It was December of 1999. My son had just turned two years old. He was my entire life. The only soft spot I had left. I was dying of stage four cancer from exposure to depleted uranium years earlier while on the front lines of the Persian Gulf War. My back was broken and a failed back surgery had ended my career. I lived in a body brace, pickled on pharmaceutical medications and alcohol, and was unable to sit up for a meal. Anger, fear, anxiety, depression and rage coursed through my veins. It often felt like IEDs — the improvised explosive devices that maimed so many of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan — were exploding in my head. I had never thought about PTSD, and here I was a poster boy for it. That’s when my little boy, my only child, cracked me wide open with three little words that ultimately would change my life, “Get up, daddy!”
Long before that day, I had been a foreign correspondent with a career that fulfilled all my dreams. I had been inside Afghanistan with the freedom fighters during the Soviet War in 1986. Then Apartheid in Africa, cocaine wars in South America, the first Gulf War, and beyond. Now I was a broken man with no self-esteem, a master of self-pity, and was contemplating suicide. So how do I answer my little boy’s plea and “get up” with a broken back and cancer? The only thing I could think of was to get off the drugs and alcohol and die with some semblance of dignity, so as the year 2000 dawned I checked into a rehab hospital and went cold turkey off fourteen years of being stoned.
It felt like demons were tearing at my flesh during sickening withdrawals that lasted more than a week. That’s when my doctors invited me to attend an experimental clinic that blended ancient eastern healing modalities with western holistic techniques. I had no idea what they were talking about but it was like a lifeline being offered to me, and I grabbed onto it. The very first day I was listening to guided imagery recordings that settled my agitated mind and deeply relaxed me. One month into it they said it was time for yoga. The cynical, jaded journalist within me scoffed at the idea. Yoga. Something weird and way out of my Type-A comfort zone…especially with a broken back. But a deeper voice inside of me, the one my little boy had put me in touch with, said, “This is it!” I chose to listen to that voice.
I was overweight, wracked with pain, and always had been physically stiff and inflexible, but the very first therapeutic yoga pose I was guided into was beyond soothing. Then I ordered ancient texts of yoga and soon learned it’s so much more than postures. Yoga is a complete science of human transformation. I embraced a pure, organic diet and fasting, breathing practices, more yoga postures, and — most importantly of all — began replacing the darkness in my mind with positive thoughts and affirmations, which modern science now affirms changes your inner chemistry. It was a slow process and often painful. So many times I wanted to give up, but my mantra of “get up, daddy” kept me going. Two years later I was eighty pounds lighter and pain free. A thousand pounds of emotional toxins had melted away. The cancer was gone. The poster boy for PTSD had disappeared.
Cutting edge researchers call this Self-Directed Biological Transformation. In other words, if we change our thoughts and actions in a positive direction on a consistent basis over time, healing is possible even in the most challenging circumstances. Since my healing, I’ve devoted my life to sharing yoga science, and over the years have worked with scores of veterans facing PTSD and seen many find inner peace, resiliency, and new meaning in life through these practices.
Some 500,000 of our veterans suffer from PTSD. More than twenty commit suicide every day. Addiction to pharmaceutical medications, alcoholism, drug abuse, and domestic violence is widespread. Thousands of our veterans are homeless or behind bars. Their spouses, their children, their extended families, and their communities are suffering as well. It is a national crisis with no end in sight, and I deeply feel that its time for all of us as a nation to rise up and support them. This year I founded Warriors for Healing, a foundation devoted to growing awareness of Self-Directed Biological Transformation through yoga science, delivering therapeutic yoga modalities to veterans through our partner, Give Back Yoga, and ultimately establishing an online resource for veterans and their families. Teams are being formed around the country via our W4H Event Site, bringing yoga practitioners together with veterans and those who want to support our troops in a movement devoted to healing and wholeness.
The most important message I’d like to share is that no matter what challenges we face, we are not stuck. There is a time-tested and scientifically proven pathway towards maximizing our healing potential, finding new meaning in life, and achieving a sense of strength and control over the darkness in our lives. It takes time, devotion, and hard work, but this is something the heroes that have served our country already have proven they can do on the battlefield. Who better to become Warriors for Healing?
Visit our Resources for Veterans page to read more about how yoga can help with PTSD. Service members in San Diego County and the surrounding areas can apply for a Warriors for Healing scholarship that includes a space on the lawn for the premier Warriors for Healing Event on June 28, 2015 as well as several helpful resources.