“I went into him deploying thinking PTSD was inevitable, but I didn’t know what that really meant.”
Aimee Kahl met her husband Matt in the summer of 1994, when they and a group of fellow students from high school French class spent the summer in Europe.
The two North Carolina natives quickly became close friends, even living together as roommates for a time and attending the same college. In 2003 their friendship formally blossomed into romance; their first son was born soon afterwards. By 2007, they were married, and in 2008 he had deployed to Afghanistan with the 101st Airborne Division.
When he returned home the first time, in March of 2009, Kahl thought everything was good with her husband. But by the fall, she noticed him detaching and withdrawing.
Something was wrong
“I knew something was wrong. But I also knew that there was no way to talk about it,” she recalls. “That was a very big thing that I found in military life, that they make it sound like you can talk about [PTSD] and you can do all these things and what to look for.
“They tell you what to look for but they don’t tell you what to do about it. So I didn’t know what to do about it.”
She wanted at the very least to understand what her husband had gone through. “He had taken hundreds of pictures and videos—and there was some scary shit in there—and I begged him to let me see it, to see what he’d been through, to relate on some level to the atrocities and the horror he’d been through and dealt with.” But as she quickly learned, “It’s impossible to understand, to know how deep the pain goes and how much it hurts.”
In the meantime, the military was prescribing Matt countless pills, which left him zombie-like. The depressions and triggers continued, and that Christmas, Matt tried to take his own life. He survived, but as soon as he could, he returned to his unit and got ready for yet another deployment.
The second time around
By that point Aimee Kahl had withdrawn from her network of support out of fear and worry that his suicide attempt would become widely known. She felt alone and scared. “When he left the second time it was way harder than when he left the first time.”
When he got back home the second time, injured, his PTSD was even worse.
“He completely disappeared,” Kahl says. “It was like he died. It was like he never came home. There was a body there—he was there, physically—but there was nobody home.” Even despite the birth of their second son, she says, he didn’t want to have anything to do with the family.
“I just felt absolutely, terribly alone and helpless and scared and devastated. It was a constant state of fear and mourning, because the man that I loved was just not there and I didn’t know what to do. I felt like I was the only person who could help him because no one else knew anything, and I couldn’t ask for help and I couldn’t talk to anybody.”
Indeed, the only advice anyone was willing to offer was that she “get the hell out, because it was a dangerous environment.” But no matter how bad things got with Matt’s PTSD, leaving was never an option.
“I don’t know what kept me there other than the fact that he is my best friend,” she says. “I felt like, would I leave my best friend suffering like this? No. That’s not who I am. So even though he was not being the father or the husband that I needed him to be, he was still my friend, and I couldn’t leave him.”
The shift begins
Once he discharged from the Army, however, Matt did change. He smoked cannabis for the first time.
“As soon as he smoked it,” says Kahl, “it was like this wave came over him of calm and peace and—I won’t say joy, it wasn’t quite there—but it was this…contentment for a moment.”
The contentment underscored a major shift in her husband: he became present and motivated once again, and enthusiastic about both his family and his post-military purpose in life. But he was not 100% healed.
“It was better than it had been but only relatively so, and we both knew there was a lot more work that could be done,” says Kahl. And so Matt chose his next step on his healing journey: ayahuasca.
“I have felt for a while now that Matt needed to do ayahuasca, that it was coming and it was necessary,” Kahl says. She’s scared, and still feels helpless, but at the same she’s determined not to stand in his way, noting that, “Everything he tried previously…all conventional meds, conventional therapy, made it worse.”
More than anything, Kahl just wants him to get better. In meantime, she is continually amazed at the bravery of he and his fellow vets. “They’re brave when they go to war and they’re brave now trying to get better. I admire it very much.
“I want to get better with them because I realize through all of this, I’m not OK.”