“Literally, it probably saved my life. Well [Project Healing Waters]... and my wife.”
Shawn served in both the U.S. Army and National Guard. In April 2003, he was overseas in Basrah on an undisclosed mission when the unexpected occurred.
“We were captured on the water, we were in boats in the river between Iraq and Iran and they took us into Iran,” Shawn said. “The rules of engagement were complicated there, it was a difficult scenario... all of us but two made it out.”
The haunting past of Shawn’s time enlisted created a heavy onset of PTSD upon his return home.
“You go through a thing like that, especially in war, and you come away with a completely different outlook on the whole world,” Shawn said. “So, it’s awkward and weird to be social.”
In an effort to suppress the pain, Shawn buried himself in his career and fatherhood, a tactic used by many other veterans once they enter the civilian world.
“There was no time to deal with grief or stress and you’re a soldier, you soldier on,” Shawn said.
But ignoring his grief didn’t come easy. For the first time in his life, Shawn turned to drugs.
“I had never done anything like that before, I wasn’t a partier and I started to see it was affecting me more than I thought,” Shawn said.
Shawn credits his wife for being a guiding light through such a dark time. When it’s typical to lash out or isolate, talking through issues isn’t easy. His wife provided him with an outlet for conversation as well as direction.
“My wife, she’s heaven-sent, that’s my hero right there,” Shawn said. “My wife started looking for organizations, found Project Healing Waters and pushed me in that direction, she had to push me to go fishing which tells you a little about how bad PTSD can be.”
Since joining Project Healing Waters, Shawn has been able to not only find a channel of comfort but also connection with other veterans who suffer from PTSD. Fly fishing is one of the few times Shawn says he can fully relax.
“It’s sacred grounds as far as I’m concerned. This water, this peacefulness, it’s calm, it’s safe, there’s nothing to stress about... it’s okay here,” Shawn said. “Everyone has been through things but ours was to a degree that changed us so being in a place like this, an environment like this, we’re able to relax and broaden our circle of people we can let in.”