Twenty22Many – Olympia, WA
Since its inception in 2014 Twenty22Many has been employing grassroots tactics to combat the reality of veteran suicide – work that the volunteers at Twenty22Many take very seriously. In 2016 the group attained its non-profit status and continues to bring awareness to an often misunderstood and stigmatized crisis that plagues our nation from its home base in Olympia, Washington. As a 501(C)3 nonprofit the team at Twenty22Many strives to bring awareness to suicide prevention, PTSD and the fact that many veterans are seeking safe and legal access to alternative medicine outside of pharmaceuticals. They are an inclusive group of individuals that accept all veterans seeking to end veteran suicide regardless of sexual orientation, gender, race or spirituality.
The vice president of Twenty22Many Dustin Bruce graced us with his presence at the DOPE headquarters in Seattle where we talked about the organization’s mission and goals for the future. He shared with us the team’s non-traditional approach to healing, harm reduction and why it’s crucial to build community around veteran suicide awareness. DOPE Magazine wants to extend our gratitude and continue to celebrate the mission of the non-profit and lives that are positively affected by the many volunteers of the organization. Bruce served in the Army Nurse Corps and made captain before his departure in 2001. He worked as a nurse at St. Peter’s for 15 years before his back gave out – this is when Bruce turned to cannabis, got off of all pharmaceutical medications and made it his mission to help teach others about the healing properties of the plant.
DOPE Magazine: So many veterans say that cannabis has helped them with not only PTSD by a myriad of other medical issues: chronic pain, sleep deprivation, anxiety and depression. What has cannabis done specifically for you? How do you use it in your day-to-day treatment for the medical issues that you are suffering from?
Dustin Bruce: Well, when it comes to PTSD and cannabis, cannabis is actually the thing that showed me that I had PTSD. I started [using cannabis] for pain, and it worked better than the pain meds; it replaced alcohol and everything else. And then here I was as a nurse after surgery and was feeling better and coming off of my pain medication. My son was about 16 years old, and I haven’t taken my medication all day, he comes home and [I comment] “Why aren’t the dishes done?” And, you know I overreact. My son made a comment like “Dad, I think you need to go smoke a bowl or something.”
And I was like “Why is my son telling me to smoke a bowl? What’s up with that?” The next day my wife comes home, again I haven’t used cannabis all day long, and I was angry about something, and my wife goes “When’s the last time you medicated?” I’m like “Wait a second, I’m taking this for pain, but I’m getting a very different message here, that it’s treating something more than just pain.” And it took me down a rabbit hole, and I found out that I did have PTSD, and then it made me learn that I can utilize cannabis to be the best version of myself. I started learning about CBD and THC, different ratios, at night and how to use edibles and how to grow my own [cannabis].
Can you tell us a bit about your affiliation with Twenty22Many and what it has meant for you? Are there any projects that you are working on currently? Anything specific that you’d like to share?
I’m the vice president of Twenty22Many [and I] handle a lot of the administrative duties. I’m kind of behind the scenes [when it comes to the programs that we offer], just trying to help that along and work the organizational [components]. We do a lot of stuff in Olympia right now, but we’re trying to grow those [projects] to other areas. We have the yoga in Olympia, the mixed martial arts and things like that. We can find providers and other areas to help give discounts to vets, to help provide space to vets for veterans to come together. When we come together and do service that’s when we see real improvements in how veterans can deal with things.
What advice would you give to a veteran or non-veteran looking to become involved in the mission to end veteran suicide by any means necessary?
First absolutely, get involved with the organizations but find the organizations that are actually doing the work, not just talking about what they want to do. Sometimes throwing money at a problem is [not the only answer] so you have to get out as well. I tell veterans to get out of their home or go do something. We need people to get out of their homes [and become active participants in the community]. Put on events, take veterans’ fishing trips, get veterans together. Whenever we get veterans together, that’s when that peer support happens. You hear so often that veterans are afraid to speak to others, not really afraid to speak to others, it’s the judgment that we receive whenever we speak about what we have seen or experience.
[Often veterans] either receive sympathy if we talk about our story, or we get dismissed as crazy or we get judged as monsters. None of those things are helpful, but whenever we talk to another veteran that has a shared experience we don’t receive that judgment because they understand. You can’t have empathy unless you have shared life experience and understanding, and so whenever we get together, we have that empathy.
We come here, get together, talk again, and we can share ways that we can help mend those wounds, and learn the tools that way from someone that we are going to actually trust.
Because I can trust that if you had this experience that caused this wound or this trauma, and you yourself have healed it, I’m going to trust your word much more than a doctor’s word who just read a book. You don’t get the same level of understanding from a book as you do from a person that actually experienced it.
What do you think are some of the biggest misconceptions that veterans face?
The biggest issue is the issue of labeling. One label — PTSD. Very common right? Once you put that label on [a veteran] it’s like that label can never come off. So now, you are always just the angry soldier, and that’s really not the case. As with anything if you have a disease or anything else, they can be healed, and if you heal it, then that label should be able to be removed. So, when we get that label put on [us] we have consequences. You can lose the right to bear arms. When we utilize cannabis [because we have been given the PTSD label] we can lose the right to see our children and things of that nature. So those labels don’t really help us.
What extracurricular activities that Twenty22Many offers do you regularly participate in?
I will tell you that yoga changed my life, it was actually through yoga [and a] whole plant-based diet [in combination with] cannabis that I regained my ability to walk again. I regained abilities that I hadn’t had for 20 years, and because of that, I ended up taking a yoga instructor course and a yoga healing course. That absolutely would challenge anyone to do true yoga, where they are doing meditation and breathing, and exercise all at the same time. It utilizes your mind, and it takes you places that you wouldn’t think possible.
[There is also] Heroes Promise which gets groups of veterans out and they go clean grave sites, and they honor the fallen soldiers. It’s great work. It gets veterans together, and they’ll share their stories there.
There is also Victory Gardens in Olympia, where we have veterans coming together where they are [tending to] beehives, and you can grow plants, and help grow food for the food bank. That’s a wonderful program.
We have Vets Café where veterans have the opportunity to do agriculture and ecology work. There is the VA Sweat where you can go and actually have your spirituality served — it’s put on by Native Americans. It’s a traditional ceremony at the VA, which is an amazing thing. All of these possibilities are out there, you just have to get out and find them. If you need help, organizations like Twenty22Many or Heroes Promise [can help you] network. We will find you that which will serve you. Something you are interested in, do it with other veterans, and just it will give you a tenfold increase in fulfillment, and just really help your life in so many ways. Whether it’s finding a service dog, or finding a place to get a meal, or finding a group to go fishing with. Whatever it might be, yeah, we’ll get that done.
If you or someone you know is suffering please reach out to Twenty22Many via its hotline (360)545-7849.
- Patrick Seifert – President/Founder
- Dustin Bruce – Vice President
- Randy Madden – Director of Veterans Outreach
- Katharine Seifert – Mrs. Twenty22Many