Spiritual Possession: The Cardiac Surgery and The Stranger Inside My Skin - Ashley Brothers
The doctors warned me, before I underwent cardio-thoracic surgery in December 2010, that “The person you are when you go under, is not the one that comes back out.” They said they didn’t know what or why, but something happens to a person that alters their mood, personality, and perception of reality. Looking back, I think it’s a combination of having a stranger’s blood pumped through your body (transfusion) and the fact that they saw through your ribcage and literally hold your heart in their hands. If your heart is the seat of your soul, and your blood is the river of life, breaching the gates of your inner kingdom and introducing another person’s life force into your body may very well be why some people become something or someone else.
What I am about to share with you is more than just energy transference or soul loss. It’s an epic journey of many characters and an interesting plot twist that, despite the dire warnings, was one thing I never considered. I never saw IT coming . . . .
The doctors said that something indescribable and intangible changes your personality. It affects your mood, your preferences (likes and dislikes), and your memory. It can induce depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and dementia. It can alter your appetite and utterly change your gifts, skills, and talents . . . sometimes losing them altogether.
As someone who’d been trained and practicing shamanism for 6 years by that point, I figured that what they were describing was merely soul loss, which is where some of your vital essence and consciousness is lost due to abuse, trauma, neglect, stress, illness, etc. I had a few shamanic practitioners in mind in case that happened. So, I wasn’t worried. However, my confidence turned out to be a combination of ignorance and arrogance.
Up until the day before my surgery (operation 12/29/10), the doctors were contemplating the replacement of my entire aortic arch and my left subclavian artery with a graft from a cadaver, instead of taking a vein from my leg, which is often the standard procedure. Back then, I had a rare autoimmune disease that caused my body to destroy its own blood vessels. So, trying to replace my arteries with my own tissue was not a viable option. I know that people get donor organs all the time, but I was mildly creeped out by this idea. . . especially because of data indicating that many people experienced thoughts, habits, beliefs, addictions, and all sorts of personality changes that were identical, or similar, to the person who previously owned that organ. Wouldn’t that be like having two people in one body or a ghost beneath your skin? It never occurred to me that a blood transfusion could do the same thing.
I didn’t have to contemplate that unsettling idea too long before the medical team decided that it would be too risky of a procedure because it would require them to temporarily stop my heart and lower my body temperature enough that I had a 4% chance of having a massive stroke during or after the procedure. I’d already had 10 mini strokes by that point. So, that left them with only one other option.
They decided to bypass my aortic arch and left subclavian artery with tubes made of Gortex and Dacron. That’s basically water-proof ski-suit material. Prior to the surgery, my blood flow was so restricted that I woke up every morning with no circulation in my legs, left arm, and face. Inside my chest, it felt like someone was trying to forcefully squeeze the last remnants of ketchup through a clogged hole in a plastic bottle. We all know that little farty sound ketchup makes as it splatters haphazardly onto the plate. I could hear and feel a similar sensation inside me and was alarming, to say the least.
Because the tissue of my arteries and aorta was so damaged, they avoided touching the weak areas. They said it would be like trying to sew a piece of jello. Absolutely pointless. The surgeon punched holes on either end of the affected parts and sewed these synthetic tubes in place. Instead of stopping my heart, they put me on a bypass machine that pumped my blood through the rest of my body during the procedure.
When I woke up, there was a lot of yelling. I was groggy and disoriented, but I was aware that I had a trachea tube down my throat; catheters in my left arm, neck, and thigh; tubes as wide as my thumbs under each breast; and wires inside my chest that were monitoring my heart rate and capable of shocking me if I went into cardiac arrest.
The yelling came from a couple of frantic nurses who were alternating between clearing fluid from my lungs and manually pumping air into them with a hand-held device that looked like a black football. Apparently, every time they stopped pumping, I would nod off, and my blood oxygen levels would drop significantly. They were trying to keep me conscious enough to breathe on my own.
I recall the surgeon coming in and demanding to know why the catheters hadn’t been removed from my arteries yet. I felt a slight tug as they removed each one as gently as they could. I nodded off again and the next time I became conscious, I only had the standard IV in my arm and the tubes and wires in my chest. They had me up and walking within a few hours.
Over the course of my 6-day stay in the hospital, I had no need for narcotics because of the progressive care at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester Minnesota. The nurses came in a few times a day to massage my back and remind me to listen to the meditations on the recovery channel of the TV. I walked over 30 laps at a time around the nurses’ station, multiple times a day, with my handy dandy rolling walker. To be honest, I felt better than I had in years despite the fact that I now had wires holding my ribs together and someone just had their hands wrist-deep in my chest.
During my many walks, I saw my fellow floor-mates of various ages experiencing different levels of fatigue, pain, melancholy attitudes, depression, illness, and despair. In comparison, I felt amazing and the nurses were impressed by my progress. I thought I had dodged the proverbial bullet that they warned us all about during the pre-op orientation. In fact, I had forgotten all about it until they reminded us, during a group therapy session, of the possible progression of personality changes we might experience when we went home. Still, I felt confident that it wouldn’t happen to me. Fast forward a week to when I flew back to my home state of Washington.
It wasn’t immediately obvious, but I knew that something had changed when I crossed the threshold of my house. I couldn’t put my finger on it but figured that it must be the trauma of not knowing if I would ever return when I had left home nearly two weeks before. I was in that bad of shape prior to the surgery. I’d been advised to get my affairs in order, to write my will and prepay for my cremation. I’d signed up for a package with the Neptune Society that included an urn and thank-you cards for attending my funeral. It had come shortly before I had left. As I walked down the hallway, I passed my urn with only a cursory glance.
As days went by, I could sense that something was off. I felt it deep inside. At first, it was merely an unsettled feeling, but it progressed to unease, fear, anxiety, disgust, repulsion, and a sense of severe loss on many levels, as time went on. First, I didn’t recognize myself in the mirror and ended up cutting off all my hair. Then my clothes felt foreign to me, as did the scent of my soaps, shampoos, and perfumes. Everything made me gag and dry-heave so severely that I had a panic attack and threw away all of my scented belongings. After a while, I realized that I felt no connection to anything in my entire house. The decor was familiar. . . as if I had seen it in a store window multiple times when I passed by it on a street, but none of it felt like it belonged to me.
Then I realized that even though I used to read three books a day, I couldn’t understand a single sentence. I would read it over and over again, but none of it made sense. I could no longer do basic math. I couldn’t understand why 4+15 didn't equal 20. I was stumped. I kept checking it on the calculator and wondered why it was wrong every time I tried it. Finally, I was so frustrated that I started to cry. I later realized that I was seeing only half the numbers and altered versions of others. I would see a 2 instead of 24 or a 3 instead of an 8. 4s and 9s were too similar and that equation of 4+15 . . . I saw it as 4+16.
I couldn’t balance my own checkbook because I couldn't read my own writing or calculate numbers properly. When copying numbers down, I couldn’t tell the difference between what I had written on my paper and what was in the book. I had to walk away and come back 2 hours later. Only then could I see my errors. I practiced math 6-7 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 3 months straight before I could do it properly without errors, but it would take two years before I could read more than a single chapter in a book.
As time went on, I realized that I had lost all my artistic skills of poetry, writing, carving, and painting. I lost all of my psychic and intuitive skills. My mind was quiet, like a black hole. My cognitive problems were extensive. With the exception of my parents, my sister, and a select group of individuals, people I had known for over 7 years . . . friends, clients, coworkers, and the cashiers at stores and restaurants . . . were all strangers to me because I had damaged the part of my brain that recognized faces. I was startled when someone would say hi to me because I recognize them even though I’d seen them countless times and used to know their names.
It took me two years to remember that I could call a shamanic practitioner to perform soul retrieval so that I could remember who and what I was, but by then I didn’t care because I didn't recall my passion or skill for the work. After the repetitive urging of a friend, I finally forced myself to call a woman. She pierced a hole in what I can only assume was the anesthetic haze that had never worn off. Prior to that session, it felt like I was surrounded by a vortex of cotton. I realized that, in those 2 years post-surgery, the anesthesia from the surgery had never worn off. However, after that first ceremony, I no longer felt like I was in a vacuum devoid of all sound or sensation.
Despite this progress, it wasn’t enough to feel like myself again. So, I called one of my former teachers, Betsy Bergstrom in Seattle. She not only did two soul retrievals on me but also asked me if I was aware of a male presence. I thought it funny that she should ask that because I had felt like a man for the past two years. When I admitted that I was aware of a male presence around or inside of me, she asked me if I had ever heard of a walk-in, and everything inside me froze. Then memories began rushing in as I had a sudden flash-back. I remembered. . . prior to my surgery. . . that something used to sit on the edge of my bed and watch me while I struggled to breathe. I felt his unearthly presence staring down at me and the tightening of my chest when I realized he was watching me . . . waiting for me . . . . a spectator of my seemingly imminent demise.
He would come and go during the weeks leading up to my surgery and returned a couple of weeks after my operation while I was building up my stamina by walking through the neighborhoods behind my home. I stopped along the side of the road and leaned into my walker as I recognized the squeezing sensation of my heart. It was as though someone had reached inside my chest and held it in their hand . . . testing its weight and texture before closing their fingers around it.
As my heart fluttered like a little bird in the palm of this unearthly stranger, I silently, telepathically, asked him why he was there. He said he liked to watch me because I struggled so beautifully. He said that I wasn’t like the other simpering weak fools he’d encountered of my kind. Humans. He said I was a fighter to my last breath and it fascinated him.
All of the hair rose up on my body as I realized that I was being stalked by something I couldn’t even see. I quickly crushed my terror with even greater outrage and demanded that he leave. I felt his presence dissipate and thought he had left me. In hindsight, I realize that this was the last moment I had felt like myself and that my demand didn't actually free me of his presence. Instead, he had merely slid back inside my own skin.
A walk-in is when the original soul that was born into a body has departed, been pushed to the side, and/or replaced by a new soul either temporarily or permanently. This is like a whole new level of possession. The idea of a walk-in had foreign to me at the time, but it made sense due to my sudden aversion to anything feminine after my surgery. My feeling of being male . . . my anger, hatred, and even disgust for the average human being was not mine. It was his. Aside from those negative emotions, I felt devoid of anything else, like an empty shell. For 2 years I’d had the vague recollection of feeling like a stranger in my own skin . . . as if I was sitting so far back inside myself, it was as though I sat in the back seat of a car that someone else was driving. Because of those healing sessions with the 2 shamanic practitioners, I would soon have my freedom.
On the second anniversary of my cardiac surgery, I was painting the ceiling of my basement when I heard a noise I never thought I’d hear again. It was like two swords being drawn from a scabbard at once. I felt an old part of me step into the space that had been occupied by the stranger since my surgery. I looked down at my hands and feet, and then around my basement. I finally recognized myself and my own belongings. I felt like I had returned home after being away on a two-year journey in some other state or country.
I heard it again, the sound of swords, and I breathed deeply as I closed my eyes, envisioning that warrior part of myself I used to call upon when I needed courage. There she was, in my mind’s eye, looking back at me. It was then that I remembered the spirit teacher that saved my life countless times over the years. He had taught me how to turn off a terminal disease and how to stop my seizures and mini-strokes naturally.
During those 2 years of possession, I had all but forgotten my spirit guide, but I called out to him in that moment, “Are you there?” He didn’t answer, but a new guide stepped forward and offered to help me until I once again reached the level or frequency to hear my former spirit teacher. I recognized him as the spirit that used to put his mouth to my chest and blow air inside my lungs when I couldn’t breathe. This is the first time he ever spoke to me, but it wouldn’t be the last. In fact, it would take some time for me to realize he had been with me for many years, but I had mistaken him for a dream.
From that moment on, I embarked upon a 7-year journey to travel to different states and countries; continue my shamanic training; re-open my healing practice; and start healing and teaching others shamanic healing and energy medicine techniques. What can I say about what happened to me on a spiritual level? I honestly experienced such deep soul loss that something parasitic took an opportunity to take over the vessel of my body. I had to have his soul extracted and my own soul retrieved so that it could occupy the space he had once been: My rightful place, my heart, the seat of my own soul.
On an energetic level, how many can say that they have had a stranger hold their heart in their hands? Considering that the heart has the largest electromagnetic field in the body, and is encased in a hard protective cage, nature had not intended for it to be disturbed. Everything is energy that is influenced by everything around it. The consciousness that beats my heart was touched on such a visceral level that upset my entire existence even while it saved it.
It has been scientifically proven that some people are conscious of, and sometimes even remember, surgeries despite the anesthesia. It would be 12 years later that I would have a vivid memory of that procedure and I can definitely say that someone sawing open my chest, and lifting out my heart, was so traumatic to me on all levels that a huge part of me left at that moment. It created an opening for something else to completely rearrange my life, experiences, events, circumstances, and relationships. I became a ghost inside my own skin and HE was the puppet-master that pulled the invisible strings in my body. For two years my own soul was rendered virtually immobile, incapacitated, or incapable of taking back possession of my body and my life.
Aside from the hardships from over a decade of illness, near-death experiences, doctor visits, surgeries, needles, toxic testing, counseling, and physical therapy, this was one of the most life-altering events of my entire existence. For those that know my history, that says a lot. What I can share is that shamanic healing and energy medicine did for me what countless medical professionals deemed impossible and that no pill or surgery could ever cure. These ancient practices cured a rare disease and turned off seizures and mini-strokes. This work, my allies and ancestors of the flesh and of the spirit, walked with me through decades of triumph and tragedy. They restored, or helped me reclaim, what others had stolen, or that I had once so carelessly taken for granted, and given away: The privilege, power, honor, grace, blessing, and gift of my own mind, heart, body, and soul.
Training in shamanic and energy medicine has taught me how to converse with the consciousness that beats a person’s heart for the purpose of healing, information, and wisdom. It has taught me how to reset my nervous system, and that of others, and how to embody certain states of consciousness, health, and well-being. The latter is an ongoing and constantly evolving practice that I’m working toward mastering. It requires diligence and discipline, but every discovery is fascinating and enlightening. It is the life force that is in all living things and I am building a deeper relationship with it that will be a life-long journey.
Ashley Brothers - Institute of Conscious Evolution LLC, Bend OR
Author of A Living Prayer Blog, public speaker, holistic practitioner, and teacher of energy medicine, shamanic healing, and psychic channeling