Try the Home Grown

Editor’s Note: A touching story about a woman’s after-war experiences with marijuana, PTSD, and loss.

When everything got really bad, Mom thought it would help.  I was, of course, hesitant since I didn’t really have a decent track record with anything beyond, say, Tylenol. But Mom decided that we would try it together.  She, at 62, and I, at 35, would have some cannabis together in an attempt to calm my mind and my body from six years of service that wreaked havoc on both.

While I had certainly tried it once before – that was before, before everything. I was 18, and in Amsterdam, then Denmark, then Norway, and finally what was previously East Germany. The last of my cousin’s stash was imbibed at the top of a cathedral where my sister, cousin, and I all had to huddle together and block the wind so the wooden pipe bought in Amsterdam could be lit.

Mom and I didn’t try it together. She was suddenly gone, and I sat surrounded by her sisters, lamenting that we were supposed to do this together. My aunts decided to take me to a store. They told me they would do this in her stead. I didn’t think it would work. There was nothing on this planet that could calm the growing hollow in my heart from losing Mom. Not after she had seen me through thick and thin, dealing with the aftermath of service.

I went through the motions with them. We went to what looked like a boutique. It was fancy, like Saks Fifth Avenue. The guy at the counter wore a Rastafarian hat and he knew his stuff. Surprisingly, the aunts knew their stuff as well. We went with dark chocolates. Aunt Mari bought a whole bar to take home to California. Another Aunt—I think Terri—bought wine and we all went back to the one hotel we could find to accommodate four aunts, three sisters, and one daughter. Terri asked red or white. We ordered pizza. We tried the chocolates.

They didn’t work. Sarah and I looked across the small hotel room and said in unison: I don’t feel anything. So we split another chocolate and had more wine. Then, like a breeze blowing, everything went away. The physical pain, the growing hole in my heart, the pain from service. It  just went away. I told Aunt Mari what had happened in Germany. I explained why Mom said we would try this together. I told her everything that night, since my guard was down and the pain had gone away. I was still lucid – still a part of the world around me. But I didn’t feel the unrelenting pain. That’s what cannabis did for me the night after my mother died.

When Matt’s dad passed two years later, I knew I needed to help him feel that moment without unrelenting pain. When trauma shocks us, a breather is needed. It’s not escapism, it’s getting to a point of clarity to work through things.

The day after his father died, I bought Matt a pipe. I asked the guy at the boutique for something to help ease the pain of loss, calm the hurt, and allow him some rest. Matt actually had some homegrown stashed away—a gift from a friend to his father, when his dad was in the depths of chemo and radiation. The VA doctors wouldn’t even respond when Matt’s dad asked about it, so he never tried cannabis. He withered instead. So rather than the fancy specific-effect blend I’d purchased, Matt smoked the home grown, and slept.  He slept through the night for the first time in probably a decade.

Maggie Shartel spent six years in the active duty Army as a public affairs specialist and broadcast journalist.  She met her husband while stationed in Germany and they have been married for over 20 years. She has three children, Timothy, Madison and Aidan. 

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