For years I wallowed in the depths of my own soul. A child cried out from within to speak out against the unspeakable memories I’d lived through. My facade was that of a bully, the guy who willing to swing the big stick whenever told so. The duality of my MOS (job assignment) complicated things even more; a Ranger medic has to be prepared to take life, and also give everything to try to preserve it.
The problem? I was the one who could not resume my life. I dreamt of the time that I’d survive war and come home —but I had no idea that home would never look the same again. I could no longer experience the smell of the beach and the chirping of the birds that were still there. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was my haze.
Vulnerable and naïve, I sought help through Veterans Administration (VA). Like many veterans I was provided an ongoing variety of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) meds and Zolpidem, as well as other highly addictive anti-anxiety medication like Xanax, and sleep aids like Ambien. The list of side effects is staggering and convenience of these items being sent to my home by mail should be considered criminal.
The list of side effects is staggering and convenience of these items being sent to my home by mail should be considered criminal. Dr. Irving Kirsch, associate director of Placebo Studies at the Harvard Medical School recently concluded, “instead of curing depression, popular antidepressants may induce a biological vulnerability making people more likely to become depressed in the future.” Recognition efforts eventually led to a different type of haze, convincing me that our answer does not lie within a pill or even a sacred plant. The answer lies within a personalized journey.
I recall what it felt like when the sun came up over Haditha. I watched a little bird save and take life right in front of me. The euphoria was some form of freedom I’d never felt before. A manifestation of dreams and training, I’d finally arrived at the show. I was overcome by the heightened state of energized focus that makes you happy to be alive, and also lets us know that we are part of something great and our life has purpose. For so many years I thought that was just a fleeting moment of a passed life. In a dark place, backed into a tight corner, I wasn’t sure if I was ready to pull the trigger on myself yet, but make no mistake about it — I was done.
On my outside, a copper shield backed by a blue uniform paid my bills, allowing me to impinge the rights of the citizens around me. Don’t get me wrong I made great friends, but I lost touch with myself. I wasn’t living a dream. I simply existed. I recall being afraid to move on, knowing I could no longer do it freely and of my own accord. A fuse burning slowly, I knew without help I’d blow. As a Ranger — a man who is readily and energetically available to meet any obstacle — I was lost. I was trying to create obstacles so that I could feel successful again — meanwhile I hurt everyone around me.
My wife, like the many spouses of veteran brethren, endured the misplaced anger, the mood swings and all the other pleasant niceties that came with being married to a man who fancies himself a barrel-chested freedom fighter who can’t stand looking at himself in the mirror anymore. She’s endured a lot, all our loved ones have. War is hard on everyone and it’s hard to see that from our own prison some times.
A little over a year ago my wife went on a trip with my children. At the time, as usual, I was unable to go for fear of large crowds and loud noises. I lived in constant worry, often having to choose whether to witness the happiness on my children’s faces or whether to be sent into anxiety attacks that would have me hiding in the nearest bathroom. During that trip, she took our children to witness all the glory that is Venice Beach, California.
She was approached by the ever-so-loving, dirty-headed green-scrubbed peddlers who engaged her in a conversation about the medicinal benefits of cannabis. Apparently, it must have been a convincing argument for medical cannabis treatment of PTSD versus leaving it untreated.
Knowing I was no longer the person she’d once met and fell in love with, I think of the desperation my wife must have felt when she asked me to research cannabis.