More than 15 years after Larry Unverzagt riddled Iraq with bullets, he found himself in a "Beginning Journey Group."
There he was, in his leather jacket and Harley-Davidson T-shirt, a thorny addition to the gathering of flower children. The beatniks eyed him curiously, and even Unverzagt was unnerved by his being there. He's no New Ager.
But this was it for Unverzagt. This was salvation. Or at least the road to it.
Unverzagt was struggling when he and his wife of nearly 25 years, Cassie, stumbled upon this class at Sacred Hoop Ministries last year. The veteran had been sleeping about three hours a night an improvement over the hour he managed nightly in the years after the Gulf War. His experiences had stolen his ability to sleep, and also live, feel and relate to his family on a normal level.
He wanted to be alone.
This made for difficult years with Cassie and the couple's two daughters, who were 11 and 7 when Unverzagt returned from war in 1991. But Unverzagt never sought help.
"I thought I was OK, and this was a part of life," he says.
The girls grew up and left. His wife might have left, too, if Unverzagt hadn't managed to change. But he did, when he bought into the help of Rev. Jim Haggins and Rev. Roxanne Roberts the husband-and-wife shamanic practitioners behind Sacred Hoop.
Sacred Hoop Ministries is just a jog off U.S. Highway 24 in Woodland Park. The peaceful, wooded property houses the practitioners' home, a teepee and a yurt. A sweat lodge and medicine wheels are coming soon.
Haggins says he and Roberts aim to help all sorts, but they have a special calling to heal veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
That's why the couple will host a symposium this weekend at St. Francis Health Center, bringing together alternative and alopathic doctors and healers to offer their time free of charge to military families.
Haggins says alternative practices heal what regular therapy cannot. Through shamanic ritual, he says, he can literally return a part of a soul shed on the battlefield. This is the procedure that Unverzagt, hesitantly, agreed to undergo in January.
"I was nervous," Unverzagt says. "I was just like, "Man, is this crazy?' and "Why are you doing this?' I almost backed out."
But then, what the hell. Not much was required. He lay down while crystals and other sacred objects were placed around him. Roberts was with him, conversing with spirits, she said, and willing the good stuff back into him and the bad stuff out.
When it was over, Unverzagt went home. He slept all night for the first time in more than 15 years.
He's still sleeping these days, and says he has mended his relationship with his wife. The couple recently moved to Washington, but plan on regular visits back to Colorado Springs to visit family and Sacred Hoop.
What is that, exactly?
Laurelyn Cannon, Ph.D., stops raving about "energy work" long enough to explain how she an experienced licensed clinical psychologist suddenly became enamored with practices like energy psychology, reiki and the Emotional Freedom Technique.
"When I was first introduced to it in the '90s, it was like, "Doodoo doodoo doodoo doodoo, beam me up, Scotty,'" she says, laughing. "But when it works, it's hard to argue with it."
Cannon says energy work can conquer severe, lifelong phobias in fewer than 30 minutes and help PTSD patients in a few hours. In fact, Cannon has used alternative methods on hundreds of trauma victims over the years, including many she treated at the Colorado Community Corrections Coalition. She now treats patients with the same methods at her Colorado Springs office and at the Sacred Hoop space.
Barbara Pickholz-Weiner says alternative approaches are especially important for patients with PTSD. A registered nurse who, like Cannon, found healing for her patients in alternative practices, Pickholz-Weiner says talk therapy only re-traumatizes PTSD patients.
"I think that spirituality is a very key component," she says. "I want to help people get in there and actually heal the root cause."
Both women say they look forward to helping vets at the symposium.
Hard pill to swallow?
The event will feature more than 25 practitioners offering everything from aroma therapy to hypnosis to regular, old-fashioned mental health care.
But will anyone come?
Iraq war veteran Cory Snooks, both an alternative practitioner and a Sacred Hoop patient, says he thinks vets will assuming they hear about it.
Unverzagt is less optimistic. He hopes a fellow vet's stamp of approval might help mobilize the masses. But it took him a long time to face his problems. And it took a lot of persuasion from his wife for him to try alternative healing.
"Some of them might just come check it out for the novelty," he says. "But the ones that really need help probably won't even say anything. They'll be the ones that just walk in, look around and walk out."
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