My Spiritual Journey
My story took a sharp, unexpected turn in 2013 when my then-husband was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer at the age of 37. While always spiritually open and curious to an extent, this confusing, heart-wrenching period of time provided the foundation for everything that has followed. It is here there that my spiritual journey really crystalized. My husband and I had spent the prior couple years listening to Esther Hicks and Abraham, for which I am deeply grateful, and my husband was already well-grounded in the four spiritual communication gifts from his life before me. I was also deeply engaged with the works of Eckhart Tolle and the Tao Te Ching. It’s like foundation after foundation was being laid so that I could arrive at this place of clarity and trust after being broken open by grief and loss.
Tapping into my natural inner guidance channel of inspired ideas and thought form (i.e., tuning into the thread of thought that is my higher self), I found myself getting closer and closer to connecting with something higher, like a Higher Self that holds broader perspective. I cultivated this connection with a sense of urgency as we moved toward my husband's eventual transition into nonphysical life, and today the strength and clarity of my connection to my Higher Self (or more simply, my own inner guidance) is everything I have to offer. It was with great trust that we moved toward my husband’s transition to nonphysical life, and it is with great trust today that I sit with immense gratitude for the perfect unfolding of it all.
From my understanding, our "work" in this life is to connect with our higher self, our source, our nonphysical guides who eagerly and unconditionally support us in creating all that we desire. The freedom we experience from living as one with the larger part of who we really are is everything we're seeking. It’s all we are here for. And it's meant to be enjoyed, as we witness the unfolding of our life with curiosity and trust.
The most important relationship in my life is my relationship with my Higher Self. This relationship calls for me to trust each moment of my life, exactly as it presents itself to me. From this place is where I choose to envision and build the creations that want to move through me. This place is my ground, the center that will always hold, and the source of all my ideas and expressions in the world. It is partnership in its highest and best form.
Who I Am
My Academic Journey
I always knew I would spend a good stint of my career in the world of ideas via research and teaching. For the last 12 years, I've served in academia as an Assistant Professor in Social Work at two state Universities and, more recently, as a tenured Associate Professor. For 15+ years, I have been writing, conducting research, and teaching about the medicalization of human distress, the socio-political landscape of prescribed psychotropic drug use, biases in clinical trials sponsored by pharmaceutical companies, and the potential for psychosocial helping professionals to be leaders in transforming mental health systems to adopt empowering and ethical practices that meaningfully partner with the persons with lived experience that our systems are meant to serve. At its core, my research is about power.
At Colorado State University, I founded the Alternatives for Mental Health and Healing Lab, which aims to advance holistic, person-centered, and cutting-edge alternatives founded in the synthesis of research evidence, innovative thinking, and community partnership. My research has sought to challenge status quo paradigms and practices that effectively neglect or diminish important voices in mental health and healing, namely the voices of persons with firsthand lived experiences of extreme mental distress. My Lab has developed curriculum and training for professionals in child welfare settings who work with medicated youth. We have developed and tested educational and peer-based approaches for supporting young adults through mental distress. We have examined the potential uses of psychedelics as an alternative modality, situated in a different understanding of how we can use psychoactive drugs in healing. We've partnered with community members with lived experience at the Yarrow Collective and helped to build peer-to-peer, non-clinical alternatives for suicide, substance use, and more.
By all metrics, I have had a successful career in academia (you can view my Google Scholar page here). I sit on multiple Boards, committees, and advisory panels on topics related to behavioral health, psychotropic drugs, and psychedelic reform, and serve as an editorial review board member for the Community Mental Health Journal. My scholarship is about challenging biomedical narratives that shape human distress as solely or primarily illness or disease and supporting the flourishing of multiple alternative narratives and intervention approaches based on connection, community, and the fullness of our humanity. My work as a researcher and educator continues in myriad forms as I seek partnerships with innovative, like-minded people, organizations, and systems striving for real transformation.
My Psychedelic Journey
My psychedelic journey also began around 2013 when my husband, newly diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer, expressed his desire to explore his end of life with psilocybin mushrooms. While I had been studying for many years the ways we use psychotropic drugs in our mental health systems, these other types of psychoactive drugs were simply not on my radar. When my husband expressed interest based on the Johns Hopkins studies that were happening, an entire world opened up to my intellectually curious and culturally rebellious mind. At the time, neither of us had any way of connecting with others personally or professionally who could facilitate such an experience, and my husband died without ever having that wish fulfilled. Seeing my husband through this death transition, coupled with my years of research on the clinical testing, effects, and impacts of prescribed psychotropic drugs (i.e., antidepressants, stimulants, sedatives, antipsychotics), have led to my advocacy around access and power as it relates to what we call "medicines" in our present day socio-political world.
In 2017, I co-founded with friends and colleagues a Colorado-based non-profit, The Nowak Society, with a mission to build and organize psychedelic communities (particularly professional communities) and to give voice to the essential values and pressing issues of the psychedelic movement here in Colorado. For years now we have successfully run monthly Psychedelic Professionals Meet gatherings across Northern Colorado, fiscally sponsored a range of advocacy projects (e.g., Right To Try advocacy for patients facing terminal illness, Psychedelic Survivors groups for abuse survivors, and Jamaica Grief Retreats for grieving parents who have lost a child), and brought community together for education, dialogue, and celebration through special events like our 2022 Emergence: Psychedelic Education Festival. I have also had the good fortune to contribute to psychedelic policy and research through advisory committees and community-partnered research, including a qualitative interview study designed to elevate the voices and practices of "underground" psilocybin practitioners in the ongoing scientific and public discussion regarding psychedelic reform.
In our private practice, we offer introductory workshops, psychedelic immersive trainings, and psychedelic circles (using ketamine as the tool) to health and mental health professionals seeking to understand and explore for themselves the paradigm shift that is possible here and what it means for their own practice future. On a more personal note, I am of the camp that believes it to be essential for practitioners to hold their own deep relationship with the medicines they work with. It is through my own spiritually-grounded therapeutic, ceremonial, and recreational experiences that I can do this work with the integrity of all parts of my being. This journey requires me to hold a lot of paradox and to sit with both hope and despair as we witness the complex meeting of psychedelics and entheogens with the fullness of our humanity -- that is, the light and the dark of ourselves and the social and economic systems we have built. I try to hold it all, and when it gets to be too much, I choose to choose hope, connection and creation as my guiding lights forward.