A Lifelong Path to Knowing
I have spent my last 30 years on a quest to understand "why." The big "why" for me was why was I suicidal at age 4? Why was I in a psychiatric ward at age 19 from a suicide attempt? Why were there other suicide attempts in my early 20's that lead to 6 weeks in a drug treatment center then 3 months in a halfway house. Why did I continually seem to feel better and then my world would crash down again with depression and suicidality? Why did I have such intense and awful intrusive thoughts? Why did I sink into depression with the slightest confrontation with someone? I knew of some childhood sexual abuse, but it did not seem like the Big Why.
Why? Why? Why?
In this pursuit of "why" I also became disillusioned with the standard western approach to mental health. It did not work for me. To me it felt like a sham, a band-aid. There was me with my story going blah, blah, blah to a therapist with his/her story about life and they were parroting back some particular model of talk therapy that they learned from someone with their own misconceptions about the mind. To me it all seemed pointless and unhelpful. And, I never felt like I was "mentally ill." To me, it didn't make sense that my brain chemistry was off. For me, there was something inside that wanted to come out - I did not know what that was, but I committed my life to that discovery.
After drug treatment and the halfway house I ended up back in college and rocked it! I graduated and eventually landed a high paying corporate gig. I made it! I was a success! This was in my late 20's. But then, my depression came roaring back. This was it? This was success? I was living the American Dream, but for me my depression was all consuming. I reached a point in my life where "this was it." I was either going to kill myself with a permanent solution or try a high dose of LSD to see if that would provide any relief. I had had various experiences with LSD in my teens and 20's that gave me a possible glimpse of something else out there - something bigger than me. At that point in my life, I was basically a nihilist - there was no meaning to life, no point in living, no higher power, no purpose. I was able to source some pure liquid LSD for my experiment in salvation from my impending death. Alone in my basement apartment, I took 1,200 mcg of LSD. For the psychedelic novice, a normal dose is 100-300 mcg, with 300 mcg considered "beefy." I knew I had to go big or I would die - literally. I also knew my experiment could go wildly wrong, and I was ready to take that risk. What happened that night changed my life and my path forward. That night I experienced a classic mystical state. I experienced myself as pure white light and what I would describe as pure unity consciousness. I looked in the mirror and saw the world's most beautiful man - but, then my face morphed into every human that has ever existed and saw the same inherent beauty and goodness that exists in all of us. I spent the next 6-7 hours laying on the floor, crying, writhing, and experiencing life for what felt like the first time. Love was streaming in me, and out of me, up into the Universe. There was no more apartment - there was no more Steve. I was awash in love, compassion and gratitude. This felt more real than anything I had ever experienced. I could feel this was our core nature. I was reborn. My journey lasted into the wee hours of the morning and when the sun arose I went outside and was filled with love and beauty for the day. My depression was 100% gone - all thoughts of suicidality were gone. It was truly a life changing experience - and to this day I am grateful for that evening.
That experience changed my path in life. I started doing more personal work, discovered a new group of friends who were also on a path towards wholeness. But... over time my depression came back, suicidal ideation came back, intrusive thoughts came back. It was not as pronounced as before, but life became heavy again.
Through this phase of my life, in my 30's, I experimented with psychedelics to help with my depression - psilocybin, more LSD, ibogaine and peyote. Each experience was positive and seemed to be helpful, but then all the "bad" feelings would come back. I did not understand the "why" of this. Why was I having such profound experiences with huge levels of insight - but then like clockwork the depression would come back? Why?
In this state of "why" I rolled through 20 years deeply entrenched in corporate America and slowly became a shell of a man. During an approximately 15 year phase I did little personal work and no work with psychedelic medicines. In my early 50's I knew it was time to dive back into personal work.
I dove back in with extreme vigor and passion! First ibogaine, my third time. This was a huge reset for me. This was followed by psilocybin sessions, MDMA (with no effect) and ayahuasca. After a 3-day ayahuasca ceremony, my life went south. For a year, I was in and out of a full blown ayahuasca session. The experience was like being ripped in two - literally. I felt my head being pulled in one direction and my body pulled in the other. The physical pain was excruciating and the sense of panic was 911 level. It was horrendous. These 'sessions' lasted from 3 minutes to 8 hours. Yet again, I had no idea of "why." It was just happening. This year was also filled with various levels of depersonalization, dissociation, and derealization. At times, I knew I was Steve - but I didn't know who Steve was. I knew I was on planet Earth, but I didn't know what planet Earth was. It was awful. I felt like it was never going to end. It got so bad I was starting to become suicidal from the intensity of the attacks. I eventually went on an SSRI and Xanax, then a switch to a new SNRI kicked in a serotonin syndrome that broke the cycle. I nearly died from the serotonin syndrome - but it stopped the attacks after a year of living with them. The year-long breakdown or "shamanic initiation," as Dennis McKenna called it, was over - but I knew there was something in there that caused this. And I still was on my mission to figure out the "why."
I knew there was a reason I was going through all of this - there was so much inside me and I had no idea why. But I knew I had to go back in. I knew (or thought I knew) I needed Big Medicine to do a deeper dive. I was confident that I should not do ayahuasca again, so my mission was focused on psilocybin. By chance? Luck? Synchronicity? A friend of mine got into the UW-Madison Psilocybin study. I thought, "Ooh! What an opportunity - exactly what I need." High-dose psilocybin in a controlled environment. After being waitlisted for two weeks, I got an email stating that someone had dropped out and inquiring if I was still interested. Of course, I was. I did three consecutive increasing doses of psilocybin over three months. This was under the standard Hopkins Protocol of headphones/eyeshades, two guides, an FDA approved playlist, and a beautiful room on the UW-Madison campus. The study was for pharmacokinetics and adverse reactions to high dose psilocybin. Being a 6'2" Dutch guy, I received the largest psilocybin dose of any published FDA study. During the study I experienced hell realms for all three doses - definitely off the charts, challenging experiences. It allowed me to experience the good aspects of the current Hopkins model, as well as the weaknesses. The primary one I believe is not understanding how to work with someone who is looping in dissociation. What we would, at OmTerra, call a State 3 experience.
In the "life is always interesting" department, during the study, one huge piece of my past history came to light after the first dose. The weekend before beginning the study, I did a holotropic breathwork class with Stan Grof. During one of Stan's lectures, he talked a lot about birth trauma. However, I wasn't listening attentively - it did not apply to me. Fast forward to two weeks after dose #1. I was in a state of "what the hell happened during dose #1," and was back in my hometown of Rochester, MN for my Dad's 80th birthday party. Sitting with my parents, I asked my dad about his birth story, then my mom. And then - light bulb moment - I had never heard my birth story. I asked my mom about it. Her reply, "It was awful. The worst of the four kids. You were breech, so they had three guys on top of me trying to manually flip you. It was so painful that they had to knock me out." I asked, "Was I Caesarean then?" "No," was the response, "You were extracted out. They used forceps or something." Whoa... From a previous ibogaine session I experienced me as an infant going through a very intense release of SEVERE pain from my left rib cage which was deformed and crushed down. I never knew the "why." Now things were starting to make sense! The "why" was becoming clearer.
About a year ago, I requested my birth records from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. There it all was - except for the broken ribs. What I learned was, yes, I was breech, flipped, then extracted with forceps by my head and born with my umbilical cord around my neck. I was unresponsive when coming into the world and had to be resuscitated. As was the case back in the 1960's, I spent the next 4 days primarily in the nursery.
I finally had part of my "why." Why I was suicidal at such a young age - birth trauma! But now what, I thought. How do I work with this? And later - I would find out there were other reasons for my early suicidality.
After my psilocybin study, I started a non-profit focused on psychedelic therapy education and advocacy. The main focus was hosting a yearly, three-day symposium on psychedelic therapy. It was during the third symposium that I invited Saj Razvi, LPC (co-founder of PSI) to speak on ketamine therapy. During his presentation, he started talking more about somatic work and the unconscious mind and trauma. Light bulbs were going off left and right in my head. I dove deeper into his work and discovered the ANS map. Holy smokes! A life changing moment when I realized there was nothing wrong with me - I was just having biological responses to my trauma. This, along with the acknowledgement that not only was I experiencing the biology of PTSD, but it was Complex PTSD, brought an enormous awakening for me.
I did my first PSIP cannabis session with Saj Razvi back in 2019 and it was the one thing that changed my life more than anything I had ever done. In that session I discovered various levels of dissociation from my trauma - once that was cracked, the stream of emotions, held charge and terror that came out of me was huge.... wave after wave after wave came pouring out of me. My first PSIP session lasted 4 hours. My second one was 6 hours. My body kept producing wave after wave. After those first two sessions I felt lighter, brighter and more whole than I have ever felt in my life. To this day I continue to do PSIP sessions and keep going deeper into "The Steve." For me, the most profound work I have ever done is with this model. For me life is richer, deeper and more profound - in a way that standard psychedelics never created or allowed for. My passion for this work and desire to bring this forth to more people was the driving force for PSI and OmTerra.
May this model serve you as well.
Steve Elfrink at UW-Madison for FDA Psilocybin Study
How I Got Here...
A lot of my experience in working with psychedelic medicines has been "in the trenches" and as using myself as my own lab rat to find out what works - and what doesn't work. One of my biggest learnings has been the classic phrase that "one size does not fit all". This definitely aligns with my experience working with psychedelic medicines. None of these medicines are a magic pill that will miraculously cure you. The other, very large variable is the level of trauma in your system - how much did you endure. When did it begin. What age. How many times. Was it a primary caretaker. Was there anyone good in your life who was a resource. Personality - are you sensitive. And, lastly, the depth of dissociation in your system. What works best is a slow, methodical approach that honors each individuals pacing, courage and willingness to "go there". "There" is the place no one wants to go. My role in working with you is to gently, compassionately, lovingly and with care and grace walk along side you into the dark recesses of your mind and body to help move what you are holding that is no longer serving you - out. And for me it is an honor to be in service in this way.
Healing Advocacy Fund
Non-profit facilitating the roll-out of psilocybin services in Oregon and Colorado
Advisor to Safety Committee
Student | Synaptic Psilocybin Training Program
In the fist cohort of psilocybin practitioners.
2020 - 2022
Psychedelic Therapy Company
Founder | Psychedelic Somatic Therapist
2019 - 2020
Psychedelic Somatic Institute
Therapist training organization in psychedelic somatic therapy
Co-Founder | Director of Community Outreach | Teaching Assistant
MAPS: Psychedelic Science
Beyond Psychedelics: Global Psychedelic Forum Prague, Czechlosovakia
Exploring Psychedelics Conference
2016 - 2018
Psychedelic Therapy Symposium Organizer
Organized, managed and hosted The Driftless Psychedelic Therapy Symposium, a
three-day conference focused on psychedelic therapy.
2018 - 2019
Somatic Psychedelic Therapy company
Personal Experience With:
Psilocybin, LSD, Ibogaine, MDMA, 5-MEO-DMT, Peyote, Ketamine, Ayahuasca