By Alumna Kami O., Outward Bound Veteran Program
It’s hard to put into words what my 10,000 Islands Canoe trip did for me. To be honest, I still think I’m trying to figure it all out, myself. It was definitely not what I had expected, but more than I ever could have imagined. What started out, originally, as a “Hey, I’ll just go away for 6 days for New Year’s and canoe through the Everglades,” turned into a self-discovery journey that I will likely never forget.
We all struggle in life – young, old, Veteran, civilian, male, female. There is no set criterion that limits life’s downfalls to a set group of people. How we choose to meet those downfalls head-on and make the appropriate course changes to deal with them is what sets us apart from everyone else. My short, yet amazingly sweet, trip with a group of Veterans has brought a sense of peace into my life that I could never fully repay. We all went out there, as complete strangers, for our own reasons, but fate would have us leave as family – always there for support and love when needed. While some were struggling with inner demons or nightmares brought back from war, I ran to NCOBS for more personal, and originally what I thought of as selfish, reasons. I didn’t want to be here, alone, for New Year’s. What ended up happening is coming to a realization that I was running from my life and everything that I hated about it – or myself. I never even knew exactly what I was truly struggling with until that course. Between the after dinner evening meetings to the full days of paddling, the conversations had and lessons taught – by both wonderful crew and amazing instructors – were absolutely mind blowing. We laughed, we joked, we bonded, and – some of us – we cried. It’s a hard thing to accept the flaws within yourself, and even your life, that need to be addressed and changed to better improve the quality of living in this wonderful existence.
That very first night, pulling our “catamaran” of canoes through a mangrove tunnel that was nowhere near big enough to accommodate us, we came together as a very tight-knit team that wasn’t about to be outdone by branches – or the billion mosquitos that, sadly, put the ones in Texas to shame. Hooking arms and reciting quotes and, to be honest, some fairly “hippy” routines before dinner actually turned out to be some of the moments that we all treasure most. We made it our own and, in a sense, it made us. From chem lights and sparklers teaching us about the light that sustains us and the light we want to ignite this New Year to sitting in silence on the beach for a short solo and reflecting on who I truly need to be in life to one of our instructors reading us Dr. Seuss stories (WITH the voices) on our last night to (almost) everyone swallowing a live mud minnow as “initiation” into the Michael Foxtrots, everything we did and every word spoken has had such an impact on my life and how I see myself, I can honestly say that this “New Year, New Chapter, New Me” is going to be the best one yet. And I don’t think I could say that had it not been for NCOBS putting me with such an incredible group of Veterans.
Too many come back and struggle with what was seen or done and too many struggle with trying to find their way on the civilian side of the line. What we taught each other and what we learned from two very devoted instructors will never cease to amaze me, because our course – our family – was truly a miracle for all of us. A wise instructor once told me, “The great secret of happiness is that it is a choice. The world and work and, sometimes, friends and family, can conspire to make us feel helpless or lost, but it is all an illusion. The only things that we really control are the way we think about things and the actions we choose to take based on those thoughts. Happiness is a choice to make every day.”
Thank you, NCOBS, because now every day I wake up and choose happiness, for I was taught how to deal the rest.