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From Afghan to Ayahuasca: Bobby’s Story


I still remember the morning my uncle passed away. I was seven years old. My father crouched in distress on the patio of our house. He had been watering the garden when the house phone rang, carrying the devastating news that his brother had committed suicide. I remember the feeling of confusion, not understanding what was going on, how the number one male role model in my life was all of a sudden broken and on the floor. John Wade (my uncle) was a Vietnam Vet, having been conscripted into one of the most horrific wars of the 21st century. When his number came up, it was time to go. A rifleman with A Coy, 3rd Royal Australian Regiment. He was on and off choppers in jungle warfare in Vietnam in 1971.

I joined the Australian Army at the age of 17 straight out of high school. Barely 21, I was walking down the ramp of a C-130 into Kamp Holland (Multi National Base), Tarin Kot, Uruzgan Province, Afghanistan as part of the RTF3 (Reconstruction Task Force) in 2007. The following seven months consisted of long patrols, mortar attacks, IEDs, and the constant thought of ‘will we get hit today?’

Looking back now 15 years later, I was unaware of how I was actually feeling when I returned to Australia. Nor did I have the tools to understand or be aware of my nervous system and how it was in constant fight or flight. The coping mechanism was to bury all those feelings and emotions deep inside and tell the psyches in Kuwait on our way back to Australia that you were ‘fine’ because you just wanted to get home. The old military mindset of ‘don’t be weak, don’t complain, keep going, don’t stop.’

In 2010, jaded and not sure what to do with life, I left on a year-long leave without pay holiday with a good mate and fellow veteran. We wanted to kite surf around South America, starting out in Buenos Aires, Argentina, crossing over to Uruguay, then up the coast to Brazil and then on to Venezuela and her Caribbean Islands. Throughout the whole journey, people we met along the way would tell me to go to Colombia, ‘you will love it.’ I would sit there and think, ‘Colombia, but what’s there?’ Little did I know they were the vessel for spirit to talk to me, the signs and guidance of what I must do.

So there we were, two Aussies and a Danish mate passing through 8 military checkpoints, crossing the extremely dangerous Venezuelan/Colombian border. When we passed the border town immigration test, which was having our passports thrown back at us, but I mean who could blame the guy? He must have pissed someone off to get a gig in that town. We waded through the sellers and hagglers, jumping on a bus and stepping over the chicken cages and what seemed like sacks of plantain to our bus seats. We had made it to Colombia. After a few months along the coast, we found ourselves in Medellin, Colombia’s second-largest and most beautiful city. Living with a couple of guys from Boston and California, a friend of a friend put us in contact with a medicine man in the outlying mountains surrounding Medellin. We caught a bus from one end of the city to the other and then waited in ‘El Centro’ for an hour or so before grabbing a bus up the mountains. Then a 40-minute walk to this healer’s house where we walked into the Maloka, and he explained what we were doing and going to be drinking, Yagé, otherwise known as Ayahuasca.

PSYCHEDELICS as a path to opportunities and a life’s work

It was in that first ceremony where I understood why I had been guided to Colombia and why I was in that Maloka drinking that medicine. The feeling that I felt the next morning will never leave me. It was like the veil had been lifted, like I had been viewing the world through a slightly gray filter and now the filter was off and everything was in 4k HD. Not just visually, but all my senses, my thoughts, the feeling inside my body, was one of ever-present love, awareness, oneness, and joy.

I knew that this is where I had to be, so going back to Australia a few months later, I was still in service and officially discharged in civvies and slightly long hair. I received my discharge papers and certificate in some strange office building with strangers applauding my service. It was confusing for someone at the age of 23 who had joined the army at 17 with promises of the world, job opportunities, and high-class training, to walk out of an office block on a cold Canberra morning thinking to myself, ‘what was that all about?’

At the time, it didn’t matter. I was glad to be out and free! Little did I know the body keeps the score and there were still a lot of things that I had to clear.

In 2014, I moved to Colombia, co-founding one of the first plant medicine centers in Colombia, the Eagle Condor Alliance. Working with healers and elders from the Cofan/Siona tribes, known as the original caretakers of Yagé. Elders from the Mambe Ambil tradition of  the Witoto/Murui nation, Lakota and Dakota medicine men in the Sundance and vision quest circles, NAC road men in the tipi circles, and Wachuma elders from Colombia and Ecuador. In Colombia, there is still a great presence of tradition and care for elders, care for their knowledge, and their word. Our center directly helped different elders every month over the eight years that we ran retreats. Helping to conserve land in the Putumayo region of Colombia ‘Alto de los Tigres’ for the protection and planting of Yagé medicine and also preservation of land in the Colombian High Andes rainforest with many birthplaces of water.

Over the years working with the medicine day in and day out, I got to understand who I really was. I had good teachers who didn’t take any crap and they enjoyed throwing you into the deep end for a fast learning experience. Within the ceremonies I began to be able to recognise the residue of PTSD. Now I was a SIGINT guy out on patrols in Afghan, back gunner on our bushmaster. I thought “I wasn’t a grunt, I don’t have PTSD!” But what I started to discover was that I do indeed have something and that everyone who has served most likely does too, it just affects us all in different ways, and with time it begins to show its face. It’s very unnatural to put young men and women in these highly stressful fight or flight situations for long periods of time. While we are young it can be easy to smooth it over, we return home from service, we feel good, we feel like we are part of the band that’s been on a world tour… then with time things start to crack and you start to plug the holes with vices and thoughts and restlessness, or the whole thing starts to shut down. Then when you discharge, granted this maybe isn’t the same for everyone but… when you discharge after years of being told you are a hero and you are special all of a sudden you’re nobody and the organization that you once served and put your life on the line for no longer wants to know about you or care about you. You’re lonely, you’re confused, stagnation sets in, negativity flows in like a morning fog in the high Andes, along with depression, alcohol, drugs, and anxiety, and in the worst cases, suicide.

But what plant medicine does is it gives you an opportunity, an opportunity to heal and move forward in a different way. It’s a small ember in the middle of a cold dark room, and you huddle around that ember and keep blowing and blowing and slowly it starts to get bigger and bigger, and then you find some dry wood and kindling and form it around that ember and you blow and you blow you don’t stop cause you know there is no way back, no going backwards, the past is only the darkness.

The only way out is further in.

Then there is that moment when it all clicks, hope takes the shape and form of a small flame, you breathe out a sigh of relief, you have direction, light, you have hope, you have fire, you have life. But you know that the work is only just beginning, that fire ain’t gonna burn forever it’s gonna go out if you don’t tend to it, and take you back to the darkness, and soon enough you realize you need more wood, you need some more tools you need an ax and you need to move, and you need to do the work, because no one else is going to do it for you.

For your internal fire to burn brightly you are doing the work for the rest of your life. It doesn’t stop, get used to it, be strong.


That’s where integration comes into play, chop wood and carry water every day!. When I first heard about integration, I thought it was not necessary but then you see that the very people, the indigenous peoples that have been around these plants for millennia are consistently in integration, doing the work, chopping wood, carrying water, in forms of prayer, taking care of the earth, their communities, their culture, planting food, hunting, protecting the water. Showing up and doing the work, that’s what it’s all about.

Plant medicine gives you that ember in the fire and the plants even say ‘Oh and by the way you can leave your baggage at the door and if you want to you don’t even have to pick it up on your way out, it’s your choice”… Some of us choose to pick up that heavy suitcase again and wheel it back down the corridor of life.

But it’s a choice and you doing the work is a choice no one’s gonna hold your hand and tell you it’s okay it’s on you. The medicine will be there to guide you but it’s you and you alone.

I think back to that day that my family received the news of my uncle’s death and at the age of seven being slightly traumatized and I think what my uncle must have gone through what he must have endured in a place like Vietnam. What all Vietnam vets must have gone through, how they were discredited by society and thrown down a hole and left to rot. And the saddest part is a lot of them were conscripted and did not choose to go.

In 2024 it doesn’t have to be that way any more for veterans and their families. These medicines have opened up to us to give hope and possibility that was not readily available before. These Plant spirits know what they are doing and they see the need to open up to the world to be a part of the solution to this mental health crisis that we find ourselves in.

We have an opportunity to serve and help our vets from conflicts like Afghanistan and Iraq, many men and women. The medicines are opening up for these reasons. The plants have the answers. All we have to do is listen, observe, and remember to show respect to them and their ancestral custodians.

I am honored to work for HHP, to be in service to veterans, to pass on the knowledge and experience that I have learned over the past 15 years working with these plants in their ancestral homes with the indigenous elders, to be a witness to the healing that happens time and time again.

In honor of John Wade and all veterans that have taken their own lives due to the trauma of war.

Written By: Bobby Wade
Australian Army Veteran
Head Coach, HHP AUS