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Trust the Process – Josh’s Story

By Hannah Kimyon

When Josh received the invitation to attend a retreat with Heroic Hearts Project in May of 2021, he had all but forgotten he had applied for the program.  That said, the invitation couldn’t have come at a better time.  

Josh spent 10 years in the military serving as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician in the Navy Special Operations.  He realized quickly that it was “no joke,” when just a month into training, the first of several friends he would lose during his tenure was killed in a diving accident.  Despite the hard work he put in, traveling to places like Bahrain and Qatar and working with the secret service to protect the President and Vice President, Josh became increasingly torn about his job because he was never sent to direct combat.  “It’s like training for 10 years for a big football game that you never get to play,” he said, describing the frustration of not getting to do what he’d set out to do.  He made the decision to leave the military in 2019 “feeling very unfulfilled,” but also struggled to reconcile this disappointment with the pain and suffering he knew so many other veterans coped with after facing war head-on.

Photo of Josh

In addition to Josh’s ambivalence about never seeing combat, it was challenging to leave the team that had become like family to him, and, having always struggled with relationships, he also found himself in the midst of his second divorce. It was a lonely place to begin civilian life. 

Josh was unhappy, disconnected, and depressed, and he struggled to piece together his identity post-service. On top of that, just after he turned down an opportunity to work at a tech company in order to start his own business, the pandemic hit.  His business plan was thrown into a state of flux. He found himself trying to “play the role” of a startup CEO and searching for his real voice as he pivoted to a new plan that could survive the pandemic. He smoked weed all day every day to keep his nerves at bay. For the first time in his life, Josh was beginning to feel hopeless and even entertained thoughts of suicide. 

The invitation from Heroic Hearts Project to attend a week-long retreat in Yucatan Valley sparked excitement in Josh.  Having begun to research and understand the potential for healing that psychedelic treatments can provide, he went through the pre-retreat group sessions and one-to-one coaching with an open mind and renewed hope.  “The retreat center was amazing.  The ceremonial aspect included real shamans, which was so important.  You just get this feeling that this is how psychedelics are supposed to be experienced.” 

Although Josh was gung-ho about participating in the retreat, the first few days did not go as expected.  He felt nothing during his first ayahuasca ceremony, which left him feeling groggy and anything but transformed. On top of that, even a double dose of 5 MEO-DMT in the ceremony the following day left his consciousness unmoved.  He “was pissed off at that point,” watching others in the group have profound breakthroughs and ineffable experiences with the same medicines that were leaving him in the lurch.  It sounds eerily parallel to his military experience.  Again he was in the position to not get what he’d wanted out of an experience while others got to go all the way.  “What’s wrong with me?” he thought to himself. The retreat facilitators encouraged him to “trust the process.”

Photo of the retreat center in Mexico
Photo of people at the retreat center

Josh summoned the vulnerability to do just that.  He went into his second ayahuasca ceremony with “no expectations, an open mind, and open heart,” repeating his intention to himself until the ayahuasca came to him, as he’d hoped it would.  Ayahuasca showed up for him as a mother figure, putting him in “timeout” and showing him all of the ways he wasn’t living up to his ideals, crumbling his ego, and showing him that the person he’s portraying to the world isn’t really who he is. Josh realized that the pain he’d been grappling with went deeper than frustration about his time in the military and the uncertainty of life post-service in a pandemic.  

It became clear that pain from Josh’s childhood was contributing to his suffering. Josh spent most of his youth moving around with his mother and stepfather.  When he was in high school, his mother became extremely addicted to opioid pain pills, getting arrested several times with his much younger sister in tow or passing out all but dead for Josh to find.  Without a healthy adult role model or any real structure, Josh acted out in increasingly extreme ways as a teenager, in hopes that someone would set the boundaries for him that he was subconsciously desperate for.  It was this search for structure and accountability that led him to the military in the first place and what led him to find great healing in the tough love ayahuasca provided him. 

“Not getting something out of the first two ceremonies was a part of the lesson the medicine was trying to teach me. My intention coming into this was to find discipline and focus. I came into this with expectations about what should happen but I wasn’t doing the work. I just expected to show up and be enlightened.” Confronting his pain and his own contribution to his suffering led him to purge during the ceremony, and he felt himself letting go of the negativity from his past and the ways he’d been keeping himself stuck. “The rest of the ceremony was bliss. Ayahuasca showed me what I need to do to find focus and discipline and what my life can look like if I stay on that path.”

In the final ceremony, all of the pieces and parts of the lessons he’d been learning throughout the week began to fit together.  He began to feel a connection to his authentic self, free of the expectations of society and the business world. He was free to chart a new path forward, unburdened by his past or notions of who he “should be.” He had begun to truly see and accept himself. 

Since coming back, Josh’s well-being has improved in so many ways. “The experience changed my life.  It’s like doing 10 years of therapy in one week. I feel like all of my trauma and rage and whatever I had deeply rooted in my body were washed away.  It’s so freeing to come to this reality where I don’t have to put on a front and can be my authentic self.” His relationship with cannabis has improved; he’s now using it as plant medicine and only with intention rather than as a crutch. He can proudly share that his military experience “ is not who I am.  It’s a part of my past and something I’m proud of, but it’s not me. I’m Josh, not just Josh the veteran.” His business, a tech company called Stasis that helps people find healing through breathwork, has taken off, and he finds himself spending his time at work more productively and enjoyably than before. Josh also came out of his experience in Mexico with forgiveness in his heart for his mother. He’s since called her to mend their relationship and is planning to see her soon. The future is bright. 

Often when we discuss veterans working through mental health issues, we jump straight to the idea of PTSD.  We picture individuals who have had to face the unspeakable in combat or who have suffered grave injuries and lived to tell the tale. But Josh’s story shows us that the experience of each veteran is nuanced, and their healing processes are just as unique.  Josh found healing within himself with the help of plant medicine and hopes that by advocating for increased access to psychedelic therapies for veterans, he’ll be able to help others do the same.

About Josh:

– 10 year Naval Special Operations veteran

– CEO and co-founder of Stasis – we teach humans how to breathe to optimize their health and performance

– Podcast host, avid runner, surfer, passionate about all things health and wellness

– Veteran advocate for plant medicines

Photo of Josh

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