Ron Millward is the Founder and President of Balanced Veterans, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to creating a safe space for the education, advocacy, and empowerment of alternative therapies for veterans and their families.
Inside of this episode:
↣ Ron’s Military Story and how he is dealing post combat.
↣ Ron opens up about his Military Sexual Trauma and how it has effected his relationships
↣ Plant Based Medicine and his Journey to healing with Grandmother Ayahuasca
↣ How his organization, Balanced Veterans Network, impacts the lives of Veterans and their families through advocacy and education. (Operation 1620 and Project Triangle)
↣ Mindset, Social Media and the importance of knowing when to step away and refocus.
Connect with Guest:
**This text has been revised and edited.
Ron Millward: I joined the military. I joined the United States Air Force when I was 17 years old. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I got into a little bit of trouble while I was in high school, and I had some options in front of me. It was either college or continuing to figure out what I wanted to do career-wise or the military. I had never thought about the military before. I went home, had that conversation. My mom was all about it. Her response was, “Get out of here, do something better with your life. We got you.” So I got the parental signature and joined the Air Force at 17. I shipped off and started my journey with the military. I absolutely loved the military.
For me, it provided some structure, especially as a young man seeking what it meant to be a man, or find that structure around what it looks like to be put together, and the discipline and all of those aspects that come along with the military. I enjoyed that. I thrived. I was doing well. Then, I had a deployment in 2018, where I went to Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and I had done some light training, working with some other foreign nationals there. And believe it or not, something I’d never shared on any podcast ever, or anywhere ever. I experienced military sexual trauma. And I was 18 years old. And really, this is something that I am currently working through with some mental health professionals. And I did not realize how much it had affected my life until I’m 31. Now, I realize how that sort of had played into some of my issues and relationships and even myself, my self-love, self-worth, and understanding of who I am as a man – all of those things. Damn, y’all got it out of me real quick.
Calla: It needed to come out. That’s not easy stuff.
Ron Millward: Yeah, absolutely. It’s tough. I think that it’s something that I’m still really trying to understand. Many folks struggle with this and understanding in our community, so I still have a lot of healing and understanding to do myself and a journey in front of me. But I think that the moral of this is, share your stuff, get it out there. I wish I would have done it sooner; I do. There’s so much freedom to express something like that and work through that with professionals and understand it a little better. And so, really, I wish I would have spoken up a little sooner, but glad that I am now.
Leanne: What was the catalyst for sharing?
Ron Millward: Relational issues, to be honest with you. I’m not exactly sure why I struggled with really even just intimacy. I know that I hear from vets that also struggle with intimacy. There are various amounts of reasons why. Some of that is trauma-related PTSD. I was always like, “Oh, it’s my PTSD. It’s whatever, I’m just don’t get close to people,” all that, but in reality, there were some psychological things that may have happened. I mean, I was young and didn’t quite understand it. And, it’s uncomfortable.
Calla: Yeah, really uncomfortable.
Leanne: Yeah. Ron, did you know of anybody else at the time you could share it with, or did you fully keep that all to yourself?
Ron Millward: No, I kept it all to myself. It’s not something especially as a man, you know, you don’t share that. Like, that doesn’t happen to men.
Can I be honest with you? I was in college this last semester, and we had to do this project. And it was around, you know, something that you would put like an Ad Council ad out for, and I did some research. And I found out that like, and one, you know, don’t quote me exactly on this, I forget exactly where the source was, but I’ll try to find it. But it said that one, regardless, it’s a statistic; it said one in six men are sexually assaulted. And so that’s not military. That’s everybody. I can only imagine, and that’s the people who report it, so what I can’t imagine is how many people have not reported either MST or being sexually assaulted. That is something that they don’t necessarily understand and live with and are struggling with, you know? It may not be causing a lot of [internal] chaos, but how you think and some of them, you know, psychological changes can happen from that are… they’re big, and it’s stuff that needs to be talked about.
Calla: Do you feel like you repressed it a lot -and didn’t even recognize that that’s what it was?
Ron Millward: Oh, absolutely. I even feel as though not only did I repress it, I felt as though I overcompensated to be a man because of it. Do you know what I mean? Like you think that that’s, that makes you a certain way. So you have to act a different way to be stronger than or to get over those feelings or whatever. And so that in itself was interesting now that I look back, now being in a spot of being more healed, stepping, stepping further away from my trauma, I’m able to look back and be like, Oh my god, I get it. Like, yeah, oh, this makes sense. I like I’m able to, like, deconstruct some of these things that had happened. And you know, it helps, but I still need to work through some of that. So yeah, that’s, you know, 18 years old. Great, start the military. But regardless, I still absolutely loved my career. I feel like I found a place to take. I had all of this, like drive and energy. And I was able to find a place where I knew where to put it and excel and advance. I was able to become a staff sergeant, he 520 years old. I was one of like, three in the Air Force, you know, only toot my own horn a little bit because, you know, it’s, you know, we don’t ever talk about it. I’m proud of my service.
I tried to do the best I could without knowing exactly what the military was or what it would do to me later. You know, like in that you’re like, “this is awesome,” and I’m traveling, and I’m doing all the things but um, yeah, so let’s 18 had a couple other TD wise had gone some places Hawaii had gone overseas, Germany, a couple of different places. And then, I had a deployment to Iraq in 2010. That was probably the most intense as far as drama goes. It’s war. War is racket and really difficult. I believe we have spoken on another podcast previously about some of my story, and that’s in there. My focus heavily became other people after my deployment because I realized I was so messed up and trying to wrap my head around things I had seen, the stuff you’re a part of, and why we are there, all of these different things. It’s a hodgepodge of emotions for sure. But being able to step away, I, you know, with my struggle after that, I got out of the military in 2014. I tried, I retrained, got into a new job after my deployment, but I really couldn’t do it anymore. The military life was not for me. And really, that all changed right there in that 2010 time.
Leanne: When you’re in the military, and something traumatic happens, you know, how fire like firefighters or police officers, like if there’s gunfire, they have to see some kind of therapist to continue. Is there anything like that on base for people at all?
Ron Millward: Yeah, you know, and there are many different protocols for different units and different branches and all of the other things. But for us, specifically, when you’re deployed, no, it’s like something happens, you move on, you do. You have like mission briefs and things like that, and you’ll debrief and talk about it, but there’s no time to feel. You just kind of move on and, and you have a mission to accomplish. A lot of the times we were in between forward operating bases, so if an ID hit us, we’d go to the next base, try to get whatever recovery healthcare that we could restock, resupply, and then you’re on to like the next base because you have all of the supplies that need to get to where they need to solve like a truck was destroyed, they replaced the truck and you’re on your way, you’re an indispensable piece of equipment, so nothing stops. But they had as I was leaving, and I didn’t get to be a part of this, they were starting to do a reintegration training in Germany, for everyone that had been to combat, you would then go to like a week-long reintegration training. So there is somewhat, you know, the little bit that they can do, there are some parameters around that. But there’s still just not enough.
Calla: A week doesn’t seem like enough time.
Ron Millward: A week doesn’t seem like enough time, and then, to be honest with you, no one knows what they’re doing. And no one knows how to handle this. Because really, every single person interprets trauma completely differently. You could watch your buddy die in front of you and be completely different from the guy next to you who also watched his buddy die. So it’s really interesting because while there are, you know, certain similarities in trama, it’s completely different as to how it affects someone. Often, you realize that these larger traumas just reaccentuate smaller traumas that have been happening all along. And now, I did for years, was put one label on it and focused on one trauma until I realized that was just what sent it over the edge to spark all these other little fires from the traumas that I wasn’t addressing or feeling. I wasn’t taking the time to work through it. So yeah, it’s tough.
Calla: That’s what has been one of the big takeaways so far with filming Stories of Healing is that it always comes back to just those root things that a lot of the times were pre-military or heightened during. It’s just very interesting to hear you validate that.
Ron Millward: Yeah, and I believe that you know, that’s why these organizations exist like “Veterans for Healing” and “Balanced Veterans” like we are doing the best that we can to try to create some sort of a safety net between what’s not happening. We all experience it. We see it. Yet we’re not sure why there’s not this like aftercare or reintegration or something to help you with the transition. Many great organizations are doing many things, but I love those guys like Fabian Henry and Aaron Newsom, who walk the walk they talk about. We put in the work to heal, so learning from each other that’s just been invaluable.
Leanne: It’s amazing. We had a counselor on, he’s an Emotional Freedom Technique therapist a month or so ago, and he was talking about our traumas that happened to us. He said we’re born with a certain amount of soldiers in our brains, and that’s our strength to handle things that happened to us in our lives. With each trauma, a few of our soldiers go fight that war, that trauma that happened, and then another trauma occurs, then more soldiers go fight. But you only have a certain amount, so you get to the thing that sent you over the edge, and you basically have a breakdown until you can get back soldiers back from healing from those traumatic events from your past.
Ron Millward: I like that you’re like!
Leanne: Yeah, I thought you’d love it because I was like, Okay, this is too similar.
Ron Millward: I think plant medicines can help us get those soldiers back.
Leanne: Let’s talk about that.
Ron Millward: Sure. Plant medicine was a catalyst. Because I think up until you see things differently, you’re going to sort of spin in whatever you’re seeing. And I just had a bunch of mess in front of me. I had a lens of trauma and really was a victim. And it’s okay to be a victim. I want vets to hear me say:
- Take your time and, like, feel what you feel. If something traumatic happened to you, allow yourself to feel that.
- Don’t let anyone downplay that.
- Have your moment but also do not live in victimhood because you’ll spend years being your own worst enemy. You’re going to constantly be fighting yourself because, at the end of the day, everyone does want to help; they just need to know how to.
And unless you know how you need the help, there’s no way to get it. You can enter all the PTSD programs, you can be sent away, you can do all the things, but until you’ve gotten down to the core of who you are, you’re the last man standing to figure out how and who you need to bring back in. It can be chaotic, and you’ve got to get real with yourself. I lied to myself. I didn’t talk about other traumas that I had.
Calla: You’re like, “I’m good. Ones enough”
Ron Millward: Ones good. We can stop there and focus on that.
Calla: I’m guilty of that too, my friend.
Ron Millward: But it’s so much more and realizing how those play a role into not only how they affect us, but like our lens, then from then on, you know? Everything then is viewed through the eyes of ” I’ve been hurt or traumatized” or whatever. And, you know, while that’s all still true for me, I chose to clear that lens and look at it through a level of gratitude. I’m just glad I’m alive. I’m grateful to be able to sit down and have these conversations. I had a terrible day today, it’s such a beautiful thing and an honor to share my story to help someone listening, hopefully. They have hope. There’s definitely hope. I’ll tell you that I’ve met a lot of folks, and there’s a lot of hope. You just got to be able to see it.
Leanne: Did the gratitude come after the healing and help? Or did the healing come after you started focusing more on gratitude?
Ron Millward: Well, that’s a good question. I believe that I have not stopped healing since I’ve left. I think that healing is potentially a lifelong journey for some of us. I chose to change my perspective to reflect gratitude. Not early on enough, that’s for sure. I went through hell trying to figure it out. I felt like, ” I’m owed this. You guys need to help me. I’m in the military.”
Leanne: You are because you served.
Ron Millward: Yes, it is. But when we get too stuck on that, it’s all true, like we deserve that help.
Calla: You deserve options.
Ron Millward: I didn’t know how to get help in the midst of all my chaos and traumas. The VA is only there so much, and I was running from the veteran hood, whatever you want to call that. I didn’t associate myself as a veteran. I jumped into a whole other world working in churches and things like that. And I was sort of staying as far away from being a veteran as I could because it was uncomfortable. Because everybody else was also talking about their trauma all the time, like this world when you speak to, this isn’t every veteran, but there’s a lot of really hurt people and trauma, and it gets really heavy sometimes. Just having a simple conversation with someone, you’re like, “yeah, we serve together,” and the next thing you know, it’s, “yeah, and I lost all my friends, and all this happened, and I’m divorced, and I’m…” The next thing you know, you’re in this really deep conversation, and I love that, it’s a beautiful thing, but I was not ready for it. I was having these conversations with friends, and I’m even more traumatized. I’m miserable, and I’m spinning. It wasn’t good.
Calla: Did it trigger in you the things you needed to heal within yourself hearing these stories?
Ron Millward: Yeah, but you don’t know that. Do you know what I mean? Like none of us even really realize it in that moment where you’re like, Why?
Calla: I feel the same way having these conversations with other people. It’s always a mirror back into me, and that does make you just spiral if you don’t have a hold of it, for sure.
Ron Millward: That’s a really great point. As humans, we can comfort other humans because the human condition is suffering, there’s always something happening, someone’s dying or something, you know, I was just at a funeral last week. And, like, it’s amazing that when something traumatic happens, there is a pause, like people’s lives pause and we like feel for a little bit. But sometimes, I don’t know if we’re feeling the right way or if we’re processing the right way. And I’m not saying that there is a right way. That’s like, super individualized, but for me, I wasn’t processing the right way I would drink alcohol, or I would, you know, go. That’s sometimes relatable because, like, in the military, we did that I would sit on the porch with my buddy, drink beers, talk about our traumas, and that, to me, was healing because we’re getting it out there. We’re sharing it with someone and feeling it a little bit, but then numbing it. So we don’t feel too much, you know like you feel it a little bit. But like, let’s numb it out and make it fun.
Calla: You don’t have that effect with plant medicine? You don’t feel like it’s a numbing agent for you?
Ron Millward: Oh, man, I wish.
Leanne: It’s more of a magnifying glass.
Ron Millward: That’s a great way to put it; it really does. It’s not even that it magnifies; it’s just you’re not going to run from it. It’s not like an escape. If anything, you may feel it more. But it’s not as intense. It’s there, you realize it, and I think that I’m able to really sit with myself with compassion.
Calla: It’s a delicate dance.
Ron Millward: For sure, a delicate dance, it’s a balance. When we talk about plant medicines, I mean, there are just so many out there to utilize. And I think for me, cannabis was a huge, huge tool to help me, at least my daily driver, it helps with pain, and it helps with all of the other things that come along with some of those traumas and allowed me to process my thoughts and emotions a little bit better.
Leanne: Cal mentioned that you did an Ayahuasca journey.
Ron Millward: Yeah, sure did. I did it in a safe space. It’s not something that I want to shy away from. We’ve got lots of people doing this; just no one’s talking about it, I think because of the legalities around it. It was a full retreat. It was a three-day deal. I met with some other veterans out in California in a decriminalized area, and we were able to go through a ceremony, multiple ceremonies together with someone that has been practicing for over 30 years. Within that, we learned a ton about the medicines ourselves, how some of those medicines can help, and how some work together. It was a really beautiful experience. But yeah, I would say as far as Ayahuasca, it was a really, really intense experience- for a lot of folks in the room. I think all of us there; we’ve been putting in the work.
Calla: Yeah, this was the next step.
Ron Millward: Yeah, you know, everyone there had been leading people and helping
Calla: “We’re gonna graduate, guys.”
Ron Millward: And then we met Grandmother Ayahuasca, I realized, like, none of us knew anything at all.
Leanne: She like backhands you…
Ron Millward: She really did backhand all of us.
Calla: Was it that intense?
Ron Millward: Yeah, it was that intense. But I don’t say that to scare anyone at all. It was a beautiful experience. I think that it was not as psychedelic as I was expecting. Again, here’s the problem: many people go into these experiences expecting something like, “Oh, I heard somebody told me that they did XYZ. And so that’s probably going to happen for me.” And so you’re laying there waiting for the thing to happen. Yeah, I was expecting a whole lot. I was, I was. I was writing like visuals, and the thing was, the night before, we had done something else. So it was a combination of two different plant medicines. And it was one of the coolest, most amazing experiences I’ve ever had. And so I was like really expecting that to happen again on like a larger scale, I was like, here we are, this is what’s going to happen. But it was very different. It came in did a body scan. You could feel it sort, of course, through your body. You drink the tea, feel it kind of scan your body, and see what’s going on. And what was wild is, I’ve had a herniated disc and lower back pain, and I felt the medicine sort of stay in that area and burn and radiate and move through. After that, you’ll sort of feel it all come to the center of your chest, and things got warm.
Then I started to feel sick to my stomach, and then I purged. From there, it was like absolute bliss. I have never felt so weightless. I feel as though wisdom downloads happen from Grandmother Ayah that you really can’t even explain. Seeing yourself and being able to comfort yourself through some of those like, again, back to like childhood times. I think we all, regardless of how good your childhood was, there are always things that happened that allow you to see things the way you do now. Not everybody needs to deconstruct everything they’ve ever learned, but it may be a good idea to look at some of the things you learned.
Calla: Back into what you were saying earlier about how you don’t want to stay in the victim role because that will keep you in that spot.
Ron Millward: If you look at it this way, like really, we all have trauma and things that happen. And at any moment, we can choose to live in that like this happened, I need this, I need reconciliation, I need people to see me understand this. You know, and that’s true, I think for a time. But if you can rise above that and see yourself almost being that way. I feel like there’s just so much more power and freedom that can happen because you’re like there with it, you understand that you are sort of being a victim, you deserve it, you have compassion for yourself. Now you have to find what you need to heal and work through that. I think some of these tools help too. Because the medicine is not like, “There you go, you’re healed.” It’s like, “Hey, here are some things that you should fix in your life to maybe operate a little bit differently, and it could help you find a little bit more freedom.” For me anyway. Again, this is all my opinion. But it helps to sort of prioritize what’s important in life and what’s not, and not even at a superficial level, but like really deep, you know, what you want out of life. So that was my experience. Sorry, that is super vague, kind of.
I don’t want to put expectations out there for anyone. If you and I again, I also do not believe that all of these plant medicines are for everyone. I think that you know, consult with a professional, there was a lot of prep work that I did for that I’d fasted for a long time, I had done quite a few things to sort of cleanse my body to prepare for that. So it’s not just like, Alright, let’s do it, you know, like hop into it, bring some preparation to the table. And, you know, other plant medicines can help you on-ramp into an experience like that. But I think that if someone is really at a low point, maybe even suicidal or struggling with the crisis. It’s a really good tool to like, skip all the other steps, and get to if that makes sense. But I think that many different tools can help, and other plants can help before going that big.
Leanne: What was the selling point, though, for you that you were like, Okay, I think I will give this a try.
Ron Millward: It was not even that I felt as though I needed this deep work. It was more that I had brothers that were also doing this work and meeting there, and we were going to go through this experience together. I think that was really powerful for me. It’s not even tangible to explain the energy in that room of feeling other people that have a heart like I do to love and serve other veterans regardless of everything. I mean, we get shit on, and it’s a rough life. Then to feel that love and that real energy from those good people, it was a beautiful thing. From that, we took this bright, bright light from that area in California and took it back to all of our states and continue to operate that way. Our goal and idea was: How do we help more veterans access these types of modalities to do this deep work that we see is helping us that we’re able to do because we’re privileged and financially able to make this happen. Other people, they have to spend, you know, three, four grand to go to a foreign country to try this thing that might just help them or they may not even have an experience period. So it’s really unfortunate that we’ve set these barriers and that there is a lot of lack of education, a stigma, again, just like cannabis. I think many people are stuck thinking the government or whatever has told them that these things are bad, so they’ll always be viewed as “bad” regardless of how many people they’re helping. So that’s, that’s frustrating.
Leanne: Do you feel that changing, though, with it becoming decriminalized?
Ron Millward: We’re on a small scale because it’s exciting for us that live in this bubble when we follow the pages that promote the things that are happening, but when you don’t follow those pages, and you step out of it, it’s not being talked about, it’s not being seen. New York Times just promoted something about MDMA, and this is like the first talk of any psychedelic being used in medicine. And you know, potentially in the next two years, that could be prescribed as a medicine. I know MAPS has done a ton of work and research, and there’s a lot of evidence backing that. But that’s one substance: many are being studied and tested, but it’s taken so long for even that one to be put through, even with all of the evidence. So it’s a conversation, and it’s happening more, I think. There’s more acceptance. We see many cities decriminalizing, and I’m here working in Philadelphia with “Decriminalized Nature” and trying to push those efforts forward because we believe that people should have access to this. And look at some of these cities, our city here in Philadelphia with the opioid crisis and epidemic, it’s something that could help people, period- just having access to some of these plants. I think it takes more “normal” people to come out and say, “Hey, this changed my life. And it worked in this way. And here’s why. And it wasn’t weird, and it didn’t kill anyone.” All of the things that people are scared of are coddling those fears and letting them know; this is just what you were told; this is not the reality.
Calla: I picture that broken egg. This is your brain on drugs, right?
Ron Millward: Can I be honest with you guys? Before I went on this journey, I was really scared. I was even having some heart problems and things that I’m working through. I did all my research. I was like, you know, will this kill me? Is this going to [insert fear here]? Am I going to go psychologically crazy?
Calla: Were you questioning if you were going to come back from this?
Ron Millward: I was, I was a little nervous. I even went as far as to film a video that stated, “I chose to do this healing” if I were to pass away. And this was why and all of these things. It got intense for me, and I was crying and all this stuff. Then when that happened, my goodness, it was like, wow, I cannot even believe that all of those lies fed into my anxieties. I believed those things, even getting ready to do it, I was thinking those things, and none of it was true. I had a beautiful and comfortable experience. And, you know, not at all what I’d read on the internet, so don’t always do your reading. Try to find someone that’s gone through it, and ask some questions.
Calla: Until you experience that, you’re just not going to know you will have those expectations, I think. Yeah. And you won’t know until you’re till you’re in that spot and it’s up to you to figure out how you want to, you know, treat yourself and like you said, and what we continue to say and echo is that we need options, and we need to talk about those options and let people decide for themselves for sure.
Ron Millward: Yes, yeah, for sure.
Calla: Leading up to today, I went on the new website, and I started looking, and I’m not going to lie, Ron, I got a little emotional. I think back to when I met you a few years ago, and when this thing was getting started, and to see what it’s becoming and what it’s already become like, I get goosebumps just thinking about it because I’m so excited for you. You have gone from just Balanced Veterans and trying to find your own balance within this to effecting change on a massive, massive level. You’re too humble even to recognize it. But as your friend, I will shout your praises till I can’t anymore. It is so cool to see what you’re doing. It is just so so cool. Can you talk a little bit about the changes you’ve made since you started this a few years ago?
Ron Millward: Yeah, definitely. And thank you so much for saying that. It’s an honor to be having the conversation with you again. And I love this call to “Have the Conversation” because it’s literally what we’re doing. We’re having a conversation.
Calla: Literally, yeah, you know, me.
Ron Millward: What’s great about it, though, like I’ve said it before, and I think about it, and I’m like, there’s nothing better. You’re literally having the conversation. Like I think about it, and I think of you guys. So thank you. Thank you for the kind words. It has been, oh my god, it has been a long few years.
Calla: It has.
Ron Millward: For you as well. I’ve also watched you guys evolve as well, and it’s just been cool and beautiful to see. I think that’s what’s neat is still a few years later. We are connected and work together even more because we know the good in each other and us, not just like being all words. It’s all action. You know, a lot of the words came on the back end of the action. And I think that that’s cool. But, you know, it got challenging. It does get challenging, even still. I mean, there are many times that I was like, Why in the world do I do this? What is this is? Is this is more triggering than healing, if anything, you know? There’s a lot of crap in managing a nonprofit world, you know, a lot of admin work and things that I’m not good at doing. There was a lot of uphill climbing. Then you’ve got other organizations doing things or organizations that say they are an organization but are just Facebook groups that aren’t organizations peeing in your Cheerios. You’re trying to play the game and just try to eat. I want everyone to win. I feel like if you’ve got an idea and you want to create an org, you can do it 100%. And I’m all about it. All along, our hearts and hands have always been open. Balanced Veterans was never just my thing or our thing. We were all about, let’s do this together. How can we help each other together? Because really, it is so hard to do alone. That kind of caused a restructuring for us or me to think about, like how can we do this differently to help more people not burn me and the small team that we have out because it’s just not sustainable to continue to do this. And so early on, we had been talking to an organization called Operation 1620 out of Chicago, Illinois. And Caleb Mason is the executive director. He and I, my goodness, I think we’re like brothers in another lifetime. We both played guitar on our worship teams, so many similarities. But at the same time, we are so different. I am like this visionary dreamer; let’s do this creative. And he’s very strict business analytics. He’s a senior business analyst.
Calla: Does it drive you crazy, like, in the best way?
Ron Millward: Yeah, in the best way. The beautiful thing is, we sort of just came together and worked well together. It’s been healing, honestly, for I think both of us to have the brother to call to be like, “Dude, what is going on in our community right now?”, you know, and get through that how we best can. That’s been cool. But with that, obviously brought a whole unique set of changes for us. We’re working with a lawyer and a financial team and trying to figure out all that stuff so that it’s legitimate on the back end. And, we didn’t just bring two organizations together; there’s purpose and all of that. So a lot of that stuff is still shaking out. But what that did was bring us more of a team. It brought more of a structure. We’re figuring out we did a lot of the same programs. And so we figured out how to bringing that together to help more people. But what we did was we called it the Balanced Veterans Network and broke it into four main areas similar to veterans for healing pillar system, but we focus on Operation 1620, which is cannabis. We’re not changing that. Anything that we do with cannabis, we’re calling Operation 1620. So our medical marijuana certifications, all of our education, a lot of the states that veterans are in there is home cultivation, that’s legal. So we’re bringing education around how to do that, even though I can’t in my state. It’s super sad, and it’s hard to go film and not be able to do it. Laws need to change around that.
We’re focusing on mental wellness. So we’ve got a whole community you see our website, but on the back end, when you join the community. There’s a private, secure community back there where veterans and their families can have conversations that they may not be able to have in other areas without the repercussions of wondering where that’s going, and we’re on our own. It’s not a Facebook group, and it’s on our private network. So all of that stuff is, is in some shed in California locked away and secured. And so that made us feel good. Another part of what we’re doing is movement, and we’re doing weekly wellness classes. So we’ve got many health practitioners and folks who have volunteered their time to help us educate around movement. I think that movement is a vital part of my healing, and figuring out the best way to do that, whether it is yoga, hiking, fitness class, whatever, but incorporating movement into life is key. And then Project Triangle, which is all things entheogens and all other sacred plant medicines, educating around mushrooms and Ayahuasca and all of the different things that can be used in plants that aren’t traditionally talked about, but we know folks are using. We want to bring some education around that, so that’s the safe space to do that. That’s the gist of it all; we went from doing one specific thing and sort of made it a little bit bigger but brought other folks in to help and create a safe space for these conversations to happen and for true healing to happen.
Leanne: It’s just another example of how the pillars work. It’s not just something that a few people have tried. It’s a bit taboo, but it is a method that’s worked for 1000s and 1000s of vets. And I don’t think you can just limit it to vets either. Everyone needs to get outside. Everybody needs some kind of therapy. To spread awareness like that is so key. That’s what people need right now.
Ron Millward: Absolutely. I’m humbled and honored to know Fabian. The work that he’s been doing, just championing the healing for Canadian veterans and all that they have accomplished. It’s really impressive. It’s something that we’re continuing to watch. In Canada, they can prescribe veterans cannabis, and, you know, they get that, and we don’t have that in the US. So working with them to understand how some of that works, and, and the ins and outs, I think is a beautiful thing for us to help veterans all over hopefully, and as you said, it’s way more than veterans. Even for us, we expanded to veterans, their families, and supporters. Many of our conversations happen around family members and people who are just really confused about what’s happening or why veterans act a certain way and provide that help for them. I know for, for me, like, that’s the people closest to me, maybe the people I’ve hurt the most for sure. Because we don’t understand what’s going on, healing can be very messy and, having that place for folks to talk to other caregivers and other people who are going through it is important. So that’s amazing. It’s an honor to be doing this for sure.
Leanne: With the lack of support veterans get, I’m sure there can’t be too much out there for the supporters for their families.
Ron Millward: Yeah, there should be more, that’s for sure. I really would love to see more. And our team’s going to do the best that we can to develop things. But goodness, it’s a whole world just for veterans in itself. And so providing more for caregivers and family members is just part of our mission for sure.
Calla: You’ve recently been behind some podiums and in front of some very big buildings with some legislation. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Ron Millward: You guys are awesome. Yeah, man, words without action or nothing. And so, we educate and advocate for the use of alternative therapies for veterans and their families. And so that’s exactly what I was doing. I had the honor of speaking at the Capitol here in Pennsylvania. On behalf of the legalization efforts for cannabis, and you know, there’s a lot there everybody’s like, Oh my goodness, they’re like, you know, New Jersey’s legalizing and their blah blah blah. There’s still a ton of restrictions that are happening among the word legalization. We need to have our voices heard and understand exactly what we need. And so, I believe that while legalization is a great goal, I still think that we’ve got a lot of work to do in our medical program. I believe that there are still many medical patients that don’t have access to it. The programs are too expensive. There’s no home cultivate. There is no real supply and demand. Access is still a huge issue even in a state that’s got a legal Medical program and, you know, all of these growers and processors. So that’s really why I’m doing that.
We’ll continue to as an organization to provide opportunities for folks to voice their opinions and help us move forward. I don’t want to share too much about what we’re doing. But the fact that we brought two organizations together, we’re working on turning one of those organizations into more of a legislation organization to potentially craft legislation for veterans by veterans and make real change. That’s the exciting stuff for us to potentially be in there and have some real conversations and help be a part of this from the ground up/ grassroots baby.
Calla: That speaks to my soul. I love that.
Ron Millward: So much. It’s a lot of work, though.
Calla: For sure, nothing worth having is going to like, you know, you don’t get to wake up and just Instagram it. It’s the 1000s and 1000s of hours in the time put in behind the scenes for sure.
Let’s talk about it. Social Media is a big part of your business and how Balanced Veterans got started. How hard is it for you to walk away from that, knowing that that’s how it started? Is there some risk? Or is there some fear there?
Ron Millward: There’s a lot of fear there. I do think that there is so much power in social media. And I think a lot of our connections happened early on off of social media, it was actively, you know, sharing other companies products, and doing all those sorts of things, we just had to restructure a little bit and make sure that we are presenting in a very professional way, again, a lot of folks thought that like the Balanced Veterans account was like me personally. And yeah, you know, like changing that dynamic a little bit, you’ll notice I start posting a lot more on my page because I want to have my separate views and opinions outside of our organization. We are a nonprofit with a collective of people that believe different things. And so it’s not like I’m here, like, this is the one way you know, it’s a very, it’s we’re having tough conversations about how to operate and move forward. And so that was something that we, it was tough to step back from social media, but then I realized I like how much is just fabricated, even for like, other organizations. I was stressed out because I’m like, Oh, my God, I didn’t post about this. And there was this going on, and there was this going on. And like, really, that doesn’t mean just because they have a post with a bunch of likes on it does not mean that they’re a successful business or doing well. I mean, you can buy all the stuff on the internet now.
Calla: Exactly, it’s crazy. That’s why we refuse even to play. We’re like, we will walk away, and we will just continue to do this for fun if that’s the case like you can get lost in it.
Ron Millward: The unfortunate part is you have to pay to play with these social media giants; if you don’t pay to play, your stuff does not get seen. So like for us, we were starting to run some ads on like Facebook, which also owns Instagram, and trying to get some of that stuff up and viewed, and Operation 1620 was banned entirely. They had all of their advertising banned completely for providing education around cannabis for veterans, and it blows my mind. We sent them messages after messages on Facebook saying, “Hey, we’re an educational nonprofit, we’ve got veterans committing suicide. This is an alternative therapy that could help, please allow us to advertise”, and they blocked that. So that was part of us creating our own private network to say whatever the fuck we need to say excuse my language, but like, I just cannot. There are people that are like, you know, stifling when people can talk about that. That’s scary, scary territory to be in. And so yeah, Social Media, while it’s, I believe a still a necessary evil. You know, it’s something that we’ve moved away from some quite a bit, and you know, it’s when those folks that sort of die-off that doesn’t have the regular engagement that you know, wasn’t supporting in the first place they were just sort of liking your pictures, and it was the same people. You really see who you’re like day ones; our true supporters are when you step off of that and see who’s still got your back when you’re out there. That was the thing like all along just because we had Instagram posts we were doing. There’s so much that goes on behind the scenes that we can’t even keep up with. It overwhelmed me to the point of mental exhaustion where I don’t even want to post.
Calla: Seriously, that’s why we take August and December off because we’re just like, we have to know that there’s an end to this.
Leanne: it cannot be indefinite.
Ron Millward: That’s a good way to put it. There’s got to be an end to it. Because for me, I don’t ever see the end, you know, like and that I think it’s so overwhelming because in some days you’re like, Oh, this is awesome. I want to do it. And then other days, right? Will this ever end? Right? Oh, what is that? What is it? What’s the goal here? You know, like, what is the goal, followers, or likes? Like none of that is the case. So yeah, it then becomes that psychological, you know, the social dilemma, Netflix documentary, whatever that whole psychological game that Social Media becomes, you know, it’s tough to step out of. You can get stuck.
Leanne: It’s hard to do. The likes, and the following. It can represent a huge company doing great things and a huge following. But it doesn’t always, and so it’s like you said, it gets fabricated.
Ron Millward: It got us in front of many veterans stuck at home like Social Media is a powerful tool. And a lot of veterans that are struggling are stuck in the trauma, they isolate, but they’re still on Social Media. We’ve got a bunch of people that don’t even have profile pictures. They’re ghost accounts. But I know for a fact they’re real veterans. It’s wild. A few examples of that where they don’t want to be known, seen, heard, but they’re on the outskirts watching, participating, and doing what they can. There is a need for us to still be in and on some of these Social Media platforms but strictly for that, to push the mission forward and direct people to real help; we needed to do a little bit different restructuring. We haven’t posted in a little while, but we’ve got some plans on a few of our accounts to start back up. But it’s tough. I’m an advertising major, and I think creatively and all things creative direction, similar to you, Calla, and I think it becomes maddening at times. It became more detrimental to my mental health than it was positive for our organization.
Leanne: Calla’s never nodded so hard in her life.
Calla: My hat is going to fly off. I’ve got whiplash. It is so true. When you’re in it and research it, and you’re in the trenches, you know how to facilitate it to make it work, but when it doesn’t resonate with your soul and your work, it is really hard to figure your way out of what you want to do next. And I mean that like it stifles you.
Ron Millward: Yeah, because you’re really sort of informing your next step off of what other people are doing.
Calla: It’s a battle of authenticity for sure.
Ron Millward: Yeah. And like, I was like, What do I want to do? What is our team doing right now that matters? So it’s good. I think that it’s good to shake it up. But I also love Social Media, you know? I have this romantic relationship with Instagram stories. It’s like my digital journal. Half the time, people are like, “Why don’t you respond to me?” and I’m like, I’m not even looking at messages, man. I’m like, doing my thing. I’m not even, you know, like, it’s there for me. And so I enjoy it.
Leanne: That’s the way to do it then. It’s serving you.
Ron Millward: Yeah, it is. When it doesn’t serve me anymore, I’ll throw my phone out the window.
Leanne: And then be like, “Oh, shit, why’d I do that?”
Ron Millward: I’ll go find it…
Calla: And have another mental breakdown.
Ron Millward: I’m totally addicted to Social Media. I get it. I admit it. I’m here for it.
Leanne: That’s how it’s engineered, though. We wouldn’t use it constantly every day. Otherwise, it’s, you know, they know how to get to us.
Calla: But it kind of goes back to like what you were saying, When we first got on here. It’s like you have to share your story. You have to share who you are. Because that can effect change, you may never even know who it like affects, honestly. And I think that’s the case for a lot of Social Media, the people that you’re touching, you probably don’t even know.
Ron Millward: For sure, that’s the beauty of sharing your stories. If you’re going to relate with somebody, somewhere, at some point that’s gone through something. I’m always encouraging veterans to share when they can because it’s not always comfortable, and it’s not always a safe space. But when you work through some things, share how you did it because people need to know. There is no one path, one program, one way. We all need to find some things that can help. So I love hearing stories of healing, really, and stories of folks finding things that work. And I think that for me, I’ve found that it is a hodgepodge of things. I need to incorporate many different things into my life, so it’s exciting to share some of those. I’m learning to incorporate more of, but like play is so important, like finding things that and this is something that my current partner is helping me with Victoria, she is a very, very playful person, because she’s a kids yoga teacher sometimes. And that does help me. And I realized how important it was to connect with yourself was to connect with that inner child or that like, what is fun for you what is fun for me. And so I’ve been on a journey of discovering, what’s fun for me, and I haven’t figured it out yet.
Leanne: nothing’s working?
Ron Millward: It’s weird, like, I love to work. And that’s a problem. It’s not fun, but it’s like, you know, it’s like life, and I enjoy it. So it’s tough. But things like hiking, again, the movement comes into play. Movement is crucial. So I try to get 30 minutes of movement in some way in my life every day. And sometimes that’s just two walks around the block with my dog that equals 30 minutes, you know, like, it will just get my blood flow and get my mind moving. That helps me. So incorporating that plant medicine has been huge for me. And then talk therapy, I have been active in different therapy through either the VA, couples counseling, even, to really, it’s always good to have someone else sort of hear you out and help you understand and process some of your thoughts to make sense. Because sometimes, we don’t always make the most sense to ourselves. And then sometimes it can just be there can just be so much going on that like we need to have someone else say, hey, look like here’s a step forward, go here, try this or something like that. So that has been crucial for me. And then really, really cutting out toxic energy, surrounding yourself with other people moving forward. People that are healing and trying to be better versions of themselves. There are so many people in the world, and there are a lot of folks that do get stuck. And that’s okay like maybe our paths will cross again soon. But I’m not willing to sit and be brought down by negative energy. You know, people who don’t want to put the effort in, I think that I have compassion and love, and I’m there for struggling folks. But if you’re not willing to take a step to make any changes, then sometimes that’s just an energy drainer. And it’s, you know, you want someone to be there to just sort of coddle or support that, that trauma. And that’s tough. So I was that person. I’m a yes, man, I’m a people pleaser, I want to make sure everyone’s comfortable. And everyone in the room feels good. And they’re known and meant to be there. And, but I had to, like, drawback on some of that, because it’s exhausting. It was exhausting for me, like; I realized how much like energy was pulling for me and not allowing me to take care of myself. So getting selfish with yourself care, I’ve said that a few times and think that that’s like, where I’m at, like just being selfish, but not in like a mean way, like selfish because like, I know that if I’m not, I’m going to spiral into something negative, and that’s not going to help anyone, like if I’m not the best version of myself, then it’s not going to help anyone, including myself.
Leanne: And that’s still selfless in a way. Because you know, I mean, you’re just human, right? You just know when you’re going to run out of batteries, and then you need to recharge. You don’t want to reach that state because then it’s just a matter of when you’re going to start letting people down. That’s been one of the hardest things in my life because I’m also a people pleaser. Deciding to essentially break up with friends or, you know, just people in your life, setting a boundary and maybe sometimes not even, and this might be the non-confrontational part of me, but not even sharing it with them. Like definitely, it’s that freakin hard.
Ron Millward: That’s tough, and I don’t think it’s always necessary because sometimes it’s going to create more harm than good to be like a just letting you know, you’re you suck the energy out of me, and I can’t be your friend anymore. I’ve noticed that a lot of these things happen without me even trying. Once you’re like vibrating on that level, and you want better for yourself, better comes. I’ve had folks that I’m like, I don’t even get why we don’t talk anymore. I don’t get it at all, but there’s a reason for it. Maybe my energy repelled. I don’t know, I’ve had some really interesting things happen over the last three years with people, and you know, community is messy, and everyone’s going through their own things being human, right? It’s not just veteran stuff. It’s relationships and finances in life. And you know, it’s really messy, man. People are trying to figure this out, and no one has it figured out. No, we’re all just learning from each other.
Calla: I feel like when I do figure it out, whatever “it” is. I’m just going to burst into flames, and that’ll be the end of me. Like “she did it.”
Ron Millward: Like when you think you got it, you’re done.
Calla: I guess yeah, it’s not like I’m going to try too hard on this right I’m not ready to combust yet.
Ron Millward: So, so true. So so true.
Calla: Guys, this was awesome. I appreciate you sharing today.
Ron Millward: Yeah, absolutely. I appreciate it. Thanks for creating a safe space for me to share, and you know, there’s still a lot, and I’ve done a few podcasts now, and it’s tough because like, I feel like I change all the time, but I think all of us are we’re always ever-evolving and learning and growing. Just being more vulnerable and allowing people to see how you get through a situation can be super freakin helpful. I’ve been learning so much from people in their darkest times just because, you know, being there to support someone and help them through it. You don’t always have to say anything or do anything. Just being there and helping when you can. This last year is just learning to be more present in these moments, in these stories, and people sharing things and holding space, being present, and then taking that and seeing how I can be better for myself and grow. Thank you so much for letting me be here.
Calla: We’re rooting for you always.
Listen to another episode HTC recorded with Ron: “Stay Balanced with Ron Millward”