Meet Mareesa Stertz

Mareesa Stertz is a filmmaker, storyteller, community organizer, and kundalini yoga teacher. She is the director of communications and strategy at the Global Psychedelic Society, a cofounder at Lucid News and the producer and host of the documentary series, The Healing Powers (of Psychedelics and Other Mindful Practices), and Damanhur, both currently streaming on Gaia TV.

She has shared her stories of working with psychedelics on stages internationally as well as in education, for the Synthesis Practitioner Training Program, and teaches storytelling workshops in retreats, conferences, and online for leaders and for psychedelic preparation.

She is passionate about using story to illuminate the powerful transformation that comes from navigating trauma, heavily informed by her own journey. She has a BA in Cinema at San Francisco State University, and her films have been featured by Gaia TV, Viceland, Indigenous Films, Merry Jane, and Participant. She is currently writing a one-woman theatrical play, and in post-production on a documentary about her experiences with psychedelics.

The Healing Powers on Gaia TV

Join filmmaker and psychedelic advocate Mareesa Stertz as she travels the world, exploring firsthand the alternative medicines and ritualistic practices being used to treat depression, addiction, PTSD, and trauma.

I've spent most of my life desperately wanting to tell stories and being absolutely terrible at it.

(I never thought that I would point a dynamic like this out, but seeing how much of a teacher it's been for me, I find it worth noting)

I was an awkward kid, scatter-brained  -  with anxiety so bad - that for a few years  I couldn’t get out a full sentence in public, let alone tell a story.

Yet despite my shyness, I was a ham and wanted to inspire people.

My aspirations might have had something to do with growing up in Las Vegas. On special occasions my parents would take us to the shows on the strip, where tigers, acrobats, magicians, and the most beautiful humans I'd ever seen, would execute all sorts of incredible magic.

I too felt the call to express, entertain, and shine bright. Even if I couldn't string two sentences together to save my life, I had somehow convinced myself that I was supposed to be an actor, or something of the like.

My parents strongly disapproved. Supportive in most ways, but having seen so many of their own artist friends struggle and fail, they discouraged my 'impractical dreams'. They pointed out that if I was meant to do this, why didn't I already have the natural talent for it…and they had a point. I almost gave in.

Until something strange happened.

It was mid-afternoon on a long, long day. I was about 11 years old, running around the house, bored out of my skull, when I felt it. Sunlight streaming on my skin, I froze, and took in this strange new sensation. It was as if someone placed a thought into my head. Both foreign but also deeply familiar; it was a knowing of sorts, one that said, "You are going to do big things, and they will make a difference in the world."

Ok.
Wow.
Cool....

I'm into it.

Regardless of my shyness or how impractical this all sounded, I was going to do big things. I was committed.

So I did everything I could think to make it big. I somehow managed to convince my parents to let me take acting classes, dedicated myself to theatre in high school, moved to San Francisco to go to film school, and put myself tens of thousands of dollars into debt making as many films as I could. And though some of my plays and movies turned out decently enough, I wasn't happy. I felt that I was here to share important things that would actually make a difference in the world, but nothing was close to hitting the mark. Despite all my hustle, I still couldn't craft a meaningful story, or get the kind of job that would lead me to it. So I did what nearly all filmmakers eventually do- I moved to Los Angeles.

But LA was hard. The agencies ignored the demo reels I left in care packages at their doors, so I went back into the service industry, waiting tables, bartending, and catering weird Hollywood parties for a sad 8$ an hour. I found myself digging deeper and deeper into a lot of dysfunctional patterns.

In my late teens, I developed an OCD condition called dermatillomania, where I'd spend up to an hour daily destroying the skin on my face- and it was getting worse. I was perpetually broke, usually in love with someone who barely gave me the time of day, and found myself relying heavily on alcohol to cope.

But I was ok. This is just life.
So I told myself.

See growing up, the philosophy was, "Don't be a baby, stop being so sensitive, chin up, it could be worse". So even though my life felt like a mess, admitting it filled me with a shame so unbearable, it wasn't even an option.

Which is how I learned that rock bottom happens in waves.

Things began to fall apart. My habits of overworking, scarcity, drinking, and perpetual heartbreak, led to a chronic fatigue and depression I could no longer ignore.

Thank goodness for the 'ayahuasca'.

Ayahuasca, for those unfamiliar, is a psychedelic brew from the Amazon known for helping people see their blindspots, as well as alleviate depression, anxiety, and a host of other maladies I was struggling with. I thought, 'Oh finally. Something powerful enough to help me fix this mess'.

Alas, it didn't work the way I expected.

My first seven ceremonies from 2007-2016 were all physically grueling and nauseating, without any of the dazzling visions or grand epiphanies I’d heard about. I was devastated and disappointed over and over, thinking, 'Yet again, more evidence that I am unfixable.'

Except that wasn't the case.
 

Even if the ayahuasca seemed "not to be working", something else was at play here… because it was through these ceremonies that I met a group of people who told stories like I’d never heard before…

Stories that sounded a lot like mine, telling me how they had spent much of their lives feeling broken and flawed - but different from mine, in that they weren't ashamed to talk about it. Stories that pointed out that the parts of myself and my behaviors I thought to be broken and ruined beyond repair, were actually just normal responses to trauma

My mind was blown.

Because growing up, no one I knew talked about trauma or its impact - I didn't even really understand how much of a thing it was.

Yet here were people shining brightly, telling me how they'd suffered similarly, but that it had taught them valuable lessons, showing them their strength, their resilience, and that it actually helped them step into a life filled with purpose.

Whoa.

This was big.

This was the permission slip I so badly needed.

Because, I'm pretty sure, had I not heard those stories, I don't think I ever would've had the faith or heart to continue on this path of healing- let alone surrender enough to allow these medicines to work their magic.

And I began to work with ayahuasca more seriously. I went the jungles of Peru to work with curanderos to find out why it wasn't working for me, and learned many many things, amongst them, the answer as to why I couldn't express or tell stories that inspired others. I slowly began to see, in my months there, that it was because I myself was filled with a bunch of stories that told the opposite. How could I inspire anyone else if I couldn't even find inspiration in myself?

And with this, life opened up to a whole new level. I embarked on a 7 year adventure of healing.

I felt like a detective on a mission, or a hero on a quest, determined to understand my traumas and unwind their impact. And being that I was a documentary filmmaker with a camera, I filmed the process, both making a series (you can watch on Gaia TV), and a feature length documentary currently in post-production (trailer coming soon).

These 7 years have been such an adventure, such a ride, and they've provided me with so many stories to tell, that I'm also writing a one-woman show.

Holding the intention that our stories are powerful enough to change the greater narrative around what it means to be human. What if instead of holding shame around feeling broken, we celebrated the healing journey??

I don't know if it's necessary, but I'll close by saying, I am now living the purpose foreshadowed to myself at age 11. 🙂