We would like to introduce you to Ret. SGT Brandon Klopfenstein, an LSF Therapeutic Retreat Participant living with Post-Traumatic Stress, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Chronic Pain. Read on to hear about his experience with LSF in his own words.
There is not enough good things to say about the Lone Survivor Foundation. I am diagnosed with PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury. I also have chronic back pain. I applied after hearing a referral from a friend for individual retreat. I applied and got accepted to the Crystal Beach, Texas Retreat Facility. Before the retreat, I was asked to fill out an informational questionnaire asking about myself and how I feel.
I was involved in one of the worse training accidents in my unit’s history. I totaled an up-armored Humvee on the way home from pre-deployment training. It left two of my passengers seriously injured and left me with a whole lot of doubt, questions, and ability to perform. I was blamed for the accident and injuries it caused. This started a process of my medical discharge, but also something mentally I was unprepared for.
After the Army, I have struggled not only emotionally and physically, but in all aspects of my life. Since being medically discharged and after my Humvee accident, I had went through 20+ jobs. I was fired or let go from every single one. This put a struggle on our household financially, which caused even more disarray in my life. I have and continue to relive the accident in nightmares and night sweats. I have migraines consistently and have a hard time getting any sleep, and when I do it is not very good sleep due to the nightmares.
Lone Survivor Foundation took care of everything. From arrangements to get to the facility at Crystal Beach, Texas, to getting through security at the airport itself. When I arrived I was welcomed with open arms. Other individuals arrived. It felt like right back in the service. The jokes, camaraderie, and the stories. What was nice is there were only 8 other individuals, so it was small enough to get to know everybody.
Once arriving at the facility, it is breathtaking. You can hear the water crashing the beach. The facility is completely fenced off to allow privacy. You then go up stairs or on the elevator and you walk in and it hits you. The inside is just as gorgeous as the outside. You then get to meet everyone that will be participating in the retreat. It is a relaxed setting, no judgments passed, and everyone genuinely caring about how your stay is going to be, and that you have everything you need.
That night you will receive a schedule which details how that entire day is going to be. It is not packed and/or overwhelming by any means and gives you time to reflect and relax. They outline different things that will be done on the retreat such as, Yoga, group therapy sessions, individual sessions, equine therapy, traumatic brain injury exercises, and chronic pain treatment. Not to mention you will be served the finest food ever by two individuals I call family, Pat and Denise Mayberry of Southern Elegance Catering. They will make sure any allergies or anything you need food wise is taken care of and that recipient are shared.
During your retreat you do not feel at all like you are in the VA, worried about what you say, explaining how you feel, or your rating being effected. It is like you have been there doing sessions of therapy for a long time. They know your story and know what questions to ask. The sessions are non stressful and cater to that individual. Group sessions are great to discuss and find out that most things you have been going through so have other individuals. This does not feel as a one-upper session where you are trying to compare how great you were, but it is as a group discussing different techniques used, and different things that have worked for all of us.
Equine therapy was a first for me. It was intimidating for me to think about to begin with. It’s a horse that, if it wanted to, could knock you right on your bottom with a big kick. You walk in to a private arena with your fellow attendees. Questions are asked and a task is provided. Most have never had any experience with a horse and training it. Some tasks are difficult and require you to think outside the box. That is exactly what this is for: you make the similarities between you in the horse and think outside of the box when coming upon a situation. Also to realize that you may never get over the hump but if you continue to try, different things become available. You learn so much in this arena. The horses are calm, but just like anyone have here own attitude. With each day and challenge, you adapt to overcome the task and hopefully become more successful with tools you have acquired.
The chronic pain part was great. The hook up to the system (Alpha-Stim Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation Device for pain and mood) helped me extremely not only with my lower back issues but my migraines. Something that also helped was the yoga. It is not what you think of normal yoga. You will not be doing poses that you can not bend or even imagine doing in your life. It is based around you and your ability. Different poses are given with exceptions and the instructor is able to show you, so all you’re doing is positive to your mind and body and does not leave you in pain. They also have yoga where you do not have to stand, and helps you calm your self before bedtime in order to optimize sleep (Yoga Nidra).
Also, Lone Survivor Foundation gives you time to yourself. You are able to go down to the beach, which is rarely busy, and listen to the waves or walk. If you want to take a nap, you are able to do so. You can watch TV to catch up on a game, able to workout in the amazing gym facility provided, or grab a couple of attendees and have a bonfire under the Texas stars.
The entire Lone Survivor Foundation puts their entire heart and soul into the healing, and maximizing your stay while in your retreat. There is no request unanswered and there is no feeling like an outcast. From Marcus Luttrell, down to the newest intern volunteering their time to learn about you and the foundation, you feel at HOME with the Lone Survivor Foundation.
The minute I arrived home, I felt a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. My wife, who is also my Caregiver, stated that out of all other retreats attended she could tell this one was the most beneficial by far. My wife liked the results so much that we attended a couples retreat together at Crystal Beach, TX.
Some things I learned there I still use today. It has been a blessing and a lot more helpful than anything I have attended or regularly attend through the VA. It brought me out of my house, which is my comfort zone, made me a little bit vulnerable, but gave me 8 other brothers I still contact today and check up on. I still struggle – some days are good and other days are bad. I since have been rated incompetent, individual unemployable and diagnosed with seizures. But with all that, I can not thank Lone Survivor enough for all they have done and continue to do for my family and fellow veterans. This organization is near and dear to my heart and I will always make sure I pass on my positive experience with other veterans looking to not only better themselves, but get out of the rut they are in. I will volunteer and help any way I can for the Lone Survivor Foundation and hope to attend a family retreat and have my wife attend a caregiver only retreat. Something else the retreat left me with is a full stomach!
May God Bless
If you or someone you know is interested in attending a therapeutic retreat, please visit www.lonesurvivorfoundation.org/healing-retreats/attend-retreat
If you are a retreat attendee who would like to share your story, please contact Kelly.