New Orleans, LA - 2019-04-20

Nicole: I lived just two hours away from New Orleans, and my mother grew up here, so I’ve had a strong connection since I was a really young child. I almost felt more comfortable here than I did in my hometown.

But what really attracted me back here was that I needed to experience my underbelly, and New Orleans is definitely a place to do that. I grew up as a Southern female pleaser, and I really needed to shake that. That was a long, long process.

It was 2005. I got here seven weeks before the storm. I was driving into the city, and another storm was coming. I was the only person coming from the west to the east other than rescue vehicles. There was this huge dark cloud over the city, and I was like, wow, this is sort of an ominous beginning.

I was in the city for seven weeks before Katrina hit. I evacuated to Lafayette where my grandmother was. I literally had nothing but a backpack. That Monday morning, my grandmother said, “You should come to see this; they’re talking about New Orleans being underwater,” and I said, “That’s ridiculous. I just watched the whole storm, and nothing happened. It was barely a rainstorm.” And all of a sudden I see Ray Nagin talking about eighty percent of the city is underwater, and I see these aerial photographs. It was hard to wrap my head around.

I stayed in Lafayette for two months. When I returned there was just this deep sadness. It was despair, actually, and the city looked like hell. There was a dark waterline, and everything was dead underneath it. There was no birds, no green, no bugs, no nothing for a long, long time. And that’s so not Louisiana.

Rouses on Tchoupitoulas was open, and I remember going there and seeing everyone walking around like zombies. There was this palpable closeness you felt with people you didn’t know at all. Parts of my own personality that I hadn’t really delved into that much began opening up--the darkness and despair. I’m a very intuitive, feeling person. If anyone around me is in pain, chances are I’m gonna take it on. So, it was really heavy for me.

Then, I started dating this guy who had a very extreme personality, and that’s when a whole new world opened up to me, in a lot of ways.

I had never really done anything but pills and weed. I was never into heavy drugs, never into psychedelics, and he was really into psychedelics. That certainly shifted things for me in a major way.

I had the mind-blowing realization that nothing is separate. You and I are pretending that we’re separate, and that lady’s pretending that she’s walking by us, but that’s not really happening. We’re all connected, all part of one organism. It becomes very obvious. I think every single person should do psychedelics. It’s life-changing.

And then there’s a part of me that’s very sexual and very primal, and I got to experience that with him. That shifted me completely. I had been this fairly shut-down southern female, doing all the things I thought I was supposed to be doing, and that tapped into a side of me that had never been awake.

The primal feelings for him, and the sex--it was very intense. We had a very intense relationship, and I was so grateful. I had never been so close to anybody and oddly trusted him in a way I had never trusted anybody. It was us against the world. I had never felt the need to be so separate from the rest of the people. I just wanted to experience him alone.

The psychedelics continued to expand my psyche and my understanding of the depth of my being and everyone else’s. Before that, I always felt like I was just skipping on the surface of life ‘cause I was.

Those experiences expanded me into who I am. After that, I felt much more at home in my skin… I don’t think I really knew myself at all before that, even though I had done a lot of deep work. I had a graduate degree in counseling and had done so many workshops and retreats and da da da, but you don’t have to contain anything here.

I just did training to be a grief-recovery specialist. I’m swimming in deep waters these days. I wanna support people who are in that space. Honestly, I feel like everything so far has been bringing me right here, and I’m excited about it.