A year ago my life fell apart. I had been out of the Corps for several decades and had never dealt with any of the issues that came up during my service. I was recently released from Federal Prison and had suffered additional trauma during my incarceration. My marriage of 29 years was coming to an end and I just couldn’t deal with it. I decided I had enough. I found myself in Walmart with a tent and several charcoal grills. I had done enough research up to that point that I felt that CO2 poisoning was the way to “go” not having access to a firearm. Instead of going through with it I ended up going to someone I thought I could trust. All of that culminated with a 10 day stay in an acute care unit. Upon release I was scheduled for a 6 week inpatient PTSD Program at a local VA Hospital.
It was during the program that I was introduced to yoga. It was one of the groups that we had once or twice a week to help us learn mindfulness. I participated but mostly because it was mandatory. I did at least approach it from the aspect that I might learn some stretching that would help when I worked out. I was also introduced to the Feathered Pipe Ranch during our first weekend in the program. When I found out that there was going to be a Veterans yoga retreat there I applied to go as part of my treatment. It wasn’t easy to get into but I am very thankful that I did.
The light came on for me during our first yoga session at the retreat. It was led by a Vietnam Vet. He started out by saying that he wanted to educate everyone on the one main tenant of yoga. The one hard and fast rule that everyone should know and understand. His philosophy so to speak. Then he told us, “its ok to fart”!
That set the tone for my weekend. That is when I figured out that there is so much more to yoga. For me there was a desperate need to find a way to buy the gap. To gain a moment between emotion and reaction. To find out how to have a negative emotion and gain enough time to evaluate it before retaliating, flying off the handle or doing something worse. I went into the PTSD program knowing that it wasn’t going to work. That I was still going to take my life at the end of it. I had a BCD mask and a nitrogen bottle in the back seat of my truck the entire time I was in the program. The thing is I found something that worked. The mindfulness practices taught during yoga both at the retreat and in the program helped me find a way to break the loops running through my head. It allowed me to take a breath or two and stop thinking too much. It showed me how to have an emotion without letting that emotion rule me and my actions.
The Veterans Yoga Project did one more thing for me. It gave me a full night sleep. That may not seem like much to most people but for someone who had not slept more than an hour or two at a time for over 5 years it was huge. Dan Libby led a Yoga program just before we went to bed the first night. I found a way to quiet my mind, let things go without holding on and allow myself to actually sleep. I slept a full 8 hours that night. He has some of those programs on their website and I still use them to help calm myself after a stressful day so I can sleep.
I left the retreat with a new appreciation for yoga, mindfulness and the benefits. I still practice when I can. I will forever be thankful that they took in a skeptical marine and did not judge me. They accepted me and helped me more than they will ever know. Yoga and mindfulness may not be the tool you need but at least it should not be overlooked. It was and still is a powerful tool in my recovery toolbox.
To everyone that helped put that program together and made it the safe and comfortable experience it was you will always have my thanks."