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You Are The Mission: Crystal’s Story

By: Eric Ohlson
Marine Corps Veteran

In 2021, Crystal, a retired veteran of the New Mexico National Guard, reached a pivotal moment in her life: prioritizing her mental well-being above all else. Her path was marked by trials stemming from childhood trauma, navigating the foster-care system, and the moral wounds of military service. However, her journey took a transformative turn when she discovered the Heroic Hearts Project. Through two profound plant medicine retreats, she embarked on a journey of healing and self-discovery. Confronting her traumas head-on, she not only gained understanding but also rediscovered self-love. Today, Crystal pays it forward by assisting fellow veterans through her advocacy efforts.

Crystal’s military career was diverse, with her mastering four military occupational specialties (MOS) and accumulating a wealth of experiences. Encouraged by her Padrino, a WWII veteran and survivor of the Bataan Death March, she pursued education fervently. From logistics to photojournalism to working operations at a Weapons of Mass Destruction unit, Crystal delved into various fields. She contributed to humanitarian relief efforts during natural disasters like Hurricanes Ike, Katrina, and Rita. Her WMD unit played a crucial role in the recovery efforts following the space shuttle Columbia crash in 2003. Additionally, she served as a platoon sergeant and victim advocate for the Sexual Harassment/Assault Prevention (SHARP) Program.

After over a decade of service, Crystal faced a profound crisis triggered by a traumatic encounter while working as the Joint Substance Abuse Program Coordinator. A young female soldier confided in her and self-referred for drug abuse. Witnessing bureaucratic nepotism hurdles hindering a sexual assault survivor’s access to support, Crystal was not only disheartened by the system’s failure but also confronted by her own past trauma. She faced retaliation and was left no choice but to file a Department of Defense Inspector General Whistleblower complaint against her command. After months of harassment and lack of support from her senior command, Crystal began experiencing suicidal ideation, leading to her self-admission to a psychiatric hospital. Little did she know this would derail her career, and she would now face a multitude of mental health challenges.

Medically discharged from the military in 2014 for Post-traumatic stress due to a hostile work environment at the age of 34 and a single mother of three, Crystal found herself grappling with a sense of identity loss and betrayal. With no transition assistance and haunted by her traumas, she turned to survival mode, relying heavily on prescription medications that dulled her emotions. Introduced to the Heroic Hearts Project through a friend, Crystal was intrigued by the prospect of psychedelic therapy for PTSD. Despite initial reservations, she found reassurance in the guidance of her integration coaches who prepared her for the journey ahead.

Attending two HHP retreats proved to be a turning point for Crystal. The first retreat provided her with profound insight into her trauma, allowing her to confront her pain head-on. Through this process, she unearthed layers of anger, beneath which lay buried grief and feelings of inadequacy. The second retreat was truly transformative, enabling her to embrace self-love and reclaim her femininity, which had been suppressed during her military service. Connecting deeply with fellow retreat attendees, Crystal found solace and camaraderie in shared experiences, reaffirming her sense of belonging and purpose.

Today, Crystal dedicates herself to advocacy work focused on combating sexual assault in the military, suicide prevention, and repatriating deported veterans. Her efforts, including her role in the Brandon Act for suicide prevention, stem from her belief in the importance of mental health. Crystal shares heartfelt advice to fellow veterans considering plant medicine programs – “In my opinion, psychedelics are 100% the way to go if you want to really get to know yourself and you want to fall in love with yourself again. Don’t put yourself on the back burner. You are the mission.”