War Mode to Wholeness – by OIF Vet Mitchell Brookman
“I am a combat veteran with two tours in Iraq, resulting in four broken vertebrae, traumatic brain injury, and post-traumatic stress. I was medically retired on December 7, 2012, and within a few months, I was hospitalized for three weeks suffering from a seizure disorder. A week after being released from the hospital I had a massive seizure resulting in three strokes and a cardiac arrest. My ex-wife who was a combat medic found me dead on our couch. She resuscitated my heart, and I suffered six more cardiac arrests within the following hours. My family was told I had no brain activity and to make preparations. I woke up four days later. Partially paralyzed and unable to care for me, everyone was waiting for me to die. I did not accept any of the doctor’s limitations and made a miraculous physical and cognitive recovery, however psychologically my world was shattered. I was shattered. For seven years I lived in nerve shaking anxiety and depression, oftentimes suicidal, with severely addictive and self-destructive coping strategies.
I was mentally and physiologically stuck in war-mode. Unable to cope with daily living.
On the brink of death with no clear path to healing, I met a friend who introduced me to the Executive Director of Veterans Rites, Ryan Mielcarek on August 5, 2020. Within 23 days I was on a plane from Honolulu Hawaii to Seattle Washington to take my place in the Rite of Return offered by Veterans Rites. Arriving in Seattle I teamed up with two fellow veterans and my healing seemed to begin. I spent four days walking through the downtown Seattle neighborhoods. Surrounded by unfamiliar buildings and a more unfamiliar people. I felt safe, and relaxed for the first time in years.
On September 1, 2020 we set up base camp where we spent three days in circle, a safe and compassionate space, guided by two initiated elders, and an initiated guide. Their compassionate guidance opened up a field of healing for each of us. I was able to be honest and open within our circle, with myself and all the parts of me that I ignored for so long. Pretending they weren’t there or they didn’t ever affect me, when in reality these were the parts controlling my life. During this time my guides also taught me how to enact my own self-generated ceremonies that are evoked through nature and fasting.
Armed with my intention, the safe compassionate space opened by our guides and the wisdom of self-generated ceremony I set out on the fourth day to spend four days in the wilderness, alone without food or shelter. I arrived at my solo spot at the end of a majestic ridge line deep in the cascade mountains. A place where Mother Nature seemed to be mirroring my experience back to me.
My sleeping area amongst the living trees was alive with breath and beauty. Just to the north of my sleeping area was a circle of dead forest teaming with the blackness of coal that charred everything in sight, encircled by scorched trees just waiting for their roots to give way so they may lay to rest. Something within this dark place called to me. It was here I created my circle of confession, acceptance, and transformation; a place to find balance and a new way of life. It was here that I enacted my own self-generated ceremonies. I cared for the child within and without. I gave and received love where none was manifest. I gave thanks and praise to the Earth, to the Creator, all of my guides, my ancestors, and my loved ones. I found love and forgiveness in and for myself, as well as for those whom I hurt or was hurt by. I literally pounded the pain I carried for so long into the earth with my fists until I hit a rock. I spent many hours of the day walking through the sacred land; embodying and announcing to myself, to the Earth, and to all creation my intention.
On the last day of my solo time, a cold North wind began to blow. I witnessed what appeared to be a dark cloud bank headed my way. I prepared myself for a cold wet night of the ceremony, and so I laid down to rest and meditate on the actions I would soon be taking. I fell asleep, and when I awoke a couple of hours later I found myself covered in a thick blanket of smoke. I could no longer see the valley below me, or the ridges surrounding me. The dark cloud bank I was preparing for was not moisture, but smoke from a wildfire. Once again it seemed as Mother Nature was mirroring my experience back to me. The smoke was like the mental fog that kept me from seeing for the last seven years and represented the clarity that was mine to behold once I crossed over the threshold, separating the wheat of my being from the chaff. I prepared for the threshold and moved to my circle of confession, endeavoring to enact my final ceremony through dawn. Just as I was reaching my circle, my elder guide Larry showed up and evacuated me off of the mountain. We all rallied at basecamp and then moved to a fire-free spot to set up camp off of the mountain near the Cle Elum River. Our solo time was over. For two days our guides listened as we shared our experiences and carefully helped us incorporate them.
What is the result of my Rite of Return, what has happened since I returned home?
The most meaningful and impacting change is the feeling I now share with my dear wife, twelve-year-old son and five-month-old daughter. The feeling of wholeness I finally have holding my baby girl is beyond words. It is as if I am holding her for the first time. The connection between my family is tangible. My wife has told me this is the first time we have actually connected in years. Our roles have changed completely.
When I left, she was a caretaker of a disabled combat veteran. Now, we are partners in life, best friends complimenting each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I am now present and fully conscious when I am with them. I am able to give them the loving attention they deserve, rather than focusing on my own inability to cope with daily life. I am now balancing my time between being an integral part of my family, studying and working for Searching for Warriors Foundation, communing with nature, becoming active in the community, and practicing my spirituality daily. I am a balanced responsible healthy adult outfitted with the tools and processes to maintain this balance.
Objectively, my anxiety, depression, confusion, fear, reclusion, and generally poor mental health has vanished. I am able to think clearly for the first time in seven years. This figure is not an exaggeration, nor can I stress the extreme levels of confusion I had been suffering. I am no longer in “war mode” running on cortisol and adrenaline so my mind is able to maintain an alert relaxedness. I understand that sounds like a miracle, and a miracle it is.
Of course, all of this originates with my ability to maintain a newfound balance, offered to me by my healed psyche. This gift of balance and healing I have been given, this sacred medicine from within, this gift of life I would even say, was given to me through the Veteran Rites Rite of Return guided ceremony. For this the Brookman ohana thanks Larry, Sara, Ryan, John Crary and Veteran Rites from the deepest parts of our souls. Mahalo nui loa, I love you all!