Inspiring story of Chad Brown who found therapy and a new lease on life in a surprising way, from Outside magazine.
“He’s a U.S. Navy veteran who participated in Desert Storm and Desert Shield, served at Guantánamo Bay, and saw combat during Operation Restore Hope, in Somalia, during the infamous Black Hawk Down era. That he came back with post-traumatic stress disorder is no news in this era—but he’s also an artist, designer, and educator who believes, he told me at breakfast, “in finding a way to radiate your pain outward to help others.”
From Mogadishu to Portland
“Oregon’s slower pace gave him time to think, and remember, and to sink into a downward spiral. He started drinking, lost his contract job, and fell into depression, too ashamed to ask his parents for help.
I was deteriorating every month I was away from my family,” he says. “No one to turn to. I was in a dark place.” He became “borderline homeless,” he says, routinely selling his blood for gas money. He felt broken in a way that couldn’t be fixed, and in the summer of 2009, he went to the Clackamas River, took out a gun, and prepared to shoot himself. Something, probably the river itself, with its steady pull of gentle power, held him back. He called his mother, who called the Veterans Affairs suicide hotline. He was placed in a padded room in a VA psychiatric ward.
At the VA, Chad was known by the last four digits of his social-security number. Every morning he was handed a paper cup full of two or three different medications. After four days he was let out of the psych ward, but he remained in a VA clinic, learning more about post-traumatic stress. A suite of ugly realities are swept up in the cozy abbreviation PTSD: tricks of memory, sleepless nights, emotional instability, substance abuse, depression, anxiety, thoughts of suicide, and flattening doses of pharmaceuticals. That all sounded about accurate to Chad, a description of who he had become.
The first fish
The turning point came months later, when a VA attendant took him bass fishing. This was at Clackamette Park, a suburban oasis in Portland where the Clackamas and Willamette Rivers meet. On his first try, Chad accidentally hooked a jack salmon. He lost the fish, but “I was whooping and hollering,” he recalls. “It made me feel alive. I hadn’t smiled for so long.”
“I’m medicated,” Chad told me once, referring to rivers. “That was my healing. Fishing evolved me to a place where I was ready to get back in society and kick ass.” On the Sandy one day in 2011, he says, “I was standing in the water waist deep, and I thought, This river has basically saved my life. I’ve got to do something for others. It became about more than just me, and that’s when my design side started to kick in.” (emphasis added)
We like to say that SIMs* can hide in hard to find places – even at the end of a fishing rod.
– Tim Cocks
*By my count, every category of SIM is covered in this wonderful story of recovery.