Pumped with Adam Schafer

It’s a special surprise episode this week as we celebrate Leanne’s Birthday!
Joining us is Adam Schafer of Mind Pump! 🧠💪🥳

Inside of this episode:

  • Cal surprises Leanne with the #1 spot on her scary list!
  • First hand advice from a podcast and media mogul on monetization, the importance of authentic growth + partnerships, a up close listen into the Mind Pump machine and so much more!
  • A synchronistic moment that landed Leanne’s fiance’ an HTC debut and so much more.


Connect with Guest:  mindpumpmedia.com, Instagram, Facebook

Happy Birthday from the guys at Mind Pump!

Interview with Adam Schafer:

Calla: I’m going to let him in. First of all, happy birthday. Happy early birthday.

Leanne: To Who? 

Calla: You!

Leanne: Why?

Calla:  I want you to meet somebody.

Leanne: Oh My God, I’m not trying to cry in front of Adam first time. Hi, Adam. How are you? 

Adam Schafer:  Rumor has it. I’m helping you guys. I’m a media company helping you guys grow your business right now. Is that is what we’re doing right now?

Leanne:  That is what you do. My mind is blown. Oh my gosh, hi. Awesome. Oh my god.

Calla: I’m so thankful that you did this, Adam. I’m Calla, by the way.

Leanne:  I’m Leanne. Big long-term fan over here.

Adam: Nice to officially meet you both. 

Calla: We were talking about you this morning.

Leanne: It kind of comes up every podcast episode somehow.

Adam: Give me a little 411 on you guys and what you guys do before we get into the interview? I’m curious.

Calla: Yeah, for sure. So I started the podcast in 2018. There was a genuine need for connection in my life. When I looked around the table, I saw that everybody was like me. I didn’t have a lot of different viewpoints. And I needed some help. So I just kind of started from the corner of my garage after my kids went to bed and just started reaching out to people and having conversations. A lot of it was in the cannabis space in the beginning. 

Adam:  Oh, Yeah?!

Calla:  I’ve learned that we have a lot in common, actually.

Adam: We could talk about stuff all day long. 

Calla:  Right. Right. So then, I got burnt out trying to do it all myself and realize, like, put it on the table for a little bit. And then I asked Leanne if she would join me. And she did. And here we are. 

Adam: So Leanne, what’s your background? So what did you do? 

Leanne: So my background in training. I’m a personal trainer. So we could talk about that all day too.

Adam: Personal Training and Weed, That’s my thing! So we could go anywhere on those two subjects. How long were you a trainer for?

Leanne:  I’ve been a trainer for almost ten years now. I’m NASM certified, and actually, it was my fiance now, but my boyfriend at the time, that introduced me to Mind Pump. So I’ve got all the programs, all my clients are priming. They’re all wearing their Fitbit and stuff. And it’s all thanks to you guys. You guys have transformed how I train myself and my clients, so I cannot thank you enough.

Adam: I mean, literally you are, I think the true avatar that we thought about when we started to create Mind Pump, it was kind of scratching our own itch. You know, if I was a new trainer coming into the space, like what type of content would I think I like to consume? And we knew that obviously, the information and science-based stuff we provide would be important, but then enough entertainment that I would keep coming back, you know, that keeps me coming back? So that was part of the formula that we tried to piece together. So yeah, you were the type of person we had in mind when we thought, okay, if we can reach all the trainers, then we will reach all these clients by proxy. 

Leanne: Oh, that’s so cool. Yeah. Honestly, he’s part of it. So my boyfriend or my fiance is three years younger than me, and it was kind of just like one of those things like, “Oh, he’s cute, but I don’t know.” And then, once I started listening to Mind Pump, I was like, “Oh! He knows his shit!”

Adam: no, you know, it’s really rare. It happens that way. So what we get the most common is the wife or the girlfriend is the fan or the listener, and then she’s always trying to get the boyfriend or the husband to listen. We love when we do live events. We always meet the poor husband who’s been like a super fan. And he’s like, oh, Who the fuck are these guys? But then they meet us. Okay, these guys are kind of cool. They’re down to earth like, and then the guys end up listening after that. But normally, it’s the other way around. So you got a good one. And then and then the weed background, were you a farmer were you like into what were you doing?

Calla:  I was a struggling mother. I’m the Memes that you and Sal post all the time of, like, the mom group, so the mom smoking the joint, that’s me. I was just desperate. I’ll be completely honest. It’s not a cute story. It’s not a fun story. I was needing help, and cannabis provided it. I kind of inserted myself into the industry a little bit with some influencers. I hate that term, but you know, people in the industry and started just to learn their stories and learn more about it. We recently just partnered with a company out of Canada, and we’re telling veterans stories and their cannabis and plant medicine journeys. So that’s what we’re doing right now here on HTC. (Stories of Healing)

Adam: Ah, very cool. So is that how you guys monetize? Are you sell products that are related to cannabis?

Calla: Not yet. We’re so new. We are so new, and that’s why we look to you guys. Part of why Leanne even agreed to join me on this is because she’s been such a fan of you all. So she was just like if they can do it and their friends like…

Adam: If these dummies can figure it out! I can figure it out!

Leanne: I’ve got this! Our whole podcast is centered around mental health and wellness. And we say everything in between just so we’re not pigeonholed, but it is all one piece, right? So the mental health comes with physical health and vice versa. And I mean, that that’s what we’re trying to kind of get across to people, whether it’s veterans using cannabis for PTSD or it’s normal people just trying to figure out how to feel better during the day and to spread the word on different ways to feel better mentally and physically.

Calla: Live a good life, right? And it all happens through talking to people and hearing about it.

Adam: Well, I’m not going to tell you guys what direction to go in this podcast. But feel free to get into the kind of you know, one thing that happens I get interviewed sometimes is I get people that have all these like real personal questions related their business, they want to ask me, but then they’re like, Oh, we need to appeal to our audience in my ask audience type questions. So feel free to drive me in any direction that you guys want and take advantage of us hanging out because, yeah, whatever you guys want to know about the business side and what it’s been like scaling Mind Pump.

Leanne:  How did you all start monetizing?

Adam: That’s actually a really good question, a really good place to start with asking me because we strategically waited a really long time to monetize. Now, I say that, and it obviously sounds like a place of privilege, right? That we were in a place that we didn’t have to monetize. We had built other businesses outside. So we didn’t need the income at first. We were all still doing other jobs while we’re still trying to build the podcast. So Sal and Doug had created MAPS Anabolic, which is the number one selling program of all the programs that we have. It’s the original, and they had that done ready to go, ready to be sold before Mind Pump even started. In fact, Doug and Sal went through some internet marketing stuff. And they’ve actually put some things out there sold a few programs on their own. And Sal and I met, and at the same time, I was building a social media presence intending to sell an app that Justin and I were building. So Justin and I were trying to gamify fitness through this app, and I was pumping money into it. He was kind of the tech guy managing the engineers. And the idea was okay, he’ll handle all the tech stuff and the details of building the app. My job was to go out and build an audience. So we had somebody to introduce it to sell it to potentially. And Sal and I talk about marijuana here. So Sal and I actually ironically met on Facebook, communicating about marijuana. 

Calla: I met some of my best friends that way, I get it.

Adam: What was so ironic about it back then was this we’re talking like, this is like a this is well before my pumps is like eight, eight years ago or so. And in the training space, marijuana was still pretty taboo. Like there weren’t any fitness people really touting the benefits of marijuana yet. And I was already, you know, knee-deep in it with the cannabis clubs that I was running. I was actually a master grower. I taught myself how to do all this stuff. And so I was in the thick of it. And Sal was doing a ton of research because he had a mother in law that was dying of cancer. So I all and we had mutual friends who had told us about each other like I had heard for many years from some good friends, people I respected a ton saying, Oh, you have to meet this guy Sal, you guys are just alike, and I could just see you guys doing something great. So I heard that for years. And so did he. And we just never got around to connecting and then actually just connected on Facebook day. And you know, he slid in my DMS and started messaging me about marijuana and stuff. And then we that was most of the conversation for like a few months. And then it was kind of like, hey, so what are you up to? And I was like, Oh, well, you know, my buddy Justin and I were building this virtual app, and we’re trying to gamify fitness, and I’m building a social media presence. So I just turned on my YouTube and Facebook, and Instagram. And that’s the reason why we clicked on Facebook then was because I didn’t have one before that because I was like an anti-social media guy. I come from a generation that would didn’t use it that much. And I used to have this thing where people asked me about it. I’d be like, I don’t need virtual friends. That was my thing, right? So totally naive, had no idea the potential of what I could do, later on, figured that all out and said, Okay, I’m going to, I’m going to turn all this stuff on and see if I can build an audience. So that is the original way we all met. And then what happened was Sal sends me over a kind of a demo and a sales pitch to maps anabolic. And I watch it, and I love it. And I love it. Because of the message that was behind it. It was very counter to what was being presented in the fitness space at the time. And it was, in my opinion, the right message that more people needed to hear. And I was like, This is brilliant. And I said, Can we get together? I said, Can you guys come to my house? And meet up? He says, Yeah, can I bring Doug with me? I said, Sure. I said I wanted to bring my friend Justin with me. And we can all just, let’s just meet, we had nothing. We had no intentions of building anything. It was just for people who had a bunch of ideas that were kind of similar. And we saw, we saw, we aligned a lot. And so we got in this room in my house. First time all meeting, and it was just fireworks. I mean, it was bah, bah, bah, bah, fireworks. I mean, like four hours went by, and it felt like it was 15 minutes. And there was not a breath taken between everybody, absolute chemistry. And Doug piped in one point and said, Hey, we should put this on a podcast. And at that time, I knew of this podcasting space as far as how it was growing, but I thought it was like starting a radio show. I assumed that we needed a network and sponsors, and lots of money to get going. Doug kind of laughed at me. He’s like, “I have the gear at my house. We could do it on Saturday.” And we all looked at each other like, “Okay, let’s try this. And let’s see what happens.” And we did, we got going, fell in love with the idea of it right away. And we did have the foresight to know that, okay, we may like this idea, we may be seeing a few people listening to us, but let’s not make the mistake of trying to sell our audience something right away. And that’s just that’s, that’s like, sales one on one. And we all have backgrounds, right? Like the last thing, you want to do. I used to teach my trainers this; someone walks in the gym, the easiest client to sell personal train to is the lady who walks to the front desk and says, “I’m looking to buy a personal trainer,” the worst thing that one of my trainers could do is just to open up the book and say, “how many sessions do you want?”, I would teach them not to do that. That person’s already an interested buyer. They’re going to buy for you, so take your time. Please do a full assessment, build value in what you provide them, and then sell them a year’s worth of training or a bigger package. And so it’s basic sales, right to understand the idea that we need to provide tremendous value before we start to ask for anything in return. So even though we had anabolic ready to sell, and this podcast was kind of slowly growing week, over week, month over month, and we were having a little bit of success, we still knew like, okay, let’s not try and sell anything. And the goal was, can we get to a place where we are providing so much value that people are trying to give us money. And that’s literally what happened. It got to a place where people weren’t now, mind you, this 100 episodes plus later. So we’ve done 100 plus episodes. And now we’re starting to get emails and messages on Instagram that are saying, Oh my god, you’ve changed my life, and you help my mom, you save this. And then just telling us these great stories and saying, I Where can I give you money? Do you have a Patreon? Do you have anything I can buy to support what you’re doing? I want to show you my appreciation for everything you’ve given us for free. And we didn’t just get one or two of these, which started to become a regular occurrence. Every day we are getting this. And so the way we looked at it was okay if there are people just trying to give us money for nothing in return because they already feel like we’ve provided some value. Now we’re at a place where we can offer something, sell to them, and probably have a pretty legitimate business. And since we knew we were providing something that we thought was even more valuable, it should be a pretty easy conversion. And that’s exactly what happened was, we waited about a year and a half after we had got lots of these messages we decided to turn on and by the way, it wasn’t like we turned it on and suddenly we were millionaires overnight. I remember months went by before we even got to a place where we sold one program a day, you know, one program a day divided by four owners. 

Leanne: That’s encouraging to hear. 

Adam: If you were to go back and break down our chart, a graph of the podcast’s success, it’s been the same steady, slow climb since day one. Yeah, it’s just consistent growth a little bit—every single week. Every single A month and has been doing that since we started. And now, of course, that’s compounding when you’re three, four, or five years deep. And so we’ve done a lot, and we’ve built a lot since then. But that was really the beginning of monetization. And that was the way we decided, when is the right time to do it? Well, the right time, in our opinion, was when the podcast had provided so much value that people wanted to give us money. So we thought, okay, if I sell them a shirt, sell them a program, sell them anything, they’re going to feel good about, you know, spending money with us. And actually, that probably took, I would say, it took six months to a year somewhere in that time when the first big milestone for me was when we actually sold one program every single day and had no blank days. Right? So we had a month, I, when there was somebody buying one program from us at minimum, a day that was like the first like, okay, we’re catching momentum now where we can actually guarantee that there’s someone buying it now, you know, hundreds of programs are sold every single day. And we have all kinds of different streams of income that are coming in. And it’s much, much bigger than that. But yeah, we waited a long time before we decided to turn on the monetization.

Calla: How has it changed since the very beginning for you guys internally? 

Adam: I mean, one of the things that I’m also very proud of that my co-founders and myself all thought of this from the beginning was, we didn’t want to be, we didn’t want to be the brand like we didn’t want to, which is kind of the opposite of what you see being taught right now. Like everyone talks about, like, you know, you need to be your brand. And we actually were kind of the opposite. We knew It was a necessary evil at the beginning like we have to be the face of the brand, we had to do all YouTube videos because we couldn’t afford to pay other people to do those things. Right. And, and, and all that people knew was us at the beginning. And still to this day. You know nobody can get on my YouTube channel and draw more views, more comments, more likes, more shares than one of us owners doing it. So it doesn’t matter how many trainers I’ve hired to come to do it and how talented, smart, good looking, whatever they are. People still want you, and that’s part of it. But we also knew that we didn’t want to be tied to that. I mean, we had a much bigger vision, like we wanted to build a company that we could all remove ourselves from, and then it would continue to continue to turn right. So that was so as we’ve scaled, we’ve always scaled ourselves out. So the minute that the YouTube channel was generating enough income and revenue, that it was basically at least paying for itself, videographer editor, occasional guests of trainers coming on there, we instantly removed ourselves.

Calla: was that hard to do?

Adam: Yeah, yeah. And not hard from an ego point. Like we were, we couldn’t wait to get off of it. Right. Like it was challenging because we saw a dip, and it wasn’t doing as well. So that was a bit frustrating. But that we’ve done that with every department in this business. So ever there’s, at one point, a department that was an idea that we started to test it ourselves one of us, and then we would build it up. And then once it’s generating decent revenue. Instead of putting that in our pockets, we instantly look to hire it out, hire and delegate out and scale out of the business. And so that’s what I would say has changed the most in this business since the beginning is that as it’s continued to get bigger and bigger and bigger, we’ve removed ourselves further and further and further out of the podcast. And, in the story I share whenever I get interviewed, I get a common question: when was that moment when you knew you made it? Was it a dollar amount?

I vividly remember when I felt that personally and the other guys may be different. But for me, there was this moment where so our customer service is run by my sister, and she works behind the scenes as customer service. She fields anywhere between 75 to 100 emails every single day. These are people that are going through our programs and have questions “Oh, I don’t understand this, or my knee hurts blah, blah, blah.” And she takes that we have software that we’re the HubSpot that we’re building towards AI so that when she answers questions, and we will specifically make a video or write something for that person, she makes templates that automates the process and makes it smoother. Well, a lot of times she references something that one of us hosts say on the show, well, she gets this lady one day, who says she’s This lady is bought, I think four or five of our programs. So she’s already spent 300 plus dollars with us. And she asked a question, and I think it was referring to knee pain or something. And my sister is referencing something that I had just said on the podcast like the day before, like oh Adam said, Baba, bah, bah, bah, bah. And the lady goes, Who the hell is Adam? For me? That was the moment that I knew like, Okay, this is cool because this person has spent this much money with my company. And they have no clue who I am. And that was a very powerful moment for me because it was a testament to

Calla: Such a testament to the product, right? Like, that’s huge.

Adam: That’s right. It was now bigger than us, which was always the mission for us. None of us ever desired fame, we none of us wanted to be the lime in the limelight, we wanted to build something that provided tremendous value to people that was the closest to emulating what it would be like to be trained by one of us. And provide that without us having to be the people taking care of it all the time. And I feel like we took a couple of years, but we achieve that.

Leanne: And it truly does. I was a competitive swimmer in college. So all I knew was overtraining and just hours in the gym, and the pool and running and all of it. And there’s no kind of in between you, you graduate, and they don’t teach you how to work out like a normal person who has a full-time job. And so I thought to stay in that shape. That’s what I need to keep doing. And I did it for four years. And I ran myself into the ground and wasn’t making progress. I mean, you guys talk about all the time my metabolism slowed down, I was just in that like, cycle spinning my wheels, and it was MAPS Anabolic that got me out of it. So I was like, I’ll buy the program, I’ll test it on myself. And if I like it, I’ll have to totally revamp how I train all my clients because I was training them the same way. And so it does, it’s made it it’s changed my life. 

Adam: ,That’s exactly like to someone, someone that might know what MAPS Anabolic is. It’s a very basic full-body routine that is the old-school basic compound lifts. And at face value, if you’re a trainer and understand lots of exercises, someone might open it up and be like, well, this is so basic and simple. But that was the brilliance of when Sal sent that over to me. My experience is exactly the same as yours in that you are actually way more common than the opposite because we all have this tendency to overreach. And trainers also have these bad habits of all that creative exercises and basing it off of the intensity and how much you sweat and burn. And over the decades of training, I started to piece together that it’s not the most creative; it’s not the most intense workout that is the most effective for my clients. It was the most effective exercise and the appropriate dose for them. And more often than not, it was significantly less than what I was applying and what they were applying to themselves and anabolic to me either that that two day or three day routine was full body was the answer for most people. And when I looked at the landscape as far as social media and all the influencers that were, you know, touting their latest fitness program that they have, none of it looked like that. It reminded me of the programs I created when I was in my early 20s were all the creative, fun exercises and stuff that’s going to make you sweat and burn, and they were all, yeah, it looked cool, right? But it wasn’t as effective. That’s why the podcast was so instrumental to the success of the business because I don’t know if we were just a digital marketing company without the podcast if MAPS and MAPS Anabolic or MAPS products in general would have been that successful. We needed the podcast to communicate in long form why this program will be so successful for you because the average person probably would just look at it and be like, oh, this is lame; I’ve seen these exercises already.

We had to communicate that message on the podcast 900 different ways for people to get it, and we knew once they followed, it would get them to trust us, and then they’d see tremendous results. But, of course, that always sells everybody once they see the results, right?

Leanne: Do you guys get burned out?

Adam: No, you know that’s the honest to god truth, and I’ll be I will tell you right up until the day we do is the day you know we disappear because I think that we have built this up that we have we could write we could walk away from the podcasting and the responsibilities that we have but we just had that we’re just talking OFF AIR just two days ago about this and other than that the thing I love about my co-founders like a bunch of mushy guys, like a bunch of tough dudes but then text each other all this like sweet, emotional stuff. We love each other. I can scroll my phone right now, and the last text from Sal the other night was exactly that, and just appreciating our friendship, business relationship, and vision in this. I can truly say that, you know, almost seven years of doing this. I’m as excited about doing and coming to work today even more than I was first. Everybody knows I’m deciding isn’t beginning when everything’s new. Yeah, you’re just getting started, and you have lots of hope and energy and excitement. It’s you’re at your all-time high. And every other business I’ve started, there’s always been this kind of arch. And that eventually does dip down. And it takes a lot of discipline to keep it going. And it hasn’t, man, it’s been, it’s been a fun, it’s been very fun and exciting. And that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been challenged. It’s been lots of challenges and plateaus, and the businesses and small setbacks and disagreements and all that stuff. But, man, it’s been such a fun ride. And even today, like I come to work, just as excited to get here, and it never gets old. And never and people go.”How do you do so many episodes without running out of content?” And I’m like, you know, it’s similar to what being at when you’ve been a personal trainer like you have for a long enough time. How many times have you communicated the same message? You’ve just communicated it 1000 different ways, right? Yeah, you may communicate the benefits of strength training to Susie, Tom, Richard, Mary, all four different ways, the same message that you’re trying to get across, but you say it in four different ways. And that’s the podcast literally: we know the core things that we need to teach everybody. And we know not to go too far. And deep in the weeds like you see some people do. We stick to what we know will add the most value to their lives and communicate it in 1000 different ways. And not only do we just keep doing that, but we also refine our messaging like if I like I cringe when I listened to an episode like before, you know, 500 like anything before five is like, Oh my god, so embarrassing. Cringe-worthy. So yeah, you know, not only are we repeating and refining, but we’re getting better at our craft and learning Media along the way. So it’s, it’s, it hasn’t come close to getting old. It’s just getting more exciting every day.

Calla: What do you find the most challenging out of all the hats you wear at Mind Pump?

Adam: So the most challenging thing, and that this may change, right? I would say this, where we’re at size-wise, the hardest thing is actually what to say no to. So you work so hard to get to a place where we’re at, where we’ve got many things working well for us and a lot of things scaling and doing good. And one of the great things about all the hard work that we’d put in the previous, you know, two decades, if you include all the training, you know, that we’ve put in is that stuff starts to snowball, and like stuff starts working well—all this good. And we start attracting people that want to be a part of it and want to help us out. And we’ll have ideas that we can do together with them. And before you know it, you’ve got all these great opportunities. And it’s knowing what to say no to and staying very focused on the things that are going to deliver you the most return in return doesn’t always necessarily have to be money. It’s just what I want out of business. And sometimes, that is fulfillment. Sometimes that’s time. And sometimes that’s money. And you and when you’re making those decisions, the hardest thing is to know like, because I don’t sometimes it’s just a shot in the dark. I think this is the right way to go.

Sometimes, I’m right, sometimes I’m wrong. So and there’s a lot of that right now there’s you know, there’s not a day one that goes by that one of the founders doesn’t walk in and say, hey, I’ve got this great opportunity, you know, or this great idea like we are, we got four visionaries and ever reached this height of success. It’s, it’s, there’s a plethora of it. And something that hindered our growth probably three years ago or so I’d say when we were at the peak of this was recognizing that you know, when it first started to happen, we were like, you know, squirrel bird? Yeah, you know, and then we all kind of looked at each other and thought, okay, we spent the last six months, not really accomplishing anything we already know, based off on what we’ve proven in the previous years, had we done X, Y, and Z, the business would have made this much more money, we would have been that much more successful. But instead, we chased all these other ideas and look where we’re at now. And so we’ve had to learn that lesson many times over. And it still is one of the most challenging parts of the business today is seeing all these opportunities and not missing out on something that could be really great, right? So you don’t want to say no to everything and be like, oh, we’re good. You know, we know what we wanted. And then and not so I’m always taking meetings, I’m always exploring the potential of other ideas. And so that takes up a lot of my time and then knowing like, Okay, this is a good one, or this one isn’t, and I think we’re where we’ve gotten the best at it—being able to see the ones that require the least bit of our time in order to implement into what we’re already doing. Because anything that takes or robs Our time is inevitably going to take from something else, we all have so many things going on within the business that, you know, it’s maybe something that someone tells me, oh, this will only take an hour of your day a week or something. It’s like, Okay, that sounds like hardly anything, but my days are already filled up with stuff. So if you take an hour from there, you’re taking it from somewhere. So where’s it going to give? You

Leanne: How did that process start with you guys finding your partnerships and sponsorships and all that?

Adam:  Also, another one of my favorite things to talk about- another thing we agreed all of us, not only do we not turn on the monetization, but we also agree that we were not going to accept sponsorships at the beginning, we were going to continue to focus on growth and monetizing the programs and staying in our kind of lane. And we are just getting better at our craft, adding more value getting bigger. And when the time was right, we would go after companies. So most of our partners, at least 50% because now we’re at a place where I mean, I’m fielding 10-15 partner opportunities, daily, like now they want to write when you’ve reached into the fitness level that we are at. Now anything related to fitness and selling, people want us to promote their product. But it didn’t start that way. It started, nobody was reaching out to us. A couple of people who had kind of small no-name brands that listen to the podcast, we’re a fan of what we’re doing saw synergy, and it was within so they’d reached out. And so we turned all that stuff down and said, you know what, I don’t want to start and devalue our podcast that never had commercial before. Start adding all these commercials in just so we can make and by the way, when you first start off with podcast sponsorship, it’s kind of chump change. So I caution podcasters on this is like, do not take on partnerships just to make a couple of 100 bucks, because you’re more than likely, you’re more likely to hurt your brand than to help me unless this unless that brand just totally aligns with yours. And even if it aligns, like, if they’re really, really small, they’re not going to be able to help you out that much. You’re just peddling their product for a small commission. I mean, that’s what you’re doing. And so you better love that shit. I mean, you better. You better believe they have some of the best stuff out there and that there isn’t a better product of what you’re peddling, and you’re never going to go anywhere that way. And you’re doing it all for a couple hundered bucks. So don’t do that. I think that’s a big mistake. I think that was one of the things that we waited for. And here was a cool strategy, you can still do this. Although I think when we did, it was new. At this time, I had somebody working for me who was perfect. He reminded me of a younger version of myself. What I mean by that was I used to be kind of hip and cool. Like when I was young.

Leanne: You still got it.

Adam: I love you guys. I’ll come on here anytime you want me to. I’m wise enough, though, to recognize that, right? I just don’t have the same time to be reading the GQ magazine every day. I mean, I did. Yeah, I was on the latest music. I was on the latest trends. 

 As far as the partnership goes, so I had this kid, right. So I had Taylor, who was working for me, I mean, a younger version of myself. And I was like, This is perfect. And there’s another example of what I talked about earlier is I built that side of the business with us first, the minute that it started to grow and catch some momentum, I instantly was looking for somebody who had the skill sets that I was looking for to do exactly what I was doing. And what we were doing was we would look for companies that were on their first or second round of funding. So really early on, or even on their first seed money like that, and look for something that aligned with us, and we would look for categories like the like, Vuori, we were on Vuori before anybody knew what Vuori was. We were the first advertising partnership Vuori ever had. And it was, we went after them. When they were early on, when they first were getting funding. What we said to them is like, Listen, we love, we love what you’re doing, we love your brand, we think there’s synergy. But behind us, we’d love to meet, we’d love to do a commercial for you guys, we’ll do it for an extremely discounted rate, just to show you the type of return that we can do for you. And then we’ll talk about a long-term partnership after that. So lly sad to sell ourselves that we can convert for you and I knew we could convert it was stuff that we liked, and we align with like, and the Auris the shit, right? So if you once you wear their clothes, you put them on, you see everything and you understand. And you know, Joe, you find out like, they’re amazing. And so we knew we do well with companies like that. So we went after all these companies that were really early on, and we and we pitch them on letting us advertise for them. And we in some, I had to do all different prices, some people, I could get a decent rate for some people not so good. And I would tell them, let me show you what we can do, the audience that we’ve built the loyalty that we have, if I can introduce them to this cool brand, I feel confident that people will enjoy it. So we went after the first bit of our partners. And then and then the next thing that we saw a huge opportunity with partnerships was this. When I listen to Joe Rogan, Fighter and The Kid, Business casual is my favorite podcast, all these podcasts., listen to everybody does commercials the same way. Call either pre-rolls or mid-rolls. And they are a generic read commercial in the first three to five minutes of the podcast or interrupts the podcast midway. And I got to think that 80% or at least half of the people are just like me. When you listen to your favorite podcast, you know where the commercials are? just fast forward. Yeah. So right away, you have to think 50% or more of the audience is not even listening to that commercial. So I saw this huge opportunity to if I’m a math person, so I mean, do the math, double the potential sales revenue just by getting everyone to listen to the commercial? Yeah, so building it in the conversation was the first like real strategy for partnerships was, listen, if we only have one or two partners, and we don’t ever allow more than that in the conversation we could, and we’re all sales guys, we will find a way and we’re all partnering with brands that we love we use we were that it won’t be hard to bring them up in conversation naturally. And we’ll just do that. And then most people will listen to it. Well, that was the first big move that we made. And that huge success from that, right. So because of that podcasts the same size as us, we convert five to six times more than they do for all partners. So that was the first thing. The second step I saw a big thing that I saw was this. If you do get to a place where you have enough size and people come and want to advertise with you, typically, it works company. So there’s normally a broker between the company and you. And they go, Hey, your podcast aligns with this brand all the pop. And this is how much we pay per CPM, which is basically how many 1000s of downloads you have, we give you $20 so you’re like okay, I have a few 1000 downloads, okay, $80 commercial, okay, you make a deal for 10 commercials, you sign the contract and you go about your business. At the end of the contract. You normally talk to that person again, they go, oh, you know, you guys did a really good job. Let’s do another five or they go. Yeah, thanks. But no thanks. Then they move along. They go to another audience and then they never work with you again. So we thought, well, that’s really crazy. Like there’s no conversation between that. So we hired somebody as soon as we started to make a little more money in that department. We hired somebody that their full time job is to literally manage partnerships, and they’re in direct communication with the company every single week. And their job is to check on our performance on a weekly basis. So they can report to me and the guys on Monday and say, Hey, Juve is trending kind of low, you guys. So your last commercial you did, maybe it wasn’t very good or you didn’t explain it very well. And that is our cue to then go out and to talk about it on other platforms, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook. So we have these other mediums that we use to help bring awareness to the brand that we’re not performing. So when you see us talking about brands, you can kind of guess that’s probably what’s going on right there is that, oh, they’re trying to get more awareness. Now, sometimes it naturally happens. It’s not always Yeah, you know, doing that. But a lot of time, we want what we didn’t want to do, whichever a lot of people do, is they try and monetize every part of business. Oh, if you want a podcast mentioned, that’s $200. If you want an Instagram post, that’s $50. And they try and monetize every bit for you know, a few extra bucks. Well, we were like, okay, we are really good at selling the product on the podcast, that’s our biggest audience, we’re gonna charge a premium for that service. And then if we’re not delivering you let us know. And then we’ll use all the other mediums to help bring up countless apps and games. And partners are we’re blown away by that. They’re like, Oh, my God, we’ve never I mean, you’re talking about we work with the same people who work with the Joe Rogan’s, The Fighter and the Kid’s, these big podcasts are like, nobody does it like this. Like nobody cares. Like no one seems to care about us. They’re just curious about getting their money. They talk about it, they’re on with it. And we’re like, no if this is a true partnership, which is what we call ours, not sponsorship, or advertising, we call it a partnership, right? We want you to be successful, we want you to care about this relationship as much as we do. If that’s the case, then you let us know if something’s not performing well we’re going to use our other mediums to help bring those numbers up. So we always deliver and because of that, we don’t lose anybody. I mean, everybody who has been part of that is years and years that they’ve either like most everybody that is with us right now is signed all the way into next year.

Calla: So amazing. I see why they call you the closer.

Adam:  That was one of my favorite things to talk about. Because I saw a huge opportunity to still By the way, it’s so green, there’s still not anybody I know that does it the way we do it. There’s a good book I read I wish I remember the name of it back when I was in my mid 20s, and what I got from it was that you can never tell somebody they’re doing a great job enough. TAnd even if you they did a survey on like, people that work for these Fortune 500 companies and the people that work for them gave the bosses like a score of 2.5 the bosses scored themselves for 4.5. And the moral of the whole thing was that even these people who say they are grateful and say you’re doing a good job, it’s never enough for the people so that I can never do that enough. That’s where this came from. And I used to do this with my staff. And I do this with my relationships in business. So I have all of my partners I have all their the CEOs, numbers, I know most of their, their their birthdays, things like that. So I have an assistant her main job, okay for me is the dude literally manages so when it got to a place where I could no longer manage this by myself, which was when we started getting to like 1500 plus interviews. I had to find someone to help me. Her main job is literally to like be paying attention to all those partners and letting me know hey, Adam, and by the way, I don’t have to do this anymore because she understands her job and she just sends me over oh by the way we sent flowers to Brooke over in Utah. Oh, by the way, we sent over a box of chocolates or something. Oh, by the way, we got Tom bill you a pair of shoes 

Leanne: That’s handy.

Adam:  Yeah, very, very handy and very valuable. So, instead of putting the extra money in my own pocket, I hire and staff somebody to do that. And the partners we do this for all our partners every year at Christmas, we give our partners Okay, that pays for advertising. We buy them air pods. We do like really cool Christmas gifts for everybody like we’ve just we’ve we’ve managed those relationships like we care and we give a fuck and it pays us back tenfold because of it and I just didn’t see anybody else running that side of the business like that saw huge opportunity for

Calla: That’s so exciting. You do bring tremendous value in this conversation and and obviously with everything that you’re doing. Thank you for coming and hanging out with us. 

Leanne: Seriously, I feel so unprepared, but this was like the best surprise ever. Thank you. Thank you for your time and and thank the guys from us for doing what you guys are doing and you’re changing lives. You really are, and I know you know it.

Adam: I appreciate it and that this is the stuff I like to talk to you guys by I mean I love other people that are getting in the same space and wish you guys all the best and have an open door policy. So, especially this stuff, I’m an open book, and I can’t stand when I meet other successful entrepreneurs that hold everything so close to the secret. It’s such a it’s a scarcity mindset.,

Calla: yeah, it’s such a disservice.

Adam:  Yeah. And you and it’s a disservice to themselves, they don’t even realize that when you give from a place like that you give with abundance, abundance comes right back to you. 


I’m reading The Secret right now. And that’s exactly what it’s all about.

Adam: I live my life in that way. So like, I mean, I always tell people, don’t be afraid to ask me very direct questions about I will tell you because I and I can’t stand when somebody plays all coy with me, trying to hide it, you know, so?

Calla: Well, I can’t wait to ask you a million more questions. And there will be because, like, I just can’t thank you enough. You’re just even cooler than I could have imagined. So thank you.

Adam: Ah, thank you, guys. 

Leanne: You’re just as cool as I thought.

Calla: Thank you so much. Tell the guys we said hi.

Adam: I will. Thank you guys. 

Stories of Healing with Jack Rennie

Pack your bags because we are answering the call to adventure in the latest episode of Stories of Healing with Jack Rennie! 🧳🧭

Jack Rennie (@renniejack) is the President and Executive Director of Global Alliance Foundation Fund (@gaffhouseorg). Jack is a practicing Advanced Care Paramedic in the province of Saskatchewan with 11 years of service. Jack has been an active mental health advocate since 2013 when he was awarded a scholarship from the Tema Center Memorial Trust for an essay that he wrote on PTSD in First Responders. Jack has also served as the Director of Mental Health and Wellness for the Association of Saskatchewan Paramedics and is involved with multiple mental health advocacy committees in Saskatchewan promoting the 4 pillars and post-traumatic growth. Jack has been a speaker at PTSD Conferences in both Saskatchewan and Alberta. Jack is also the Vice President of Insightful Journey Health and Wellness Inc. and of Hemp for Heroes Farm.

We stamped our digital passports and adventured through Jack’s story. It left us feeling grateful for knowing Jack and empowered to stand behind his advocacy and education efforts.

Inside of this episode:

↣ A childhood diagnosis + stigma

↣ How a life changing moment with his father lead to his calling and purpose.

↣ Jack takes us with him on his healing journey as he talks about the synchronistic path that lead him to adventure, love and understanding.

↣ A first hand look into the life of a First Responder 

Connect with Guest:

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Interview with Jack Rennie:

Calla: Why mental health? Where does your story start? 

Jack Rennie: Um, so my story starts in childhood where I was diagnosed with ADHD and, you know, at a young age, I was labeled as someone with a learning disability. That was hard as a young boy, and I was also, you know, raised vegetarian. So I already had a lot of adversity when I was young and trying to overcome many labels. My father has was sick all my life. He had something called Hydrocephalus.

[Audio Cut Out.]

To continue what I was saying, my dad had Hydrocephalus. When I was in grade seven, he had a seizure; after surgery had an infection, and the paramedics and Fire Department came, and they picked him up. That’s when I decided I want to be a paramedic. I watched him struggle with mental health, with his illness, with everything. I’ve always been a huge advocate of that. At 15 years old, my mom started taking me to meditation retreats, started meditating, started attending silent meditation retreats at a young age, and already had quite a few coping tools. From a young age, which I forgot about during a lot of my paramedic career, a lot of my journey has been rediscovering many gifts given to me by my mom and different circumstances. At age 21, I became a primary care paramedic. I worked in a pretty northern reserve called Pelican Narrows. Within three months, I had my first major trauma where I had a baby pass away.

Within a month of that, another loss of a young lady passed away in front of me. That was sort of secondary, though, to the sanctuary trauma that I experienced within the culture of being a paramedic. I remember thinking that many people supported me and thought that the organization I worked for would be more supportive and understanding those sorts of things. And I found that not to be true. So I balled it up and kept it on the inside for quite a while. It was like three years. I silently sort of struggled. I put on that front. I bought into the culture, or the cult, whichever way you want to look at it. I, essentially, while I was in advanced care paramedic School, which is the top-level paramedic in Saskatchewan- so that’s another additional two years. I wrote an essay on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is when I found out that I had it.

Leanne: Hold on. So you wrote the paper, And as you’re writing, you realize this is me? 

Jack Rennie: Yeah, I was writing this, and I’m getting triggered as I was writing it. I found myself struggling in my scenarios and schooling, and I’m like, Man, what is going on, like, I usually can push through this and put my head down. And then I got flown out, won the scholarship, and flew out to Toronto. While I was there, I saw many other presentations and met some other people involved in charity, advocacy, and mental health. That was back in 2013, and by 2014, I did my first conference for PTSD Awareness in Saskatchewan. Shortly after that, we had one of the paramedics take their own life, and I realized I had to do more. So I quit my job, and I went tree planting. I was homeless for a year. I traveled Asia out of a backpack, put everything into storage, went to India first, and took my yoga teacher training. And as I was taking my yoga teacher training, I started to shift from that fight or flight I had been in for so long. I started the “Eat Pray Love” thing but from a masculine perspective. 

Leanne:  Yeah, I want to hear about that trip. Was the purpose to get out and find yourself?

Jack Rennie:  So the interesting thing about when I reflect on it, you know, in Walter Mitty when he like takes that call to adventure. 

Leanne: Yes, that sounds like your life, to be honest. 

Jack Rennie: So, in Walter Mitty, he goes on what’s called the hero’s journey. And that’s was sort of popularized by Joseph Campbell. And it’s in all the different mythology around the world. So it’s found in all the tribal stories, and Hollywood uses that as a template for films like Lord of the RingsHarry Potter, and Walter Mitty. So, without realizing it, I went on my own hero’s journey and answered the call to adventure. I started by tree planting, and I found it to be therapy, just being in nature and putting trees in the ground, 10 hours a day of tough labor.

From there, I went to India for a month and then went over to Thailand, Cambodia. While I was in Cambodia, I didn’t realize this, but the whole nation had been through a genocide. And I started looking at how other cultures heal from trauma. So I started approaching a lot of my travels with that lens of, wow, a lot of people, not just people in the West, but people all over have been through trauma, yet they learn how to live with it, and they learn how to be resilient and build that character. So I started going by the seat of my pants and every country leading me to the next. So after that, I went back to India for a month to live. I lived with monks in northern India for two or three weeks. It was incredible. I knew a monk from like, back in2007, who I live, I stayed with them for a little bit, and actually, very serendipitously reconnected with them. And he was in India at the time, and he was a follower of Radhanath Swami, is the guru of Russell Brand

Strangely enough, he had just left from filming “The Trews,” which was this thing he was doing on YouTube for a while, and he had been in India about two or three months before I got there. So everyone, all the monks and I met him, and I was sort of traveling along to the same places that he went, which was cool. So I got to spend time with his Guru Radhanath Swami, and he was just an incredible light in my life at that time, so it was a pretty nice transformation. 

Calla: What were the lessons you learn from him?

Jack Rennie:  Compassion, Authenticity, and how to be Humble, and how to treat people. So, I had dysentery and got “Delhi-Belly,” and I was just sitting at a table trying to fight through it, thinking I would be fine. I remember him coming up to me, putting his hand on my shoulder and looking at me, and just being like, are you okay? And just like, getting lost in that, like, you know, eternal presence. It was just like, wow, this guy has a lot of power about him. 

Leanne: I’ve seen documentaries featuring gurus, and all these people say, you feel like something bigger around them. It’s just something they give off. Is that something you experienced as well? 

Jack Rennie: Oh, yeah. Big time. I couldn’t describe it. It just felt like the aura, the energy surrounding certain people, is like very healing, just sort of being around someone who’s done a lot of inner work, a lot of shadow work and stuff. It was just a pretty remarkable experience. So then I went back to Bali, and I spent, I think, a month there. 

Calla:  You’re just trusting yourself that this will all work out the whole time? I’m over here, like, how did you like get from point A to point B, to C to D? I mean, you were all over the place. 

Jack Rennie: Yeah, I know. You know, I was like, I didn’t want to be, like, go off work, and be labeled, again, as I had as a child. I got labeled with a learning disability, ADHD, you know, like, felt very useless. And like, I couldn’t learn or be resilient. So I always had a chip on my shoulder. And I didn’t want to go into the western medical system and be put on many medications that disconnected me further from my feelings and emotions. I felt like that was a lot of the root cause. I just felt like this was a hail mary. I didn’t feel like I wanted to go off work and do counseling once a week. It was full immersion for me. So, in Bali, I came across a bike accident while I was in an Uber. Some lady fell off or got hit by a vehicle while she was on a scooter, and I snapped right back into paramedic mode. It’s kind of a weird story. So the lady is at a crystal-like, sort of gem shop, and all these middle-aged white women were surrounding her with essential oils and smudge, and I’m like, What’s going on over here? I was finishing my yoga class, and I was walking around and see a broken bike, and I’m like, Oh, that’s weird. Then I look over, and I see this woman obviously concussed saying “help me” and on all fours, and I’m like, “Oh, my gosh, does she need some 

help?” And they’re like, “No, we know we got this,” to which I replied, “It looks like she needs help. Like, it seems like she’s in pain”. And they’re like, “Oh, no, we got it.” and I said, “Well, I’m a paramedic.” Then they’re like, “Oh, the angels sent you!” And I’m just like, No, I was just walking around the corner, I guess. Yeah. Sure. If you want to say that. Yeah. So I get her into the clinic and get her stabilized and send her off by ambulance to get a CT scan, and it turns out she has a fractured back, and they want to, like discharge her, but I was like, I don’t know. I think it’s probably a good idea for her to go to the hospital. Then the people that were intervening initially invited me to teach yoga at their women’s retreat. I’m like, Sure, yeah. I didn’t think I’d use this yoga teacher training thing. I ended up teaching like a three or four-day yoga retreat. I was their yoga teacher, and it was pretty cool. So from there, I was like, wow, this is pretty cool. Maybe I’ll go a little bit deeper into this. And then I got invited to go to like a manifesting your dreams and reality into reality workshop. In that workshop, just like in a flash, it came to me that I want to open a retreat center for first responders, paramedics, and people recovering from trauma. And it was just like a super crazy flash of me in a log home with my wife and baby. And, you know, running this retreat center. It’s kind of crazy because now I live in a log home in the forest and have a baby and a really beautiful wife. And now I’ve sort of, you know, transition into, you know, doing some retreats and stuff. So it’s kind of from that retreat or that workshop five or six years ago, I’ve sort of materialized in a way. 

Leanne:  You manifested your dream. 

Jack Rennie:  I didn’t think much of it at the time. But now that I’m thinking of it… 

Leanne: They’ll recommend that workshop. 


Jack Rennie: Yeah, from there, I went to the Philippines, and then Japan, and then went to Hong Kong, and then I went home for another season of tree planting. 

Leanne: I’ve been to Asia a couple of times. I went to the Philippines into Bali as well. I think that’s one of the most beautiful places on earth. Do you find that the way people treat each other over there is different than over here?

Jack Rennie: Big time, more collectivists. The sort of underlying values of a lot of their culture is more deep-rooted than in North America. So I find they look out for one another. They are hardworking, more humble people. And I saw in Bali, in particular, their connection to Hinduism was pretty cool. The overall belief in karma. Like, you know, like that whole saying, “you’re meant to meet someone” or “the stars align,” that’s just like assumed over there. So then I just started playing into that a little bit. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was just like, well, maybe I am supposed to meet you. It turned out that perhaps I was, and then I just started believing in myself. I just started using my whole trip as unplanned as possible and went with my intuition and my gut and found a lot of healing from that. And then, I re-entered the profession as a flight paramedic in Stony Rapids. That’s near Northwest Territory, way away up north, that’s a three-hour flight.

I was working two weeks in four weeks out. During that time, I was still traveling. I went to Mongolia, I went to Taiwan, to Myanmar. I think I’ve been to about 23 countries now and picked up different things along the way. In Mongolia, I had the idea that I could have yurts at the retreat center. And that would be sort of like, you know, a cool way for people to like get back, and that’s a circular structure. So we just got our first 117-foot yurt-insulated wood-burning stove. I just got that a couple of weeks ago. 

Leanne:  I always see yurts on Airbnb, and I heart them because I’m like, one day I will stay in a yurt. And I love the word. I don’t know. 

Jack Rennie: Yeah, it’s a great word. So, yurts are a very special thing to me. So I met my wife, and she had some trauma and stuff, and we instead of trauma bonding and focusing on the things that made us feel broken, we focus more on resilience. So, I took her tree planting and built a yurt for her, well, we built it together, and we stayed in it for the whole spring season. It was like a makeshift, but it had a wood-burning stove, and I started to feel bad when it was really cold. Everyone was shivering in their tents and like, had like, you know, a barrel-like homeless people have, and we’re out there like warming up, and I have this smoke billowing out of my yurt. So, I felt a little bit weird because I was there by choice and stuff. But yeah, it’s been on the radar for quite a while. 

Leanne: Can you explain tree planting? 

Jack Rennie: So it’s competitive. You wouldn’t think so, but you live in a tent for like two to three months, usually two months. And you get the seat? Or your Yeah, yeah, so you get these seedlings which are like, you know, probably like, you know, six inches long. And you shove, shove as many as you can like in the side bags like you’re around your waist and you have like shoulder straps, and you stab a shovel in the ground, and you try to, you know, get good soil, and then you just put them in the ground and make sure they’re upright and that the plug isn’t damaged. And you do that for 10 hours a day. And you have to make sure they’re spaced and everything. You get paid based on the amount of trees that you plant. So a good amount of trees would be like, you know, two to 3000 a day. And it’s about 11 cents a tree. So yeah, it’s like 11 and a half cents a tree. And sometimes you’d barely be able to plant-like 1000 because the ground is so bad. So it’ll just be like Rocky, and you’d have to slam your shovel and a bunch of different places before you find a good home for them. In my second season, I planted 4121 per day. I had the perfect land, the stars aligned, and I decided to see how much I could push myself. That’s pretty typical in the tree planting world because you want to use that competition, that drive, to make the most money. But, I was there for fun, but also the money is nice, you know, filling my bank account and stuff. That would probably be $500 for that day. 

Leanne: Is it on a specific plot of land?

Jack Rennie: Yeah, it’s like a cut block. Forestry companies clear-cut a bunch of forests and then contract tree planting companies to replenish what they’ve come up with. So it’s sort of depressing, actually, just like seeing all this dead forest about and you see destruction where animals used to live, and the habitat and stuff. Doing that for 10 hours a day, the energy of a cut block, all that destruction starts to get to you. I sort of romanticized it. I want to take the good things from it, not some kind of the not-so-good stuff. I used it as a tool for my healing. 

Leanne:  What about it felt healing?

Jack Rennie:  I don’t know if either of you are into yoga, but it’s like a mantra. I would do mantras in my head while I was tree planting. So once I found that, I was able to find catharsis. Then I started processing my memories and my traumas. My brain literally would go into these traumas and high definition, not in a triggered way, but in a very healing way. I’d be able to look at them differently and pick apart the value from them, not necessarily the parts of those situations that wounded me or the parts I felt wounded me. I was able to look at them in a different light. So I found that really helpful. 

Leanne: Did you take any of that spontaneity and trust that that, you know, things are happening the way they’re supposed to? Is that kind of ingrained in you now? Or was that kind of hard to maintain once you came back to Western living? 

Jack Rennie: It was very hard. I thought I was better (or healed from)my trauma or PTSD. I liked to call it “trauma fatigue.” I found that it’s tough to find out who I was now. 

[Audio Cut Out / Reconnected]

 Jack Rennie: Trauma fatigue, a term that my colleague and I, Dwayne Broughton, he’s the one that is a co-owner of our retreat that we’re working on out here in Saskatchewan. I feel like trauma fatigue, as opposed to a post-traumatic stress disorder, which seems like it hides the humanity of what people are going through in like jargon. I find it adds to the stigma. And it adds to, you know when you call something a disorder, it’s sort of like creates a stigma and resistance to people wanting to get that label.

Calla: Do you feel like it limits you?

Jack Rennie: I feel like it does. But I think any, any sort of diagnosis, I feel like, you know, it’s good to find out answers, it’s good to be able to compartmentalize what you’re going through, but I feel like it doesn’t have to be a life sentence—That’s my belief. When I re-entered the profession after my first trip, I got re-traumatized when I attended a plane crash with 26 people on it in Fond du Lac, Saskatchewan. It was really hard to live in that spontaneous way, live with my intuition, and make sense of why that would happen to me. I’ve been through a lot, you know, why can’t these things sort of ease up? Like, give me a break. So after that, I explored Western modalities. I did something called Accelerated Resolution Therapy shortly after that trauma. That involves EMDR. So, eye movement rapid desensitization and reprocessing. It helped change the neuropathway surrounding some of the triggers that I experienced during that plane crash. So I use that therapist, and I trusted the process that no one tool fits every job. I used conventional Western medicine, Eastern philosophy, plant medicines, and being out in nature to bring me back to my center. 

Leanne:  Can I ask what the protocol was after witnessing something traumatizing, like the plane crash or the young deaths you saw, in the beginning, to get back to work? 

Jack Rennie: Yeah, I didn’t really have one; I just kept working. I asked for time off, and that was denied. So yeah, there isn’t one.

Well, they sort of want to set me up with the priest, you know, and I didn’t want to do that. So that might have been the protocol. I consider myself more Buddhist than anything. So I was like, you know, I sort of had a debrief with one of the guys who had been around for quite a while, but he kind of just went into his traumas. I felt like I was supporting him. I felt like I just went through something, and I’m 21 years old and crying uncontrollably, having night terrors, and not knowing what’s happening to me. I just remember thinking, “Okay, not bringing that up again.” So I actually am not a huge fan of critical incident stress debriefing. In the conventional sense, where you go around in a circle, everyone shares their collective traumas and grief. I think that can add to vicarious trauma.

Leanne: Has that changed at all? The protocol? Is there any more support for people or first responders that do feel traumatized by what they’ve been seen? 

Jack Rennie: No. I’m, I’m working on it. I’ve been working on this and speaking up about this in newspaper and PR articles since 2013- 2014. Now people are starting to make a note of it with a lot of the suicides that are getting some attention, pretty public, you know? First responders who have taken their own lives due to their injury and disease, I’d say. So I believe that they’re contributing to the trauma by not having someone sort of qualify, well, I don’t know qualified to correct term, but like, just, you know, going around in a circle and having everyone sort of sharing their emotions.

When that wasn’t previously in the culture, it sort of feels forced. I’m not a huge fan of like, the AA style, I mean, is focused on the recovery and abstinence from, you know, alcohol or in our Narcotics Anonymous, it’s abstinence from narcotics, but, you know, when, when it’s a trauma, which is like, pretty fresh and complex. Everyone’s triggered differently and triggered by different things. You know, if you see someone struggling in that circle, it’s like, I feel for them. I’m like, man. I just want to hug you or tell you how I feel too. And, like, you know, really be there for them. But that’s sort of like people. If they break down or get emotional, then they might feel that vulnerability hangover and feel embarrassed. It’s kind of like sharing our collective guilt and sharing those feelings of some sort of like; it’s like trauma bonding, that’s what it is trauma bonding. So it’s more trauma bonding instead of focusing on the proactive steps that we can take to build each other up. I think the essence of peer support should be more on the social aspect, making sure people don’t become reclusive. They don’t become introverted. They don’t disconnect from their friends and family; I think check-ins are really important. That’s something I’m a huge advocate for. I don’t think that we should be having many people who are currently wounded and going through the trauma, taking on other people’s trauma. 

Calla: Yeah, their responsibility. It doesn’t seem very healthy. 

Jack Rennie: No, I always say like, you know, hurt people hurt people, healed people heal people. So, this sort of term was coined, I think, in the 80s called Florence Nightingale Syndrome. And that’s Florence Nightingale is the one who created the rounds, like doing rounds and check-ins on your patients. And I think she was like a single lady, and she dedicated her whole life to the nursing profession and that sort of glorified it. So, I feel like this sort of self-sacrificial, like almost like masochism, taking pleasure and being burnt out and being wounded and injured is sort of glorified in my profession.

Leanne:  Yeah. I don’t even know if it’s just your profession. I think it’s in the culture in general. It’s very trendy to say like, oh, I’m so burnt out. I’m just so busy. You know? 

Jack Rennie: Yeah, yeah. So then it creates this weird culture where it’s like, if someone does heal and is vulnerable and open like I am, it’s sort of like, looked down upon. It’s like, people don’t know how to take you, you know, open people, like Fabian and I, and honest about our struggles. So it’s sort of, you know, people like, well, you’re not supposed to be like that.

Calla: How did you and Fabian meet? How did you get involved with GAFF? Because you’re the director of Western Operations. Explain that to us. 

Jack Rennie: So I’m actually the president now.

Calla: Oh, my gosh. We had no idea!

Jack Rennie: That’s okay. That’s just a recent transition, um, because Fabian is taking the Veterans House side, which is the charity side. I’m working with the nonprofit side, working with the partners, and moving forward with some strategic planning. But yeah, that happens. Let’s see, my, my wife’s Auntie is married to a doctor who is connected to Fabian, through some business dealings. We’re at a wedding, and then a funeral shortly after. So I started talking to this uncle of hers, and then her Auntie said, you have to connect them to Fabian. It sounds like they would totally hit it off; they have a lot of the same ideas. Eventually, he connected us, and we were talking for man over a year. I just moved into my place and was still working in the profession actively. And, you know, that’s a hard thing to do. But when you’re in remission from your trauma, because you can come out of that fairly easily if you don’t take care of yourself. So, throughout that year, we talked quite a bit and emailed back and forth. He asked me to send in my story of healing to him. One day, I just typed it all out in an email. I don’t know really what came out, but it just sort of channeled through my fingertips into the email. Then that led to some phone calls and some messaging back and forth. Finally, he invited my wife and I out there to New Brunswick.

We flew out there in 2018, and they were doing an interview.   Fabian was like, “I want you to talk to these news, people really quick.”, and I said, “sure.” Then on the interview, he’s like, “Oh, yeah, and Jack is joining the team. And he’s going to be director Western operations.” And I was like, “I am? Holy crap, this is happening.” So two weeks later, he and Juliane flew out to my wife, and I’s acreage retreat center. We hosted a mini-retreat for them. We had a medicine man come out and do a sweat lodge. We did some nature therapy. It is just a really cool experience to share that with Fabian and Juliane. We really got to know each other. 

Calla:  I would think you would bond through that for sure. 

Jack Rennie: Yeah. And that was his first sweat lodge, so that was pretty cool being able to share that with him.

Calla: Can you paint a picture of what the sweat lodge experience is? 

Jack Rennie: Well, actually, that’s a big missing piece, which I haven’t gotten into. So this would be the perfect opportunity. So, after all my travels, after everything I had gone through, I still felt this missing piece. So when I got that job in Stony Rapids at the Dene Reserve, I started approaching the First Nations cultures as if I was traveling to a new country. I started learning the language. I started learning the cultural beliefs and traditions around healing and the ceremonies. So that led me to work in La Ronge, which is just north of there, and that’s about 80% First Nation that’s 20%, Caucasian, they have about six reserves around this particular community that’s Woodland Creek—and I apprenticed under a medicine man for about three years.

The sweat lodge is representative of the womb of mother earth. So it’s made out of Willow. And it’s covered with blankets and tarps, and different things to create a circular dome structure. And the idea behind it is that when you enter, you’re entering into the womb of Mother Earth, and you come out reborn. And the rocks that are used in the sweat lodge or representative, the grandfather’s, you know, because they had been the rock as a spirit. And they’ve been here since the beginning of time. So when you give your traumas, you give what you’re going through, and your prayers to those rocks, and they take those traumas on, and you’re able to leave what you came in there to pray with, you’re able to leave some of that grief, some of that trauma, some of that pain in the sweat lodge and let it go up with steam. So in a sweat lodge is four rounds, and each round is a particular thing that you’re working on. So it depends on which style lodge you go to, whether it’s Lakota Nakota, Woodland Creek, or there’s Dene sweats. But the one I was learning from, the fourth round was the healing round, that’s the last round for you, you know, come out of the sweat lodge and become reborn. And the scene is that, within the sweat lodge, which we’re not meant to speak about. But there’s, lots of songs, there’s lots of healing that happens.

Different medicines are used to help with clearing and to help with healing. It’s what they call doctoring. When someone comes in there, they get doctored by the lodge-keeper. Usually, the lodge-keeper has an Asklepios, which I was acting as, and they’ll have other pipe carriers, so they’ll carry the sacred pipe with them. That tobacco spirit is the first medicine gifted to the people as a gift, and that’s meant to be a portal. So that is sort of what you’d offer if you’re calling a sweat. If you were to approach a lodge-keeper and want to sweat lodge, or to be doctored or healed, or, you know, if you were to pick medicines, and you’d offer tobacco, then the pipe is misinterpreted, a lot to mean the peace pipe, but it’s actually the truth pipe. So it’s some type of truth. So when you connect to the tobacco spirit, you have to live a life of truth. If you’re a pipe carrier, then you have to live by certain morals. You can’t drink, you can’t do drugs, you can’t disrespect women, you have to have integrity. You have to follow the red road, which is the road of integrity, the path of sobriety, the path of honor and courage, and now, there are many different teachings around that. To bring Fabian into that and use the local culture and tap into it in a respectful way, some of their ways of healing from trauma. That was a pretty incredible experience for me to be able to share that.

Leanne: What was it like to be an apprentice to a medicine man?

Jack Rennie:  So in the First Nations teachings, the lesson comes first, and then the learning comes after. In the conventional system, it’s like the learning comes first, and then you get the lesson. You go to school, you get the teaching, and then you get the homework after. So it’s much more passive. It’s like, you’d be cutting wood or gathering stones, or you’d be actively doing something. If you go absent-minded, or you make a mistake, then the teaching would come after. They allow you to slip up or fall. That’s sort of called the principle of non-interference. They are quite accepting of a lot. At least the ones I’ve worked with. They’re very, very accepting of people making mistakes. They allow you to learn and grow naturally, which works for my learning style well. So every teaching and the First Nations way that I know of, in my experiences, the oral tradition, so it’s passed down, orally, it’s not written. Everything has a protocol. If you want to learn a song, you have to present broadcloth and tobacco and a gift, and then that song is actually transmitted to you. You can’t just go on YouTube and type it in and type it in and sign along. 

Calla: It sounds very traditional and beautiful and very encompassing. 

Jack Rennie: It is. The sad part is that many ways of the lodge and these different teachings have been lost through colonization. So people who do practice these ways on the reserve are often the black sheep. Because they’re outlawed for so long, and the church has such a strong influence still, to this day, on the different reserves, it’s been difficult to navigate that even from my perspective, as someone who’s Caucasian and learning these things, and who’s benefited from that. So there’s a lot of guilt and a lot of fear of appropriation and the “cancel culture” and stuff like that. But, when you’re sick and you’re struggling, you do what’s necessary to get better, and you leave your ego at the door. You leave the fear of judgment. You have to go by your experience, and so far of my experience is that if you approach it with integrity, and with good intentions, and you want to learn the ways and these different things and not just like take little bits and pieces and sort of make it your own and try to monetize it. If you do it with a good heart, you know everyone I’ve spoken to has been receptive to that: all these knowledge keepers, all these lodge keepers. Everyone has been just great. 

Calla: How is that translating into what you’re doing with GAFF House?

Jack Rennie:  It’s allowed me a way to find something that I feel like I’ve found my path. With yoga, I practiced it for quite a while and then, you know, I run into some different things, like the Bikram thing and the dark side of yoga, a lot of the ego, egotistical sides of it, which just sort of like turned me off. I found a spiritual one-upmanship very present within the yoga meditation and western view of that. That really turned me off. 

Calla: That’s a weird thing to navigate, I would think. 

Jack Rennie: Yeah, it was really strange. It sort of seemed like a lot of exhibitionism. Were in the First Nations teachings, and The traditional ways do not show and tell. It’s an experiential thing. It’s there for your healing; you’re there for your peers; you’re there for those you’re praying for. It’s a very private thing. And I think I felt like a lot of my journey has been very public.-especially being interviewed for many of the suicides that have happened in the past several years in Saskatchewan. I’ve made my voice pretty known to the public. I guess you could say. Having something where I could, you know, use it to heal myself, allow me to be a voice, a strong voice, for GAFF, and also let for me to step into my strength and be a voice for others who feel like they’ve lost theirs. 

Calla:  For those who aren’t familiar with the pillars that GAFF puts into place for people who come to them. Can you talk a little bit about those? 

Jack Rennie: Absolutely. So the first pillar we’re looking at is triage, and people are finding people to write medicine. So that would be symptom reduction, or in the veterans’ case, medical cannabis is a really good start for people. So, starting them on high-quality medical cannabis is often really helpful for medically discharged people from the forces. So in the Veteran Affairs Canada perspective would be RCMP or military. However, we found that for a first responder to use medical cannabis still has a stigma. Even though it’s legal, it’s difficult for them to use without that guilt, without that shame, and without fear of judgment from their colleagues. So, essentially, that first pillar has been turned into a triage point, connecting people to the right service, the right therapists, the right medicine—basically a stabilizing point. 

The next pillar is treating the root cause. The root cause would be using EMDR, neurofeedback, and trying to regulate the biological system and get to the root of the psychological injury that has occurred, whether cumulative, incident-specific, and working out some of the triggers. So, the third step being natural healing modalities, sub beware, like quantum therapy, the nature hikes, the retreats, you know, more of the residential component would come in. So what when Fabian created GAFF, the first two pillars were covered by Veterans Affairs, it was still not covered by the Workers Compensation Board. So that’d be first responders. So many first responders have to pay out of pocket if they want medical cannabis or therapy. It’s sort of capped at like $500 or something, so I don’t think five sessions will do much.

You’re forcing people to go on the Workers Compensation Board, which is an insurance company, you know, to leave your profession, sometimes risking permanently, and risking future opportunities for promotion, risking judgment from your colleagues, you have to go pretty far. People are pretty broken, just barely holding on because they don’t want to have to go off work and put themselves through that. There’s a lot of working wounded in first responders. At least with veterans, they have the opportunity to li have their pension covered and 90% of what you’re paid, and the regular forces that are covered, sort of as a result of your injury, where we’re still working on that in the first responder world. So, Fabian had created this third pillar because Veterans Affairs didn’t cover retreats. He was like, this has helped me, and I want to share with my tribe, with all the people I have served with, and that’s him giving back, right? I sort of had that same idea through doing my yoga teacher training, meditation as a youth, and then keeping that meditation practice, you know, throughout my healing journey, on and off. Still, you know, creating an immersive experience, just like I did with my travel, just like Fabian did when he started hosting these retreats, I think is a huge component. And then, the fourth pillar is reshaping purpose. So, here in Saskatchewan, we have a Hemp for Heroes program, where we’re putting people back to work by hand planting and hand-harvesting hemp.

We’re creating different products from that, whether biodiesel, which can run tractors and vehicles off of. You can run diesel generators off of. You can make hemp lumber. You can make hempcrete. You can extract the oil or extract the seeds as a superfood. So we’re just doing a small five-acre plot this spring circle planting in about a week. So we’re doing a five-acre test plot, and then we’re going to have some first responders and maybe some veterans come out and help with the hand harvesting of it. Hemp is awesome and can change the world. You can make electricity out of it, you know, you burn the biomass and, you know, generate your own electricity. It’s like, it’s such like a diverse, credible thing. And it’s such a crazy process to have the hemp farm like we had to do Health Canada application. And, you know, get audited every year to have hemp on our land. And it’s like, not even psychoactive. Yeah, you have to have like 1%, less than 1% THC, and the hemp product to be considered hemp. So it’s quite strange. But yeah, the hemp or the fourth pillar would be like, you know, if someone wanted to start their own business, like a veteran or first responder after they’d been through this healing process, that’s like the giving back. And if you sort of look at the hero’s journey, it’s in that circular format. And they always sort of return home, after they’ve been on their journey, and they want to get back. And that sort of follows that same hero’s journey, you know, from that call to adventure to the trials and tribulations to the abyss, and then coming back from the abyss and conquering that dragon, that demon or that trigger, you come back and have something to offer now. That is sort of depicted often as a treasure, or a gift, or something beyond yourself. That’s where a lot of people can become shepherds. They can help others along the way. They can open their own Retreat Center. They can basically, do you know what Tyson’s doing in Pictou creating a safe space for people to come and volunteer and have an incredible time and, you know, help land helicopters in a field. 

Leanne:  He was excited about that one. 

Jack Rennie: Yeah, I listened to it this morning. And I was like, This is awesome. 

Leanne: It is really beautiful what you guys are doing. I mean, it’s clear that this needs to be talked about, but not only that, like you’re making actual moves and starting a movement to support and change these people’s lives. And I think it’s incredible. 

Jack Rennie: Thank you. That’s great. 

Calla: I second what she said.

Jack Rennie: Yeah, I find that sharing our own stories of healing and our journeys. I hope that using my voice been sharing what I’ve been through and some of the things that have helped heal my trauma will give people some courage to do the same. 

Leanne: Does that feel even further healing to to to be a to share and see what comes of it in a positive way? 

Jack Rennie:  Yeah. Like I had no idea what I was going to talk about this interview, and I didn’t know whether I would get into some of the plant medicines I’ve used to heal myself or the yoga, the meditation, the sweat lodge indigenous ways. Yeah, pretty much an open book. 

Leanne: Thank you for sharing with us, Jack.  

Jack Rennie: You’re Welcome. Thank you.

Stories of Healing with Jim Mustard

Jim Mustard is the CEO of Veterans For Healing, an organization created and run by Canadian Veterans whose purpose it to assist other Veterans, their families and Caregivers. Veterans for Healing supports research and develops social programs and innovative treatments that are vital for Veterans coping with PTSD and rehabilitation.

Inside of this episode:

↣ How Jim landed the role of CEO on a serendipitous walk in the woods.

↣ How fostering children with his supportive partner of 40 years, Margaret, has equipped him in serving and fostering community within V4H.

↣  The Benefits of Plant Based and Land Based Healing (Bare Foot Walking, Anyone?)

↣  The 4 Pillars and how community and a spirit of generosity can help heal.

↣ Leadership, Mindfulness, and how slowing down can aid in healing and produce growth both personally and professionally.

Connect with Guest:

Instagram  Facebook

“It’s not about getting high, it’s about healing.” – Jim Mustard

**This text has been edited and revised.

Calla: Jim, I want to jump right into it because I’m just honored that you’re here. We are halfway through the first part of this Stories of Healing, and you’re the CEO of Veterans for Healing. So, where does your story start with that?

Jim Mustard: Yeah, it’s interesting, I think, like whether you choose to become part of something or it chooses you right. So whether you choose to have the conversation, you know, and start a company, or it chooses you, it’s kind of the piece of life where are we really kind of masters of our destiny, or is it just like we’re adapting to what we’re being called to do. So, you know, Fabian, and the people I’ve met through him that’s kind of made that choice. If it was a choice, you know, when you’re a young person in a Coal mining wasn’t seen as valuable and where do you go? So I think when I first met Fabian here, Pipers Glen, where I’ve lived for 40 years. It was like, almost like calling, right? So I’ve lived a full life. You know, I’m 60 years old, being a municipal council. I’ve done a bunch of different things. But at that point, I had no idea what he was calling me to. I had no idea that hey, Jim, I want you to be the CEO of whatever, or whatever he’s saying. And I’m going like, Yeah, whatever. But it was more about the sense that Fabian’s passion, commitment, dedication, all those words kind of wrapped out in, and then Fabian’s undeniable, kind of like charismatic craziness about his mission, brought me into the idea.

Calla: It is perfect.

Jim Mustard: So I said, Yes, you know, without thinking it through, and I’m glad I did. Because I think it’s, for me, it’s brought my life, I believe in the practice of community and the way that I’ve learned about the importance of creating safe space, and the idea of creating an opportunity for people to belong through doing things, right. So you can belong through a conversation, that’s one way, but after the conversation is over, who’s there to help clean up the party, or, you know, I’m just using an analogy, right. So we have the party the night before, but who’s there the next day to kind of help us put it back together. And I think that’s where I aligned with Fabian because I believe my life has led me to understand the importance of space, wherever that is, the importance of leadership in terms of being generous in service to others. And then the importance of creating some structure that allows for the important choices. So the choices that are important for you today. While you’re in the structure, we need you. So the importance of “am I needed for Sunday morning” is not there, but here are my choices to do things. I am needed at certain parts of the day, which gives me a sense of purpose and responsibility—but having that as a growth mechanism, rather than, “I work 10 hours a day, I’m so tired, all I need to do is go home and watch T.V.” It’s kind of trying to find this new balance point where we have this amazing place where we can create space for people to come, who dedicated their lives to serving our country or serving others, and then learn to serve yourself, but also have that place to be in service again. It’s kind of like that beautiful dance that Fabian drew me into. I believe it’s the culmination of not everything I’ve done in my life, but certainly the lessons I’ve learned the hard way, and the experiences allow me to be pretty humbly in that CEO role. I am both an apprentice with Fabian and a mentor with Fabian, you know, kind of both of those things I’m there to learn with him. I’m there to help shape some of that learning we do together as we try to create what he has as a dream for. I think a fairly important kind of learning already exists, which is being good brothers together. Then with Juliane being good brothers and sisters together. And then with lots of events is learning to trust each other. 

Leanne: In part of what you sent over to us, you mentioned wandering into the woods and just running into Fabian and Juliane. I want to hear that story. It sounds kind of whimsical.

Jim Mustard: Yeah, very whimsical, because I’ve been here for a long, like, you know, I moved from Ontario when I was 21 or something and landed in this place. I’ve spent a lot of time just wandering the woods. My practice of life is to be unintentionally bumping into things no matter what they are. Whether it’s wildlife or trees or the brook, and then the one day where I was going up to the falls, and passing through, where I knew that the property would lead out to the road, There was Fabian and Juliane. He was new to the place, so he wasn’t very aware of everything. He was totally surprised to see another human being coming out of the woods. We quickly made plans to get together. I invited him up for a meal and got to know who this person was that found themselves buying a piece of land next door to us and a very important piece of land. Historically, it’s been part of our community, uninhabited for a long time, and logged over. So then, to find someone new, who right from the beginning, you could see his spirit and mission were unique. I think you can see that this would be something after 40 years of living here and not seeing many new people move to the place that this would be an amazing addition.

Calla: You knew that right away?

Jim Mustard: You can tell!

Leanne: Yeah, we could too. It’s interesting to hear you talk like that, Jim, because that’s how I felt when Calla approached me with this idea. We knew each other previous to have the conversation, and I have always looked at Calla as a mentor and a friend. I feel like those are the best kind of partnerships. With Calla’s passion for what ‘Have The Conversation’ is, when she asked me to be a part of it, it was just a feeling it was like, “absolutely, This can’t go wrong.”  

Jim Mustard: If you live long enough, you’ll recognize those things. Where does the commitment come in any relationship, especially after you’ve gotten to a certain like, you’re not a teenager anymore or a young adult -so where do you find that opening to offer intimacy or an opening to commit to a relationship? With Fabian, it’s just easy because it’s this reciprocity where you give, and you get right away. It’s an immediate thing, you know; sometimes, the relationship will take longer for you to kind of get to a deeper level. But with Fabian, it can go right to that level right away. It’s not something he says. It’s more just the way he holds the space. He’s had a huge influence on the people involved and trusting themselves on this recovery journey like he’s had a huge influence on them because that inner drive emanates from him. It’s something unique. If we recognize that it’s the way that a colleague can help you, and we can all help and mentor each other. [Big Picture] if we looked at really creating a society, again, we just add babies and grandparents all into that next -and because one person can spin that off, they don’t have to become a guru. You don’t have to be calm; it’s not about you failing. It’s about what you’ve created in terms of the welcoming space, the generosity of spirit, the offerings that we can give each other, the choices we can give each other. And in that way, it kind of goes with the structure and the total improvisation of life, right. So coming from the structure, which is in the military, and then being given the choices. If you go off the cliff with that, it doesn’t work, right. But I think what Fabian is leading into is creating that structure that has the choices. Veterans for Healing supports the sort of things that people need to function day-to-day. That includes their medicine, some rituals, some space, and then opportunities to have choices. Suppose you want to play drums, have a workshop on something, taking a canoe trip, or feel the need to do some solo meditation or art. It’s about whatever.

Calla: It’s unique to the individual.

Jim Mustard: Yeah, and I think that’s the dream. 

Leanne: Jim, the structure that you’re talking about, are you referring to the pillars

Jim Mustard: Yeah, I think that if you break down the pillars, it’s like proper use of medicine. It’s the clinical support for your injury so that you do have a professional piece on it, then moving into the aftercare. Once you’ve provided that responsibility back to us, you know, as the support or the people offering it, it’s not just giving to you, it’s like, how do we give back then there’s the opportunity to see, as Fabian sees it, that you kind of earned your way. It’s not like Brownies, or Girl Guides, or whatever, where you get your badges; it’s just recognition that all of us are responsible, right? All of us are responsible. And it’s not just here; let me fix you. Well, it doesn’t. It’s not the same as what do I have to do? And what can we do together? And who’s my team here? And then

Calla: Yeah, it’s that ownership and responsibility for self, for sure. And it’s nice to have support when you’re trying to figure out who you are. So you do need people.

Jim Mustard: Big time, right!? That risk of growth in that way that we can be in uncomfortable situations and be led to the uncomfortable situations because the structure allowed us to choose it, right? Not being thrown in it, but just being guided to it.

Calla:  You’re very spiritual. I know, we got deep so fast. I like just trying to catch up. This is not at all how I thought this conversation was going to go. So I’m sorry if I feel a little caught off guard. It’s just interesting to see how you got to this point with Fabian. That explains a lot. There is a theme through Veterans for Healing and GAFF House. It is all about a oneness within yourself. But also a oneness within like the community of people who are going to help you get there. I think it’s a really beautiful thing.

Jim Mustard: We were up at 5:30 This morning, Fabian and Juliane are up at five and in the woods by 5:30-6, and we were cutting a trail to these really beautiful old-growth forests that we just discovered, and I’ve been here for years, and I’m just laughing because there’s so much I don’t know about the place I live. Fabian and I found it last week. Um, so we’re cutting the trail and just talking about the other relationship, or the community is the community of place that would allow, so we’re talking about building this trail right along this beautiful 200 300 foot, steep, steep escarpment going down to the river, we have these beautiful views. And we’re just talking about how we can invite people to do their barefoot walk by themselves to find that community, like the community of feeling like you belong from outside any human. You don’t have to do anything. You could talk to yourself if it’s talk therapy you need. But to be free in your spirit to let things go, let things be, and not be judged. So again, we’re just having that community conversation, creating opportunities for a safe journey for the individual to be surrounded by the beauty of nature in a way that really lets them go.

Calla: I feel like you would have to get to a real oneness within yourself to understand these big picture realizations that you have. What was your experience? How have you been able to get to that point in your life? 

Jim Mustard: I think both my mother and father were hugely influential. I have like six brothers and sisters, so a bigger family than you, Calla. I was in the middle and quite a troublemaker. I was always poking the brothers and sisters around you to get a reaction. It was my game. From doing that, throughout my life, my mother always taught me to value people no matter who they are, like, it didn’t matter who was in our house, you value them. Whether it was my teenage friends who could be questionable for you to hang out with, or it was someone who came to our house who was a newcomer to the community. You open yourself up to their experience and their journey. My dad was incredibly passionate about understanding the world and doing something about it. So I think both of them have led me to kind of take the risk and base it back on people and the relationship.

Calla: That is my dream as a mother. That’s amazing you had that experience. That’s pretty fantastic.

Jim Mustard: Well, there’s not without its bumps and bruises and humbly being knocked flat on my ass lots of times. 

Calla: But, you got up.

Jim Mustard:  I think the second part of the journey of finding that kind of courage to be vulnerable is found in Margaret’s; my partner and I’ve been together forty years, but we’ve opened our life. We have three birth children. But we’ve also had the opportunity to have a number of young people who needed foster care live here. And, you know, for long periods, five years and sometimes longer as Jeanette, who’s our daughter now, has been with us for 15. But every time I went into one of those relationships, I thought I knew something. I thought I had something I could count on, and every time I’m wrong. In terms of the individual’s approach, what do you need to understand about this person? And you make so many mistakes. The beauty of those relationships is, they would trust me to stay with me. They didn’t abandon me. In terms of trying to find out what was the thing, we needed to learn most about each other. What do you need to know about me to treat me the way I need to be treated. I think that’s, honestly, it’s not a spiritual practice as in, kind of work it through, but just putting yourself out there and then finding yourself touched by the lives of others in a way that I just, I’m honored all the time when I’m around people in their stories. Especially young people and the stories of their trauma that they don’t have a clue what it was when their mother abandoned them, or they’re not a clue what it felt like they just don’t feel they belong. And so, they constantly have taught me that that ability to be a loving person is just a vulnerable person who can say, “I fucked up. Sorry. Let’s try and figure this out now.” And in figuring it out, let’s not use words like “never,” and let’s not say “always,” you know, and things that I thought would be really basic life lessons, I’m still catching myself learning. 

Calla: It’s the simple ones that sneak by. That’s my experience.

Jim Mustard: Yes. And so you know, you take a risk all the time when you’re trying to start a business or do something innovative and set up something; I think that leadership comes back to having a solid base in terms of your belief in yourself. For me, that comes from working with horses or being outdoors, or just constantly being free enough in the woods to allow myself to be forgiving to myself, and then having a loving partner, Margaret, who? She doesn’t love me for all the things I do well. I think she loves me for my ability to do to to keep bringing the opposite of a relationship like the Yin Yang, right. So once expanding on ones holding the space to kind of hold it back. And so that’s the other solid teaching relationship is my partner Margaret, whose total patience, total loving mother, total nurturing, total, looking at the other side of the picture, before you know it, you paint it. She’s constantly been a guide, even though it’s probably hell to live with me? Sure. She doesn’t want it. Yeah, that’s not part of the book we need to read or write.

Calla: That’s a wash. We’ll do that next lifetime, right?

Jim Mustard: Next lifetime.

Leanne: Now, Jim, are you a veteran yourself?

Jim Mustard: No, both my father and grandfather. So you know, in families, how the military may be in the state scholar, you would understand it, Leanne. In Canada, we didn’t talk about service. It’s not a big thing in Canada. My father served in the Second World War, and he was only 16 when he got in and became a captain relatively. And my grandfather served in the First World War, and we never talked about the experience as a way of understanding maybe who they were or some of their experiences. And in that way, I’ve reflected because I live with my grandfather, in the same room when I was like three until seven or eight until he died. And I was like his chum. I sometimes reflect on that, like, his wife died, and I kind of moved in, and I’m wondering what kind of offering I gave him as a young person. Old people enamored me. I think I just always have loved elders the energy they bring. So I’m just wondering if that wasn’t part of it. Because he wasn’t talkative, but I certainly was. But maybe that was part of his recovery in terms of his life. 

Calla:  I love that simple way to look at that. Because it 100 full circle to this moment. And that’s pretty neat to think about the big picture.

Jim Mustard: Yeah, and my father, I spent probably the last seven years traveling with him. He was all over the world before he died. I got to learn a lot about him and how soft and beautiful he was. My mother took her own life in 91. She was 75 because she had facial neuralgia, which is painful tic douloureux, it’s called, but it’s like, um, pain in the facial nerves. And it comes and goes, and it affects women over 50. And she had it for 20 years. And during the SARS outbreak in Toronto, she had the worst outbreak she’d ever had. And she said to herself, ” I don’t want to live like this anymore,” and she quietly put together her exit strategy and didn’t tell anyone and figured out how to do some barbiturates to take her life. It shocked the whole family, of course. She was such an amazing person. But no one knows what it is to live with pain and in fear. But my dad, after that, we got along chummy. I think I was the most like my mom, in some ways, like the most drawn to that kind of curiosity of people kind of really had no problem talking at a depth of heartfelt might have been hard on the sleeve type of thing. My mum wouldn’t do that. But when I was with her, I would go right at it with her and ask her, you know, what’s love and stuff like I just was a goofy that way. But in that way, when I got to hang out with my dad, I really did, once again, appreciating what some of the things are the young person 16, 17, 18, you probably had to put aside when you’re in the military. Then you become a professional and raise a family, and you get to find later on in life that it’s never too late to hold your son and love them. And I’m saying how he held me or never held me. It wasn’t his M.O., but he could see I was holding and loving our children as just a passing of that love in different ways. Right? Every generation gets an opportunity to feel it a little bit more. 

Calla: That says a lot about growth and healing that’s happening still to this day for you, I would assume. And I think that’s why it feels so impactful. 

Jim Mustard: I think the thing that I’ve come to understand from the people I’ve met through Fabian like those things that are trauma triggered and all the rest of them when you’re in that safe place, I don’t see them because I’m not with them back in Fredericton or their community or places. We’re here in Piper’s Glen, and a sense of support just surrounds it. So to see that in such a supportive place was amazing. But, yet, I cannot understand from my own life and working with young people in care that when it goes down, it goes down hard. And for that hardness, it is like I’m no good. I fucked up, you know, besides all the things that externally are going on around you. And I think that’s why I love this idea that we can create a sense of place, appropriate practice, and then communities of practice. So the awareness in our communities we live in, just that there are so many levels of trauma, right?

Calla: Oh, yeah, not just for veterans. You have to come to terms with the hand you’re dealt at some point if you want to heal, right, like that’s just part of it, but you can get out of it and learn new skills on your way out and feel supported. I think that that’s the key to like a healthy life for sure.

Jim Mustard: Yeah, our daughter, Jeanette, came to live with us when she was four years old four, and she was like, this wild energy ball of energy of just incredible intelligence. But really, everything triggered her to every level of character. 

Calla: That’s Relateable.

Leanne: I get it, I get it. 

Jim Mustard: It’s been beautiful. What’s beautiful about her right now is that she’s been able to be at ceremonies with me and Margaret at Fabians, you know, the Remembrance Day where there’s just a huge kind of recognition of, of sadness. And we do not remember people who died. It’s the sadness of our people of ourselves. It’s almost lost inside of us. And I’m not saying they’re not crying about their comrades they’ve lost, but it’s also just a general weeping of how hard it is to find yourself right, in that ceremony to be surrounded by 50 people or 40 people. So she’s done a fair amount of like exploring the use of cannabis in different ways to help her manage her hair triggers her trauma, and she’s just turned 19. So having Fabian and Julianne normalizing that journey, like the journey is okay, the journey is not you’re a freak, the journey is not, you know, I’m no good. The journey is life. Just like you said, Calla, the journey is life Now. How do I make sense of it and get help with the medicine, find the right treatment, and see myself, you know, in relationships, where I can partner with people, and I don’t have to be flipping out and losing my car.

Calla: What is your experience with cannabis? Because I know you’re referencing your daughter. How did it help you?

Jim Mustard: Yeah, so I mean, I’ve smoked a lot when I was younger, and I’m kind of off of it since 30 years. Now, getting back into it, it’s very moderate use for me. I find it this beautiful, creative place for me. So for my daughter to it’s a creative place. But, still, it’s more to manage those times where it just becomes really painful inside your head and damaging.

Calla: Manic.

Jim Mustard: Yeah, exactly the manic thing where you’re; you’re going through it, your hearts moving, beating fast your head starting to, like shoot these panic attacks.

Calla: They are incredibly debilitating.

Jim Mustard: Horrible. So for me, I’m fortunate, you know, both on the side of that, I’ve been given lots of support, and my inner being allows me to keep moving forward. But also think this idea of having good fortune, right, um, the setbacks I had. They’re all relative. Everyone’s setbacks are all relative, but actually, the setbacks I have because I’ve been in places where people are having a tough time. And it’s, it’s caused partly by me, you know, I’m partly the trigger, right.

Calla: Forgiveness of self is in the process of healing for sure. Forgiveness of self, you have to; otherwise, that chain is never going to break. 

Jim Mustard: Totally. So we’re on it for life, right? I mean, I’m just on it for life, on this journey now that Fabian and I’ve signed on for Veterans for Healing.

Calla: It’s so impactful. We have been learning so much. So so much, I’m excited for more episodes to come out. I hope that you guys love what we’ve been doing with it. It’s been a learning curve for us. We’re learning so much we’re taking it in and processing the stories. A lot of the guys went deep, really quick. They opened up in a way that maybe we thought we were going to have to dance around or whatever everyone’s come authentic and with their truth, and it’s been cool to be a part of one and then to go back and listen to it and get to re-experience it again. You learn something each time, and I hope that they stick around for a long, long time. They’re beautiful.

Leanne 49:53  

They are, and the beauty is in their willingness to be vulnerable. Like Calla just said, I mean, we were both very surprised with just how open these guys have been with sharing all the details, painful ones that they have worked through and are currently working through. It gives me so much hope because people that are listening in their cars or, you know, everyone’s dealing with their own stuff, and just to hear somebody open up about something that was and is painful for them, it just gives just automatically gives you a little more courage to maybe think about doing the same thing.

Calla: Yeah, and it gives credit to the foundation in which Veterans for Healing was created, which you shared with us, you know, it just proves that that’s like in its bloodstream, you know because everyone we’ve interviewed, that somehow it overlaps. They have that same genuine feeling of being willing to be open and vulnerable and to just go towards the path of healing, and it translates. So a job well done to you and Fabian, you’re doing it because the spread is as far and wide. And I know that’s not a term anyone wants to hear right now. But I mean, it’s true in the best way.

Leanne: We’re trying to spread like COVID over here. All right.

Calla:  I know, both Leanne and I can’t believe we know these people. We feel that about you. The first time we met you, we were like, what are we in this meeting for right now? Like, how did this happen? So that’s been another general theme, how people meet Fabian and how all of this has just come to be, and we’re right along on that journey with everybody. So it’s been a cool and unique, just like a bonding experience for both of our teams to kind of come together to, and it’s been awesome.

Jim Mustard: I love it. I mean, I love the idea that you’re struck by it in a way that so many others just with the sense of like this is kind of sacred ground that we’re creating in the space, right?

Calla: It feels that way, yeah. 

Jim Mustard:  I think what you’re doing both of you, Calla and Leanne, is honoring this story, which too often we don’t take the time to honor the story. And by honoring this story, we do bring life to where it needs to be. And I think that’s beautiful. And I think if there’s a lesson for us, or there’s a journey for us to take from this is how do we incorporate that story into our work as, as you know, the support and mentoring and fostering of safe spaces that allow people not just to have the option to have fun, but there is kind of the circle of the story. That’s the next story. You know, after the story of my journey to get here, then what’s the story of today or the story of the challenge of today so that we constantly allow people that have that space right now it’s beautiful, what you’re bringing together as a practice of that so that won’t be alienating to people when it’s introduced with some of these people is core to Fabian’s team. Opening them up to this is it well, it honestly, it’s an important gift for us all. Fabians thrilled. 

Calla: To be that space that allows for that means a lot to both of us who’ve worked. I don’t want to say we’ve worked hard because I feel like it is a natural offset of Leanne and I because we’re not trying to be anything different from who we are. So we’re glad that it’s seen and appreciated that that means a lot to both of us.

Leanne:  Yeah. And just the fact that it was Fabian that recognized it. I mean, he’s trying to create a real-life community that is safe and for healing. And we’ve been creating an online version essentially. For him to recognize that just felt great. I mean, it just kind of was validation for us that Okay, where we’re on the right page. We’re doing the right thing in the right way. I feel like that’s when people get brought into your life that you’re supposed to work with.

Calla: Then another common thread throughout all this is that when people talk about when they meet Fabian, they’re in alignment, and they don’t know how this is happening, but you just feel that connection. You get that fuzzy feeling throughout your body, and I know We’ve all had that. So we all know how that feels. And to me, that can only be a sign of something good because it feels good. And it’s good within your soul. So it’s nice to be a part of something like that.

Leanne: And when you’re lined up, everything lines up, and you’re just on the right path, and you just feel good, good, good. That’s that spread I’m talking about.

Jim Mustard: It’s what it’s about. It’s what it’s about, and everyone has it. Everyone has it. It’s just rarely done. People surround themselves like with as much generosity as Fabian. In other words, the giving quality of each of us is there, right. Fabian just has a mission, and that I would have loved to have met him at 18. McDermott at 25 at 30. because

Calla: That timing.

Jim Mustard: I know, but there’s just this growth. Yeah, just what he was, like, in all his roles, because he hasn’t changed who he is. He’s just formed the Fabian he wants to be. But he’s always, I think, been possessed of a certain quality that now is, is focused and focused not in a pinpoint way focused in a general way. But, like focused in general, he’s got this beautiful palette, and he’s just throwing colors and fabric, and it’s like a collage of just beauty. And then it attracts people like yourself and attracts the next person here and the next person there. And in that way, if we had one, you know how in most, you know tribal communities or anything, you would have just had the kind of the shaman or the person who is the gift giver of welcoming and probably a matriarchy was very important. And a lot of that work of community belonging, and Fabian just use epitomized a very beautiful part of himself, right, which isn’t the macho thing. It’s this kind of more matriarchal female side, which is really about nurturing and supporting. And his maturity around that is is something special at 40. 

Calla: Yeah, I’m convinced he is 4000 years old.

Leanne: Yeah. I’m not even convinced he’s a real-life person. I understand the concept of Fabian. It’s like Big Foot. You see pictures, you hear about him. And he’s magical. But I have to see him to believe them in real life. 

Calla: He’s what you find at the end of a rainbow. He’s just there smoking a joint and living his best life. I love it. That’s amazing.

Jim Mustard: It’s great. It’s great.

Leanne: I wanted to ask you, Jim, as a parent, because being in Texas, there’s definitely a stigma around cannabis. And, you know, we grew up with the whole, “drugs will scramble your brain,” showing the fried eggs and stuff. So how did you in a parental role kind of normalize the use of cannabis as a healing tool?

Calla: Great question.

Jim Mustard: I think you know, because of my experience with cannabis growing up, my father’s a medical doctor, and he never really freaked out. He’s a research medical doctor. He never really freaked out that his sons were all using cannabis. So he had set the tone. If someone who cares about the molecular biological health of human beings, isn’t that freaked out? Like he never gave us a lecture that you’re going to scramble your brain to say, like, you can go to jail doing this. So if you’re going to keep doing this, just be aware. Yeah. But I think the kind of support from the society that was in him in my life, very important in influencing me, was just how I approached it. It’s, everyone’s going to experiment, everyone’s going to try things. Sometimes, they’re going to find real health through this, like alcohol rarely does anything for a young mind. But when we’re looking at cannabis, in terms of what it can do, in all the different forms, whether it’s CBD or THC or low level, or, you know, this whole world is opened up as an educational opportunity that for my birth children, I didn’t have to worry about it like they just would be really moderate in all their behaviors growing up. But for the young people in care, it landed at the right time to have Fabian involved, just as the kind of medical legalization in Canada was occurring in 2007. There was an openness to it if you wanted to look at it from clinical treatment. It was being understood in Canada that we were quite a ways ahead like we’ve been in this 14 years out of all the countries in the world. So I do think it’s a maturity now, where I can talk to pretty well anybody about the potential benefits without prescribing anything. And we do appreciate where Fabian came from it with his knowledge and the work that he did in studying it because he became quite, you know, I think pretty accomplished, and being able to understand trauma. So then, how does it work for pain? And how does it work for sleeplessness? And how does it work for eczema and all these other things create an open opportunity for us to stop stigmatizing? What is a whole spectrum of a plant, not just to get high, but the whole spectrum of the plant and its potential for our society? I think, if my father were alive, honestly, he would understand how the cannabinoid system works and how replacing the deficiency in when you’re in this kind of like, toxic or continual trauma when you’re in an anxious state for long periods, he would say, this makes sense. And when you look at it that way, it’s not getting high. It’s taking care of yourself so that you can manage that. So that’s where we’re at the frontier. Honestly, I’m really excited about veterans because we can better understand what works for the individual, for cohorts of people. We can look at the recovery from that. So it’s not just treating the symptoms, but getting to a level of health, which may be reduced as the active ingredient. THC maybe looks at a more balanced lifestyle, eating well, taking care of yourself, finding other modalities of health, and learning that can come from that safety of the community. So that we can start to move past what is if it’s if you know, a fairly strong drug they level they use to take care of themselves when they’re in a triggered state. We say this is exciting for the world. Whether you’re a sexual abuse survivor, whether you’re a first responder, whether you’re some, you know, one who’s a volunteer firefighter, in a small community, who’s been out to a couple of tragic accidents, how do we help them know what’s best for them? And had the clinicians known what possibly works for you? So I don’t think it’s an exact science, but we’d say, well, who are you, Khalid, tell me about your experience? What’s your blood type? What are your sleeping patterns, and then we’d have the list of things. But you would feel like you could be the expert on this, because you will not be, you know, threatened or fearful. And we start to hold this plant differently because it’s unique.

Calla: In people with trauma that maybe aren’t cannabis users, is it a safe space for them to come and learn and be around it to understand?

Jim Mustard: I think so. I believe that the whole point here is to not go from zero to 100. It’s really to go low and slow in whatever way space is safe for you. And to explore the question first that Leanne asked, “Is the best way just to explore? What’s your belief about this? What have you heard? And what do we know? And what do you know?” And then we can start to build out “What is it like? “Luckily, it’s not me. But, you know, I mean, I think that’s the system. All I do is dream up that the research could be done.

Leanne: I love that you said, “you need to be the expert.” Because t that’s the case, whether it’s cannabis or even my own experience on the birth control pill. My doctor didn’t tell me half of the side effects of taking a hormonal birth control pill. I had to find out for myself because I was getting weird reactions. I was getting chronically chapped, swollen lips, and I was getting dark spots on my skin and going to see my doctor and asking, could this be the pill because it was the only thing that I was taking. I wasn’t even taking supplements. And she looked at me like I was crazy. These doctors either don’t know or sometimes don’t share what could happen to you. You have to be the expert. We’re all like little aliens. Yeah, we’re all humans, but everyone is so different in every way. No one size fits all. You know, you can’t trust a doctor to just hand you over your magic, healing medication, whatever that may be. You have to be the expert. I think that was a great statement.

Jim Mustard: Cannabis is not like aspirin. It doesn’t have that same dosage effect and whatever or Tylenol or ibuprofen. It’s such a wide-ranging spectrum of potential effects, whether it’s like seeing this thing mixed up with this ad. Going back to this thing, we have to learn the unlimited ability to learn together. Right? So the expertise comes from exactly from us back into a system who grew it, how is it grown? Was it the same grown last time? Are genetics the same? Is it organic? You know, I mean, then going into what day? How did I use it? And then for clinicians to understand that that might not be the prescription for the next person. But we can all learn that this is what this one person had. I can’t believe we’re here, in this day and age, talking about something that has been demonized for so long. The number of veterans that can’t access medical cannabis, for whatever reason (cost, location, circumstance) and it’s not the same quality like you can’t even choose quality, you just can’t even get it. So here we are in Canada, talking at a level where we’re going to start to create levels of health and recovery. Like, we already got the cannabis covered, but we still don’t know. That’s what Veterans for Healing was excited to do is provide access to good high quality, consistent organic medicine. So that it’s, not one week, it was for next week, it was like somebody small the staff, and it stopped that let’s stop that. And so I think I’m on every level; I’m super excited. And I’m not going to be the CEO forever. I’m getting out of this role as soon as I can. I’m going back to the woods.

 Calla: No, you’re not! You’ve got dreams you’re dreaming over there!

Jim Mustard: Fabian and I have plenty of dreams.

Calla: I was going to say, you’ll keep finding each other. How many times do you want to go through this? That’s amazing.

Jim Mustard: That’s right. We would be different every time. Who are you now? What do you?

Calla: Exactly! It just keeps happening until the job is done. I love it. It’s so beautiful.

Leanne: Jim, you mentioned barefoot walking? Can you talk a bit about that for our listeners? What are the benefits of that?

Jim Mustard: You know, that’s a trust mechanism for yourself. To be cold, to be hungry, and to be barefoot out in the woods. It’s kind of that mindful practice where you can kind of put your foot down. You have to put your foot down. I’m not sure how hard you’re going to put your foot down. There might be something sticking out of the ground, but it’s kind of this idea just slows you down, and you’re walking your awareness. You’re kind of this forcefield going forward all the time. You’re going down, went down, and you can stop more because you’re there. It feels like you’re there. And so we’re here in Cape Breton might be similar to Alabama or Tennessee. It could be similar to a soft forest right there where there’s moss and things like that. So it opens up a whole sensory thing from your feet to your mind because you slow down. You may walk more like a predator. You know, you’re kind of like your cat.

Leanne: I want to see Calla walk like a predator!

Calla: I don’t think a predator wears yoga pants and carries a water bottle, but I’ll do my best.

Jim Mustard: You do your best, Cal. 

Calla: I will, I will. 

Jim Mustard: But some of us are hurting on legs like a herd of bison or whatever, you know, wildebeest going across the tundra. But I love the idea that it slows you down. Your awareness is where you need to be versus getting from A to B. Shoes allow you to do this, now I may not be getting from A to B, but everywhere I’m going, I’m totally aware of where I’m at. I think that’s where Fabian and I’ve just had lots of time to do that. But working a lot with kids in care, lots of people that come here, a lot of camps with young people, and you know that they’re immersed in themselves by the end of the week. They’re immersed. 

Calla: It sounds like exhausting, purposeful work.

Jim Mustard: Totally exhausting. Like, it could be your twins, like times five throughout life for the twins.

Calla: So I’m keeping my shoes on, Jim. I’m keeping my shoes.

Leanne:  She’s got shoes and a mask. 

Calla:  I’m going to be here while I handle it. I’m going to do the best that I can. That’s my commitment to this right now.

Jim Mustard: I know what you’re talking about. It’s a big one.

Calla: Yeah.

Jim Mustard: It doesn’t matter. You’re canoeing down a river. It doesn’t matter if you’re snowshoeing or skiing. It sometimes, it’s just it’s not that you don’t want to get exercise, get your exercise, but just enjoy where the hell you’re at. Don’t worry about getting there. 

Calla: I feel that big-time these days. More so than I ever had any point in my life. For sure. I mean, it does make me want to be here. It makes cooking dinner not so bad. You know, it makes the timer on the table more special. I start crying, but it’s true. So you see, it’s all those things.

Jim Mustard: And what’s that from for you, Calla? What was it? Uh, what was the catalyst for that?

Calla: We don’t have that much time. Lord, that’s what I’m trying to write a book. I’ve got to get these stories out. I think it’s been recognizing and forgiving and loving myself. Um, it has. It’s so funny. For the longest time, I thought it had to do with many people around me but actually had nothing to do with them. It was my experience and what they brought to my life. So unpacking a lot of that and coming to peace with it has been my journey. Just stepping into who I want to be for sure. Thank you for attending my TED Talk.

Leanne: It’s good. She’ll be here all week.

Jim Mustard: That’s the shortest talk ever.

Calla: You’re welcome. We don’t want me to ramble. Like I have a podcast or something. We know you have more important work to do. And you have to do it in this lifetime. So we’re going to let you get back to it, but keep having those big ideas. Thank you so much for coming here, talking with us about Veterans for Healing, and giving us this opportunity to jump on board and be part of Stories of Healing. It’s meant a lot to both of us.

Leanne: Yeah, thank you for the work you’re doing.

Jim Mustard: Thanks to you both. Thank you for jumping in and connecting with Fabian. Now, who is Fabian connecting us to?

Calla: Oh my gosh, can you imagine?!

Jim Mustard:  I can’t wait to start to listen in.  Fabian just told me some of the ones you guys have already done and how amazing they are. So I can’t wait to just kind of once again; let’s just have a great time sharing part of the journey together that you guys have jumped in on a big part of it. So thank you, thank you for somehow capturing this wave and being on it with us, and we’ll look forward to as it grows to get you up here. Calla, take off your shoes. You’re going to get married and come back to Canada, Leanne. We’re not going to go to Ontario.

Calla: First, Tyson! I swear That’s funny. 

Leanne: It’s just it’s the timing. Ontario’s not the place to be right now. 

We fully plan on it. You know, my fiance loves barefoot walking, so he will fit right in with you guys.

Jim Mustard: WoooHooo!!! A new cult! 

Calla: Hey now, I didn’t sign off on that! 

Leanne: Yeah, yeah, that was a contract. Big Dreams and dirty feet.

Calla: Well, we’ll see in the next forest, in the next lifetime, and we’ll deal with it then.

Jim Mustard: I love it. Yeah, yeah, that would be beautiful. Take care, you two.

Bitesized with Toby Goldstein

Toby Goldstein is an Employee Engagement Expert, Speaker, and Founder of GoBitesize.com where she facilitates workshops on productivity, time management, soft skills and more. Toby is a passionate about bringing clarity to confusion.

Inside of this episode:

  • Soft Skills: What are they and how to use them
  • Toxic Leadership & How you can thrive despite it
  • Friendly vs. Friends in the workplace
  • Is happy hour really happy for everyone?
  • Employee Engagement & How to Flourish through Feedback!

Connect with Guest:


Stories of Healing with Ron Millward

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.

Safe Helpline provides live, confidential help over the phone — just call 877-995-5247. The phone number is the same in the U.S. and worldwide via DSN.

Connect with Guest:

Website: https://www.balancedveterans.com

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f you enjoyed this episode, please let us know by leaving a 5-star review. It means the world and helps us reach more people that need to hear these messages. — This episode is sponsored by · Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app


**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:

  1. Take your time and, like, feel what you feel. If something traumatic happened to you, allow yourself to feel that.
  2. Don’t let anyone downplay that.
  3. 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”

Keeping It Casual with Laki Nua

Laki Nua is a YouTuber and Podcast Host of “Mental Health Casual”  where he interviews people from all walks of life on Mental Health while also sharing his story.  Mental Health Casual is just one part of “The Casual Empire”.

Inside of this episode:

↣  Mental Health + Anime (Laki’s passions!)

↣ How a breakdown and a 5150 hold lead to healing his trauma and expectations with his Father

↣ Genetic Plasticity and the how was can retrain our genes

↣ The beauty of contrast in human life

↣ How good habits can change your life

Connect with Guest:

Instagram:  http://www.instagram.com/mentalhealthcasual

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCnxGcHSvrpP-MEdw7rxzy0A

Podcast: https://open.spotify.com/show/05xv6y0B7x7CeQzu168CA5

Stories of Healing with Tyson Bowen

Tyson Bowen is the President and founder of The Real Canadian Recreation Society, Tyson joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 2005 with the 1st Battalion, Nova Scotia Highlanders in Pictou N.S. Upon his completion, he did many deployments to Afghanistan from 2007 -2010, for a combined total of 435 days in Afghanistan.  In 2015, Tyson was diagnosed with PTSD and medically released from the Canadian Armed Forces in November 2018 retiring as a Sergeant. He now reside back in Nova Scotia and has undertaken s project of creating a veterans society.

Inside of this episode:

↣ Tyson’s Military Experience and the Onset of PTSD

↣ The Vision and Plan for Real Canadian Recreation

↣ The importance of giving Veterans purpose post-combat

↣ Why plant based medicine works for his anxiety and PTSD post combat.

Connect with Guest:

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/realcanadianrecreation/
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Tyson Bowen Interview:

Tyson Bowen: I joined the forces in 2005. And the reserves here out of Pictou, Nova Scotia, First Battalion, Nova Scotia Highlanders. That was my grade 12 year. Upon my completion of my basic training, the Afghanistan Mission had conducted its move to Kandahar from Kabul. I had volunteered my name forward to go on, tour any tour to Afghanistan with any job. I was selected to be in Augmentee with the Reservists and then once we did the Augmentee training, I then volunteered my name forward to go part of the battle group. So instead of being in my original job of Defense and Security and Close Protection for Convoys, I was then augmented into a Section and Rifle Company as a Reservist. Then I deployed overseas with the Second Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment in January 2007. Then I came back and then I just stayed in the Army. They did this thing called Component Transfers and any Reservists that had previous tour experience like early on in the days of Afghanistan, was pretty much you completed your post tour leave, and then you just walk back into your unit that you just left a month prior. I was three months back here in Nova Scotia being a Reservist and then I was rerolled to the regular force in January 2008.

Leanne: Was it hard for you to leave and then just go back overseas?

Tyson Bowen: No, when I went back I went back to the regular floor so that was like my day to day job then so I was no longer

Calla: What did that consist of for those that have no idea?

Tyson Bowen: Yeah, so a Reservist is a Part-Time Soldier and they have to work one weekend a month over one week a year, but you’re you’re just a volunteer so you can do your your tours, or your courses, or your one Thursday a week and then one weekend a month just that so you stay in. When I Component Transferred from Reserves to Regular Force I was then now like a 9 to 5 “Everyday Soldier”. Well, 24-7 actually with the role of the Infantry and the Canadian Forces. We’re always on notice to go anyways with different immediate response units and stuff like that. Once I went back to Regular Force I was just another Canadian Soldier and the Forces on a full time basis.

Calla: When you retired, was that big for medical reasons?

Tyson Bowen: Yeah. So, I retired in November 2018, after almost 14 years, like 13, medically released due to PTSD and other underlying conditions, physical ailments, and so on.

Leanne: Do you feel comfortable going into what your PTSD consisted of?

Tyson Bowen: h, I’m an open book. So whatever you want to know, I’ll tell you I don’t, I have no shame. Well, I have lots of shame and guilt.

Calla: So you’re human, awesome!

Tyson Bowen: So there’s guilt and shame and not being a soldier anymore. But no, I don’t care. I’ll tell you, whatever you want to hear.

Leanne: Let’s hear about that then, the trauma you experienced over there, and how that affected you.

Tyson Bowen: The trauma from over there, it’s not, I don’t have one specific incident that I can still nail down like, That was when I got PTSD. But I know when I got PTSD here in Canada, and that was the birth of my first daughter. So my daughter, Amelia, when I first saw her come into the world, just coming out of my beautiful wife, Jenna. Immediately, I had a flashback, and to when I was searching the car and when we searched the car in Afghanistan, we found a dead infant in the in the car, and just one of those things that you can never never unsee and what was supposed to be the happiest moment of my life with my firstborn turned out to be the worst.

Leanne: You see that, and then you remember you have that memory. What was that moment like?

Tyson Bowen: So that moment was, um, I don’t want to say, Well, I was just totally taken aback. Like I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t I didn’t want to touch her. I didn’t want to be near I didn’t want to like, I totally.

Calla: Scary almost?

Tyson Bowen: Yeah. Oh, it was total recluse like moment, like, total recoil away from my daughter and stuff like that. But after the next while and go into treatment, and stuff like that and that’s when originally I started going to my treatment. And then I had a second daughter, two years later and that experience went much better after dealing with that, like, initial trauma, and then being able to cope and have coping techniques to actually be ready to have our second daughter.

Calla: So after Amelia was born, you’re in the hospital with your wife? I mean, did you have to remove yourself from the situation and then come back to it?

Tyson Bowen: Yeah, I had to leave. So when she was born, or pregnant with my first daughter, I had to leave the course I was on in the middle of our field exercise. So I was on my Basic Reconnaissance Course, as a surgeon because I’m silly like that. And I decided to punish myself. So then I went from the field to the hospital, had this was totally sleep fuck kind of thing. And then I had my daughter and then this was the outcome. And so went my downward spiral.

Leanne: Yeah, that’s what I want to get into. I mean, paint the picture for us. You said you sought treatment after that, but did you have the spiral and that’s what led you to start trading. I

Tyson Bowen: That was just the nail in the coffin. There were so many other other things. The final word was, me and my wife always had the understanding that she was with me right from my very first tour we met in April of 2006, just prior to my first tour in January in 2007. So we had been together through both tours together, and we always had the unwritten rule that when it came time that if she noticed a major change that, “Okay, enough was enough, and you’re going to see mental health.” So finally, I think February 2016, is when I finally went in and started the process.

Calla: Was that a scary thing for you to be able to do?

Tyson Bowen: I just didn’t care anymore. I was so burnt out. I didn’t want to be around. I didn’t want to be alive. I didn’t want to be in the Forces, I didn’t want to do anything. I was just at rock bottom and my wife was just like, “Yep, now it’s time to go in and get help.” And I was like, “Okay”.

Calla: What’s your wife’s name?

Tyson Bowen: Jenna.

Calla: Thank you, Jenna.

Leanne: What kind of treatment? Did you go to talk therapy? Or what was the first kind of treatment?

Tyson Bowen: So, I went with whatever the Army gave me. So that was how it rolls at first, and you go through the Canadian Forces Medical System. It involved a lot of interviews and appointments and appointments and appointments and appointments.

Calla: So, not instant help?

Tyson Bowen: No, no, not really. I think I was rather fortunate. I think I got in to see a Psychiatrist within like two weeks, I think. But, I know the wait time is far longer than that now at the Canadian Forces Medical Clinics, but I can’t speak on that to what it actually is, as I’ve been removed from it. I think I was there for two weeks. So two weeks is a great amount of time to wait for a doctor.

Leanne: Were you prescribed any medications as well?

Tyson Bowen: Oh, so many, so many. I think at one point I was on 14 pills a day. It was a mixture of Trazodone, Sertraline. [I think I’m still on Sertraline right now.] But Effexor, Wellbutrin, Zoloft, Prozac, whatever you can think of as antidepressant, PTSD, antipsychotic, any of those things I’ve tried them. Now thankfully, I’m only down to two and I also use medical cannabis as well.

Calla: I want to get into that in a minute. What did those days look like when you were on all the opiates?

Tyson Bowen: Completely numb, like, you just didn’t want to do anything. It just turned me into a zombie. They were designed to keep me alive…and yeah, they did that, which is great. But, they definitely don’t allow you to live. That was the one of the biggest things I found with medications. But I had good Psychologists and good Counselors and as I was taking the different medications, if they didn’t work, we moved on quickly off them and went to another one. Finally I got onto a regime that was manageable. Then I got on to a stable platform. Now I can move off those medications and move on to medical cannabis. That seems to be the trick.

Leanne: Did your Psychiatrists also recommend you try medical cannabis?

Tyson Bowen: Negative. They did not. One did, out of Fredericton, but anyone here through Nova Scotia through the OSI clinic, they still say that the medical evidence isn’t there. But the guys at the root level, down on the ground, know that it works, and it’s doing wonders for us and other guys in our situation.

Leanne: It does seem like a common story that you guys are over prescribed medications, and then just feel kind of like a shell of a human because you don’t want to feel the bad feelings, but you don’t wanna have no feelings at all.

Tyson Bowen: Well, yeah, that’s one thing with just I think with PTSD in general, it totally takes away your empathy and your sympathy and any type of feelings. Nothing could change my point of view on life at that point. I didn’t give a f*ck. It’s just just how it is.

Calla: I want to talk about when you “Found your F*ck”. When did you get it back?

Tyson Bowen: Well, good counseling and therapy was obviously a major factor in it. Getting me to deal with some of my trauma and I still haven’t dealt with all my trauma, that’s just a little snippet, it is just a piece of what we’ve endured and what we’ve had to see and that stuff. That’s just one that sticks out to me and with all the coinciding events to that initial trauma, I can kind of say that that’s my, my breaking point when I broke, but it wasn’t actually I don’t think. I could have broke months earlier and I was just in a holding pattern, but that’s besides the point. When I found my f*ck i I tried really hard to stay in the army like, really, really hard. Because once I started my treatment, and everything’s going well, I had good support from my Chain of Command, they left me alone to do my treatment, then I just did my job and went to work. Finally, it was just enough is enough, like, I gotta focus on me and my mental health and my family’s mental health and my family’s well being. That was that, the Medical System made the decision and they suggested a Medical Release. On my way out of my Medical Release and through all my time in the Forces when you’re hanging around the Troops, just in your platoon offices, or whatever you’re doing, you’re always coming up with Brainiac ideas. One of these ideas was to one day own a Campground Park When I was 50, and retired from the forces after doing 30 years and just having a vision of being an old, crusty guy running a Campground, that’s what I wanted to do. Fast forward to Okay, now I’m released from the forces at 14 years, don’t know what I’m going to do. I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I have this really good idea and I’ve told a few people about it, and they think it’s a good idea, so now we’re just gonna run with it. That’s what we’ve been doing ever since. I think that was probably early 2017, late 2016 when I finally was like, “Okay, this is what it’s going to be called.” Then I just started registering everything right away.The good thing about the Canadian Forces is there are people from everywhere. I had a troop that had a St. Mary’s business degree, and he gave me a

business plan template and I just started filling stuff out. Next thing you know, I’m here doing it, and I don’t get it, but it’s serendipitous, and I’m sure we’re gonna get into all the other weird stuff here soon… Just the whole backstory of how this property came to be.

Leanne: Yeah, that’s what we want to hear.

Tyson Bowen: I can’t make it up.

Calla: Tell us, let’s hear it.

Tyson Bowen: Okay, so the story is, Years ago, My wife and I were at a friend’s wedding in New Brunswick and we met up with another one of our friend’s parents, John and Nelly Smees. That’s who used to live here at the property, and they ran this nice dairy farm called The Crown. They ran it for years and years and finally sold it in 1998. When we ran into them at the wedding, they were like, “Tyson, we’re getting ready to sell the property we thought to you.”, and I said, “I’m not anywhere near time to do this. I would love to own it., II know the property well, and it’s perfect, like by far, perfect. So fast forward a couple years later, now I’m getting ready to get out of The Forces, and we’re looking at somewhere to go and what to do. I had come up with this idea, and I was running into issues with VAC paperwork. I told a couple people what the idea was for, “Real Canadian Recreation” and they thought it was a really good idea. They sent me to the next person and I just started climbing the ladder and figuring out what it was I had to do. But in my journeys of doing this I was in the process of being released from the Army. I was trying to fill out VAC paperwork, and my wife Jenna is friends with Juliane, Fabian’s spouse and then Jen is like why don’t you go see Fabian and get him to help out with your paperwork. Fabian had a notoriety around Oromocto for being the old “Marijuana For Trauma ” guy, so there was some hesitancy to go see him, but finally after months of her coercing me to go and just do VAC paperwork, which is annoying in itself. I finally went in and talked to Fabian and he kind of gave me the ‘what’s what’ and the ‘who’s who’ of what I need to do for VAC and how to fill it out properly and all that kind of stuff. I spoke to Fabian and then as I was leaving after we had our conversation, it was all good. And I said, “Hey, man, like, Don’t you have a Jeep? Don’t you want a Jeep for around here?” And he’s like, “Yeah, it’s in Cape Breton.” and I was like, “Well, do you ever like, ATV or, Jeep or go outside and run sleds and other outdoor activities?” He told me he did but it’s all in Cape Breton. I was like, okay, cool, man. I got this wicked idea. I’m just gonna run by right click. And I told him my idea. And he’s like, I love it. And I’m like, Okay, cool. Like, that’s, yeah, I got another thumbs up from someone that knows more about stuff than me. Then he’s like, okay, we need to set up a meeting for later on this week to discuss this more. I’m like, okay, man, like, whatever. Sounds good to me. I’ll discuss it. I figured he’d give me business advice or like, different business plans or something along those lines. And sure enough, it was completely the other way. And he essentially made my dreams come true.

Calla: He has a way of doing that.

Leanne: Yeah, we have a similar story with Fabian.

Tyson Bowen: Awesome. So he, we were coming home in Nova Scotia, again, I think the middle of the week for something else and Fabian sent me an email. And he says, “Tyson, does this property work for you?” And I said, “What property works for me?, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Then he sends me the link and I recognize the link in the property ad and it was John and Nelly’s Ad

Calla: Stop!!

Tyson Bowen: Yeah. He’s like, I want you to go see it and I told him, , I don’t need to go see it. I already know.. I know what it is. It’s perfect. It’s great. But I was also wondering, why am I going to see it? He said, “See if you can set up a meeting with the family and we’ll go do a tour of the property and the house and all this stuff.” I said, “Okay, I’ll call him right now.” I called up John and Nelly and said Fabian wants to see this house. He’s a medical cannabis entrepreneur. I don’t know what he wants with it. I thought he might want to do a retreat or something. It totally was not registering at all. So we set it up and another week later, we came to the property. It was me, Jenna, and my oldest daughter. We took some ATVs and Side-by-Side’s and we did a tour around the property. Fabian stepped aside at the end of the tour, and he was like, “What do you think?” And I was like, “What do you mean? What do you think, it’s awesome! It’s paradise” and he says, “Okay, it’s yours. This is for Real Canadian Recreation.” and that was it. He then went through and took care of all that negotiating with John and Nelly… and then yeah, now we’re here at the property. The other fun fact was John and Nelly, their family is originally from the Netherlands, and when their family was liberated in World War Two, and now their property is going back to Canadian soldiers in 2021. I can’t make it up. It’s completely incredible. It’s Full circle. I don’t know. We found poppies just growing on the property. We didn’t plan it. There’s a whole lot of cool stuff that happens here.

Leanne: Wow!

Calla: Divine stuff on that property it sounds like.

Tyson Bowen: It’s very, very serendipitous all the time. Everything just lines up and I just go with it. I’m not complaining. I’m cool with that.

Calla: So amazing. Such gratitude for that.

Leanne: You said earlier that you’re brainstorming and you knew you wanted to be in charge of a campground, when did you first realize that nature or camping is healing for you?

Tyson Bowen: I always knew that. I think that’s an inherent thing with guys that join the Army. They just want to be outside so they join, and then the Army just sucks all the fun of it. But we have an inherent draw to nature and, I always say, “you can fake it till you make it with mental health”, but being outside, getting vitamin D -that’s all and an additive to it and then once you’re in treatment and add that additional outdoor activities into it, it just makes sense. I didn’t know I was gonna be doing this but it just morphed into what it is, and now I’m very happy to be part of this and making this place accessible for veterans across Canada. That’s the goal.

Calla: Take me back to the moment like when Fabian said, “This is yours, we’re doing this.” What was your conversation with Jenna like?

Tyson Bowen: We were totally flabbergasted. And I was like, “Okay, yeah, so we’re doing this.” We were in the process of getting ready to be released from the Forces on our move back to Nova Scotia, so we had to wait for John and Nelly to move out, so we bought another property, just 20 -30 minutes away from here. We lived there for a while till John and Nelly moved out, then we moved in. We renovated the farm house and did some updating and now we’ve been here for almost two years. It’s gonna be two years here in June.

Leanne: What kind of activities are you going to have on the property?

Tyson Bowen: So the thing about the property is, we have lots of space. You can come do whatever you want. We have roughly close to 400 acres right now, and if we can get land usage agreement or memorandum understandings with other landowners around us, which we were going to do, we hope to get 1000s of acres of usable property for us. The other benefit of where we’re situated in Pictou County, Nova Scotia, we’re backed on to the Game Sanctuary and a big, essentially, Nature Preserve behind us. There’s nothing from here to Sheet Harbor, which is about 45-50 minutes away. We’re the last house, and then it’s nothing other than camps. So we’re just out in the country all the time.

Leanne: What activities will you have?

Tyson Bowen: Yeah, so specifically, activities are that people can come, veterans can come here for free, and be in a safe space that they can be amongst their peers and not be judged if they have a bad day, or if they’re being a little off, or a little snappy. If you’re here, you can do what you want. If you’re having a bad day and need to go for a walk, that’s cool. If veterans come here, I’m essentially the tour guide, and I’m here to talk to, to help. I’m here for peer support, that kind of thing. While they’re here, we have ATVs, we have a bunch of tractors, two jeeps in production – it’s any outdoor activity that you’d want to do in Canada, hence why we’re called Real Canadian Recreation. But that’s also a play on words of my old unit Royal Canadian Regiment. So people see the logo, and it’s very similar to the real Royal Canadian Regiment one.

Calla: So you are also a Creative Arts Director and Ambassador.

Tyson Bowen: This is again, is not me, this is the business template. I had a witty thing to get people’s attention that looks like the Army, but it’s not… And it worked out well. It’s essentially a tire. And then the eight-point star from our hat badge- instead of the middle says VRI, it now says RCR.

Calla: It’s really ingenious. That’s awesome.

Tyson Bowen: We have a pond that we stock with fish so you can come and teach your kids how to fish. We’re in the process of building wooden tents, A-frame tents. Our goal is to build 18 of those so people can come and camp on the property. They can bring their own camper on the property. They can use our camping equipment that we’ve been able to purchase through grants from different organizations. A veteran can come through if they’re going from Newfoundland on the ferry and driving through Nova Scotia to go to Cape Breton to get the ferry. They can stop in here for the night. If they don’t have a sleeping bag or tent, or an air mattress, we have all that here. Veterans can literally stop in for the night, keep going if you want to, or you can stop in for a day, a night, week, whatever. We’re not gonna tell you to leave. There’s so many activities and reasons to stay. You can do as much or as little as you want. You can just go wander around the fields and look at butterflies – whatever makes you happy is what you can do here. I’m just the “Facilitator of Good Ideas” or something, I don’t know.

Calla: That’s going to be my new title, “Facilitator of Good Ideas”, I’m gonna steal that. I really like that. I’m going to update my LinkedIn after. One of your great ideas is, you coined the term “Eco Adventure Park” for your space, and I think that’s just so genius. I was reading an article that you were interviewed for, and it talked about how you wanted to open up your space within four phases. Can you talk about what those four phases are?

Tyson Bowen: The four phases first and foremost will always be veterans and Canadian Forces members. So it doesn’t matter when you serve, where you served, how long you served, if you serve the Canadian Forces, and you have a valid piece of military identification, veterans card or current, you’re cool, like you can come here and use the facilities. The first in priority will always be veterans. Next will be Fire, EMS, Police, first responders… We are already starting to get the trickle down effect in that area of first responders. They are starting to hear about us and come out to use the property for their own mental health and so on. Third phase will be for adult education about PTSD, what is PTSD and what we actually did in Afghanistan. Everyone thinks that we are in Afghanistan doing peacekeeping functions, which we were absolutely not, we were doing combat in a war. So that’s the third phase. The fourth phase will be doing things with kids and at-risk youth. We’ve partnered with the local Army Cadet Corps, and we have them here doing training on the property. That’s what the properties are about to teach kids how to do stuff the right way. We teach survival, we teach them fishing, we can teach navigation. There’s a huge military presence in Pictou County, so for example, in WW2 , Westville, Nova Scotia had one of the highest rates of volunteers per capita, and that’s just down the road. There’s lots of new age veterans in the area that have all these different qualifications and skills that will eventually be able to teach the future generations what to do properly. And it keeps us busy.

Calla: It’s really evolved from your original idea, hasn’t it?

Tyson Bowen: Yeah, it has. Now it’s just doing its thing. I’m just trying to drive the boat. That’s it.

Leanne: Let’s talk about goats.

Tyson Bowen: I built them a goat palace. Yes. So again, everything we do is just organic and down to earth. Just be around your peers, build something, do something productive. Everything is trying to be a productive avoidance technique, in a way. But, we’re trying not to also avoid the situations and we’re around each other while we’re doing work, which allows us to share our struggles of the day and what’s going on at home, their home life, and how you’re feeling, when is next year’s appointment, and so on. So, while we’re building this goat house, we had different veterans Air Force, Navy, Army guys come up and help. They bang a couple nails in and they leave and that’s what we’re here for. During COVID, we have lots of space for social distance, so people can come show up and bang a couple nails, cut a couple boards, and they’re providing a service, but they’re also making a space for them as well. So, the goat barn was turned into a house. We have two goats, Walter and Waylon.

Leanne: Oh, my God, Walter.

Tyson Bowen: Yeah, so Walter is our new guy. He’s just 10 weeks old, and then Waylon is two. We hope to use them later around the property because goats like to eat everything. So we’ll be able to take them on walks and they’ll help us maintain trails and eat all the unwanted foliage on the trees that we don’t want, and they keep all the good stuff that we do want.

Leanne: On your website you talked about “Healing Goat Moments” or , “Goments” 10

Tyson Bowen: It’s probably the same as equestrian therapy and stuff like that. But I don’t know if it’s from Afghanistan, like seeing so many goats when we were over there, like there’s just goats everywhere, and they’re hilarious. They’re either above you or next to you and they’re everywhere. So now, I don’t know what drew me back to goats. I have no idea other than my friends have goats, and that’s where we got it from, another veteran farmer, owner of “Our Hideaway Homestead ”, The Balkan Family Farm. They had goats. When you go to the Goat Palace, they’re just super chill. They’re like deer dogs. I call them deer dogs, because they’re pretty big. But, any animal is gonna make you feel better. That’s one thing that I think, Veterans, if they don’t have an animal when they are released from the forces, they should try to get some type of animal. It takes your focus off your daily struggles and then it puts the focus on them so you take care of them. So, now I have two goats and I just get to hang out with them and have “goments”

Calla: Hashtag, #Goments

Leanne: Goats are all the rage right now though. You can even get on Groupon and do goat yoga.

Tyson Bowen: They are 150 pound Nubian goats. They’re not going to goat yoga. Our little guy Walter will still jump on us, like he’ll go on my back. But no, I’m not letting Waylon, he’s 150 pounds.

Calla: I didn’t know goats could get that big!

Leanne: I didn’t either.

Tyson Bowen: Yes, he’s a big boy, boy. But he’s cool.

Leanne: Have you guys hosted any retreats there yet? Or is that just a future plan?

Tyson Bowen: What we’ve been able to accomplish so far, I guess is the better way to explain it. So last year was our first year, then we wanted to do something bigger, so unfortunately, one of my good friends killed himself in October of last year, Herman Williams. So another terrible fact of what PTSD and stuff will do. He unfortunately took his own life and he was always such a happy, outstanding, outspoken person. He was a Newfoundlander, he was just happy, always down to earth, ready for a good time. So we decided to have a concert. We put a couple of our friends together and a couple of bands. We got a 53 foot flat deck donated to us by a local construction company and turned it into a stage. We had music and food, and now we are going to do a yearly festival for Herman Williams. So that is one thing we’re going to do. The retreats going forward and future events we’re hoping to have include an ATV rally out here for in July. But other than that, COVID kind of really did a number on us. Veterans have been using the property but it’s not how much I want people to be here right now. But that’s just with what’s going on in the world. You have to pivot a little bit right now with your plans, huh? Yeah, and that’s one thing we could do during COVID. That event was in October, and we we’re allowed to have a gathering of 250 people outside socially. I was like, if we can socially distance on a 400 acre field then we have a problem. We did all the stuff. We did all the tracking and so on. We even got a visit from the RCMP. So it was good to go. They wanted to make sure I was counting all my people. And I said Yep, sure.

Leanne: How many people did you have show up?

Tyson Bowen: That night we had 144 out of the possible 250 so we’re pretty happy and again, it was just a little fundraiser for us. We’re doing it to just recoup our costs of what we spent to pay for most of the music and the actual sound systems and stuff like that. Everyone else just did it on the generosity of their heart. It was great. We hope to build on that this year and next year and next year and just gonna keep doing it.

Leanne: What is it like lockdown wise over there right now? I’ve got family in Ontario and I know that they’re completely locked down. Yeah. Currently Nova Scotia is in a two week lockdown. But in rural Nova Scotia, we do what we want. Life goes on. If you go into town, you wear your mask if you have to go to the store, but I try not to go into town at any time. I just stay here.

Calla: In creating all of what you’re doing on the property, what are some of the challenges that you’ve come up against?

Tyson Bowen: Insurance and funding. Insurance is very expensive when you tell people that you want to let people do whatever they want.

Calla: Maybe you have to reword that in your business plan.

Tyson Bowen: I’m just honest. They asked, what do you want to do? ” and I told them, ” I want to do whatever we want to do, like, cover us for when someone dies?” They didn’t like that, so I said, “You’re not supposed to say that to your insurance provider? Like, I don’t know. Whatever.” But, seriously, the biggest hindrance right now is COVID, and funds. We’ve attempted to apply for grants through different government organizations and are waiting back on some, and some we’ve been denied. So we’ll just wait and see. But people are always doing good deeds for us and doing different fundraisers for us. I’m

definitely not saying that we are ready to open but we’ve made great progress from what we’ve been able to do with the funds and just volunteers. It’s being built by the community is what it’s doing. But now the community can help understand what today’s new veterans are dealing with, and what all their struggles are. On top of all the unknown that they’re still dealing with, with their treatment, we’re going to teach people that we’re still a community and that community can take care of us – because other people aren’t going too, so that’s gonna work.

Leanne: It sounds like a tight knit community over there.

Tyson Bowen: Oh yeah, East Coast is predominantly in The Forces because that’s just how the East Coast is. There’s not many jobs. A lot of people join the forces. Now a lot of guys move back .One of the reasons why we chose Canada not just because from here but it’s for our centrally located all the Maritimes. So you can go from Northern New Brunswick to the South Shore and Yarmouth, from right off the boat and Sydney from Newfoundland or take the ferry over and be here within four hours. So we’re right in the prime, prime country of Central Nova Scotia. 25 minutes to the beach and about six minutes to a river behind us.

Leanne: I’m landlocked, so that sounds like a dream.

Tyson Bowen: Are you in Texas?

Leanne: Yeah, I’m in Dallas.

Tyson Bowen: That’s unfortunate.

Leanne: It’s so funny. Because, when you’re from Dallas, there’s definitely a lot of “Dallas pride”, but it is by far not the prettiest place to live. And I tell myself, I’m like, “Well, at least when I travel, I can appreciate everywhere else more because there’s a lake or a big hill.”

Tyson Bowen: And when those people, such as yourself come up here and they’re taking pictures of rivers and stuff. We’re like, “Man”. That explains it, you’re one of them.

Leanne: Yeah, I’m one of those. Like I said earlier, I have family in Ontario.

Tyson Bowen: It’s pronounced “On- terrible.”

Leanne: Oh, no.

Tyson Bowen:Yeah

Leanne: We’re gonna have to edit that one out.

Calla: That’s going to hurt some feelings.

Tyson Bowen: Bring it.

Leanne: So we went back in October and all the leaves were changing, and I was videotaping out the car window. We don’t really get the seasonal changes either.

Tyson Bowen: Yeah, that’s true.

Leanne: I can tell you appreciate the beauty and nature – which is great.

Tyson Bowen: We’re pretty lucky to be where we’re at. To be able to see the beauty and have a waterfall five kilometers away from here, that’s awesome.

Calla: Are there things that you want for your property that you want to have happen? I read this article and if you don’t remember it, no worries – It was one you did for Salt Wire, and you talked about that you have this dream of wanting a helicopter to come and land. Do you remember that?

Tyson Bowen: Yeah, I made a Helipad up there. So like I said, if you have a good idea or a terrible idea, we’re probably gonna do it. Ask and you shall receive. You know what? There’s no such thing as a bad idea. So, as we’ve been here, The Forces helicopters , Shearwater Bay Shearwaters, are essentially directly to the south of us, across the musket, our harbor and stuff. So the Cyclones or the Search and Rescue aircraft were always flying over. So, we painted our mural on the sea can. I don’t know if you’ve seen that big Canada flag. So we painted a big Canada flag on the sea can, then we started noticing that the aircraft from the forces were circling all the time. So as they were flying on their missions or whatever, they were just circling back. I was like, I’m gonna build them a landing pad, and they’re gonna land here

one day, and it’s gonna be amazing. And they’re gonna come and land here and have coffee with us because that’s what it’s about. Just come have a coffee or a bite of food and go back on your way. We put the landing pad up there, and a couple days later, we had a helicopter come in. It was a construction company’s helicopter and the pilot had agreed to take pictures of the property with us and it was awesome.

Calla: What a moment. Just one more thing you manifested for yourself. I love it.

Tyson Bowen: Apparently, yeah! Apparently that’s what I did. I manifested a helicopter and I almost got one landing at the property and it was awesome.

Leanne: Do you believe in that though? Because I feel like that’s really what this whole thing is.

Tyson Bowen: It is and I don’t know if I believe it. But there has to be something because I don’t know the reasoning behind this. It’s just all “The Secret” and stuff like that. Like that’s the real thing. So…

Leanne: That is insane that you just said that because my client just gave me that book last week to read.

Calla: That is what Fabian attests a lot of his stuff. We talked about that with him. That’s so wild.

Tyson Bowen: It’s “The Secret “, man. Like, you put it in your mind and your future. It’s gonna happen.

Calla: I feel like you were planning this before you even knew it. And I love that.

Tyson Bowen: Yeah, I don’t know. People always ask, “How are you? managing all this?” and I’m like, I can’t remember what I came into a room for, or to take my medication, or to do anything considered ‘normal everyday life’, but asked me anything about this idea, and I got it under control.

Leanne: That’s how you know you’re in the right spot.

Tyson Bowen: Meant to be.

Calla: Who’s part of your care team? Who helps you get on track when you struggle a little bit?

Tyson Bowen: Oh, definitely the wife. She is in the care team Numero Uno. Without her I wouldn’t be here. I’ve said that many times. She knows that. But, a good team of psychotherapists, psychologists, nurse practitioners, like there’s so much stuff. A lot of individuals in the Army, they swallow their pride on a lot of things, injuries, whether it’s physical or mental health. I did close to 14 years in the Army, and never went to the Sick Parade or the hospital ever unless it was actually broken bones. Now it’s tough to go through, when you’re putting yourself in a vulnerable position for your mental health side, while you still have all these other underlying conditions that are showing up in the physical side of it. I’m just now starting to get into that and get some follow up surgeries for carpal tunnel and, and other things. And it’s just, it’s a long slog.

Leanne: What does a typical day look like out there right now?

Tyson Bowen: Um, right now, Well, just before this, so the whole thing, what we’re doing is “Veterans helping Veterans” and that kind of thing. So, if a veteran moves in the area, they don’t know any other Vets, they can come here and connect and do that. So, Fun fact, that just happened. A new veteran moved in a couple kilometers down the road, heard about us, said, “Hey, man, like Do you mind coming down on my property and taking a look, see if you can help me out with stuff”. I said, “Sure”, so all this morning, I was down there helping him bush hog and dig up his septic field and try to find where the septic tank is for his house. And that’s just what we do as veterans. It’s another peer support kind of thing where you just go and talk about how you’re feeling, but you’re also doing productive tasks to help each other and so it’s great. Now I forget the questions.

Calla: No, don’t worry about it, What are you puffing on over there?

Tyson Bowen: Some THC.

Calla: Do you have a strain that you found that works for you or are you still trying to figure it out?

Tyson Bowen: I’m kind of all over still. I’m mostly just getting into the oils now and edibles. So far, so good.

Leanne: Be careful with those edibles.

Tyson Bowen: Yeah, they’ll get ya.

Calla: Punch ya right in the face.

Tyson Bowen: Yeah. [laughs]

Calla: What was your cannabis story? I’m so curious about that, since that is one of the pillars that lead us to have these “Stories of Healing”.

Tyson Bowen: It’s so funny. So, I was like “If the Army doesn’t want to do it,, I’m not supposed to be doing it. I’m not doing it. Like I’m in the Army, I’m straight edge, like no. no drugs, no, nothing like that. It was great because, when you’re doing the pre-deployment stuff, and you’re getting drug tests and you can see everyone freaking out that smokes weed -it’s great. So I never smoked any marijuana, any cannabis or anything like that until I was out and released from The Forces. So even upon my initial caretaking and stuff like that, I never went over to the medical cannabis side at all until I was completely- 100%-free-and-clear from The Forces. I don’t know, I said I just wouldn’t smoke it while I was in The Forces That was just my own thing. I don’t know why. But then, just upon my move here, and in dealing with OSI when I got to Halifax and stuff like that, I made the decision to go more towards the cannabis side instead of all my pharmaceuticals and I was able to get rid of a majority of my pharmaceuticals, which is great. So that’s all I care about.

Calla: How long did it take to come off of the pharmaceuticals?

Tyson Bowen: I did a gradual come off of my pharmaceuticals because I just didn’t want to lose all my gains that I had made from the mental stability at the time. I didn’t want to lose that. So, I took a really really gradual approach and did not rock the boat at all. So now, I’m okay. I’m not great. I’m not cured, but I’m definitely manageable and a slightly better person.

Leanne: Awesome.

Tyson Bowen: Yeah.

Calla: The first time using cannabis, how was that for you? Did you feel good instantly? Was this the connection that you were missing?

Tyson Bowen: Well, I smoked cannabis when I was kid.

Calla: I mean medicinally…

Tyson Bowen: Medicinally, there was the relief that I was looking for, and what this property prescribes, I will say is, calm. That’s one thing, I just can’t be calm. I can’t sit still, I’m constantly… my brain is going a million miles a minute. But, when I have some medical cannabis, I can actually sit in my own skin for about five minutes at a time and then I’ll just be up and going again, and just off the walls, but for that five minutes I get, relief. Now, I’ve been able to to extend it in more than five minutes from just different techniques and stuff like that. But that originally was what I was searching for. The sense of calm I finally received with with medical cannabis.

Leanne: Do you do any sort of meditation or anything as well?

Tyson Bowen: No, because my brain is too crazy all the time. Like, I… I want to… I know that would be a physical activity. It’s like going to workout and going to the gym and stuff like that is good. I don’t know, I just… I don’t want to do it.

Leanne: Well, hard labor that’s got to be, I imagine you’d get into a flow state just by doing what you love.

Tyson Bowen: Yeah, when we’re doing what we want to do and doing what my body will allow me to do through the day and that’s another thing, so then pain management, not just mental health management, that’s another side of it. Then, “many hands make light work”, so we have a good group of veterans around here that come out and we all work with our broken bodies and get some stuff done, and some days we don’t get anything done.


And that’s enough, right?

Tyson Bowen: Yeah.

Leanne: Well, we can’t wait to visit.

Tyson Bowen: Yeah, and that’s the property, we’re still working on our building right now. It’s the old dairy barn that we’re turning into our headquarters. We had to unfortunately tear down the first part of the barn that was close to 120 years old so that would have been here, right from when the property was first settled way back when, and then definitely when the family immigrated from the Netherlands after WW2, so that was here. We were sad to lose it, but we’re going to try to keep as much of the history alive and put back any of the barn boards and beams that we are able to salvage, we’re going to put them back into the other building. We were able to salvage close to 42 by almost 100 feet long barn, so it works out almost 6000 square feet, top and bottom, And we’re slowly renovating it, and we just were able to have a local company and come out and spray foam it so it’s another step and getting closer to finishing it.

Calla: So awesome.

Leanne: Yeah, you’re living a similar life over there, Cal.

Calla: I know. I know. I’m like you got your spray foam. How did you get them to call you back? We’re converting our barn into a fitness space and we’re waiting on that.

Tyson Bowen: Barns are great. They’re built really, really solidly. This one needed a lot of work, but we’re getting there. So, that was the original part and the part that we have left was finished in 1978.

Calla: How can people help?

Tyson Bowen: Talking about mental health is one. Just talking about it in general and being open to it. Eventually, we’ll break down the stigmas of what’s going on. Other ways they can help, they can join our Real Canadian Recreation volunteers group on Facebook, our website is scheduled to be completed on June 6, so that will be up, and that will have more information on what we’re doing and when we’re doing it and how we’re doing it. But then, just a lot of the local community organizations do fundraisers on our behalf, and we haven’t done any of our own fundraising per-se. Someone started a GoFundMe when we first did this, but that’s anyone I can’t. I can’t ask people for money, cuz I don’t. I don’t. I don’t like that.

Calla: But people do want to help because you’re doing a really great job.

Tyson Bowen: Yeah, people do want to help. I try to give people options if they want help, such as local businesses and stuff like that. I can take a monetary donation, or you as a heavy equipment operation can come do the work, promote your business, and help us at the same time. Then it’s Win-Win. We’re kind of like an Eco Adventure Park, Nonprofit. But we’re also kind of like a hybrid CoOp society, but we’re like a hybrid Co Op and peer support group. I don’t know. Yeah, our community is just yeah, we’re a community.

Leanne: Fantastic.

Calla: So great. So to the veterans who don’t know you exist yet, and are hearing about it for the first time on your first podcast. What do you want them to know about your space?

Tyson Bowen: *sarcastically* “Hi. Come on out”

Leanne: This is the promo video right here!

Tyson Bowen: Honestly, I’m just a dude, trying to still take care of my troops, and that’s all. If I can’t be in the Army. I guess that’s the only thing I can do now. So I guess that’s what it is.

Calla: Well, you’re doing it. Don’t have too many more ideas because you have a way of making them come true. You’re gonna be really busy.

Tyson Bowen: We’re always busy. We’re always doing something. And that’s the beauty of it. If a Veteran stops in and wants to give a hand for five minutes when we’re doing something outside then, he or she was here, and then they were part of it, and you’ll be able to say, “Hey, I helped do this.”, and that’s what we’re we’re trying to do.

Calla: A true grassroots movement. I love it so much. Thank you so much for being here with us today, Tyson.

Tyson Bowen: Thank you. And we appreciate it. I look forward to having you here.

Written In The Stars with Jeannette Cieszykowski

Uninspired? Out of Energy? Overwhelmed? Our guest this week just may be who you are looking for! Joining us is Jeannette Cieszykowski, a Landscape Architect turned Classical Feng Shui consultant in Dallas, TX.

Inside of this episode:

↣ Feng Shui – What it is and how to use it.

↣ Chinese Metaphysics and the Cosmic Trinity

↣ The Law of Attraction and how Intention Matters

↣ Finding Your Personal Energy Numbers and How They can affect your home.

Connect with Guest:



Stories of Healing with Aaron Newsom

The premiere episode of Stories of Healing is here and joining us is Aaron Newsom,  United States Marine Corps OEF Veteran  and Co-Owner of the Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance.  SCVA’s core mission is to promote and provide safe-access cannabis to Veterans with service connected ailments. Aaron owns and operates 3 (three) California compliant cannabis companies, vertically integrated from cultivation to distribution and retail.

Inside of this episode:

↣  Aarons military career and the recollection of his time serving in Afghanistan

↣ Why plant based medicine works for his anxiety and hyper-vigilance post combat.

↣ Alternative Therapies That Are Helping Him Cope & Heal

↣ The importance of Safe Access and Options

↣  The body and mind connection and how you can heal yourself.

Connect with Guest:

Instagram:  @aaron_newsom  @s.c.veteransalliance







Calla:  What made you decide to enlist?

Aaron Newsom: 

I enlisted, like two days after 911. I think that was my main purpose. But, I was also looking for a purpose. I didn’t really have one. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was looking for direction. It seemed like something to be a part of, and a way to be of service.

Calla: How old were you?

Aaron Newsom: I was 18. I went in when I was 19. I broke my thumb right before I was supposed to go into boot camp. So that delayed it a little bit, three or four months. I ended up going in when I was 19.

Leanne: What was your experience?

Aaron Newsom: 

I worked a lot on the runway, on aircraft and working on airfields and things like that. It was great,The camaraderie of all the people, the friends, the diversity was all really cool. Being able to make friends like that, and being in a community that is just so vastly diverse, you know? With so many different kinds of people. It was great. It wasn’t something that I was eager to reenlist for and I was ready to get out for sure. But,  don’t regret it. It was a great experience that made me who I am and helped me create the mission that we have today. 


How long were you in for?

Aaron Newsom: Six years. I originally joined as a Reservist, I went to my duty station, maybe three months in a row before we got activated.I was activated on and off pretty much for the remainder of my enlistment.

Calla:  Did you deploy anywhere?  Where were you stationed?

Aaron Newsom : Mostly at Miramar in San Diego and I did work at Camp Pendleton. I also did some time in Yuma Arizona, really helping with the workup for a lot of new pilots to be trained to go out to Iraq. And then right after that, deployed to Afghanistan for 10 months

Calla : Wow.

Leanne: What was your experience like in Afghanistan?

Aaron Newsom:  Pretty crazy. I mean there was a lot going on. I was there in 2004 through 2005. And there was definitely a lot going on. I was lucky enough to be a part of an air wing where I worked with mostly an Attack Helicopter Squadron on multiple Ford operating bases. But I was lucky enough to be inside the wire for the majority of the time. We still took a lot of mortar rounds constantly and there were constant missions going on. It definitely created  a vigilance in myself that was really good for, for being in war, but didn’t serve me too well, when I got back. 

Leanne: That’s kind of what we wanted to talk about, too. What was your experience after you were discharged? Did you have any PTSD symptoms from your experience in Afghanistan?

Aaron Newsom : Yeah, definitely. It was definitely hard for me to get my life back together. When I got back, you know, the vigilance that I was talking about the hyper vigilance that was just constant while I was over, that was really, really hard to get rid of. 

Calla: What did that hyper-vigilance look like? 

Aaron Newsom: There’s a lot of just being on guard all the time . That feeling that you’re always on call. That you always have to be first to notice something or, always having to analyze the situation, not really feeling like you can ever let your guard down. When I had kids, for the first few years of their lives, I would constantly tell them that they needed to be aware of their surroundings, and not let me sneak up behind them and things like that. And I thought that I was starting to train them to be aware. But, I realized through a lot of work on myself that I was really building that hyper-vigilance that I had in myself into them. I realized how unhealthy that was. I’ve been trying to turn that around these last couple years and slow down and not be so , [short pause]. I don’t want to say aggressive because I  was never aggressive, but [I was] loud, and very active, and constantly on the move and never able to slow down. I’m really learning to try and get away from that as much as I can because that contributed to so many factors regarding being able to work and being able to learn new things in life. Friendships, relationships, it doesn’t make for the ability to, be in the moment. You’re never listening. You’re always one step ahead of that.

Leanne: Did you come to that realization on your own about how the way you were trying to teach your kids might have been?

Aaron Newsom: It was with the help of a lot of therapy, and then diving into plant medicine, and being able to experience that. A lot of the knowledge that comes from that, and realizing how much baggage I had been carrying around, that was one big thing that I realized I was carrying around. Just this feeling of always being on call.

Calla: It brings it to the surface for sure.

Leanne: Did you feel physically and mentally exhausted? Or was that just your normal? 

Aaron Newsom: Oh, I definitely realized it that the hyper-vigilance became anxiety. Just constant anxiety. At night, it actually manifested itself as a big knot in my stomach. I had that knot for almost 10 years. I  came to the understanding and realization that that was just going to be a part of me from now on, and there’s nothing I can do about that. I just had to live with it. I wasn’t very happy. Cannabis opened up a whole new world of being in a movement and fighting for safe access. It made me realize that we need to have the right and the freedom to heal ourselves in any way we deem fit. So I started exploring other medicines and modalities and that really allowed me to move into therapy and accepting therapy. I found a therapist that really helped and was able to walk me through a lot of the traumas that I experienced as a kid, not that I had a bad childhood at all. But a childhood that did build on the anxiety that I brought into the military.That just trained me to be even more vigilant about it, and anxiety ridden. I think being in this movement, knowing that having safe access to whether it be cannabis or any other modality of healing, that’s something to fight for.

Leanne: Before you found those, were you being prescribed any medications to try and help you cope after you were discharged?

Aaron Newsom: Yeah, I tried a few different SSRIs, and things that helped calm me down. I always personally had a lot of side effects from them. I always felt like the side effects hit me pretty hard.The medicines definitely helped some of the direct issues that I was having, but I could always feel that it blurred my connection to everything else in life.I just start going a little bit more numb,and not being able to feel the good and the bad.

Leanne: how long were you on those for?

Aaron Newsom: Just a couple years. There were a couple of years where I was having a lot of trouble when I got back.The first two years of being back were really, really hard. I think my main issue was finding purpose, again.It was a really hard going to Afghanistan, really believing in the mission, and then, within two months of being over there, starting to, not only, figure out exactly what was going on in our surrounding area with the intelligence reports. But also trying to educate myself on the news, because I was young then and didn’t really know  where to look or what to do. But when I got over there,I had time to research. I kind of lost purpose over there, and really didn’t understand what we were doing over there. When I came home, they tried to send me back to Iraq and with another unit. I only had like three months left on my contract, and they were sending me off for a 10 month deployment. I fought that pretty hard. I did not want to go back. Just because I knew that it was breaking me. I mean, it opened my eyes to a lot of stuff. And, it opened my eyes to a culture that I couldn’t believe existed. Communities that I couldn’t believe existed.

Calla:  What made them so shocking?

Aaron Newsom:The poverty was very drastic and the work environment, the conditions that they had to work in, the conditions that they were willing to work in, the things that they were willing to do. At times, at least when I was there in the area that I was in, they were so desperate that they were really willing to do anything.They put mourning of their family deaths to the side to let work happen and it was that kind of stuff that was shocking to me. When I saw these people getting paid $2 a day for some of the hardest labor you’ve ever seen. [short pause] That kind of stuff, getting to know some of the locals, I mean, that’s kind of where I lost my mission. I was now understanding that payroll urges people and they’re all just trying to survive,This system that’s just so broken. It’s tough. I don’t know much or did know much regarding the actual circumstances and all the intelligence So, I’m just following orders. 

But now that I’m back, you know, I’m trying to only follow my own orders, you know?

Calla: I love that.

Leanne: Did you feel like you’re researching and as you’re seeing the conditions these people are in, did you feel comfortable talking with that to the guys you’re out there with or is that something you just kind of keep to yourself?

Aaron Newsom: Um, I think people’s real morals and their real personalities, and the people who they really are come out no matter what, when you spend enough time with people. There’s a chain of command, there’s rank structure, there’s things you don’t say. But, you’re in a really tight knit community over there. So, you all kind of talk. We all have our own understandings. And again, going back to the diversity of the military, I’ve said it a million times, I honestly believe that a military could be the most diverse population in the world. A lot of American military aren’t even American citizens yet. So there was just such a really cool diversity of people and thoughts and where they came from, and their education and different sides of the country. That was a big learning opportunity as well, being able to learn all this kind of stuff, especially being a young kid, mostly from California, who really didn’t get to travel and explore much. It was really cool. We all were able to do the mission, and no matter what orders we were following, the mission was to stay alive and to keep each other alive. It all came down to that one fundamental thing. What we were all learning over there was very powerful. And we definitely all talked about it a lot.

Calla: I know you said when you came back, you lost your purpose. Did the military prescribe that medicine when you were discharged, just to get you acclimated back to real life? Or was that something that you went and sought out because you didn’t know what to do?

Aaron Newsom: The VA itself, the benefits that you get when you get out, you have to seek them out individually. You have to go and say, “Can I qualify for this? Do I qualify? Can I get a VA card? Can I come into the system? Can I get a doctor?” Nobody comes to you and says, “Now that you’re out here’s your here’s your VA card”, nobody does that. It’s super unfortunate. They say, “Bye. Here’s your paperwork” and  you’re begging to get that signature and run as fast as you can. I had to go seek that out and ask for help and beg for help. Months went by, and I would call multiple times. Finally, they got you a therapist. And by this time, you know, you’ve already spun out of control. This is how it goes for most of us. But, we know how to fight. I tell people, you’ve gotta fight for your own health care. With the VA, it’s definitely a fight. But if you’re willing to put in the time and the effort and the energy, there’s definitely a lot of benefits that we can qualify for. So it’s good.

Leanne: That’s infuriating that there’s not even a notebook or a textbook that they give you.

Aaron Newsom: There probably is, but I didn’t get one. I don’t know anybody who did.

Calla: I think that would be really hard to navigate. Where did you even start to pick yourself back up to live amongst everybody else again?

Aaron Newsom: I went to personal doctors at first.  I didn’t want to go back to the military. I didn’t want to go to the VA. I thought it was gonna be a bunch of military people. I didn’t want anything to do that anymore. I was willing to completely walk away from all my benefits. I did for a couple years. I went to family and friends doctors and got a lot of help. I still went through the racket and had to pay for stuff. It was during that time, I couldn’t find work and I was having problems with the work that I did have with the leadership that was there because I just came from some of the best leadership you ever saw. You go from the best leadership that exists to some of the worst that working at a restaurant or whatever. I couldn’t even find work. I figured when I got back as a combat veteran, I’d be able to get any job I applied for. I couldn’t really find anything. Plus I didn’t really have a purpose. I didn’t know what to do. I was going to all these doctors trying to figure out myself because I was just depressed all the time. 

Calla: Did you have kids and a wife to take care of at this time?

Aaron Newsom:   I didn’t have kids at the time and my wife is super strong and super awesome. So she was definitely able to help me get through a lot of this. It was during all this time that one of my buddies said, “I’m moving up to Santa Cruz, I know you were from there, you should come check it out.” So I came up here and read that cannabis had been decriminalized up here. And then it was on the last priority of the local Sheriff’s Department. So I convinced my wife to pack up and move up here. We didn’t have too much going on. We had all of our family down in Orange County, but you know, five, six hour drive north, it’s not, too bad. And it’s so beautiful up here that when we came and visited, it was life changing.It’s so calm and mellow. There’s forests and open space and quiet space out here. And it was a place I felt like I could take a deep breath.  We ended up moving up here, and I had the opportunity to learn from an old friend by  teaching me how to grow a couple plants and, he pretty much taught me all the wrong ways to do it, you know, so I found out that if I was going to continue to grow cannabis, then I really needed to learn. I had a couple lights and like a little basement and when we first moved out here tried to learn, failed multiple times with the help of multiple friends, and almost lost everything. I was in debt, I had my car repossessed, I couldn’t pay my rent. I ended up having to move into my friend’s house with my two cats and my wife. He used some of my grow equipment  and we were able to save up enough money for us both to go our own ways. From there, slowly, my wife and I worked it to the point where we were able to  think about really making a business out of it. And at that point, I had met my business partner, Jason, he was another Veteran who was growing locally. We had some old Vietnam friends that were around, and we would give excess weed that we had just to get them by. We knew they were spending too much on a monthly basis. A lot of these guys were using it in lieu of some of their pharmaceuticals. So, we felt that if it was good for them, we had plenty of it back then, you know, the price was good. And it was easy to grow. And so it was just cool to be able to give back to a couple friends. That’s kind of how it all started. It just kind of started spawning from there. We started growing and gave a portion of everything that we grew back. And then in 2016, when we developed a not for profit and created a collective of patients and started cultivating for all of them. And then in 2016, Proposition 215 started coming around, and it was going to go legal. And we were only cultivators. And obviously we’re black market cultivators. There was no legal cultivation at the time. But yet there were still dispensaries selling it somewhat legally.

Calla: That’s so confusing.

Aaron Newsom: It was very confusing. It was all under the guise of Proposition 215 and medical cannabis, and it was working fairly well, except for the majority of the cultivators who were having to do it illegally. Which, we were one of them. And  at that time I had my first kid and my business partner had his kid and we were sick of looking over our shoulder expecting the sheriff to kick in the door at any moment.

Leanne: That’s what I was wondering, hearing that and knowing that you were hyper-vigilant and that was your main issue that you were dealing with, Did you have trouble during that period of time keeping your anxiety under control?

Aaron Newsom  34:48

Yeah, and during that time, I used cannabis  to go to school and get a degree and work a regular job at a restaurant so that everybody can see that I’m a normal person and work and that’s how I pay my bills.

And then my business partner, Jason and I got a commercial unit and we started cultivating there. That’s where we develop the Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance. And at one point, we decided to start holding group meetings at one of the local dispensaries who opened up a space for us. We figured this might gain some traction. We’re sure there’s other veterans out there that can use some of this, we have plenty of free cannabis that we can give out,s o we just started bagging it up and giving it out at our little group meetings at this one dispensary. Within three or four meetings, we had so many veterans that they didn’t necessarily have space for us anymore. We had maybe maybe 20 or 30 veterans coming down the stairs, so we convinced our local VFW which is the Veterans of Foreign Wars down here, to open up the VFW for us and allow us to start hosting groups there and dispensing medical cannabis. They didn’t really like the idea of us dispensing medical cannabis. But we proved to them that it was a needed service, and that we would take any responsibility and they allowed us to move forward. I ended up going and meeting with the local sheriff and letting him know what we were doing. He didn’t have a problem. Because again, we had Proposition 215, we had doctor’s recommendations for all of our patients. We started getting some publicity and the VFW ended up asking us to leave because we kind of got too much publicity and they were included in that. We ended up getting another spot down in the Veterans Hall that the county built, but we couldn’t  dispense any medicine there. So we started lobbying for them to allow us to open a dispensary because under the new legalization law, you can’t give out anything or sell anything as a cultivator. It has to go to a distributor and then a distributor has to give it to a retailer. And then that retailer has to sell it or give it over the counter somehow.

Leanne: So much red tape.

Aaron Newsom: There was definitely a lot. At first, we didn’t even have the ability to give it out for free over the counter. We did, but we still had to pay taxes on it. So just recently, a couple years ago, we were able to pass SB 34, which is the compassionate use act, and now we’re able to actually give away free cannabis without having to pay taxes on it.

Leanne: So were you giving it away and paying taxes on it in the beginning?

Aaron Newsom: Yes, for a long time. They actually came back to us once we got our legal license through the state. The state contacted us and said we had to prove to them that we were cultivating prior to legalization to get our license. We pretty much had to prove to them that we were doing it illegally.

Leanne: Yeah, that’s terrifying. 

Calla: Isn’t that crazy?

Leanne: That’s enough for some people to throw in the towel.

Aaron Newsom: Everybody would have just jumped in. It was good. I mean, I was ecstatic about that, because I could prove that we were doing it. We were paying our regular income tax for a long time prior to that as well. So even though we were selling on the black market, we were still paying our taxes to the federal government.Once the state got involved, they realized that we were giving away free cannabis, and they made us pay back taxes on a lot of it. We ended up getting that back because of SB 34, but we never stopped giving it out for free. We continued, we’ve never stopped. A little over 10 years now, and every month we’ve given out free cannabis to our Veterans. Without stop. Even though there was a big transition point. There were a lot of compassionate programs that did stop, because the regulations weren’t necessarily a legal route to do so.Then that’s kind of where it all started. Now, we have a license for cultivation, we have a license for distribution and a license for retail. Again, we needed to be vertically integrated so that we could pass free products through each license. It’s hard to convince other people to do that and train their people to do that. It costs money to do it. So we really, really didn’t want to have to go out and convince other companies to do this nonprofit work for us. I don’t necessarily want to have to convince anybody to do anything. If I can do it myself, hopefully, you know, we can just continue to do it this way.

Calla: Yeah, I respect that.

Leanne: How did you discover that cannabis was medicinal for you and what you were dealing with?

Aaron Newsom: I’d always had a pretty close relationship with cannabis since my young teen years. I was very close to it through high school briefly afterwards. I obviously  had to take a big hiatus because of the military, but, whenever I got a chance I would definitely partake. Leaving the military, I had safe access to it because I had friends and family who had access to it. I knew it was going to help me when I got it. It always helped me with my anxiety. Again, I had anxiety going into the military, but it was used as a tool to help with the aggression, and with the security aspect of being on guard and on call and things like that. Like the knot that had manifested, I just took it on as a part of myself and just manifested even more. And it did help. I mean, it helped me get a lot done in life. I was scared not too, you know, with school and developing businesses, and, you know, doing the things that I have the passions that I Am vigilant about pursuing.But it can definitely go in a dark direction. Cannabis has always helped me kind of calm that, and helped bring me back into the moment. That’s why I knew I had to continue to pursue it. Because when I was in Huntington Beach/ Orange County, I had access to it, but it was very expensive, and still illegal.  I still did have anxiety, driving around and having it on me knowing that I needed it as my medicine but knowing that it was super frowned upon. That was the main reason why I came back up here to Santa Cruz, because it was on the last priority, nobody cares about it up here. I don’t have to worry about it as much. I can also cultivate it, not have to spend money on it, and maybe be able to sell some of it and be able to pay some bills with it. From that I developed a passion for just growing plants. Horticultural therapy became a huge part of what we did as well. We would bring Veterans into our garden that were having  PTSD issues, and hyper-vigilance issues and anxiety and stress and bring them into a very quiet, calm environment of working with the plants. Plants don’t talk back, they don’t yell at you. It’s a meditation to work with plants, and it is a therapy. That was huge for me and my recovery and the 1000s of hours that I would spend in my own gardens aided in my recovery so much that it was something that I wanted to share with others. My business partner, Jason, same thing.  I know he had the passion for cannabis, because it helped him in his anxiety. Because of the horticultural part as well and being a farmer, he is from Alabama, so he comes from, like the farming culture. So just wanting to grow and create a good product and good medicine for people is, I’m super honored and blessed to be able to continue to do it now. You know, 13 years later.

Calla: Wow, so amazing.

Leanne: I can see all the plants behind you. I’ve become a plant lady in the last year. So I totally am on board with horticulture. 

Aaron Newsom: Yeah, it’s good stuff. 

Calla:  What’s been one of the biggest challenges that you’ve come up against, with creating the Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance?

Aaron Newsom: Probably learning all the other aspects of business development and political advancement- besides just growing cannabis. Growing cannabis has become what I love to do and all I want to do, but that’s like barely what I get to do. A lot of it is political and ensuring that you’re following different laws and jurisdictions and seeing what’s going to be allowed here and there. Right now, I have a cultivation permit for 5000 square feet. I have my own small little distribution, that I pretty much only distribute my own product and my friends product, The Beard Bros

Calla:Oh, yeah.

Aaron Newsom: You guys know them? 

Calla:Yeah, totally. 

Aaron Newsom: We worked with him quite a bit. We have a small little retail outlet right now and  hopefully going to open up another small little retail outlet. We’re a very, very small company. With all of this money flooding into the industry, celebrity money, and corporate money, , it’s getting so big and corporate that we’re just trying to stay relevant, and stay in the industry without getting swallowed up really quickly. No matter what, I don’t want to see this mission die. I don’t want to be bought out. I don’t want to be drowned out. It’s somewhat of a scary feeling because there is so much money. I feel that we are doing really good. Like I was telling you earlier, we don’t market and advertise. I feel like we are doing really good if people do know about us, and they do support us and I am proud of the compassionate aspect of what we built. 

Calla: It’s so authentic for sure.

Leanne: The compassion is there, because you put it in there from the beginning. That’s something that I think would set you apart from other people.

Aaron Newsom: That’s what I’m hoping. It seems like now a compassion program is like the standard in the industry. You won’t even be accepted in the California Cannabis Industry if you don’t have a compassion aspect, which is great. I just hope not to be drowned out. Which, you know, it’s not a big deal. I don’t think I will be, I just got to keep moving.

Leanne: You can keep moving to Texas. There’s lots of room to grow here.

Aaron Newsom: I just came from there yesterday. There’s a lot I’m keeping my eye on in Texas. My wife’s family is from Texas. I have family in Texas. I would love to see something develop over there. But still waiting over there. Holding my breath.

Leanne:  I saw on your website that you guys have like, is it three main strains that you sell?

Aaron Newsom: Yeah, we’ve been messing with some new strains,but for the most part, we have a strain, “The Kosher Kush” . It was bred by DNA Genetics A long time ago. Over a decade, my partner Jason and I, fino hunted a couple 100 of those seeds, because him and I both knew that the kushes and the OGs had something that really, really, really helped both of us regarding our anxiety and being able to be in the moment and focus on something. For me at the time, it was mostly school and getting projects done, while also having all of these other things on the side. Now, knowing a little bit more about the science, the myrcene is really what helps me, personally. The high myrcene strains have been just so beneficial in helping me find calm and come back to myself.  So the Kosher Kush has been our main staple. That’s what we donate out to the majority of the veterans most of the time, because it has the most calming effect a lot of these, that’s, you know, they’re very vigilant and they’re very hyper-vigilant a lot of times they won’t stop or slow down. So the Kosher Kush is really good to help them slow down a little bit. We have the “Super Sour Diesel”, which is the complete opposite of that. Most of the time because of medicine, they can’t get off the couch and get their life going. So that’s another strain that kind of helps in the opposite direction. Then we have a strain called “Combat Cookies”, which for me has really helped combat a lot of my symptoms. It’s a hybrid so I’m able to still function during the day. Those are the three that we’ve grown for a long time, 8 to 10 years. 

Calla: For those that are gonna listen to this later on and have no kind of cannabis knowledge whatsoever. What makes it medical grade?

Aaron Newsom: Well, I mean, I guess it really depends. It has to be clean. The black market still thrives. But what I tell people who are still buying out the black market is fine, you know, but you can’t be certain that it’s clean of pesticides, or molds and mildews, or micro contaminants, you know, you can’t be certain. At least with the California testing regulations, I can be certain. It is pretty locked down and very intricate regarding ensuring all California cannabis, whether it be recreation, or medical is super clean. First and foremost, that would be it for me. Then you go to the CBD aspect of it. Then there’s also the terpene profiles, which are the flavors, which are found to have a lot of medicinal effects, right? And we’ve known that for years with essential oils and things like that. Then who knows what else I mean, there’s chlorophyll in there, there’s plant oils, there’s a whole aspect of things in the cannabis flower itself that when used as a whole, have a really good medicinal effect, in my opinion. Things like full spectrum oils, like the RSO oil, like The Beard Bros, make a really good one, and then the full flower. There’s also extracts that are made from whole extracted flour. There’s this whole new phase of concentrates that are being extracted and they’re extracting out pretty much just pure THC, which does have its own medicinal value. I think scientists and pharmacologist, they really want to pull out these individual things and say that these are the ones that help but I mean, in my opinion, and using an experimenting with all the different isolates of these different compounds, and using the full spectrum flower, or the full spectrum oil, there’s a huge difference to it. I think there’s a huge medical benefit in using all of it , not just the THC or not just the CBD. But there’s still so much research to be done regarding that.

Leanne: Yeah, it’s the same as having doctors for your gallbladder, and a doctor for your heart. But your body works as one whole functioning system. It  kind of seems like that’s repeated even in plants. 

Aaron Newsom: Yeah.

Leanne: It’s just so funny how we always want to piece things apart, make it more intense in one specific area and forget about the rest, you know?

Aaron Newsom: Yeah, and to think also that our body has cannabinoid receptors. We actually have receptors that pull and grab are meant only for cannabinoids, which is fascinating.

Calla: Yeah, blows me away.

Aaron Newsom: I doubt that nature would give us those and expect us to isolate out a specific cannabinoid from a flower to receive it. There’s multiple cannabinoids and flowers and most of the time, they’re trace amounts. The big one is CBD or THC, but a lot of times there are multiple different types of cannabinoids, some of them that we haven’t even heard of, or care about, because we don’t even know what they do. They’re such miniscule numbers or amounts. We definitely need to take all that into consideration as well. But it’s hard to say what’s considered medical? I mean, it depends on what people need, and want to to be themselves.

Calla: Yeah, and what strain relates to them.

Aaron Newsom: I think with cannabis, it is about relieving pain, or helping sleep or inducing appetite, or negating different effects from different things,or helping with migraines, or the list goes on. But,also, there’s many day to day users as well. A lot of times it’s helping reduce anxiety or stress or helping us get back to a baseline of being able to like I said, be ourselves and not feel again, like we’re always on call or always having to perform. I think for me specifically,  cannabis just allows me to be myself and not always concerned or anxious about what others are thinking or what I should or shouldn’t be doing. It just brings me back to myself. 

Calla: It turns down the volume on that other voice.

Aaron Newsom:Sure.

Calla: It can change the dynamic of how your day to day is lived for sure.

Aaron Newsom: I like that. 

Leanne: Did you even know that that wasn’t you? I feel like if you get used to feeling and behaving a certain way for so long, you can be easily convinced that, you know, “this is me, this is who I am. I’m an anxious person. This is just how I act.”  When was the first time you realized that’s not you?

Aaron Newsom: Probably the first time I smoked cannabis. 

Leanne: Really? 

Aaron Newsom: I mean, I don’t know.That’s obviously a battle that we all have to go through with ourselves. Where we have to draw the line with ourselves. It’s a super personal thing because do I feel that sometimes I probably use too much? Probably. Yeah.

Calla: We talk about that all the time.  There’s a stigma around it, but it’s like, pick your battles almost.

Aaron Newsom: Yeah, and for me, if it is hindering something in my life, then I know there’s a problem. But if I’m able to get my work done, enjoy my family and love my life, then I personally have come to the understanding and conclusion for myself that it’s okay for me. Is it probably the most healthy thing I can do for myself? Probably not. But I’ve accepted that for now. That’s just something that really helps me be a little bit happier right now. And, that’s fine with me. Until it starts hindering things in my life, then I’ll take another look at it. It’s not for everybody to use every day or every week or so often, you I mean, some people can’t.

Calla: How do you help navigate that when you’re helping veterans in your community groups or when you’re giving them medication? Do you talk with them about that? 

Aaron Newsom:  Yeah, I think, for sure, it’s definitely not for everybody. What I say to a lot of them that don’t use it but still come to our groups and support is: This is the one thing that I can do and this helps me also create a community and create camaraderie. So, thank you for being here. This is the one thing I can do. And we do a lot more too, you know?  I love doing what I can. I could do more, of course, and I work with a bunch of veterans that run non profit organizations that do so much. I’m lucky enough to have a for profit company that has a nonprofit sector, I’m able to give a little bit away and do my work, and then continue on. I’m glad that I’ve had longevity in this. I hope that will continue. I think and I know that it will. Could I do more? Yes. But right now, with my life,I have a young family and I’m trying to spend as much time with them as possible. There’s no rush. But, you know, with the group and creating other camaraderie groups,, I really try to get people to follow their passions. There’s definitely a bunch of groups out here who have gotten together and surf all the time, and hiking groups, and hunting groups, and things like that. Just trying to create more camaraderie based activities would be something that I would really like to do more of. COVID has really been a big hit. We used to get together once a month. Talk about different things going on in the community. We used to do beach cleanups, and things like that. But yeah, this last year has been quite a hit. 

Calla: But probably needed more than anything.

Aaron Newsom: For sure! It brought a bunch of realization of what people need, I think, to the forefront.

Leanne: How shutdown are you guys right now?

Aaron Newsom: We’re just now starting to open back up quite a bit. These last couple of weeks have opened up quite a bit but I don’t really know to be honest with you. I don’t watch the news. I don’t listen to the radio. I try to live in my own little happy bubble here. And not listen to all the craziness.

Leanne: That’s all you can control. Why bombard yourself with stuff that you can’t do anything about?

Aaron Newsom: Right. That’s kind of why we haven’t taken the Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance out of Santa Cruz very far.  We have small little donation centers in The Bay and every once in a while down in Monterey. I think we’ve done it in LA once. But I try to keep it close because that’s what I can control. I know sometimes when things go national, they get out of control. I’ve really tried to keep it small and really just try to vocalize the mission, which is safe access, creating safe access. I can’t create safe access for everybody. Fabian Henry up there with GAFF House and  the same as the Veterans for Healing, he showed us the way back in,2013 -2014. They came up here and introduced us to some doctors from the VA that were looking to do research with them. We were lucky enough to develop a research program with Palo Alto VA and Harvard University. They came out and did a study with about 100 of our veterans, and all of the medicine that we were giving  them. They ended up publishing a peer reviewed study about two and a half years ago that had some really good benefits regarding veterans having safe access to medical grade cannabis and how it  will relieve their intake of pharmaceuticals, their longevity, their happiness, their ability to sleep. We know all these different Veteran groups have really tried to help each other and feed off of each other because it’s one team one fight. We’re really just trying to stay happy. We’ve seen too many of our friends commit suicide or go down rabbit holes, in the bottle or the pills. It’s been a hard road for a lot of our brothers and sisters that have come back, so whatever we can do to just help with things like safe access whether it be cannabis or mushrooms or any other kind of plant medicine or mushroom medicine out there that needs  more attention. We need to pay attention when people are saying that this thing has helped heal me. I have heard that so many times with cannabis, it has brought us into an opening of a whole new ability to heal ourselves and now we’re seeing it with other plant medicines. Safe access to anything that’s going to help heal me like, how dare you say, I can’t use that. I hope we just all keep pushing, and a lot of these veteran groups see that this is helping. I mean, I know, down here, I think it was the Navy SEAL foundation that donated a bunch of money to MAPS last year, or a couple years ago, which was huge having an organization like that now supporting research, because they know. One of their guys comes back and says this shit healed me from the shit that we went through back then. They’re gonna listen.

Calla: Who wouldn’t say, okay, we need to look at this? That’s why it’s so frustrating in the different states, that it’s not just across the board allowing for everyone to have safe access. Other than the obvious, like voting and getting involved that way,  what are some ways that you would encourage people to help out this mission?

Aaron Newsom: People need to educate themselves. I feel very lucky because I live in Santa Cruz, I live in California, everybody here agrees with me. It’s hard to find people who don’t agree with me here. The ones who don’t know, I just say just listen. Listen to the testimonials of the people who have actually been through the traumas, and then come out the other side from healing and said, “this path healed me”.  We all say that America stands for freedom, and this and that, yet, we don’t even have the freedom to heal ourselves. It doesn’t make any sense. We all need to keep educating ourselves. And for some of us, that means educating ourselves in the powers of these medicines. What can these actually do? We can read the books. We can listen to the testimonials. But sometimes we need to just dive deep, and find out what people are actually talking about. There’s a big movement of people who are starting to dive deep and figure these things out. And I’m just trying to swim along.

Leanne: Do you have any experience with psilocybin or psychedelic therapy?

Aaron Newsom: Sure. As much as I can get my hands on.  I’ve been definitely going down the path for the last few years and trying to understand it. I think I’ve come a long way in the last four or five years of, really, really trying to dive deep and understand it and now we’re trying to show Veterans that the means to healing might not be so easy. But you know, they say it’s a warrior’s journey, and they’re not lying. A lot of times when you have trauma, and you use these medicines, it can be scary, but you come out the other side dropping all of the fear, and it’s so worth it. Like I was saying earlier, always feeling like I was on call, and on guard. And, you know, through some of these plant medicine journeys, I’ve come out the other side, realizing that I am no longer on call, and being able to actually realize that in the depths of myself, and being able to realize that I’d been walking around with a backpack full of boulders, and then  last night, I was able to take it off. It’s such a freeing feeling. It’s such a transcendent feeling. Hopefully, just talking about it, giving testimony, and letting people know that there’s options and ways out there to heal yourself. I hope people start educating themselves and moving in that path of healing, because it’s so much easier to not heal yourself sometimes. We live in a community, and in an environment of convenience, right? That’s what the Western world is all about convenience and comfort. And the obstacle sometimes is actually the way.

Calla: What is the pull on your heart and your soul to t make you want to be healed and to get better? That does take a type of person, like you said, to not go towards the convenience to really put in the work? What do you attribute that force to if anything?

Aaron Newsom: Yeah, it takes a real strong person to go through that. It’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of work. I mean, not just plant medicine, but therapy in general.Sitting on a couch, and, and trying to figure out, what’s holding you back, that’s hard. That’s not easy. That’s very, very hard and takes a lot of trust. For me, it took half a dozen therapists before I found one that, changed my life. She showed me that I could figure this out. But, it was a lot of work finding her. Years and years of trying to find her. I had given up at one point and dove into plant medicine spent, 40 hours, you know, over a couple years crying into pillows on my couch and like realizing all of these things that were holding me back and then, realizing that I needed help integrating that and finding somebody to help me with all of these things that I was trying to figure out.  I’m so blessed to be able to find this lady. And, and for her to accept what, you know, the the, the therapies that I was using.

Calla: Were there some therapists that were not accepting of that? Or did you even feel like you could share that with them?

Aaron Newsom: Well, you know, most of the therapists that I had seen were prior to me starting to experiment with plant medicine, all of my experiments were by myself. Initially, for the most part in the forest, or on my couch. So, it was nice being able to bring somebody else into that world. Not that my wife wasn’t in that, but she definitely was my protector during that time. She wasn’t diving deep with me. She didn’t need to. It’s not easy. It’s a warrior’s journey. It was hard, but it was so worth it. I’m still going through it, I still go through the roller coaster, and I think at times that kind of helps when it comes to talking to other people about it, because it doesn’t heal you fully. Nothing does. But being okay with the feelings that come and  making friends with that. Making friends with your own darkness is so huge.

Leanne: Was it talk therapy that you were going to see this woman for? 

Aaron Newsom:  It was and I recommend it all the time. And then the thing that was so profound for me was EMDR. So it’s a light therapy. It was so profound for me and she told me it helps like, you know, like, five or six out of 10 people, but for me, it was like, man, every time she would put that on, I would just be crying. And, you know, most of the time I’d come in there, not knowing what I was gonna talk about and she’s like, stare at the light.  [laughter]  In psychedelics, you have these visions that are like dreams, but burned into your memory. She was able to do that exact same thing with hypnosis and with the EMDR. It was beautiful, and still is.  I still have these memories of these dreams. And these exercises that she put me through that we’re just so freeing.

Calla:  I’m so happy to hear that you did that, because we just interviewed a hypnotist last week and we learned a lot. It’s funny how the different therapies really go back down to treating that root cause of what’s making your trauma kind of come out in different ways. I know you said you liked EMDR, but what did the hypnosis look like for you? How did you sink into hypnosis? 

Aaron Newsom: She would give me a very, calming visualization to sink into at first. And then she would bring up say, for example, the knot in my stomach that I was telling you about. She would call me by bringing me through this hypnosis. and then it would be my younger self that she would say  things  like “walking through a door” and then walking through another door and then walking through another door. And then I would end up at the house that I grew up in. Then I’d be sitting there and she had me visual it was like this crystal ball I was holding, but it was this metallic black liquid that was swirling on the inside. And she said bring in your older self and you guys need to figure out what to do with that. So immediately, as my younger self,  I was like, let’s go get a baseball bat. You know, he’s destroying this thing, right? And my older self immediately without me even thinking said “No, we need to love it.” And from that point forward, everything had changed for me. I realized that I can’t get rid of my anxiety. I can’t get rid of my past. I can’t get rid of the things that I think aren’t good. Or could be better. Right? I have to accept myself and all of its totality including the traumas of my past and the stuff I don’t like about myself and that’s just been so huge for me. I always go back to that. It’s like it’s still with you. You just have to love that part of you even though you think it’s darkness and evil. That is you. That’s like that’s the yin yang. That is the duality of this world. We just have to have the good with the bad. 

Leanne: So did the not go away or is it just more manageable now

Aaron Newsom: It went away, which is crazy because it was literally over 10 years that I had it. I had talked about it and told my wife and other therapists, and it was just that nothing ever worked. I don’t know if it was just that hypnosis session but you know not more than a few weeks or a month or so she was able to get rid of that which was, Wow, so cool! We made it to a point where I don’t really see her anymore. A couple times a year maybe I’ll go,  but for the most part I don’t necessarily need to. She was really able to help me pull up all that,  and I continue to use the help of plant medicine to help me purge my darkness every once in a while. 

Calla: Yeah for sure. Like you said it’s not gonna go away but now you know, you can sit with it. You can ride that wave of discomfort and come out on the other side and know that it was just that you needed to process something. I think that that’s really really beautiful. That has to make you a better partner to your wife, a better dad, a better son, a better friend. How has Cannabis helped in those areas and those relationships?

Aaron Newsom: Before on pharmaceuticals for my anxiety, I had trouble feeling and had trouble connecting. Obviously, my wife didn’t like that. I didn’t have kids at the time. So thank God. I didn’t really care much to spend much time with my family, and was so worried about, you know, finances and image and things like that,. 

Calla: You weren’t in a place to be around people it sounds like.

Aaron Newsom : Cannabis helped me. Cannabis helped me realize that I don’t necessarily need those pharmaceuticals anymore. Specifically, the ones that were hindering me. I mean,  there’s definitely a place for pharmaceuticals, absolutely. But I think a lot of it can be reduced or replaced with cannabis. It helped me do that. It helped me move away from that, and be more in the moment and connect more. It continues to do that. When I do take breaks, it’s not like, I can’t take a break. It’s not like, I feel that I’m not happy without it. But I do like myself better with it, because I do feel like I am slower. And without it. I am so fast that like I’m not relaxed. I’m not enjoing

Leanne: You’re not living.

Aaron Newsom: Yeah, I’m not living totally. I’m always in the future. Always thinking about the future and never being present. And yeah, that’s not living.

Leanne: I think some of us have personalities I know, both me and Calla are very similar in that way. That Type-A- always- looking- fo-r what -do- I- need -to- be -doing-?- What- did- I- miss-here?” And that’s definitely what cannabis helped me with as well. 

Calla: I completely agree.

Leanne: How old are your kids now?

Aaron Newsom: Just about to turn seven in 10. Seven.

Calla: Those are my babies ages!

Aaron Newsom: So fun, huh? 

Calla: Yeah. 10 year olds are wild.

Aaron Newsom: Seven year olds wild. 

Calla: The craziest., I agree. 

Leanne: How are your discussions with them about what cannabis does? Or is that even a conversation right now?

Aaron Newsom:  No, it hasn’t necessarily been much of a conversation, except they know that I do use it as medicine and it helps me. That’s about as far as we’ve gotten with it. Um, yeah, I still think they’re probably a little too young for that. YBut I do want them to see that. It’s my medicine and it’s something that helps me. We don’t drink here in my house or anything like that. So it’s, it’s not like we have, you know, recreational drugs or alcohol or stuff like that around. And I’m not saying this wrong. I’m just saying we don’t… So, the stuff that I do have around, you know, I want them to think that it’s medicine. 

Leanne: Just understand it that way. Yeah, I’m just curious about that.

Calla: Aaron, you are awesome. We’re so grateful that you got to come and hang out with us today. I did have a few questions before we wrap up, one of them being :If there’s Veterans out there that listen to this, and they’re struggling, like what is your message to them?

Aaron Newsom: I think first thing is you’ve  got to do your research.It’s so hard when you’re in the hole. I’ve been there before.  I have friends that are there right now. You know, I, I feel for them, and it sucks. But you’ve got to find something that’s going to make you want to get out of the hole. Whether that’s your family or a camaraderie group of some kind, or get on a surfboard and go serve, or go hiking with some friends, or do some art, or go hunting, or whatever your passion is, like, just get out and do something. Again, I know it’s so hard that when you’re in the hole to get yourself out of it. It’s like it’s almost impossible, perpetually harder, the more depressed you get. That sucks. But, we need other people to help us,maybe not always, but we do need people. We need to know that we’re loved, you know? So I hope that they can reach out, whether it’s to me or to their fellow veterans in their community and then find that passion. We need love and we need passion. That’s the only reason we’re here. If we don’t have those two things, you’re going to be in the hole, and you’re not going to want to be around much longer. And it’s unfortunate. So hopefully they reach out. 

Leanne:  For people who know that somebody is  struggling right now, what are the best ways to help support? 

Aaron Newsom: I don’t know. I mean, I wish I did. I have friends struggling right now, and I don’t know how to support them. Some of the strongest people that I know are struggling, and I don’t know how to help. You just have to want to help. You have to try. I don’t know what it is, but reach out, make a phone call, you know, spend 20 minutes stopping by. We just need to take time out of our own schedule and, help those that need it. It’s easier said than done. We can all spare a little bit and reach out to those that we know need it. I don’t know what it is.

Calla: The more options the better, Right?

Aaron Newsom: For sure. Yeah, just let them know that you love them and that there’s people there for them and that they have options. And, who knows, try this or don’t or let’s go to lunch or I don’t know, but I’m trying to figure that out too. You know?

Calla: Ongoing quest. That’s amazing. Well, I am just so thrilled that you stopped by.  I want nothing but the best for the Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance. Where can people find you? Where can they get connected with you?

Aaron Newsom: We’re here in Santa Cruz. We have products throughout California. Unfortunately, we don’t have a group meeting right now, which we usually do monthly. But we had to shut it down because of COVID. And right now we’re in the process of building a new dispensary. When we have that I’ll have a community center there and we’ll be able to start holding camaraderie groups again, mostly for free medical cannabis donations, but also for the community. We’ll  figure out how we can continue to be a service together. If anybody needs anything, they’re more than willing more than welcome to reach out. And thank you very much for having me.

*This text has been revised and edited.

Ray of Sunshine with Amy Ray


Joining us is Amy Ray, our serendipitous guest who Leanne connected with by the Ocean in Cabo San Lucas! (She also delivered us with our newest member to HTC Family, her son Sam! Hi Sam! 👋)

You’ll quickly learn why Leanne and Amy hit it off, because Amy has a bright energy and heart that she wears so beautifully on her sleeve.  Amy works as a Group Facilitator at Lake County Haven,  a women’s shelter in the suburbs of Chicago. 

Amy started her social service career at Women’s Residential Services where she provided individual and group services to women and children. Amy is passionate about providing “a way out” of the chaos of homelessness so that women and children can live full, abundant lives.

Inside of this episode:

↣ Stigma surrounding Homelessness

↣ Addiction, Relapse & Recovery

↣ Self Esteem & Negative Thinking

↣ The importance of the words we speak to ourselves

↣ Mental Health (Are anxiety and depression synonymous with one another?)
↣ The labels we (and society) give ourselves
↣ Instant Gratification and why it doesn’t always work

Learn More:

Website: https://www.lakecountyhaven.org

Want to spread some kindness? We invite you to join in on the #KindWordsCampaign and send a note or word of encouragement to the ladies of the Haven. You can do so here: https://www.lakecountyhaven.org/get-involved/kind-words-campaign/

We encourage you to send in your Kind Words to the Kind Words Campaign – it costs nothing and could mean everything.