On a country road, on Christmas Eve night, I slid off the road. I didn’t see the ice. We call it black ice in Nebraska because it’s as black as the tar on the road. I came within 12 inches of a telephone pole. In the following moments, my thoughts were, “That was scary,” and “But it wasn’t nearly as bad as the previous three hours at my dad’s house for holiday dinner.”
After my parents' divorce, I was the only one of my siblings willing to continue a relationship with my dad. In hindsight, I was young when they divorced. I was nine years old, still a kid and naive and craving love. I just knew that the love would even arrive.—I mean, that was the scenario I saw in all of the movies I watched.
While many of us have unpacked and processed a lot of our childhood trauma, the holidays can still have a particular type of emotional stronghold on our psyches. During the holidays, I often find that my adult self has to encourage my childhood self to take a moment, breathe and utilize all of the tools I’ve since acquired to handle stressful situations. I use these tools because I’ve decided that becoming unhinged during the holidays is not something I want for myself—I’ll leave that to my stepmom.
Usually, our holidays feel almost scripted, with everyone playing their part. And just like a play, there is an arc to the show—a slow rise through the evening leading to a climax and then back down again. It usually begins with me on the receiving end of passive-aggressive comments. This, of course, ignites a downward spiral of negative internal dialogue which ultimately leads to an outburst like a balloon that has finally popped from too much air. Then we all conclude the show by moving into the living room for coffee and presents.
The easy thing to do? Never spend holidays with my dad again. But that isn’t what I want. And truth be told, this trauma also starts to leak into my everyday life as well. Sometimes, the same trigger that was rubbed raw by my family is innocently zapped by a friend or co-worker. This usually results in me releasing an old trauma reaction despite it being neither appropriate nor effective. I know I can’t rely on my dad and stepmom to change or to stop setting me off, so I choose a different way.
That’s where miscoding psilocybin comes in for me. Even before the holidays, during the time leading up to what I know will include challenging family festivities, I can feel myself beginning to get anxious. And while counseling, meditation, and behavior modification help me avoid losing my shit during the holidays, it is microdosing psilocybin that creates the most significant shift. For me, microdosing is like living my emotional life in slow motion—which is helpful because when I get triggered, I really need things to slow way down. I don’t mean that microdosing dulls me or that it makes me tired. I mean that it creates space during the moments between being triggered and reacting. According to author James Fadima, microdosing psilocybin provides the brain with new neural pathways through neurogenesis. In simple terms, this means that, despite established neural patterns, we can shift the neurons in our brains to fire in a new direction which leads to different responses—AKA stop losing our shit when we get triggered during the holidays.
I start a simple microdosing routine on December 1st: two days on and three days off while taking .25 mg of dried psilocybin each day. Note: dried psilocybin capsules and synthetic capsules are not equivalent on the metric scale. In addition to microdosing, I also journal every day. Any time I feel thrown off, maybe from a text I received from a family member, I stop, name the uncomfortable feeling, write it down and move on. After about a week, I start to notice a shift. It can more easily identify a trigger and be more discerning. I can also determine what my triggers feel like in my body. Tightness in my chest—pause and notice. Knot in my stomach—pause and notice. Cultivating these skills in conjunction with the psilocybin has created change. During stressful family moments, I feel my system activate—anger, anxiety, sadness—and yet there is no instant reaction. In its place is space to decide whether or not I want to react. And honestly, nine out of 10 times, I really didn’t care enough to want to react.
Dr. JJ Pursell is a compassionate leader who has dedicated her life to helping others. She is a writer, entrepreneur, advocate, and ND physician that specializes in plant medicine. Fueled with good tea and world travel, she strives to connect communities and encourages us to find the best in others.
Read More: 5 Ways to Slow Down During the Holidays