When it comes to rehab and recovery, we don’t always look at the bigger picture. Oftentimes, having an underlying mental health disorder can lead to drug or alcohol addiction. Many of our nation’s veterans struggling with a substance use disorder also have a co-occurring disorder, such as PTSD, that goes undiagnosed for many years. This issue is further complicated by the fact that many veterans are in denial and either believe they don’t have a problem or that they can deal with it themselves.

We recently had a chance to speak with Transformations alumnus Jake Hampu. A platoon sergeant in the US Marine Corps (USMC), Jake studied music in college and dreamt of one day starting his own music studio. This was his passion, unfortunately, like many veterans with untreated Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Jake turned to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate the pain away. His dream was shelved.

It was not until Jake had sought treatment, relapsed, and then entered treatment at Transformations Treatment Center that he says he was able to restore himself to be the person he always wanted to be.

Loss of Camaraderie After Military Service 

When asked about his time spent in the military he said, “I got to travel around the world, there were both good times and bad times, but I don’t regret a day in my life in the USMC. It was a very educational and eye-opening experience. The camaraderie I had while in the Marine Corps is something that I gravitated to.”

There is a common thread weaving through the story of many veterans, that the loss of fellowship after discharge is one of the factors that fuels the desire to turn to drugs or alcohol. I asked him if he could remember a specific incident that triggered his substance use, “Getting out of the Marine Crops and not having that fellowship, not having that bond anymore is one of the things that led me to addiction. Self-medicating unfortunately, for many of us experienced war veterans, is quite common. Coming out of the military and not regaining that sense of purpose leads you into a life of seclusion and self-medicating.”

Jake also mentioned that he had 2 major foot surgeries that further intensified his addiction and how veterans don’t like to talk about their problems so they are very capable of hiding their addiction from friends, family and co-workers.

Maybe You Don’t Really Have a Problem

Jake mentioned how he tried reaching out to his father at one point after getting into some legal trouble, “I did open up to my father, but unfortunately, he didn’t understand what I was going through. The fact that I reached out, but nothing changed, kind of had me thinking that maybe I didn’t have a problem or I’ll just have to deal with it on my own.”

Jake says he was living in Cleveland, Ohio when he decided to move down to Florida for a job opportunity, “I’m not saying you have to run away from your problems but for me it was time to move on from Cleveland where there was a huge bar scene.” He said he did extremely well at first. He was looking at his fresh start in Florida a bit like he was in recovery, “I was honestly trying to escape the drugs and alcohol. You can escape from the people you know you can get drugs from and there is a good possibility that you can stay away from it, but only for a while.”

One of his first friends in Florida had connections, “It was that gradual process where we convinced ourselves that we could use drugs once in a while and still maintain a regular life.” He said that strategy only worked for about a year. Unfortunately, he was basically his own boss so, he was able to hide his addiction really well. He gradually saw himself getting even worse than before and he says that’s when he started having severe panic attacks.

Afraid to Reach Out for Help

There is a certain stigma when it comes to reaching out for help with addiction. The military has a zero-tolerance drug abuse policy so many veterans are worried about dishonorable discharge, losing their health insurance benefits or even possible criminal conviction. This leads to many military personnel reluctant to reach out to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and ask them for help.

Expressing a bit of frustration Jake said, “I went to the VA looking for a solution. At first, I thought I didn’t need any kind of treatment, but I ended up back at the VA a few months later. I finally agreed to do a 7-day detox and I came out on top of the world. But that feeling was very short-lived.”

He went back to the VA and this time they sent him to a different treatment center. He says that was not the best place suited for him, “I had to help myself more than they were helping me. So, I went back to the VA and I begged them to find me another option. I didn’t think they’d be able to send me back to treatment since I had just gone to the other place 3 months earlier.”

Jake was pleasantly surprised when the VA agreed to send him to another facility, “But this time they sent me to Transformations Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center in Delray Beach, Florida.” He had a few days to do some research and mentioned, “I kept seeing signs that this was the place that would be fully capable of helping me and guiding me back to the man that I really was. Not only spiritually, but also musically, and enable me to reflect emotionally on what brought me here and what could help me.”

Music Therapy While in Addiction Treatment 

When I asked him about his time at Transformation he said, “Jamie was my therapist, she brought me back to the man who I was and always will be and Terry and Serg at SoundPath Recovery were extremely helpful. I went to college for music so having a music therapy program was another sign that Transformations was going to be, pun intended, the place to transform me back to the man I was.

Jake said that figuring out that this long battle with addiction was going to be dealt with through the use of music was a big relief. “Meeting Terry and Serg, they were like friends I grew up with, guys that you could look at and know instantly that they were going to have your back and would be there for you.”

Terry Brent, Director of Transformations SoundPath Program says, “There is something special about being able to watch someone ‘Get it.’ Jake struggled with his past but used music to help him stay in the present”.

Serg Wittis, SounthPath Assistant Director says, “Jake was always talking about how grateful he was for Transformations for helping him on his journey, but little does he know the impact he had on my life. I watched someone who accepted his situation, with humility and an open mind, as he became a leader in the SoundPath community.”

Jake says, “Transformations and SoundPath Recovery definitely rehabilitated my soul and my spirit and I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life. I’m able to use what they taught me to help others. I quit my job to start a new career, but this time with a focus on my music, my writing and a way to give back to the community.”

Making His Dream Become a Reality

Fast forward to the present day as Jake volunteers his time with organizations such as Street Waves, which is a nonprofit that teaches inner-city kids how to swim and surf. After bringing his camera along to one of the surf sessions he suddenly knew what he wanted to do with his life. He decided to take Unified Dream, and turn it into a nonprofit that helps other nonprofits by creating documentary style films.

“That first video was strictly for the kids, I wanted to make them something to show their friends and family what they did over the summer. But then I thought, why don’t I take Unified Dream and make it into an organization that helps other non-profits.” Unified Dream spends 2-4 weeks with each organization, capturing everything on film including how they got started and how they are changing lives in their community.

The videos he creates are used by the organizations to help them share their vision, mission and message of hope within the community. He’s discovered that working with other organizations helps him stay sober and live a more purposeful life. His message of hope is to tell everyone that they can make a change within their community and throughout the nation by the simple act of taking action and volunteering.

 Final Thoughts for Long-Term Sobriety

When asked about his plans for the future Jake mentioned how excited he is to finally get his vision for Unified Dream off the ground now that he is sober. He says, “I continually tell myself that the sky is the limit, that anyone can make a change throughout their community and throughout the nation if they just stay sober.

I had a chance to connect with Transformations Alumni Coordinator Christopher Collins and he mentions, “Jake has a passion and energy for life that is pretty incredible to witness. I’ve heard his message of recovery several times now. He uses his experience, strength and hope to inspire all of us.”

I asked Jake about a recent children’s wood working workshop he held at the Delray Beach Children’s Garden, “I wanted to hold a workshop on Veterans Day so I could round up some of my friends. One of the guys I brought along is also an alumnus of Transformations – we grew up together in Cleveland, Ohio. It took me almost a year to convince him to get help. I’m happy that I was able to help another veteran see the light and give Transformations a try.”