One of the most difficult aspects of transformation I’ve come across in my experience is the death of the illusions we used to sustain us through a difficult past – the act of pretending to ourselves that we were better off than we were so that we could get through the day.

There are many ways this can appear, but possibly the most common and most heartrending example of this is when a person has the realization that in all their past relationships, despite their own best efforts, they have never been truly loved.

bell hooks writes in “All About Love” about her own coming to terms with what love entailed and the realization that, with this new understanding, she had to admit to herself that she had never truly experienced it:

“Initially, I did not want to accept a definition of love that would also compel me to face the possibility that I had not known love in the relationships that were most primary to me. Years of therapy and critical reflection enabled me to accept that there is no stigma attached to acknowledging a lack of love in one’s primary relationships. And if one’s goal is self-recovery, to be well in one’s soul, honestly and realistically confronting lovelessness is part of the healing process.”

Indeed we cannot rightly change what we are still lying to ourselves about, even if that lying comes from the most well-intentioned place of self-soothing. If we persist in the illusion that the abuse or neglect or lack of care we received was love, we won’t be able to discern against such treatment in the future, and we’ll keep calling it “love” to protect ourselves from the grief of the realization of our lovelessness, ironically and unwittingly blocking ourselves from the calling in the real love available to us when we finally make the distinction.

This level of grief happened for me as recently as autumn 2021 – just a year and a half ago, despite five years of prior intensive repatterning. It was awful – despite most things going well on the surface of my life, the amount of despair, anger, and dopamine-deficient hopelessness this process brought in for me was overwhelmingly bleak.

Sometimes healing looks like looking back over your shoulder and hating how much of your past was permitted to go by without your basic needs being met, and sometimes it even looks like hating yourself for permitting it to happen. I’ve been there and it’s not pretty.

What I will say is that the ONLY way forward into complete change is not to resist it and pull up the illusion again like a blanket over your head, but to fully accept and grieve the bleakness of your past for exactly what it was. It’s only from a space of total acceptance that we can create something different.

When I moved through this – and to its credit, or mine, it really only took a few weeks once I really let it happen – there were remarkable miracles waiting for me on the other side. I got to see possibilities I never thought existed. Some of my wildest dreams came true – bright, colorful realities taking shape, in ways I never imagined possible. New, loving people came into my life and showed up for me in ways I could have never dreamed. It was as though an entirely new echelon of reality opened up to me – and I had to grieve my past to get there.

I want to remind us all that it’s the most difficult ceremonies that produce the greatest transformations. When I sit with ayahuasca, I expect to be uncomfortable. If the medicine hits and all I’m doing is feeling chill and seeing pretty colors, I’m not getting the transformation I paid to experience. Balancing how much medicine my system can handle is a practice I have had to learn over time, and it applies not only to the literal medicine of ceremony but also to the medicine of change, of information, of transformation, of grief. Learning this balance has been, to me, an integral part of mastering shamanism.

Lately it’s been interesting to observe how much our healing actually involves us doing the opposite of what we’ve learned to do in the past – the people-pleaser must learn to set boundaries, the repressed energies must learn to be healthily integrated, the discomfort must be fully felt, the hurt must be fully grieved. The cave we fear holds the treasure we seek.

I want to encourage us all not to turn away from this moment of revelation, as eyeball-meltingly horrific as it may feel to us. Grieving our past is the only way we can truly call in a sustainable change for the future.

After enough repetitions you will get accustomed to this process, and if you’re like me you’ll even get a little bored if you go awhile without one coming up for you. You’ll learn that this feeling, though deeply unpleasant, is the precursor to miraculous change, and you’ll look forward to what’s waiting for you on the other side.

There’s nothing to fear in the true knowledge of what already has been. There is only wisdom, growth, and the opening of a gateway to miracles you’ve never experienced before.