Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022 |
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Canadian veteran Patrick Moulden is most thankful for the day he was introduced to yoga.
The 41-year-old veteran from Victoria, who is on Kauai on an extended vacation, was close to taking his own life a couple of years ago after being diagnosed with severe combat stress and being removed from service.
He says the day he walked into his first yoga class was the day he saved his own life, and now his mission is to pass the practice on to his fellow veterans.
“If I hadn’t (been introduced to yoga), I would be dead right now for sure,” Moulden said. “I’d have either overdosed, or committed suicide.”
For Moulden, sharing his story is a way to connect to other veterans who feel hopeless.
“To this day, a soldier commits suicide every 90 minutes in the U.S.,” Moulden said. “More soldiers have died by their own hand than in total conflicts and it’s a huge problem. I want to help alleviate that suffering.”
Moulden said his story starts 22 years ago, when he joined the military as a clearance diver and bomb disposal technician. He ended up training on improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.
“IEDs are the No. 1 threat in any operation theater of war right now because it’s the most effective way to demoralize and kill your enemy,” Moulden said. “I went to that training and then I went to Afghanistan because, in my opinion, if you’re trained on that you’d better be willing to go over there and help out.”
Moulden was away from his son Oliver, who was 5 at the time, and his wife for nine months while he trained in Florida, and then another nine months while he was on tour.
“When my number came up, I went, but it ended my career, it ended my marriage, and it almost killed me,” Moulden said. “I saw too much.”
Over the course of the nine months he was overseas, Moulden said he experienced 89 different traumatic events and lost countless friends.
“I saw five of my friends killed right in front of me and my job was also to do post-blast investigations and forensic investigations after a bomb went off,” Moulden said. “I was the one that picked up the body pieces and put them in the casket.
Moulden got home in August 2014 and traveled with his family for two months in Europe.
“I found that I was starting to drink more than normal and it didn’t feel right,” Moulden said. “I was getting drunk so that I could go to sleep to keep the nightmares away.”
When he got back from Europe, he was put to work training young upstarts to do his job.
“I was training the next generation and I was on display because I’d just gotten back from Afghanistan, so it was very high profile and high stress,” Moulden said. “I was teaching these guys and doing night dives until 1 or 2 every morning.”
That’s when Moulden set up a tent in the woods near the training center and began a pattern of late-night boozing.
“I didn’t want to go home and remove myself from that environment, because I was letting my guard down and opening my brain to the nightmares again,” Moulden said. “Isolation was my ally, but I was kidding myself.”
For nearly a year, Moulden carried on that lifestyle until a teammate from his days overseas committed suicide.
“I had to go be his pallbearer at his funeral and after that I barely held on until my guys graduated,” Moulden said. “It all came to an end in the mess one day and we were watching an IED fatality strike in Afghanistan. I had an anxiety attack.”
Moulden was taken to the hospital and diagnosed with severe combat stress. He was taken out of his job immediately and given a regimen of pills.
“There’s such a stigma around (severe combat stress) because guys are afraid of losing their jobs, and it is what happens,” Moulden said. “You’re a danger to yourself and the people around you. You can’t be a special forces diver anymore because your brain is broken.”
Once he had those pill bottles, Moulden said his life took another downward turn into a world of antidepressants, cocaine and alcohol.
That’s when Moulden started contemplating suicide.
Moulden’s ex-wife, Liz, intervened one morning with an introduction to a local Bikram studio.
“I wasn’t into that Jane Fonda kind of stuff, but I went anyway because Liz knows me better than I know myself,” Moulden said. “That first class, I remember thinking that I couldn’t do it, and all I could think about was getting wasted.”
He left the class feeling both exhausted and amazing. Moulden said he hadn’t felt that good in years.
“The guys, they were so cool and doing yoga and they were sober,” Moulden said. “At that moment I started thinking about what I needed to do so that I could make it through the next day’s class.”
Over the next six months, Moulden went to Thailand, where he was certified as a Bikram instructor.
“I regressed a little when I got home and got a phone call from the UN offering me a job as a bomb tech in Africa,” Moulden said. “I said I’d do it right away, but Liz changed my mind and suggested I travel for awhile and get used to being a civilian.”
Now that he’s adjusted to civilian life, Moulden wants to pass on the relief he found in yoga to other veterans.
“They are in those types of situations that are so against everything you know as a basic human. You see the face of madness right in front of you with the killing and the torture and it changes you for life,” Moulden said. “How you deal with it is up to you, and I found that for me, the key was yoga.”
Jessica Else, education reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or email@example.com.
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