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  • Writer's pictureKirk Kellerhals

“To close your eyes will not ease another’s pain.” – Chinese Proverb

Updated: May 19, 2022

Photo by Rachel Donahue

“PTSD: It’s not the person refusing to let go of the past, but the past refusing to let go of the person.”

— Unknown

As long as I can remember, I have always looked up to our military service members. I am sure this has everything to do with being adopted and raised by a career Army Officer. I was raised to respect my country, respect the flag, and respect those that fight for the freedoms we as Americans often take for granted. When I reached the early adulthood phase of my life, this ingrained mindset to serve was still ever present but after a lifetime to that point of being told where to live and how long was the military lifestyle I didn't want to adopt. I chose the next best thing that I could think of ... I took the career path of law enforcement to serve my country. During the course of my 12-year law enforcement career, I had a front row seat to a number of horrific unimaginable things and incidents of violence that nightmares are made of that slowly deteriorated my positive view on life and over time, eroded my mental well-being. I saw death, child and elder abuse, and brutal gory crime and accident scenes. On more than one occasion, I prevailed in the face of violent deadly force. I’ve had to fight for my life more times that I would like to count and fortunately came out on top every time. I’ve had to pull dead mangled bodies from cars, wake parents up in the middle of the night to tell them that their child was dead and watch hopelessly as they fell apart in front of me. I have watched helplessly as domestic violence victims continued to return to their abusers time after time because they “loved” them. Over the course of several years, the constant exposure to the horrors I saw and violence I faced and at times had to visit on others in the line of duty combined with the constant "fight or flight" state of mind of being a Police Officer, my perception of the world and my worth in it changed for the worse. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I was under the tight grips of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Granted I would never ever try to liken my experiences to the horrors of war witnessed by our military combat veterans. What they have to do and witness downrange is beyond anything I have ever experienced, and they are the absolute heroes in my book. I can however to a certain limited degree, empathize with the long term mental and emotional effects that many of them experience due to repeated exposure to violence and the worst that humanity has to offer. The symptoms of depression, nightmares, insomnia, anxiety attacks, isolation, suicidal tendencies, guilt, and dysfunctional relationships as a result are things, I am all too familiar with.

Stock Media provided by 6@pdwhitehouse / Pond5

Fast forward twenty-some years later and I found myself in a new career path in the field of communications and journalism living the laid-back coastal lifestyle on the Eastern Seaboard. Although the demons of PTSD still haunt me on a regular basis, I have found ways to keep them at bay. One of the ways is through the "Saltwater Therapy" that living the coastal life has to offer. Whenever I am out on the water boating, fishing, surfing, kayaking, etc., I find that the therapeutic effects do wonders to calm the soul and clear the mind. Being surrounded in all that natural beauty is a visual reminder of how beautiful the world still is.

A few summers ago, a friend of mine asked if a Navy SEAL buddy of his that had just returned from a combat tour in the Middle East could come out with us on the boat to do some fishing in the Chesapeake Bay to help him get his mind off the things he had just witnessed on "the op". As we got underway, the SEAL was very quiet and reserved. We spent 6 hours out on the blue...and caught absolutely nothing but a few Land Sharks (Jimmy Buffet fans will understand what I'm saying!). As we were heading back in, the SEAL opened up and was very forthright about how this day was exactly what he needed to get squared away and back on an even mental keel. He talked about memories of fishing with his father and how time on the ocean with his teammates during down times always brought him back from that dark place that war takes a warrior into. Seeing how something as simple as a day out on the boat fishing transformed this warrior from the dark into the light is an experience I will never forget and will always treasure.

I have also witnessed first-hand how surfing has been a therapeutic outlet for combat veterans wounded in war through my volunteer work with the Annual Wave Warriors Surf Camp over the past several years. As the ideas for the mission of the foundation started rolling out, it was only a natural fit that the Beach Lyfe program with its' saltwater therapy be utilized as an instrumental part of giving back to our honorable military combat service members of all wars while providing them an outlet for emotional and mental healing. Being able to offer the blessing I have received through living the Beach Lyfe to process my own journey to manage my PTSD demons is a gift that I am humbled to pay forward through this Foundation's mission.


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