We decided long before we left Vancouver on the most important aspect of this trip for us both. Some may immediately assume that means the itinerary, however for us it is our guiding philosophy. Soph and I have both led highly stressful lives, as a Social Worker in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver and myself, a Veteran of Afghanistan.
Upon initially considering the effects on a Social Worker and a War Veteran travelling through so many countries, most of which are developing and home to violence, abject poverty and social injustice, it would be easy to assume that this venture is foolhardy, naive or flat-out stupid. To those who may jump to that conclusion I extend an authentic invitation to stop and truly reflect on our philosophy and purpose behind our journey. To everyone else I extend the same heartfelt invitation and would ask that you have patience with those folks in our lives who live their lives under the thumb of fear.
For me, Tim, serving in Afghanistan on Op Archer – TF 01/06 in and of itself was an experience that wholly and fundamentally changed me. For 8 years I had no idea that I was suffering from MDD and severe PTSD. ‘I’m fine’ was my constant mantra to try and ignore the lasting effects of my service. I reached out when my life was darkest and I couldn’t fathom continuing on. In a synchronous series of events, from meeting fellow TF 01/06 Veteran and Brother Aaron by chance at the legion, to ending up on one of the last Veteran Transition Program’s facilitated by the co-founders Dr. Kuhl and Dr. Westwood, I quickly found myself with support, understanding and community. There was a community of people with similar trajectories with whom my experiences resonated and vice-versa. I began to realize that what I had been missing in my depression and isolation was human connection. We, as living and breathing beings, need this to survive and to thrive.
Two years after seeking help, my life was inexorably different. The man I was becoming and am still discovering daily, is markedly different in most respects to whom I thought I was. The key being the use of the word ‘thought’. My life was ruled by thinking as feeling anything was far too painful. I travelled through life as an almost emotionless being, almost robotic in my rigidity and lack of self-awareness. My journey directly into the centre of my personal hell and back out the other side gave my Soul a serious kick-start. I came to the understanding that I had been frozen for many years, back in the state of horror and self-loathing, where I had foundationally betrayed myself. I was stuck between doing my job and honouring my humanity. At the time in 2006, my sense of duty to country won but the work I did at the VTP pushed me to honour my Self and what I stand for. I realized then that I needed to start feeling again.
This process was the most painful thing I have ever had to endure, as though the very fabric of my being was being shredded and torn apart. Just as when you stick your hand into snow and then pull it out, the first sensation is burning, searing pain. Thawing my Self/Soul out from this extended deep freeze had this same effect but imagine that hand stuck in a snow-bank for almost 8 years. I had to face myself and answer to my Soul for all I had done. I had to come to a place of fully feeling what devastating effects my service had, what parts of myself I lost and what was torn away from me. Only through giving space and airing out all that I tried to hide and shove down under the surface could I start to really feel and experience life anew. The only way for me to return to a healthier more balanced life was back through the fiery depths of my own Hell.
The life that began to take shape out of the smoke and ashes felt very different. I no longer felt like I belonged in the places I once inhabited. I quit my job of 8 years as a Crane Tech and returned to school to study psychology, I met the love of my life Sophia, I befriended and began training my PTSD Service dog K9 Monty, I moved apartments twice and I started working for the program that veritably saved my life. I was becoming the man that shone outwards from my inner being and not the man I thought I was supposed to be when looking from the outisde.
This journey is about continuing my self-discovery and finding my own spirituality. It is about restoring my faith in humanity through leading with my open heart and my open mind. I want to live my animal as best as I can every day so that when I look in the mirror I will continue to see the glimmer of the boy that I thought War had killed. Only through living my life authentically can I continue to see that man in the mirror and not the monster full of darkness, despair and rage that used to consume every fibre of my being.
Over time I learned that to be able to continue this journey I need a complete break from the life I was living in Vancouver. I had successfully worked as a paraprofessional on a few VTP courses, worked as the Operations Coordinator of Western Canada for the VTN, completed my first year of university in psychology and I participated in a live performance piece where I ‘acted’ my own story of PTSD and of finding hope on stage for other Vets and civilians alike. These are great accomplishments of which I am proud but they all culminate to create a weight that I wam unable to bear while still undertaking this journey to find myself. I think my dear friend Marv put it best when I told him about this trip, he said “you and Sophia are undertaking a pilgrimage to find your Soul’s calling, this is no vacation”.
I have great skill at piling stress onto my shoulders and the weight was again becoming too much. We are living life differently to better hear our Soul’s calling, to learn to listen to that voice and heed the guidance it provides. To put it simply, I needed a break from the life I was living, before it buried me in another hole that I had to fight my way out of.
“There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own Soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
― C.G. Jung