“As I prepared to commit suicide, God gave me the okay to come home but also made it clear that he would be disappointed in me…I realized I did not want to die, but I also knew I did not know how to live.”
If that gets your attention, imagine what it did to me when a young former law enforcement officer stood trembling as she recounted what led her to seek assistance from Warriors Heart, a private treatment center that exists to help our nation’s protectors who are struggling with addiction or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The young woman who was on the verge of suicide was saved through her experience at Warrior’s Heart.
“This place saved my life and my soul,” she said. “The team at Warriors Heart put my broken pieces back together.”
The Warriors Heart Foundation is a non-profit organization with the sole purpose of helping our military veterans and first responders who have fallen into addiction as they deal with their invisible scars. The setting is a 500-acre campus just outside San Antonio, Texas.
I have spent the last year serving as a volunteer member of the honorary board of advisers at Warriors Heart, and what I have witnessed and experienced there has changed my life. Looking back on my first visit to the campus, I was not prepared for the emotional journey that founders Josh Lannon, Lisa Lannon, and Tom Spooner had in store by simply allowing us to join them for a normal day in their lives of service to those who served us.
On my first day there, I toured the facilities and saw their dining area with a chef recruited from the White House, examined a detox facility with an amazingly trained and emotionally caring nurse, then climbed aboard a utility vehicle to drive the pastures and look at the stocked pond surrounded by three Pere David’s Deer that roamed the peaceful countryside. After dinner with the clients, I retired to my room to catch up on some work that I thought, at the time, was more important than the environment I had just entered. At around 9 p.m., I turned my radio off and prepared to call it a day. It was then that I heard a concert in the courtyard outside my room in the “Sober Living” portion of the dormitory.
I walked out into the common area and found a packed patio around the fire pit. In front was gentleman singing his heart out while strumming an electric guitar. At the end of his set, he walked over to me and began to explain his situation. He had been sober for almost three weeks now. He found solace in writing songs, and his pride beamed through the darkness as he proclaimed the first time he had ever played the guitar sober was here at Warriors Heart. Someone then asked him to play one of the songs he had written, called “Quicksand.”
“How do I tell my family I am sinking in quicksand?”
Quicksand is a unique sensation, a combination of pressure with a profound sensation of being both stuck and gripped. A sensation that grows stronger as you try to pull away. The song reminded me that you cannot see quicksand until you are in it. The harder you struggle, the tighter its grip — until someone offers you a hand to pull you to safety. This amazing veteran found that hand of assistance extended from the passionate team at Warriors Heart.
The next morning I awoke to the sound of a bird singing outside my window. I then heard my neighbor in the sober living dormitory exit his room to start the day. As he closed his door, he began to whistle the tune of the bird and I could imagine him looking at the bird as he whistled his way to a new day. This was an intense moment for me, envisioning the troubled path that brought this individual to seek assistance at Warriors Heart, and the radical life transformation he had undergone to become a Sober Confident Veteran who had regained his life from the grasp of addiction.
At the beginning of the board meeting that day, we were asked to “start the day with a moment of silence for the warrior who still suffers.” Lisa, one of the founders, asked each of us a question: “What do you feel like saying?” It’s amazing how powerful a simple question can be when you are in a safe area with people you care about and who care about you. More than an hour later, with tears welling in my eyes, we all finished our answers to Lisa’s inquiry.
As the day progressed, we discussed how 22 veterans commit suicide each day and that a law enforcement officer commits suicide every 62 hours. A former non-commissioned officer in the Army recounted his job of having to ensure the health and welfare of each of the troops in his care. He said the task wasn’t just to teach these individuals in his care to survive, but also to thrive in combat, and that combat wasn’t just against an external enemy, but against the internal emotional enemy every soldier faced due to his experiences.
Another veteran stood up and asked, “How do you explain to your 10-year-old son that daddy is sick, and that he’s sick right here?” as he pointed to his heart.
The truth is that our protectors are often scared to heal. Their hyper-awareness, developed deliberately through countless hours of training and conditioning, prevents them from lowering their shields and releasing their true feelings. It is a fact that more people are dying in the silent war at home than in our wars overseas. As a society, even as our men and women continue to fight the enemy overseas, we are losing the battles against addiction and suicide on our home soil. Who protects our protectors?
Warriors Heart is the first private treatment and counseling facility that caters exclusively to veterans and first responders. Why is that important? Because to so many of these men and women, the sense of community and fellowship is itself therapeutic. No one can understand what you’ve been through quite like somebody who’s been through the exact same thing, maybe even in the same war, the same country, or the same battle.
“If I were to tell you that Warriors Heart saved my life, it would minimize what this place truly means to me,” a veteran who worked through the facility’s program told me. “On these grounds I experienced a spiritual awakening that let the sunlight back in to my life.”
We are at a critical point in our society, where each of us can be a pebble in the pond to create a wave of change. I witnessed that ripple effect, and it changed my own life.
“When you die, they’ll put two dates on your tombstone,” a combat-hardened Army Delta veteran told me during my visit. “But all that matters is the dash in between.”
If you know a veteran or first responder struggling and in need of a helping hand, please contact the Warriors Heart 24/7 help line at (888) 378-1474 or send a text to (830) 200-0134. At Warriors Heart, we have created a treatment facility and program from the ground up with a very specific goal: we mean to help warriors in every walk of life. We offer a variety of treatments for those undergoing the damaging effects of PTSD as well as chemical dependency.
For those who have fought battles to defend our country and our citizens, fighting the battle against addiction and depression doesn’t need to be done alone.