It was his 17th birthday and Nicholas was about to do something he had waited his whole life for. He was going to the recruiters office that he had been calling since he was 13 years old to join the United States Marine Corps. It was 2005 and the war on terrorism was just beginning.
Less than 3 years later Nicholas had found himself in Ramadi, Iraq teaching the Iraqi army how to police their city. Ten months later Nicholas and his unit deployed to South America on the USS Wasp supporting the DEA and other Departments of Defense in missions across international waters. Six months after returning home to the states, Nicholas and his unit headed to one of the most dangerous places in the war. They found themselves in Marjah, Afghanistan, a Taliban stronghold, with a mission to eliminate the enemy and secure the city.
Filled with fear Nicholas knew that this would be the biggest challenge they have had to face and he knew that he and some of his friends and fellow Marines might not make it home. Unfortunately he was right. Two great men and friends he had the pleasure of serving with gave the ultimate sacrifice for him and his country. This is a place Nicholas would have gladly taken instead but that wasn't his path.
When Nicholas looks back at his time in service today he recognizes and understands the worst of his experience, while loving the fun times even when there was violence all around him. This hadn't always been the case as there was a time when Nicholas couldn’t reflect in peace and with understanding.
After Nicholas returned to the states, he left the Marine Corps in search of a new home and purpose. With everything he owned in a backpack he found himself living with his uncle in Tampa, Florida.
Holding on to his past and unable to obtain successful clinical help for his physical and psychological struggles, Nicholas began self-medicating. As he began to lose hope, Nicholas found himself as he described as “ being in a dark empty hole, starving, tired, and no way to climb out”. Every night Nicholas tried to numbed his pain with alcohol, so much so that he was lucky if he made it to bed at all. His pain was so intense that he carried a pistol everywhere he went, not for his sense of security, but for whenever the pain became too much to handle. That’s when he found a rope, and that rope was yoga.
When Nicholas first tried yoga, he thought it was a ridiculous and foolish act and questioned why anyone would waste their energy on yoga. As time passed and relationships were built with a yoga studio owner in a local coffee shop, Nicholas thought he would give yoga another try. As he began to find comfort with yoga he also found strength and courage again.
Through yoga, Nicholas learned about breathe and how it was used to control and overcome his nervous system, to balance out the anxiety that was triggered from his post traumatic stress. Through the different type of postures and movements he was able to create space and relieve pressure in his joints. He was finally able to sleep, and rebuild relationships that were damaged from his inability to control his reaction to post traumatic stress. He found a community, filled with kindness and love, things he hadn’t felt in a long time.
Today Nicholas is an adaptive yoga teacher helping veterans just like himself. Through the Exalted Warrior Foundation he has not only discovered his own self love and kindness. He is assisting his brothers and sisters find theirs as well.
This short story comes from a veteran I recently had the pleasure of teaching with Annie at Omega, for an all male veterans yoga retreat. As the title states, it's the beginning of something powerful! We look forward to hearing about your growth......
Five of my brothers have taken their own life since returning from mobilization to Mosul, Iraq in 2007-08
SGT Ronald Zeller
SPC. Christopher Waller
SGT. Justin Williams
SGT "Jimmy James"
SPC Kyle Rickenbaugh
I have an obligation to live on and show other combat veterans who have sustained any injuries or anything they struggle with in life that no one is alone and we are here for one another. My first yoga experience was at Semper Fi Odyssey February of this year. The most recent retreat I attended at Omega really let me know my calling and if Yoga has healed me this much. I have no doubt with proper training and guidance which I've already been receiving, I can help other grunts see that yoga and meditation heal unlike anything I have experienced.I could write forever, but this sums it up. More to come, stay tuned.