Tawnya discusses her transition from traditional nursing to working with psychedelics. She covers everything from from recovery and addiction, to the challenges of being a healthcare worker post COVID. In a world where nursing and psychedelics are not often heard together, Tawnya shares her journey with insights on how to navigate through burnout and pursue a fulfilling practice with psilocybin.
You have made it to The Psilocybin Podcast with Tales from Eleusinia, a unique science-based psilocybin retreat based out of Mexico that not only focuses on brain health and wellbeing, but actually specializes in pain management. I am your host, Tawnya, the medical director. Come along and join us as we break down the latest in psychedelic research news and the inner workings of this amazing experience.
Andrew: Hello, Tawnya, I’m super excited to sit with you today and I can’t wait to hear a bit more of your story. I would love to hear. Really a little bit more about you telling us what’s your role at Eleusinia?
Tawnya: Thank you so much, Andrew. My name is Tawnya. I am a nurse and what brought me to Eleusinia was a big miracle for me. I’ve been an RN CCRN for 15 years now. And I started out in the ICU. That was part of my journey, then moved to the PACU and through a lot of my own personal transformation, I got incredibly interested in the role of psychedelics as a catalyst for deep and meaningful change and psychedelics really transformed me.
I decided to go back to school for postgraduate certificate program in psychedelic integration with the top school in the U S right now called Fluence. And I continued to mentor under multiple people. I started sharing my content and information about how I, how it personally helped me.
And it also personally helped my brother and it was starting to touch the lives of so many. So I shared in a really lonely way about how this helped me. And one day Jessica, she found me, she found my content and reached out to me, and I didn’t think that it was real. She asked me if I wanted to be a part of her retreat and it blew my mind because when I had my interview for, my school, the program called Fluence, they asked me, what would you like to do once you have this certificate? And I said, I want to work at a retreat and it was also our personal dream to be in Mexico. So to have something land in my lap because of the healing that I have gone through, that I could now help and shape my work with what Jessica has taught me, just blew my mind. And the first call that I had with Jessica, I really loved her. It was not only exciting for me, but I loved the way she communicated. It was incredibly, endearing and it was just like a hand reached out and grabbed me.
And how I have fit in has been feeling like this purpose that I’ve never had, fulfilling this purpose that I’ve never had before.
Andrew: Hmm, that’s so beautiful. And I know, I mean, I see you at the retreat. I know how much work you do with integration, how beautifully you hold space for people when they come to you.
And I’d be curious to hear about, you know, how even your experience with the retreat now has felt for you, what is it like to be able to actually put all of this from going from what felt like a lonely place in your own healing journey and learning about integration to now putting into practice?
What does that feel like for you?
Tawnya: I was doing so much on my own. I was podcasting on my own. I was doing content creation with TikTok on my own, and I was doing integration on my own and I couldn’t figure out what felt off about it, but something did. And, I didn’t understand how to reconcile it until I found Eleusinia.
And when you have a team like this, that has come together for a purpose, that’s so beautiful. A team that is held together by this lack of ego and held together more by this ability to communicate and shape the mission of what Eleusinia is. It gave me this context, it gave me the structure so that I could be who I really am, which is a deeply honest and vulnerable communicator.
And having that container has been like, it’s like placing a wandering soul in a castle that is now home.
Andrew: Hmm. And I’m curious too, you know, I totally see you in really the strength and the power of your vulnerability and of your voice and your ability to touch people and to listen, you know, everything that communication involves, but how did you come to be that, you know, with this just always part of you or how did you, you know, go from nurse to really incorporating this in your life?
What felt like part of your own path, your own personal transformation to embrace that part of you? Vulnerability it’s like a superpower. So how did it come to actually bringing that aspect of yourself more to the forefront.
Tawnya: Oh, I’m so glad that you asked.
Okay. So this is my own truth and an interesting story. So I’ve carried around a tremendous amount of heaviness of my entire life, and I never had the opportunity to shed that heaviness until I got to work with psychedelics. And it started when I was young, you know, my mom divorced my dad. My mom was devastated.
There was so much trauma there. And some of my earliest memories are my mom standing by the window, crying for days and days. And me soothing her saying mom it’s okay. He’s not coming back. We’re going to be okay. And it just kind of. Turned into this really difficult place. My father became a drug addict and an alcoholic, and my mom married another man who was also drinking really heavily.
So there was a lot of darkness and addiction problems. And I was away from my father who I loved so much. But when I would go to visit him, I didn’t understand why he was behind a locked door. And I remember the day when I was 13 sitting outside my grandmother’s house, asking my cousin who has now passed from brain cancer, asking her why is my dad always behind a locked door?
And she said, don’t you get it? Your dad’s a drug addict. And it shattered me. And at that time I quickly knew that I would have no ability to connect with my father. So when I went back home to live with my mom, I started smoking pot. I started getting trouble. I had no connection. I had no human being that really could love me or connect with me the way I believe that my dad could cause my dad was a storyteller.
He was real gregarious, but he was suffering deeply with addiction and his own self-esteem issues. So my upbringing was really hard. It was hard to grow up with the things that happened with my stepdad and my mom. And so really early on, I was on my own and shifted out of high school, into homeschooling with my aunt in the Santa Cruz mountains.
And that very quickly turned into me being on my own when I was 16 years old. When I was on my own, I was amazing at taking care of myself. I worked multiple jobs. I was a very determined, ambitious and although I felt lost, whole girl but at one point being so young and being in the city, trying to find places to live that were safe, it was difficult not being 18.
So at one point where we are now, the man who, whose house we’re sitting in now doing this recording his name’s Kyrod. He sat me down and he said, Tonya, I think you should go to Kauai and go to the North Shore and so I saved all my money and I packed a backpack and I moved to Kauai and that was this transformative a leap of this going through process for me to really land.
It was the best thing in the world for me to go to the North Shore because eventually I found the Kalalau trail and the magic there. And actually as a 17 year old girl spent months alone in the jungle every now and then I’d have a gathering with human beings, but this helped me to really find myself and kind of pull away from the experience of not having a home and kind of landing and who I was and who I was with the essence of the Earth.
Andrew: I think, wow. Like, I mean to go from what sounds like, you know, this, this long and heavy and deep struggle for belonging and feeling home and feeling a family. I mean, I see you now, you know, I had the beautiful chance to meet literally all of your family yesterday, you know, your kids and your partner.
And I just, I also just hear how you discuss your family and your home and, and the deep love you have for these things. I mean, how do you think psychedelics have been. Of making the shift for you, you know, from, from that, to this.
Tawnya: Yeah. My first psychedelic experience was on mushrooms in the Kalalau Valley on Kauai, and it was kind of a, we ate too much as most people do when they’re young, I had too many mushrooms and there was helicopters that do tours over the Kalalau Valley.
And so it sounded a lot like Vietnam and cause it was the jungle. I really thought I was in Vietnam for a time. So that was a little bit wild. But yeah, so that, so, so that happened you know, with the experience with Kauai and then what happened was, you know, I still, I continued to feel though, as even though I was like ambitious and strong on the outside, I still didn’t feel like I had a home.
So I wandered around my life feeling what I now know was this intense feeling of homelessness. And I couldn’t resolve it. I couldn’t figure out why. I was going to school to become an ayurvedic practitioner because I was really interested in finding homeostasis in the body and balance.
And I thought that was so amazing, but just a couple weeks after I had signed up for that program, Mother’s Day came. I was 18 years old and I realized it was Mother’s Day. And I realized that I was late for my period after having one, one night stand and I hitchhiked to the grocery store. I took a pregnancy test in that bathroom.
And as an 18 year old girl, I was pregnant. Now I had this deep knowing that I was pregnant with a boy and I had this deep knowing that I had to have him. So everything shifted and I went home. To Nevada and started to figure out my life there. It was a really hard time, you know, when you’re young and you’re a single pregnant mom, you think it’s the end of your world, that it’s the end of your romantic life.
That it’s the end of everything. So every single day I spent walking and looking at the Sierra mountains. Praying that I would be okay. I was going through so much emotional turmoil that my baby, when he was finally born, my son, my first son, his name is Levi. His umbilical cord was tied into two true knots, which is really rare for an umbilical cord, even tied in one and for the baby to survive, but his was tour was tied in two.
And so when he was born, all the doctors and all the nurses were really like taking pictures. They couldn’t believe that my son survived. So it was such a miracle for me. And the miracle was that I finally had this beautiful being to where I myself could build a home.
So having my first son saved my life because I created a home for him and a home for me. And that’s what led me to nursing school instead of going down the route of ayurveda.
Andrew: Hmm. So then moving into nursing, I mean, how did your journey continue from there now, having a home, having a family, starting that new journey as mother and as caregiver.
And then caring for others through nursing. I mean, where did that then lead you?
Tawnya: I was so proud to become a nurse and in nursing school, I really thrived because I had didn’t have the time in high school. It was my first school in a long while I loved the connections. I loved being the cheerleader of the class. I absolutely loved who I was in nursing school. And I graduated with honors at the top of my class with medals. And it was just, just, I remember the day that I was on stage receiving my my diploma. I went into the ICU and it felt incredible and empowering to feel like a bad-ass and doing such important work and starting to have really, really hard conversations with patients and being able to hold space for patients while they’re, you know sedated and intubated, most people think that they’re not listening, but you deeply know as a human being that these really mechanical beeping noises and sounds is just not a place for them to be so getting to offer myself and how I gave baths or held their hand or made sure I knew that they were comfortable, even though they were in an altered state with medicine.
That was a beautiful experience for me. But that being said, it was really hard to carry the trauma that happened day in and day out. And I did the ICU for six years. We had babies, we had adults, we had prisoners, we had a whole bunch of alcohol withdrawal and it was magnificent to learn all that, but it started to lay heavy in me.
And I understood that as a human being that if I continued to watch and understand that death looks like that like, having a tube in every orifice and being so full of fluid, that your body is completely swollen in an ICU bed, surrounded by those noises, I didn’t want my subconscious to continue to believe that that was death or that that even should be a part of life.
So I knew it was time for me to transition. And during all this time, there still was a deep heaviness in me that I couldn’t quite understand that had come from childhood, this heaviness that even though I had created a home of this heaviness that I now see was depression and inability to really tolerate my stress.
Well. So through those hard 12 hour shifts and shifts in the ICU, I started to learn quickly. I did what all the other nurses do is that after you shift you, you have alcohol. You start to drink. So I would work my shift and I would drink a couple glasses of wine and try to get myself to go to sleep and do that over and over again.
So very quickly I habituated into that lifestyle. Work really hard and have sleep deprivation and turn to alcohol in the evening and sleeping pills because I was, it was so hard to fall asleep in the day. So all that was really challenging and I had such a pull to transition. And so I ended up selling that house, talking to my husband into moving off the grid in the Santa Cruz mountains.
And cause I was craving earth. I was craving a shift. I’m so grateful that we did that move because it was what catapulted me into a different crew career from then I moved to the PACU. In the PACU you also have this honor for holding space for people coming out of anesthesia, which is similar to psychedelics.
You know, deep down as a human being, that when people are coming out of anesthesia, it is an honor, and it is very sacred to take care of them as they emerge from this vulnerable state. So that’s what meant a lot to me in that, and in the PACU, what I had more of an opportunity to do was to shape conversations when I spoke to patients make sure that I was holding space for them.
In a way that made them feel comfortable and human as quickly as possible. So that became my sustenance in nursing, but eventually you know, and I was still you’re using alcohol, buying wine every night. Eventually I knew that it was time to give that up. I would go on cleanses and give it up.
Of course I never got in trouble and never had a DUI. I never was in trouble at work, but I knew that it was something that I had habituated and it was time to let go. So when I let go of that habit, I started recognizing these feelings of this deep heaviness inside of myself, I was on SSRI’s is to kind of help because that’s the answer in Western medicine.
And it was then that I was really struggling, opening up my eyes in the morning and feeling such an incredible heaviness. And knowing that that day was going to be a hard day, having depression to the point where my skin would hurt, like almost flu-like and this is where sometimes our emotional maladies can really turn into and are associated with these real physical pains.
And it was the same son, my first born son who would tell me, mom, you should really try a mushroom cause he had started growing mushrooms and I was like, so afraid to try any psychedelics because I no longer drank wine. And what if the experience was too scary and hard? What if I took this mushroom and it caused discomfort and fear, what was I going to do?
So I procrastinated and I procrastinated and I suffered. And one day the suffering was so bad with the sadness that I was like, forget it, I’m taking it. And I took that one mushroom and within 20 minutes, I was out of bed. My skin didn’t hurt. I was able to clean my house. I was functional. And this started me on a whole roll of how psychedelics could really help me.
And then I started to see how psychedelics could really treat not only the depression, but helped me shed and face and move forward, this incredible heaviness that I’ve carried through my whole life.
Andrew: I think it sounds so beautiful to hear this story. And thank you for opening up about this. I think a lot of people can relate.
A lot of us can relate, you know, whether whether maybe for some of us, it is alcohol. Some of us it’s not. A lot of us sort of, you know, our paths have reached to some sort of something right. To numb. And it’s such a different experience with psychedelics to, you know, not, it’s not actually numbing because it is changing who you are in such a positive way.
And I kind of wanted to look back. I thought it was very interesting. You talking about, you know, working in the PACU and actually working with folks coming out of anesthesia and it sounded like even at that time, you know, recognizing how important the conversations were, how important the human touch is in actually being able to work with somebody who is going through a process where their body or their mind or their experience, the human experience is undergoing a reparation process.
They’re undergoing an integration process, coming back to it all process, you know, and, and I’m curious for you now, you know, how have you taken those tools that you even started working with back then to really make you who you are at Eleusinia
Tawnya: Yeah, I really didn’t find my gifts until this whole process unfolded because I knew that that’s what sustained me is these beautiful human conversations and also acute awareness of what it was like to hold space.
And also for six years, I worked at Burning Man in the medical tent. And we also had people undergoing very difficult psychedelic experiences. And I wish I knew then what I knew now about holding space for those particular individuals, because it was a whole different story. What it’s like now is that in nursing, you can hold space and you can be a great listener, but I really wasn’t able to land in who I was and what I could offer as well.
There’s this curated, I like to call it the Barbie nurse effect, depending on where you work, that nurses don’t speak about their own suffering. They don’t speak about potentially being on any antidepressants. They don’t speak about having wine every night though. There is a very high suicide rate in nurses and in physicians, and there is a very high risk of use of alcohol use.
So these people, we, we don’t have this level of honesty and human sharing, and that is my favorite thing about being alive. So I, one point with that depression, I needed to take a break from work, because I had to do the self digging. I had started to use mushrooms and I started to see the stuff that I needed to root out and kind of evolve through.
So I did that process and I started doing podcasts and having these really authentic conversations. And it just led me to really understand myself in a different way. Now, with my work at Eleusinia, I have seen what the entirety of my gift is, and that is in communication, how I hold space for others, how I listen and how I work in integration, how I work as a nurse and the words I speak my ability to share my own story and to help others navigate their own is is my purpose.
And I value it every day and there’s different ways that Eleusinia has taught me how to value that even more. And really that’s how Jessica found me is in that complete raw honesty. And I think that’s what I love so much about our team and about Jessica is that she took that evolving piece of me and she placed it in a way to where it would make such a difference for our team.
Andrew: And I think too, you know, it sounded like you, at some point, got to the place where you from your sort of day to day life and how things worked for you as a nurse, the things you going through every day, you took a break to actually work with psychedelics. And I think it’s fascinating that you actually now are part of an experience for other people who maybe don’t have the opportunity or the time, or the ability for whatever reason, to just have a clear sheer stop from their own work. Maybe they only have five days. And that’s actually what we offer, right. To actually after all of your, sort of your experiences, all of our experiences, but really condense it into five days so that it’s not like a total shear break.
And I need to leave this experience for six months to work on myself. It’s like, actually, You’re a big part of allowing somebody to come and have a concentrated dose of knowledge and understanding, and that human touch that you bring to really allow people in those five days, you know, the time that they spend with us from start to end and even afterwards to feel connected and to feel like they’re on the path and the field.
We don’t have to just totally stop what we’re doing, but actually we can start to incorporate this into our practices and incorporate this into who we are to be able to ride those shifts. And I think communication and what you do is such a huge part of that because as we start to shift and as we start to change and even just trying to process a psychedelic experience right, for the first time, processing the emotional aspects of that, processing, what this means in the broader scale of someone’s life.
I think you just bring such a beautiful, unique touch about being able to hold somebody and sit with them and paint a picture as a storyteller of helping understand their story and understanding that it’s also not over.
Tawnya: Yeah, thank you for saying that. And I want to reach to two types of listeners right now.
I know that as a caretaker, as a nurse, as a medical provider, I know how hard that work is and how much we don’t have time for ourselves, how much we work so hard. Past a level of exhaustion that we come home. So depleted that, that replenishing ourself as an impossible task. And I want you to know that that this is a place for you, that those people that are to those points, that learning how to renourish ourselves redirecting and healing and shedding that heaviness, that this is a place for that.
I need to take a moment to share the story of my brother. I’ve helped my younger brother, he’s 10 years younger, because he suffered with a 20 year methamphetamine addiction. And I tried everything as a nurse to help my brother again and again and again, he would come and he would detox with me and I would try so hard to get him out of that.
It wasn’t until he started a regular psilocybin practice that he was finally able to stay sober. So I just want to speak to those people that may have moved through recovery, but are still having some agony with the emotions that they’re feeling within that this is also a place for you that you can find a lift and a resolution that you can live a better quality of life.
So I hope that I can reach both those people. Because I know what weight Western medicine has on all of us being healthcare providers, post COVID. And we all know those people that have moved to substance abuse in really unhealthy patterns that destroys our brain. And sometimes we do that for so much of our life that it’s so scary to think of starting brand new with a brain that has suffered.
And how do we get that neuroplasticity? How do we get our brain to heal? How do we get our emotional self to heal? How can life be worth living?
Andrew: I think too, you bring up such a beautiful point about actually being able to offer yourself such a deep gift of nourishment and of care. Because I think especially, you know, you mentioned people in the healthcare field and absolutely, and I think too about just anyone who takes care of someone else, you know, even if it’s not within the Western medical system, people at home taking care of parents who are getting older.
People who are taking care of their families. People are doing everything and giving everything for other people, you know, really finding time to nourish yourself. Some people we, so where do you even start sometimes? You know, what do you need? It’s hard to know. And so I think that’s part of a beautiful thing about being able to go on a retreat as well as actually just to let yourself be held.
Challenges of, of learning to self-soothe and finding new ways to do that, finding alternative ways to do that healthy ways to do that for each of us where we’re at in that moment, you know, being able to come on a retreat is not just you self-soothing it’s actually, we all get to co-regulate. You know, it’s no one’s burden.
No one’s heaviness that any, any single individual brings has to be just their heaviness. So I think it’s beautiful. You know, you sharing your story because really, like you said, those two people and, or, you know, you all of a sudden have three different, unique, beautiful individuals who could all find themselves in this space, who could all find a time for nourishment who could all learn techniques and skills and things to take back with.
About how you might want to continue nourishing yourself moving forward about what it would look like to actually use psilocybin. as part of your taking care of yourself to be able to learn that, you know, you are worth it because you had this experience and then moving forward with that, you know, sort of at like rapid much more rapid and accelerated pace.
Tawnya: Yeah. Jessica has taught me so much and I did move through my healing with psilocybin, but if I would have known what Jessica has taught me now, then it would have been such an easier process. And I’m so grateful for that. What she has cultivated for pain management, whether we’re talking about depression, anxiety, body dysmorphia, or acute neurological pain, chronic pain, or an inflammatory disorders.
I now practice what Eleusinia has trained me to do in my own life. And it has been so transformative in the beginning, when I started working with psychedelics, I was using tiny quantities and I still had days where I was suffering a lot. Now I use psilocybin as part of my regular practice, which because the cues for me personally, as to when it’s time for me, because the cues become unique to all of us.
And it is something that we all need to discover on our own. The cues to me are starting to feel that my self esteem is, is kind of low. I feel like I don’t have the same resilience, and so I know exactly when it’s time to experience that. And for my brother who is in recovery and sober from methamphetamine he has a different cue and that’s for depression because there was so much post depression that happens after a lifetime of, of methamphetamine addiction.
When I was taken into Eleusinia, I didn’t know what to expect. In some ways, my mind was trained to think I’m stepping into a new nursing job, but this is so different. Stepping into Eleusinia has been the most beautiful experience. Really of my entire life, like having these authentic people that are so honest about how they’ve moved through their lives and their own pain and how we’ve worked together to shape each other in a way that is better than we could’ve ever done on our own, who I now get to have be an opportunity to be is I could have never done this on my own.
The way I, I hold space and offer things and we educate each other. Thanks to, you know, what Jessica has created, is just monumental. It is a part of a movement. And what I see in these people, because we have guests that come from all walks of life.
We have guests that have been in recovery. We have all sorts of people. We have, you know, nurses and we have doctors, we have everything and we all can relate in this human story and this humanness and it’s like, it’s not like. So much different than sitting on a counselor’s couch and talking about these things, being in Mexico, having a psychedelic experience and every single layer of BS is lifted and there is nothing, but this humbling beauty and connection of understanding of love in the different suffering that we have all endured being a part of this team, it’s hard to describe. And I know we had recorded earlier, Andrew, you felt like it was kind of like, it was kind of like flying and I feel so held in a group in a container and there is no semblance or memory or a piece of me that carries that heaviness I used to carry that carries that loneliness that I used to carry or carries that homelessness that I used to carry.
It is it is a whole different, beautiful movement.
Andrew: And I think you’re such an integral part of it, truly, Tawnya I mean, you just bring something so special forward and I’m wondering if you feel like you have any big, final message, anything you’d like to share any last bit. You’d like to just put out there in the world in the hopes that it might reach somebody who’s listening today.
Tawnya: Well, it sounds so cliche, but you are not alone and it’s okay that you may have been self-medicating because you’re hurting inside that your inner pain is not as unique as you think it is. And that you are not broken. You are not just a diagnosis. You can listen to those voices in your head that says you’re not enough that you’re not going to make it, that you’re mentally ill.
All those things. And there still is a light. And my message to you is you place one foot in front of the other. And you go one day at a time and you will find a hand that’s reaching for you. You grab the next hand, that’s reaching for you every single time. And I hope that one day that the hand that you grab is the hands at Eleusinia.
Andrew: Thank you so much. I appreciate you so so much and you and everything you do.
Tawnya: Thank you so much for having me, Andrew.