her experiences. And all the people and through the courses I’ve taken, there was a great wave, back in the 60s, of people going to India and finding the teachers and bringing that teaching back here and setting up meditation centers and doing university work and everything. They always expressed that it takes a lifetime to integrate that. And I did well. At 88, I don’t know how much time I have. And as I told my brother when he emailed me the other day, I said, “Well, if I die tomorrow, it was worth it.” Yes, it was worth it.
And I don’t care how much time it takes or if I don’t have any time. And I’m sure at my age, I’m not likely to get some kind of a degree and go on to this great career. I’m just happy now that my daily life feels so whole, feels so peaceful and calm. I’m not carrying around this horrible feeling of anxiety and there being something so missing in my life. This big hole is no longer there.
Miller: Vivian Anderson, thank you so much for agreeing to talk with me twice about your experience and for being so open about your life. I really, really appreciate it and I wish you the best.
Anderson: Thank you so much.
Miller: Take care. Bye.
Miller: Vivian Anderson is an 88-year-old in Woodburn.
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