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Parallel Healing: A Mother-Son Journey Through Psychedelics

May 30, 2024

By Josh Halu & Candace Halu

Candace: I have hated my mom for as long as I can remember. At three years old, I clamored to my mom’s bed for a cuddle of reassurance and love, but she pushed me away. And there she was, at my husband’s funeral, pretending she was there to support me, and I hated her more. It was enough that my husband had died of suicide that morning, but seeing her caused me as much, if not more, angst. 

Josh: I hated my mom. Deep in my soul, I was irreparably wounded. I felt utterly unconnected to her for the first three decades of my life, like how I’ve always felt about my father, who died of suicide when I was four. Whose funeral is my first memory in life and a starting point for the chaos of my childhood. When buying an obligatory Mother’s Day card, I would look for the most generic card I could find. Looking through the greeting card aisle would always take me so long to find one that didn’t express sentiments I knew I didn’t feel. And I would wonder what it felt like to have a meaningful and loving relationship with a mother. I never knew what that felt like, and I was sure that it would always be this way.

Candace: Mother’s Day and my mom’s birthday were one week apart. Did I have to buy two cards? I hated thinking about this every year. I picked the most generic card that I could find and signed it. I never desired to have a relationship with my mother, who was narcissistic and abusive, with a lack of conscience.

Josh: Not until psilocybin, the “magical” compound in psychedelic mushrooms, changed everything for me. Life as I knew it was never the same after that self-administered large dose of home-grown mushrooms. The medicine created a profound six-hour experience, ending with a decision to call my mom immediately and have the first real conversation I’d ever had with her, and beginning the most important journey of my life – healing my relationship with my mom. This journey would eventually lead to multiple psychedelic experiences together, which would fundamentally change our lives and relationship, elevating existence as we knew it.

Candace: I was hesitant when Josh suggested we take mushrooms. I am medicated for bipolar disorder, and I was also afraid that I would overdose, as I had on other drugs in my youth. Josh reassured me this would be a different and safe experience. During our trip together, I saw Josh’s inescapable pain and vulnerability for the first time, and I was afraid for him. I also felt immense guilt. But Josh and I knew this was just the beginning, a new trajectory for our relationship. We learned how deeply connected we were, and we committed to healing the generational trauma that had shaped our being to the core.

Josh: I came into the world with abandonment and rejection, my mom once told me, knowing at conception that she didn’t want to be married to my father. A second child would only make her more attached to him. On top of that, my mere existence was infused with conflict. I was born in Jerusalem, Israel, to an American-Jewish mother and an Israeli-Christian Arab father. My mom moved from Chicago to Israel when she was 23, herself fleeing from significant childhood trauma, which she passed down to me. She met my father while in Israel, and their love, between a Jew and an Arab, was prohibited. We moved to the US when I was two to start our new life.

Candace: My parents’ relationship was incredibly toxic. My first memories are of my dad bleeding from a head injury from the blow that my mother inflicted on him using a hard, sharp object. I was three. I was living in fear. I learned to protect myself by staying as far away as I could, from my mother and her unpredictable behavior.

Josh: After losing my father to suicide, the progression of my life evolved rapidly. My mom was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and mental illness was commonplace in my existence. She remarried a couple of years later. I was a middle child and never felt like I belonged. I would fight with my siblings often. My parents sent me to multiple therapists. I was diagnosed with ADHD and medicated and sent to live with other families several times during childhood, including most of eighth grade. During that year away, I could only call home and speak to my family once weekly at a predetermined time. I was allowed to return home for high school, but after one semester of my first year, my parents sent me to a military boarding school in another state, away from everything and everyone I’d ever known. I was 14 years old, and unbeknownst to me then, I would be in a military uniform for another 14 years.

The first semester at military school was miserable. Suddenly, I was getting my head shaved and yelled at, learning to shine my shoes and march in formation. I failed classes and got into fights and trouble, nearly getting kicked out of school. I begged my parents to let me come home, and they clarified that would never be an option. I wasn’t allowed or welcome back home. I decided to take matters into my own hands, accepting that I had to rely only on myself for the rest of my life. 

Candace: In an impulsive reaction to some minor trouble that Josh was involved in, my husband, Tim, and I decided it would be best for our family if Josh were removed from the house and our family. It was a heart-wrenching decision, but Tim had a rough time living in my chaos. He had married me four years prior with a family of three children ages 4, 6, and 9, all reeling from the suicide of their father.  I had hoped that Tim would feel relief, and I rationalized that Tim and I would be together for the rest of our lives and Josh would be on his own by the time he was eighteen. 

Josh: On the first day of my sophomore year, I was in Junior ROTC class, and I learned about the United States Service Academies. I became interested specifically in West Point, the US Military Academy, one of the best institutions in the world. My academic advisor told me there was no way I was getting in with my abysmal grades and lack of any extracurricular involvement. At that moment, I committed myself to do whatever it took to get into West Point, seeing it as my path to emancipation from my parents and family, and to an accomplished life.