I can’t believe that elephants changed my life. It started when I saw a random event on Facebook that offered yoga classes for veterans at a local elephant sanctuary in my hometown of Sarasota, FL. At that time, I struggled to find meaning in my life and didn’t think that yoga would help. But something about the invitation sparked my interest, so I decided to take a chance and go.

Little did I know that this experience would be transformational. The opportunity to practice yoga in such a unique environment was cool enough, but I was introduced to Operation Warrior Resolution (OWR), the nonprofit that hosted the event. OWR is made up of veterans with the primary mission of providing holistic treatments for those dealing with PTSD and other mental health issues. I found my tribe.

Ten years prior, I was married, had a house, and was a C-130 loadmaster. Things were good, but then I was sent to war. I came back a different person. It wasn’t a flip of the switch, but the slow crawl of depression wreaked havoc on my life over a five-year span. I became anti-social, couldn’t focus on basic tasks, and started self-medicating. My marriage ended, and I ended up on suicide watch twice. That’s when I knew I needed help.

Yet the therapists I saw, self-help books I read, and the medications I was prescribed weren’t helping. I felt like a zombie in my own body and mind. For years I had just been going through the motions.

Operation Warrior Resolution changed that. After yoga, a volunteer informed me of other programs they offered, including a five-day healing retreat for veterans with PTSD.

I was initially hesitant, but after speaking with the staff and attending pre-retreat meetings, I decided it was worth a shot. The retreat was incredible; being surrounded by other veterans who understood my pain and supported me made all the difference in the world. We practiced yoga, did equine therapy, took jiu-jitsu classes, and cooked delicious nutritious meals.

However, the lifesaver for me was how OWR utilizes therapy called The Cortina Method, which helps relieve past trauma without bringing back up the negative emotions tied to it. I was amazed by how well this method worked. I went through so much, and after five days at the retreat, I felt lighter than ever.

Before and after the retreat, each participant also received brain scans to see which parts of our brains were affected by PTSD. Seeing the scans and understanding how much progress I made in those five days was so gratifying and validated the way I feel.

Mental health services play a massive role in helping veterans recover from PTSD and other trauma-related issues. Organizations such as Operation Warrior Resolution understand this better than anyone, providing innovative treatments such as The Cortina Method.

I’m proud of my new outlook on life and who I am today: an advocate for mental health awareness and a driven veteran determined to help others. Every day I’m thankful that I found a place and people who understand me, and better yet, I’m now giving my time back by volunteering with the organization. I’ve also now been able to fulfill my dream of starting and running my own business.

Operation Warrior Resolution saved my life. They helped me find hope in a world that seemed too dark to exist in, and now I’m happier than ever. Thanks to OWR, I can say that I’m recovered. And it all started with a chance event involving elephants. Who knew?