MDMA Assisted Psychotherapy for Rape Trauma
A Story of Personal Transformation After a Life Changing Rape
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Fifteen years ago at the age of 15, I attended a house party where I was traumatically gang raped. At the time I was also a virgin. I was so ashamed, humiliated, and terrified that I never spoke about it again. Until recently.
It wasn’t until seven years after the sexual assault, at the age of 22, that I was ready to talk. I found a therapist who specialized in sexual abuse and, in addition to one-on-one therapy, I entered group therapy for sexually abused women. After 2 years of counseling and group therapy, I assumed that, since I had finally come to a place where I could at least talk about my rape, I “was healed” – of course, not really knowing what being healed looked like.
Throughout the years, I continued to struggle with intimacy and trust, never correlating these deep issues to my rape. Regardless of my ability to acknowledge the trauma, it was always difficult to talk about. Anytime it would come up in conversation, I felt my sympathetic nervous system getting activated through heart palpitations and the sense of “fight, flight, or freeze,” along with feelings of shame and embarrassment. The truth was, I was far from healed.
Fast forward to the age of 30. Through a random conversation unrelated to my rape, I was triggered and re-experienced the effects of my sexual assault. For 2 weeks I experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, such as nightmares and random panic attacks. During the panic attacks, which sometimes lasted as long as 20-30 minutes, I had a strange feeling of not being safe. It was confusing and unusual. I realized I was resurfacing the familiar feeling of “fear of death” that I had experienced during my rape.
I had been seeing a therapist for about a year, so I discussed this new trigger with him. We decided MDMA was an appropriate therapy to explore to release the trauma. We had done two MDMA sessions before to help with childhood pain, so I was familiar. I now realize my rape at 15 was responsible for most of the other trauma and current pain in my life. It was the major source of my pain.
The day before our scheduled MDMA session, I had a meltdown. I was terrified of feeling the pain surrounding my rape and afraid that I would be re-traumatized given the PTSD I experienced when first triggered. I almost cancelled the session.
The morning of my MDMA session – and before I ingested the medicine – I had non-stop diarrhea, sweaty palms, heart palpitations, and cottonmouth. I was unbelievably terrified to face it. I’m sharing this to provide insight on how much trauma I had stored inside my body, even 15 years later.
Despite my fear, I was desperate to be released of the trauma and pain, so at 8:30am I told myself that I would be okay and ingested 125mg of MDMA.
My friend drove me to meet my therapist at 8:45am and it took 45 minutes for the medicine to kick in. When we met at his office, I was terrified and holding back a panic attack. I could hardly speak; my voice was shaky and my heart was pounding full blast.
I laid on the couch curled into a ball while he kept trying to help me ground myself by saying, “Why don’t you go into the pain and do exactly what your body wants you to do?”
At 9:30am, I ingested another 50 mg of MDMA, which we previously discussed as a way to prolong the peak of the medicine and allow more time for therapeutic work. My severe anxiety continued for an hour and a half into the session – well after the MDMA took effect. Usually after it kicks in I feel good, open, and ready to share.
This experience of severe anxiety was unusual for me. My therapist kept trying to get me to describe the pain I was feeling as I laid, now curled in a ball on the floor. I kept fidgeting; no matter what position I was in I was horribly uncomfortable. I just wanted to hide from the severe pain I was feeling in my chest.
Finally, I sat up and asked my therapist to bring me back to the trauma through an “elevator” meditation we had done in the past. I came to do this work and damned if my fears were going to get the best of me.
He had me visualize stepping into the elevator with him and we hit the fifteenth floor – to represent my age at the time of the trauma. The elevator door opened and he said, “You are at a party. Tell me what you see.” I shouted in panic, “Don’t leave me!” He replied, “I’m right here in the elevator waiting for you and not going anywhere.” I walked into the party and began recalling exactly what I remembered.
After all these years I have never been able to remember exactly what happened that night. It was always very foggy.
While on MDMA, I was able to recall most of the night. My visual memory was sporadic; I didn’t always have an image to match the words coming out of my mouth because I believe the shock blocked it out. My mouth was confidently telling a story I had never heard before. I remembered conversations, specific faces, and even feelings that occurred for me throughout the night. I’ve read MDMA allows memories to resurface since it affects the amygdala.
We got to the actual rape and my body started playing out the incident. I started screaming in the office, “No, please, stop!! Someone is hitting me! Someone else is also in the room! They are just watching! I’m terrified! No one is helping! NO ONE IS HELPING!!” I felt a burning in my chest. It was cold and at the same time felt like heartburn. I felt actual pain of pure terror, which I now realize was the fear of death. I realized that the night I was raped, I thought they were going to kill me.
I recognize that my reaction the day before and the morning of this session was because the trauma was surfacing. I’ve carried around this terror in my body for 15 years. As I started shouting, “NO ONE IS HELPING!!” my inner thighs began to tremble, where in my meditation I was being penetrated. Then my legs, chest, and whole body were shaking viciously.
Scared, I shouted to my therapist, “What’s happening?!” He calmly reassured me, “It’s okay. Your body is just releasing some trauma.” I must have shaken for a whole 5 minutes. I imagine I looked like a fish out of water. The shaking eventually slowed and I took a bunch of big deep breaths. I turned to him and said, “WOW, what was that?!” His reassuring smile told me that he had seen this before. It’s obvious that I was releasing shock and deeply stored trauma.
Many victims of physical trauma report that painful memories are stored in the body and it’s our body’s natural reaction to shake out the trauma. However, due to shame and embarrassment, we push our feelings/shaking back down. Today you can find Trauma Release Exercises where people shake their bodies in an attempt to release the trauma.
After the first shaking episode we went back into the meditation. I continued to role-play the traumatic event. The shaking continued each time I approached another feeling that I had stuffed deep inside. Just after the rape reenactment finished, I felt intense humiliation.
I remembered that after I had been raped I was left lying on the bed, alone, naked, and in shock. My friend, who later found me at the party, was trying to talk to me, but I couldn’t respond. She thought I was unconscious, but really I was in shock and couldn’t speak.
I began to feel that SAME EXACT humiliation I felt 15 years earlier. To finally be in touch with that pain again was phenomenal. I wanted to hide from the feeling, it was literally so painful in my chest. As I said out loud, “Ugggghhh the humiliation, it hurts! Humiliation!” my body began to compulsively shake again and I shook out all of the humiliation.
I then began reenacting how I felt the day after the rape. The morning after, I remember seeing blood between my legs and a little on my shirt from my bloody nose. I also had a black eye for about a week. I remembered lying in my bed at home, in shock, feeling so much shame. I felt dirty and unlovable and I didn’t think anyone would ever want me. I was now no longer a virgin.
I said to my therapist, “I feel deflated” and laid on the floor of his office and reenacted feeling deflated. Just then I felt a pulsation of deep shame and again – a cold yet burning pain in my chest. Like clockwork, my body began to shake out the shame. With each shake I could feel this break of energy. I literally felt lighter.
Thanks to the MDMA, I was no longer shaming myself. After each shake, I would tell myself that the men who raped me should be humiliated, not me. I am so lovable and have so much to offer. I let myself know that today I had nothing to fear and could let go of my paranoia surrounding close relationships.
These were all things I needed to hear after the rape happened and finally I was able to offer it to myself. It’s one thing for a therapist to tell you that you have nothing to fear, but it’s another to believe it and hear it come from yourself.
I could feel I was now at the peak of the MDMA experience.
Next I moved onto rage. I said, “I feel so used! They used me!!” I grabbed a pillow and screamed into it at the top of my lungs. Never in my life did I think it was possible to get angry and scream while on MDMA.
We had previously discussed in therapy that “being used” was a trigger for me and anytime I felt used in my day-to-day life I experienced intense rage. It was such a huge release to finally let go of that deep anger, the source of that trigger, which had affected me for YEARS.
Finally, I understood how much baggage I had been carrying and FINALLY, I was removing it. With the help of MDMA, I was able to see my own worth and confront my shame with kindness.
Unknowingly, there was one more thing I needed to reenact to receive peace from this traumatic story. I needed and yearned for reassurance from my father that I was a lovable person, that he wasn’t disgusted or disappointed with me, and that he loved me. Not receiving this, as my father never talked to me about my rape, greatly affected how I learned to cope. To this day, that affects my relationship with him. Having worked with my therapist for a year, at times, I looked to him as a father figure.
When I came down from the MDMA, I asked him for a hug and mentioned that I felt like a disgusting person for what happened to me. He held me, rubbed my back as a father would to their child and reassured me that I am not disgusting and that I am a good person. While some professionals may see this as crossing boundaries, we both had healthy boundaries and trust for each other that had built over the course of the year. This transference was imperative for me to release the last piece of trauma that had haunted me for years – that my father didn’t love me.
I sat back down on the couch and felt profound, absolute bliss in my chest after a morning of intense pain. It felt like I had multiple knots inside my chest that had FINALLY been untangled. I was also able to breathe easier and deeper. I was feeling so overwhelmed with love for myself, a feeling I had not experienced before. Instead, I usually experienced a recorded tape of self-hatred that had been on repeat for 15 fucking years – that it was my fault, that I was unlovable, that I should be ashamed, and that I’m damaged goods.
Finally, I was free from it.
Without MDMA, I don’t think I could have faced those terrible and physically painful feelings. My body literally would not allow myself to go there during regular talk therapy. My fear response would sound off before I could reach inside the feeling.
We usually plan our MDMA sessions to be 5 hours; however I felt done with all the work I needed to do and recovered from the session in just 4 hours. Typically, the MDMA will last for 3 hours and I will slowly come down over the next 2 hours. For the first time, I felt clear and sober in a shorter amount of time.
At 1pm my friend came and picked me up and stayed the afternoon with me while I napped. I felt exhausted from all of the exertion of energy. Companionship following an MDMA session is essential to feeling safe and supported while continuing to come down off the medicine. I’m never fully sober until about four hours after the session ends.
Later that evening, I noticed that my chronic shoulder, neck, and back pain that I’ve had for years was completely gone. For YEARS I have always ached. I figured it was because I sat at a computer all day, but now I realize that it was stored trauma in my body causing knots in my muscles. I also slept a solid 9 hours the night of the session, which was rare for me.
For months leading up to this session, I would wake up throughout the night with anxiety. I woke up the next day feeling content and at peace – something I haven’t felt in a while.
One of the most profound effects was my ability to breathe deeper in my chest. Today, four months later, the pain in my neck and shoulders is still gone. I can also tell my rape story without feeling heart palpitations or being triggered.
I am incredibly grateful for a therapist who was willing to look beyond the restrictions placed on MDMA and grant me the healing I so desperately needed. It pains me that therapists are forced to risk their licenses while using this incredible tool.
So many other people are carrying around their trauma and may continue to for the rest of their lives if MDMA-assisted psychotherapy is not made available to them.
I lived with this pain for 15 years. FIFTEEN FUCKING YEARS! It is one of my greatest hopes that other people with intense, stored trauma will be able to access this same kind of healing. I urge therapists and people suffering from trauma and PTSD to educate themselves on the benefits of MDMA therapy.