Brooke Cooley recalls the day she met her husband, Mike, in December of 2007. She was working at the 148th MP detachment in HR, charged with logging life-changing details onto her fellow soldiers’ paperwork. He came into her department to get his recent divorce put on his official records.
“I thought, wow, is he ever cute! Just look at him.”
It was, by any measure, love at first sight. But within weeks she was tasked with a different set of her future husband’s paperwork: cutting his orders to send him to Iraq. It would be the last of his three tours.
Cooley had already deployed and returned home in the months before she and Mike met. Unbeknownst to her at the time, she had herself developed what would become debilitating PTSD.
And while he showed some signs of it following his first two deployments, it was only once he was home for good with Brooke—they were by then married and looking after three kids—that his PTSD became full blown.
“The final one was clearly worse than the first two,” she says. “The PTSD really started to come out after that last tour to Iraq. When he got out of the Army it really really ramped up. It got so bad.”
The seesaw effect
In the meantime, Cooley’s own PTSD had also significantly progressed. And in a bid to keep running the household, she had started taking cocaine. When her dealer’s supply of cocaine ran out, she turned to methamphetamines. Anything to keep going, to keep it all together at home. It was only when her she started using cannabis at the urging of her therapist that she began to find relief from her debilitating anxiety, fear, and depression.
But like a seesaw, once she started to get better, Mike started to get worse.
“The PTSD grew into this monster that just consumed everything,” recalls Cooley. “It consumed home. It consumed all of our lives.”
So having seen the positive changes that cannabis had elicited in his wife, Mike decided that once he got his discharge papers he would try it for himself.
“Then he understood it,” says Cooley. “At that point both of us embraced the use of cannabis as a medicine, as an alternative to the pharmaceuticals we were being handed by the hundreds. And so we slowly started tapering those off and eventually stopped taking them.
“We gave it a solid chance,” she says, because by that point they thought, what do we have to lose?
“It worked; it worked very well for both of us.”
Limits of a healing journey
Indeed, cannabis has helped significantly—but only to a point.
“His anxiety attacks are fewer and farther between, but when they happen, no, they’re bad. They’re really bad. Hours at time, experiencing flashback after flashback after flashback. He’ll hit his knees and fall to the floor.”
Now that he understands the limits of how far cannabis can take him on his healing journey, Mike Cooley has chosen to take ayahuasca.
“It definitely seems like ayahuasca needs to be his next step,” says Cooley. “He still has a lot of hurt, a lot of anger, a lot of trauma that he won’t open up to almost anybody for. So for him, if he can get that out, if he can open up that box and let that out, if that’s what it’s going to take, hopefully that’s what it does. So that’s what I’m hoping for.”
Though as she notes, “It’s cautious optimism because I live, eat, breathe, and sleep PTSD on one side or another every single day.”
Cooley reasons that if taking ayahuasca does nothing to change Mike, that means it won’t hurt him, either. “But if it helps even just a little bit…” she shakes her head slightly, shrugs her shoulders and purses her lips as if to say, then why on earth wouldn’t we try it? How could we not?
“He has this spark. But I think it’s going to take something like ayahuasca to be able to light the fire with that little spark. That’s what I hope for.
“Because he’s still there. He’s buried under a ton of PTSD crap, but he’s still in there.”