The first treason against my sexuality came in Sunday School. My teacher, Ms. Spencer, a modest, god-fearing woman shared a cautionary tale about the dangers of curiosity with us, the little girls. She prayed fervently for our virtue, lest we not fall into the fate of the daughters of Eve, cursed to bleed every month when the moon hung full in the sky. Cursed to bear insufferable pain as we brought babies into the world.
She offered no explanation beyond the story of Eden. No unpacking the metaphors or the symbols. Just the literal interpretation from which I extrapolated these three crushing truths:
Women were made to be in the service of man.
Women were curious, secretive and coy.
Yet in other cultures and eras, girls were raised to see menstruation as sacred and powerful. They were taught to celebrate their cycle as a divine gift when it arrived. They were raised to see themselves woven into the cosmology, taught to see their bleeding as mystical rather than problematic. An emblem of their divinity, not their condemnation.
The menstruating women in these tribes were not punished, but revered. Their blood poured forward with a ceremonial cleansing property, bringing and restoring life. Healing the sick and deterring foes.
When my blood arrived early at age 10, doubling me over in pain, I felt anything but divine. I discarded the soiled clothes, scared someone might discover I was becoming one of Eve’s girls. I sat in the basin of the shower, legs spread, watching blood pool with water and pour down the drain. My shame and sorrow mixing with my lifeforce, nurtured and clinched in the dogmatic lie that this blood was an inevitable penance to pay.
I spent the first year of my menstruation sneaking supplies from my mother’s closet. They were hidden behind her shoes like a dirty, old secret. One day while buying groceries, she took me down the aisle full of tampons and pads and told me to pick what I wanted. No guidance or instruction was given. Tampons seemed potentially painful. Pads, wet and gross, like a bloody diaper. We never discussed any of this – what my menstruation meant for my body, for my fertility, for my psychology. Instead, we left it with that transactional exchange under the fluorescent lights in the supermarket. I was simply happy not to steal what I needed from her closet anymore.
What we are conditioned to see as a problem can very easily and quickly become just that. By seventeen, my bleeding was severe. I became anemic and needed to stay in bed a couple of days each month. The doctors prescribed birth control to manage the blood. This time the patriarchal presence of science, a different kind of dogma, dictated the terms of my uterus.
When the bleeding persisted, the male doctor-expert presiding over my budding female anatomy recommended a more aggressive, surgical intervention. They would go inside my uterus and burn out all the problematic cells and tissues causing the pain and bleeding. My diagnosis was endometriosis. It was suspected to be genetic and needed to be controlled.
My mom also had this cursed condition, a lineage story of suffering seemed to be part of my inheritance, which almost gave mother and I a matter of bonding and solidarity.
The experts mandated a complete hysterectomy for her at age forty. She doesn’t remember the procedure or the instant menopause that followed. Her reflections are shadowy, hard to find.
“It must have made me been better, but I just can’t remember. They gave me pills for hormone therapy, but then they suspected those might cause Cancer. So, I quit taking them. But don’t worry, they don’t use those anymore,” she reassured.
The surgery helped temporarily. But shortly after the bleeding commenced. I’d read in magazines about girls stopping their menstrual cycle by restricting their diet. This seemed like something I could do, a matter I could take into my own hands. Until it got out of hand, and my period stopped altogether.
I was not adequately prepared for the challenges of turning a cycle off completely, let alone the complexity of resurrecting it from the dead. But when it did return over a year and a half later, it came with a vengeance. I interpreted the intensity to be a punishment for having hurt my body. This body I was trapped inside.
Shortly after that, I saw a shamanic healer in my early twenties for the first time. I told her about my period plague. Her response reverberated like a revolution inside my still forming pre-frontal cortex.
“The bleeding isn’t the problem. Trying to control it is the issue. Bleeding is the baptism. It is your power.”
I took her words, my problematic uterus and a backpack all around Southeast Asia in search of answers, on a pilgrimage that consumed the next decade of my life.
In the Himalayan Mountains, I found my way into a Bleeding Tent of menstruating women who were part of an indigenous matriarchal tribe. These women were categorically different from any I’d been around before. Unlike my demure Sunday School teachers, these women commanded authority. They rested in reverence while anointing each other in sacred oils. They were honored by the men in their village. They prayed and sang and tended to the sick.
There was a ceremonial alter with bowls of blood at the center of the tent. The head matriarch dipped her finger in the blood, drawing lines with it across my cheeks. Conditioning made me cringe a little at the thought of period blood streaking my face, but something about this felt more like an initiation than a matter of hygiene.
“May you remember who you are,” she said firmly, with conviction. My thoughts traveled back to the shaman who’d told me my blood was my power, not my problem.
I could feel the story of Eve crumbling all around me like dead weight. The crumbling like freedom, and also like loss as I saw my girlhood evaporate in the landslide of patriarchy’s subjugation of my body.
But that tyranny was nearly complete as my womanhood hatched into an entirely new configuration, as the lineage story I inherited shifted from oppression to emancipation.
Today I work with women, holding their hands and the sacred space as they work to heal from trauma. It took me years to see myself in this light, to feel worthy and capable in that space. To put together the pieces of the puzzle that is my life in reverse. Now I understand the path to becoming a healer is entered through an initiation of pain. We must find our comfort here, in the pain place, like a sort of spiritual unflappability. This place where pain alchemizes into something else has always existed deep inside me. Under the elixir of the psilocybin, this clarity and the power of my womanhood crystalized. Pain became the portal, and death was resisting stepping through that entrance into my life.
I sit with women in ceremony. I offer them sacred plants and medicines. I work with them as they work with the medicine to reclaim their bodies, as I did, from the wasteland of patriarchal violation and trauma. I hold them and tell them they are strong and beautiful. I invite them to feel their power. It’s as simple as the suggestion. The moment broken gives way to bold. The return to the body as the safest home. With each soul that is reset, I feel the blood surge in my body as I harness the vibrations of life and creative force.
Some days my mind drifts back to that little girl me in her Sunday School ruffles and bows. I feel the rigidity of her conditioning and the swell of her curiosity and power rising beneath the pretty packaging. I feel the fear of those women who taught me how to also feel fear first.
Let anyone tell me now my body is dangerous and out of control. I will show them what my body can do, how miraculous it is. Pachamama has made that clear, that I am in her likeness, part of her mystery. That mystery challenges the essence of expertise that fuels dogma and science. Mystery can be frightening, not because it wields power, but because it stands comfortable in the absence of answers, in the baseline of trust, where women tend to be most naturally at home.
So, I say, come join me sisters, women, mothers, friends. We can live and linger in the tent, not as exiles, but in sacred union, transmuting darkness into light.
Raised by evangelicals on a farm in rural Tennessee, Micah Stover is now far from home in Mexico where she resides with her family and works as an integrative support therapist with trauma survivors. Micah is currently writing and revising a memoir, chronicling the path to heal intergenerational trauma and PTSD with MDMA, psilocybin and guided psychotherapy. Micah’s forthcoming prescriptive memoir due in Fall 2022 takes the reader on an epic journey from the near loss of her son in the NICU through an ancestral underground riddled with trauma. Divided into three parts, the memoir’s structure mirrors the arc of the psychedelic healing journey beginning with preparation, moving into the psychedelic world and finally emerging into the new landscape of integration. It balances theory, instruction, exercises and narrative to help the reader walk away with a visceral understanding of how to pursue this healing path and what it might entail. This essay comes directly from the psychedelic space, illuminating how the medicine works in metaphor to help the individual rescript the personal narrative to reflect the restoration of power lost through sexual violation. To learn more about her work, check her Website or Instagram.