Each orgasm shook a new memory from the depths. The soft, feathery texture of a Persian carpet against my cheeks. The shape and colors of a vase with elephants painted on it. The smell of monsoon rainfall in Lahore.
Two years into doing regular, therapeutic psilocybin trips with my husband, I was finally experiencing the sexual ecstasy that had always eluded me—and with each psychedelic orgasm, my perception of space and time warped, and my repressed childhood memories resurfaced.
Everything I’d Forced Myself to Forget
The first time I tripped on shrooms was in Laos when I was 23. During a night out in Vang Vieng (Backpacker’s Town, as it was commonly known) at a local cafe, I downed a drink called a “happy shake” that turned out to be laced with mushrooms. I freaked out when I realized the milkshake was spiked and rushed back to my hostel, barricading myself in my room until daybreak. The dreams I had that night were a gateway into my past life—a childhood in Pakistan—that had been tucked away in the murky recesses of my subconscious.
I’ve always hesitated to describe my childhood as abusive. I had all the comforts accessible in Pakistan during the ’90s—a big house with my own room, world-class private education, loads of social interactions with family and friends, travel to exotic destinations around the world. It might have seemed like I had everything any child could want.
But I also had an alcoholic father who routinely cheated on, and occasionally hit, my mother. My parents went through three separations before I hit teenhood, and my mother always came back to my dad because she had no other options. My dad didn’t let her work, which kept her financially dependent on him. My mother’s family didn’t want to help or support her and her three kids. In Pakistan, where there are no social safety nets, my mother had little recourse but to accept my father’s behavior and lifestyle.
When I was 11, my father realized the best way to keep my mother under his thumb was to use my siblings and me against her. I was the eldest and became the focus of this plan. My parents were going through another round of separation at the time—Mom had moved in with her brother, while we stayed home with Dad so we could continue going to school. One night, my dad barged into my room and demanded I leave his house because I had proven my allegiance to my mother by speaking with her on the phone earlier that day. Within an hour, I was out on the street with my school backpack and a little duffel bag in tow. I stood outside the gate of my home, at 10 p.m. on a weeknight, while the neighborhood’s domestic workers looked down at me from their balconies. As I stood alone on the street waiting for my mother to pick me up, a whirlpool of emotion stirred within me. But—being the polite, good girl that I was—I pushed it down. I didn’t cry or get angry or feel heartbreak. I shoved it all deep within myself, storing it somewhere I knew I’d never access.
The “nether regions” of my body became the warehouse where I started hoarding the emotional repercussions of every indignity, every assault on my personhood my father subjected me to throughout my teens: When I couldn’t go to school because he stopped paying my tuition during one of his fights with my mom; when he cut up a butterfly cross-stitch I’d embroidered in front of my siblings because I’d refused his help with it; whenever he slapped me across my face because I didn’t wish him good morning, or when I defended my mother against his bullish antics if she ever stood up for herself. Every negative feeling, every murderous thought toward him, was suppressed and sent straight down into the dark, inner world of my loins, rendering me anorgasmic—unable to reach orgasm during sex—in adulthood.
When I became sexually active in my early 20s, sex turned out to be a very dull affair for me. It wasn’t just that I was unable to experience excitement or satisfaction from the act. If a man went down on me or touched any part of my vulva, my body clammed up and I froze, hoping it’d wrap up soon. Scared of my own body and the secrets it held, I didn’t masturbate either. Even though I moved out of my parents’ house at 19, soon after we immigrated to Canada, I never addressed the years of psychological trauma and emotional baggage that had built up while living alongside my parents’ toxic and volatile marriage, with me often serving as collateral damage in their disputes.
Buried Emotions Resurface
All my years of repressed abuse came to the surface when my father died in an alcohol-fueled accident in 2013. I was 25 and in a long-term relationship with my now-husband. I had experimented with recreational drugs for a couple of years at that point—MDMA, marijuana, acid and mushrooms, always in the company of my partner. No matter what substance it was, when I tripped, all I talked about were my childhood memories of helplessly standing by while my mother withered away in a marriage she could not escape.
I found myself in the throes of depression after my father’s death. Destructive emotions that had been stowed away within my body—rage, pain, sadness, heartbreak, disappointment and betrayal—threatened to derail my life. To help make sense of my experiences and confront what I saw growing up, I turned to psilocybin, preferring its somber yet potent qualities over other substances.
In the span of two years after Dad’s death, I took 3 to 4 grams of magic mushrooms with my partner every four to five months and talked about everything, including my sexual dysfunction. Through these intimate conversations, I came to understand what had happened within my body and how I subconsciously dealt with the psychological abuse doled out by my father. I cried, sometimes uncontrollably, with my partner holding me.
Toward the end of the trips, I always felt physically lighter, as though an unbearable weight had been lifted off of me. After a year of these integrative therapy sessions with my partner, the intensity of my sadness and pain started to decrease. We began to get intimate in the late stages of our psychedelic trips. I felt more at ease letting my partner touch me in places that, in the past, had caused my body to go numb.
A Path to Healing
One day, while we were making love after a mushroom trip and my partner cued into what I found pleasurable, I had my first orgasm. As I climaxed, my senses were overwhelmed by the scent of fresh jasmine, followed soon after by a buried memory of picking jasmine with my mother in the backyard of our home in Pakistan when I was 4 years old. At first, it didn’t make sense why I’d remember such a thing after having an orgasm, but soon I understood.
The next time we tripped and had sex, at the moment of orgasm, the fragrance of my father’s musky Jean Paul Gautier cologne (which I loved smelling on him when I’d hug him as a little girl) flooded my nostrils. Third time around, the echoes of my brother and my footsteps racing to my father’s office after school reverberated in my mind. Next time, the aroma and sizzle of my mother’s fried eggs (a staple in my childhood) dominated my sensory faculties at the moment of ecstasy aided by the afterglow of a mushroom trip.
Read more: Can Psychedelics Fix our Mental Health Crisis?
Alongside the hurtful, I had repressed happy and loving memories from my childhood that were now making their way up from the depths of my unconscious mind, helped along by stimulation of a part of my body acting as the memory bank of my life, with psychedelics playing puppet master. This was the start of my journey toward healing, forgiving and letting go.
In the loving embrace of my partner, with my defense mechanisms down and fear of judgment suspended due to the transformative power of psychedelic mushrooms, I was able to come out of my depression and, over time, learn to enjoy sex and reach orgasm without the aid of mind-altering substances. In my 30s now, married and with a child, I have a healthy relationship with my body, mind and spirit. I owe so much of my life today to the healing potential of psychedelics, even though it’s been over three years since my last trip.
Since coming to terms with my own past, I’ve been helping my mother heal and move on from her abusive marriage by guiding her through her own journey with psychedelics—but that’s a story for another day.Hina Husain is a Pakistani-Canadian freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in VICE Canada, CBC, Toronto Star, Matador Network and many other publications. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter.