22 Too Many

We were astonished to learn yesterday that in the U.S. an astounding 22 servicemen and women take their own lives daily after their return from combat. That’s about one-fifth of all suicides. Recruits are often sent off to fight in senseless wars and return home traumatized and in a great deal of pain, whether it be spiritually, emotionally, physically or all of the above. Servicemen may end up feeling angry all of the time, with a sense that a part of them was left somewhere behind. Our bombs too frequently kill civilians, even women and innocent children, and we leave it to our troops to deal with the devastation.

It’s clear that service overseas in brutal and violent wars such as those fought in Iran and Afghanistan take a toll on our veterans, but one might think that after returning to the safety and security of home and family, those wounds would eventually heal. As was made abundantly clear in the new documentary “From Shock to Awe,” these psychic traumas not only don’t easily diminish in intensity, but prescribed pharmacological treatments aren’t effective. Their impact can wreck the life of the returning veteran by making him or her numb to genuine human feelings like love and compassion, and irritable and always “on edge” anticipating imagined dangers. Learning and concentration can also be greatly impaired. Family members become traumatized as well just by being in proximity.

One serviceman in the movie, Matt, showed his four shelves of prescription pills, over 90 different medications over a four-year unsuccessful treatment plan managed by his doctors at the V.A. Nothing really helped. Of course, strong medicine can dampen the pain but it often leaves the patient with mental confusion, numb to the world and unable to function.

But this movie was about miracles of nature. Many vets (and others) suffering from the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have found natural plant-based substances to be of great benefit, even though each one is illegal for use almost everywhere in the United States, or at best, illegal for use in certain states. It’s very sad and wrong that our shortsighted lawmakers have failed to see the benefits of these solutions. But the reason seems clear when you consider that the pharmaceutical companies can’t make money on something they can’t patent.

So what are these solutions? The first (as you might have guessed) is cannabis. One of the servicemen in the film explained that marijuana helps calm his nerves when he feels an anxiety attack coming on. His use of cannabis, contrary to what you might think, doesn’t leave him with a drug-induced “high,” but instead it has a calming effect on his nerves that helps him stay functional in life and family situations when the need arises. At this point in our culture’s experience with growing and cultivating different strains of cannabis, the optimum mixture of the active components of the plant can be determined and “prescribed” to meet individual needs.

Dealing with anxiety is one thing, but as helpful as cannabis has been found to be by those suffering from PTSD, it doesn’t usually lead to long-term healing. The second “natural remedy” illustrated in the film is ayahuasca, a plant medicine derived by brewing tea from the of Banisteriopsis caapi vine with crushed psychotria viridis (chakruna) leaves. When combined they produce a powerful psychoactive compound which is taken orally in the form of tea. The formula for such a potent mixture has been known by shamans for millennia, and traditionally it was only the shaman who partook in order to bring the visions and wisdom to those who sought healing.

The film follows the lives of two combat servicemen and their families, both of whom who served multiple missions in Iran and Afghanistan, and both of whom were damaged to the depths of their psyches. Cannabis use had given them enough relief that they were able to kick their prescription drugs, but they knew there was more healing to be done.

Choosing to try the ayahuasca route takes courage and commitment because the experience can reach to the depths of one’s soul, their reason for existence, and their personal relationship with Spirit. The journey can be a painful one because it requires one to come face to face with the obstacles, fears and mental patterning that has caused the pain and suffering itself. A healing experience with ayahuasca, which is ideally done ceremonially in a spiritually reverent environment with the help of an experienced shaman as a guide, often involves purging the negative elements (thought patterns, actually) from the body, typically through vomiting. If you’re looking for an experience of walking with Jesus through a sunny meadow, this won’t likely be the way to find it (although, who knows, it might happen!) but the freedom that comes with the love and connectedness to Oneness is life changing in ways that must be experienced to be fully understood.

We found “From Shock to Awe” to be an emotional roller-coaster. At the beginning of the movie, the pain and helplessness of these guys was palpable as was their sincere desire to get help, for both themselves and for their wives and kids. The whole family was in crisis. Scenes of wartime, explosions, gun fire, tanks and the machinery of war were interspersed with scenes of everyday life to illustrate that they hadn’t been able to leave the war behind. Both of the main characters experienced ayahuasca together at a spiritual retreat center in Florida, and both felt a profound sense of relief as a result. It was clear that they had regained their spiritual center, and their ability to love and be loved. It was beautiful to behold. We also got to meet their spouses, both of whom were also suffering from trauma (one from wartime as a vet herself, the other simply because of her service to her suffering husband). Each of the spouses had breakthroughs as well using these plant-based approaches (one woman used MDMA in a clinical environment for her successful treatment).

While the focus of the film was on the PTSD too often suffered by our veterans, these psychoactive substances have been found to have value for a variety of other conditions, including depression, anxiety, and addiction. Once legal in the US, some plant medicine was reclassified in an attempt to squash the counterculture movement which began in the 1960’s.

Given that these substances are believed to be non-toxic, non-addictive and able to be used safely and effectively, we are pleased that studies are now underway in various countries. While these plants are currently considered Schedule 1 drugs in the US, there is hope that this will change.

If you or a loved one are suffering with PTSD, anxiety or depression, you may want to explore Rythmia Life Advancement Center in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. Rythmia is a 5 Star resort that supports its guests on every level with delicious, lovingly prepared organic meals, yoga, transformational breath work, cleansing and a series of classes and trainings offered weekly by many well known teachers and thought leaders of our time. They are licensed to offer medically supervised ayahuasca ceremonies with miraculous results. (BTW, been there, done that.)

May you and those you love experience all of the health, beauty and joy that love has to offer.

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