A Butterfly Emerges From Her Cocoon — At The Age Of 54
When Melanie Ball’s friend told her she was not speaking her truth, the words resonated with her. She knew she was right. She’d suffered several setbacks in recent years: a child with scoliosis, her parents and husband’s parent dying one after the other, a job loss and worst of all, cancer of her tongue, which kept returning, requiring painful surgeries.
Although Melanie eventually managed to get rid of the cancer with medical marijuana oils, her other symptoms got worse. She couldn’t sleep. “About two-and-a-half years ago I started shutting down. Everything terrified me. I had a hard time going outside. I couldn’t stand a physical relationship with my husband. I got angry about everything.”
Melanie, a mother of four with a math degree, knew she was suffering from PTSD. Therapy some years ago had given her the language to describe her responses to incidents of childhood sexual abuse: flight, fright, freeze and fawn. But she felt captive to those responses, nevertheless.
The first abusive episode happened when she was just three years old. Her father had walked into the room to find a much older child abusing her but she was the one who got spanked. That led to her literally ‘holding her tongue’ for what came next. When she was 14 and her parents’ marriage was breaking up, her mother’s new friend began to take an interest in her. The man, a grade two teacher, “invited me to go to an auto show in Toronto and told me to wear a cream-colored dress I’d worn to my 8th grade graduation.” Then he sexually attacked her.
But Melanie didn’t tell anyone, least of all her mother. Whenever the man came to visit, she would refuse to let him in, but she never spoke up. When he was arrested two years later for sexually abusing young children in his classroom, the most she would tell her mother was that she would not be a character witness for him in court.
Melanie knew that these two incidents had left deep scars and trauma trapped inside her. Finally, at age 54, all of it began to catch up with her. “I was at the point where I just wanted to die. I wasn’t going to commit suicide but I was ready to go. I had no energy to give to life anymore.”
After reading about the success of psilocybin and MDMA in treating PTSD she tried to sign up for an MDMA MAPS trial in Montreal, prepared to relocate from her hometown of Kitchener, near Toronto, for the duration of the trial. But she wasn’t selected. When she found out about MycoMeditations online she consulted with her husband and a nurse friend and they both encouraged her to apply.
“I took a leap of faith and signed up. And when I did it, it felt absolutely right.” She opted for the Comfort Retreat, sharing a room at Blue Marlin with a woman of similar age with three children to her four. “We were perfect roommates for each other,” she says.
Melanie had taken LSD as a teenager once but had never hallucinated. Lying on a hammock during her first psilocybin trip, watching the dogs playing on the beach, surrounded by colorful geometric patterns, was an exotic new experience for her. Tucked under a sheet she began to feel heavy. “I was open to having a violent, dramatic time. That was my worst-case scenario. But a voice told me that this would be gentle.” Whenever an annoying or disturbing thought crossed her mind, she was able to process it and allow it to move on, she says.
“I kept thinking of all the things that ultimately didn’t matter,” she said, finally realizing what mattered most: her husband and four children. She knew that her relationship with her children was sacred, a given, but that the one with her husband was at risk. “I wanted that relationship and I realized I had to get it back.”
At some point during the trip, surrounded by shimmering green and gold, she saw herself as a butterfly emerging from its cocoon. “I felt like the monarch butterflies that we had raised at home and let go.”
During her second trip Melanie felt as though there was a predator in her midst. The day before, she’d heard someone else on retreat talking about his relative who was a pedophile. Suddenly, he became that person in her mind. And here he was, in her line of sight. Although she turned away from him, she couldn’t help feeling threatened. “I knew that I was protected but I was in the grip of fear. A voice said ‘let go of that fear’ and it became about purging the fear.” Melanie then vomited and peed, reacting in the same way as she had after the second sexual attack.
After calmly rinsing her clothes back in her room and changing into clean ones she lay on her bed. Then she began to shake. When a facilitator came to check on her she asked for one of the therapists and Denise Rue came to sit with her. “I started talking about the predator, about how I was 14. And when she said, ‘But you were just a baby’ I lost it. I curled up in a fetal position and just sobbed. And in a weird way it felt so good. I’ve been holding that in for 40 years.”
She told Denise everything about the attack, and about the toxic relationship in her household growing up, where she’d never felt safe. Afterwards, Melanie said that for the first time she began to feel connected to the three parts of herself – her three-year-old self, her 14-year-old self and her adult self. “Finally, we were all together, we were whole.”
“Since I was 14 I’ve had a knot in my belly that has never gone away. I pictured all three of us pulling the knot and untying the rope. I can see it and feel it still. The knot is gone and I’m whole.”
During integration the following day, the person who had unwittingly triggered Melanie disclosed that he didn’t think the retreat was working out for him and he was considering leaving. “That gave me permission to tell him how grateful I was to him,” said Melanie. “I was able to say to him, ‘My story would not have happened without you. Thank you so very much.’” Afterwards, he came to sit next to Melanie and later they had a long conversation. The experience helped him too, and he ended up staying until the end.
During her third trip Melanie came up with the structure for a journal she plans to write, on the stages of metamorphosis of a butterfly, mirroring the traumatic phases in her own life. Although she went through some difficult experiences on the trip she says she was given a shield to protect herself. “I realized I had to use my shield to be at peace and to fight for what I want – my husband’s love.”
How does she feel now, several weeks later? “Oh my goodness. I am living my best life. (On retreat) I shared with my husband that we were going to be ok. I told him how much the marriage meant to me, and thanked him for sticking by me through it all. He showed up at the airport bearing roses and snacks. Now we’re sharing again like when we just got married. It’s just wonderful. His comment was that he’s got his bride back.”
She has been sleeping well and napping during the day like a baby, catching up for all the hours she’s missed. “I truly see this as medicine. It’s a tool in my back pocket now. I don’t know if I’ll need a whole week but I’m open to doing it again to get me through stickiness.”
The group aspect of MycoMeditations was an important part of her healing, she concludes. “Everyone touched me in some way and helped me move forward to finding my 14-year-old self who was lost, but my imaginary predator will always have a special place in my heart. I truly feel I could not have done it without him.”