Dandelion Effect Podcast: Jessica Bugbee: The Way of the Female Warrior

Jessica Bugbee: The Way of the Female Warrior

Jessica Bugbee is a U.S. Army combat veteran, wellness director at Hudson Valley National Center for Veteran Reintegration, and co-founder of TRIBE, a non-profit that teaches yoga and meditation to the active duty military community. She’s also a peer specialist in the Vet2Vet program of Ulster County, New York, and leads Women’s Warrior Writing classes, mindful hiking groups, kayaking trips and other mind-body-spirit offerings to support and empower veterans and their families.

Jessica served as a combat medic and paratrooper during her seven years of active duty, and has been on a monumental healing journey since returning to the States, navigating life after the military and finding her way through Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the myriad ways that trauma presents in the mind and body.

In today’s conversation, we talk about her life of service, where it started and who inspired it; her experience in the Army, oftentimes as one of two or three women among 500 or more men; and what her reintegration process has looked like, the ways that her military experiences—while technically “over”—are not at all over, and which modalities and healing techniques have helped her overcome and move through anger, anxiety, depression, substance abuse and heartbreaking loneliness over the last seven years since her discharge.

Now, she practices and teaches five categories of wellness and rehabilitation: nature, community, movement, breath, and storytelling. It’s these resources that inspired her to start TRIBE in 2019, along with a team of veterans, military spouse & family members, DOD personnel, and yoga teachers dedicated to showing people that their superpowers and navigational tools are within them and accessible at any moment.

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Episode Transcript

Andy Vantrease  00:17
Welcome to the Dandelion Effect Podcast, a space for organic conversation about the magic of living a connected life. Just like the natural world around us, we are all linked through an intricate web, a never-ending ripple that spans across the globe. Here, we explore the ideas that our guests carry through the world, remember who and what inspired them along the way, and uncover the seeds that helped them blossom into their unique version of this human experience. This podcast is a production of the Feathered Pipe Foundation, whose mission is to help people find their direction through access to programs and experiences that support healing, education, community and empowerment.

Hi everyone, welcome back to another episode of The Dandelion Effect Podcast. I’m your host, Andy Vantrease. If this is your first time listening, a special welcome to all the newcomers. And if you’ve been with us for a while, hello again and welcome back! Today I’m talking with Jessica Bugbee.

Jessica Bugbee is a U.S. Army combat veteran, wellness director at Hudson Valley National Center for Veteran Reintegration, and co-founder of TRIBE, a non-profit that teaches yoga and meditation to the active duty military community. She’s also a peer specialist in the Vet2Vet program of Ulster County, New York, and leads Women’s Warrior Writing classes, mindful hiking groups, kayaking trips and other mind-body-spirit offerings to support and empower veterans and their families.

Jessica served as a combat medic and paratrooper during her seven years of active duty and has been on a monumental healing journey since returning to the States, navigating life after the military and finding her way through Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the myriad ways that trauma presents in the mind and body.

In today’s conversation, we talk about her life of service, where it started and who inspired it; her experience in the Army, oftentimes as one of two to three women among 500 or more men; and what her reintegration process has looked like: the ways that her military experiences—while technically “over”—are not at all over, and which modalities and healing techniques have helped her overcome and move through anger, anxiety, depression, substance abuse and heartbreaking loneliness over the last seven years since her discharge.

Now, she practices and teaches five categories of wellness and rehab: nature, community, movement, breath, and storytelling or story sharing. It’s these resources that inspired her to start TRIBE in 2019, along with a team of veterans, military spouse and family members, and yoga teachers dedicated to showing people that their superpowers and navigational tools are within them and accessible at any moment.

Jessica is transparent and real about her journey of self-care, healing and what it means to be a warrior, then and now. If after listening to this episode, you realize it may resonate and help someone you love, please share it with them. No one needs to suffer in silence and feel like they’re alone.

Without further adieu, please enjoy this conversation and help me welcome my friend, Jessica Bugbee.

Andy Vantrease  03:53
You are somebody that has lived this life of service, both serving in the Army and now everything you’re doing to serve your fellow members: teaching yoga, space holding, writing workshops, and a bunch of other things. I know that when we talked last you said that as a young person, you just had this sense of wanting to serve your country. So, I’m curious of wanting to start there and just asking you, “Where that sense of service came from?”

Jessica Bugbee  04:25
When I was a little girl, we lived in Massachusetts. That’s where my parents are from and where I was born. But they lived in a home for mentally challenged children and young adults, and we lived there, and they managed it. They were in that field of psychology, and actually now my dad, at the age of 68, has completed his master fitness trainer. He’s still working right now, but he wants to help the physically challenged, whether they’re mentally handicapped or physically challenged, in some way with rehab. As a matter of fact, right now he’s volunteering his time with the Special Olympics basketball team in Albany.

If I break it down to what is service, you know, at its roots, it is caregiving to a degree, right? It’s giving of yourself to others. My mom’s always been in that as well. Whether it was Catholic Church, she really does a fantastic job of that. So, I think, you know, by osmosis… I’ve never actually thought of that until this very moment. In fact, I remember growing up and planning out my life and kind of thinking that at some point, my spouse would die, and then I would go and become a nun. I would just, like, give my life to service like Mother Teresa.

My parents weren’t in the military, but my grandfathers were. I think it was how my grandfathers presented themselves and just the look that they had in their eyes. It was as though I had this connection with them, like it was from a different time. My soul was attracted to how they moved, and I wanted to understand. I didn’t get a whole lot of their war stories, so to speak, but they lived this life of solitude, and it seemed of peace. Not to say that they didn’t carry demons because they most definitely did. There were bits and pieces of their service, like little pendants or cards that said “U.S.S.” for the ship that they were on and like a ticket for a period of leave. They saved little things here and there, and I’d asked them about it, you know. Even some of my uncles were in the military, and just their sense of adventure, and being outdoors, learning and using your hands.

Andy Vantrease  07:20
I know a big transition in your childhood is when you moved from Charlotte, which is where you lived after Massachusetts, then to a smaller town outside of the city of Charlotte called Mount Holly. That’s where a lot of pivotal things happened as far as you stepping more into that leadership role and into that service roll.

Jessica Bugbee  07:43
I was just a natural leader. I was always kind of, like, in charge of the neighborhood, you know, like, the one that was wearing the dresses, but also playing cops and robbers, taking charge of everybody and all the boys. I was just so bossy is what my mom says. And you can ask anybody at work, they’ll say, “Yup, she’s very militant.” And it’s the truth, unfortunately, I’m still working on that. But the county didn’t have a girls’ soccer team growing up, so my parents went and requested that I could try out for the boys’ soccer team. And when it came down to the day for me to try out, I said, “I don’t want to,” and my parents were livid. 

Andy Vantrease
They’re like, “We just made this happen!”

Jessica Bugbee 
Exactly. And I was like, “No, no, no, no, I’m not.” Oh my gosh, it was so horrible. I was holding onto the bed post and they’re like, “You’re going!” Anyhow, I ended up missing the JV practice, so I had to try out for the varsity team, which was even worse, right? Like all the cute guys that are in it.

Andy Vantrease  08:56
Yes!

Jessica Bugbee  08:58
So anyhow, I did it. I was on the guys’ team, and then the following year, we ended up having a girls’ soccer team for the whole county. So that was really cool. I’m not looking to go out and do these things. It’s just these opportunities either haven’t been there or they have been there, and I’ve been at the right place at the right time, kind of thing, I guess. Because by no means am I like Mia Hamm—clearly. I’m not Brittany Chastain or whatever. I’m not those people in any particular subject, but it just seems like if you look at my resume, I do have accolades in a lot of things. I just have this persistence and drive to say, “Hey, we ought to all be able to do this. We ought to all be able to have this experience.”

When I was in high school, there wasn’t a whole lot of service clubs. There was like, Youth Christian Club or something, but then there was this club called the Interact Club, and my English teacher was the advisor for it. I showed up to it, and I really liked it and saw that there was opportunity for it. She gave me a lead to this youth program, and I went and checked it out. I ended up going, I was like the only person that ever went, and I ended up building the club and becoming the president. It was a youth safehouse for runaways, so we developed a program where we, as high schoolers, would go and hang out and help them with their homework and cook dinner with them and eat dinner with them. We just did different things with them like that throughout the week. It just became super rewarding, you know, like a mentorship program, a peer mentorship program. And ironically, that’s what I’m doing in my life today.

Andy Vantrease  10:48
Yeah, there’s a very direct link.

Jessica Bugbee  10:52
Yeah, I don’t know, I just felt so dang good about myself. Like with my mom and dad, there was lots of dysfunction between the two of them. I think they were meant to come together and create the two of us then that was kind of the end of their life together. So, my parents divorced when I was 10 years old, and it wasn’t pleasant. I really felt like I was a grownup in the house.

I found meditation and breathwork when I was very young, sitting underneath our dogwood tree at the house. And I was out there breathing and meditating. I was finding myself and grounding myself in nature. I didn’t understand what I was doing at the time.

Andy Vantrease  11:44
And probably didn’t have the language for it.

Jessica Bugbee 
No, absolutely not.

Andy Vantrease
Like those instinctual things that our nervous systems do, the ways that we self soothe, just to get through.

Jessica Bugbee  11:58
Right, that self-regulation. Yeah, but we didn’t talk about really what was happening. I occupied my time doing things like two different soccer teams, cross country team and being in the Interact Club and the Spanish club. Then sometimes going and hanging out with like, a group that it was kind of the bad group, and maybe smoking some pot, you know.

Andy Vantrease 
Yeah.

Jessica Bugbee
And being a loner and driving my car through the back-country roads. I avoided the traumas in my life. Service was what I went to. That’s what gave me confidence. That’s what gave me a sense of pride. That’s what gave me love. Unfortunately, I went to the external; I didn’t go within. I wasn’t taught really how to fill my cup up. But it did that for me, and it was healthy.

Andy Vantrease  12:59
Yeah, I was going to say like, whether it was the way that you were coping, or it was a little bit of “I’m going to help these other people and kind of take myself into this world, because my world and my home life is tough”—I think those are all still, as an adolescent, intelligent ways to reroute trauma. If you’re not taught otherwise, which many of us aren’t. I mean, very few of us are in childhood, and I think a lot of this healing comes after you’ve experienced it and know that you want to do it another way. I just want to kind of say kudos to the young you because turning to service and helping others feel better as a way to help you feel better is… just like a lot of gratitude for young Jessica there.

Jessica Bugbee  13:48
Yeah, thank you for acknowledging that. You know, I have awareness now. I’m living a conscious life. And it’s totally not easy, right?

Andy Vantrease  14:00
Oh, my god. I mean, once you start looking inward, you can’t unsee things. You’ve learned how to be present, which is challenging. It’s really, really challenging in a lot of ways when you make that decision to explore yourself and your inner world rather than escape it. The ways that you grew up, it’s not surprising to me that you found yourself in the Army. It’s like this larger scale of service. So, I want to ask you about your experience for those seven years.

Jessica Bugbee  14:40
Well, you caught me at a very great time, to be honest with you, because I am ready to share all of it. I’m ready to share the beautiful and the ugly. The clean and the dirty. My military experience is not over, Andy. It’s not. In fact, I wrote something on Wednesday… I wrote, “Yes. Is it over? I believe, it is over. On the outside that is. But even still, that seems untrue. Or not right in my body. I carry it around with me. Even still. After seven years discharged, not much has discharged. Released anger, released tears, released sweat, released blood, broken bones. I even released a monster for a period of time. That monster came after. I know she’s still within. I can call her forth at any time.”

In any branch of service, you’re always an infantryman first, but I was trained as a combat medic. I also was a parachutist. Being a combat medic, I was always in a field unit, which meant that I provided no further than a level-two care which is essentially anything from like field medicine, frontline care, you know, providing tourniquet care, gunshot wounds, sucking chest wounds, regular med-evac type of things. Anybody that has colds, any type of like complaints. I left the Army as a staff sergeant, so I had various jobs, teaching combat lifesaver skills. Then of course, I taught medic continuing education, nutrition, health, field sanitation classes.

I was in the 82nd airborne at Fort Bragg, and I went to Iraq for 15 months, and I was in Sadr City, Baghdad. Then I was with the 10th Mountain Division, and I deployed with them to Afghanistan, the northwest part of Afghanistan, going between three small composts with a field artillery unit, one of three women with 500 men. And I was there for 365 days. I had to work my butt off, you know, to just be like, “as good as,” right, or get noticed. And when I went into Iraq, I was part of an FFT, which is a Field Treatment Team. They were bringing us in there because having females as part of your unit, what does it do? It enables you to be able to search women, because in the Muslim community, men can’t touch women. So that’s why we were there. We weren’t there initially because we had so much skill. Why did my commander choose the two of us? Yes, because we were ones that would not cause a ruckus, and we were good at our jobs.

Andy Vantrease  17:59
I never would have thought about that—that that’s why they had to have some women on the team in general.

Jessica Bugbee  18:06
Yeah, so we stayed in the little tiny aid station with the other medics, but yet, Sergeant Scott and I could not stay and sleep in that aid station with the guys because we were women. So, we had to go sleep inside the TOC, which was the command station. It was actually like a better kind of living situation, so to speak, so you would think we’d be happy, but we were upset because those are like our guys. So, now we’re having to walk, and we were actually getting mortared at this place, too. So, it was like, “Why are we having to sleep way far away from the aid station?” There were things that were done that just didn’t make sense because of our gender. But for the most part, I would say that I felt I was treated okay. It’s always interesting, because at first, you’re just being sized up mostly. 

Andy Vantrease  19:01
Yeah, having to prove yourself way more than others.

Jessica Bugbee  19:05
Mmhmm. Just irony, but my very first mission out of the gate, there was a mass casualty, and someone handed me a baby, and the parent was also standing right there, screaming. I just remember having that out-of-body experience, you know. And then I just took that deep breath—ahhh—and told myself, “Okay.” And that’s where everything just kind of clicked into place. From that point on, for about 10-12 years, I worked pretty flawlessly. I knew very well how to do that.

I believe that I could operate in such a way that no one could see that I was living in that space of fight-or-flight. I had such a façade. I think that’s why it made me so good around the men because I had a poker face. I was very laser focused. I saw death. I saw life and I saw death, like, in a moment—and it really did something to me. And sometimes I didn’t understand how some people could not get their act together or not have certain things, you know. If they weren’t on point, and they didn’t know their stuff, I couldn’t understand it. I was a hard ass to people at times. I could be quite judgmental about certain things.

When I was a sergeant and leading soldiers, my nickname was “The Standard.” And I didn’t know that for quite some time, until someone had let the cat out of the bag, I guess. It was like, “Huh, okay, The Standard,” but really, it was like, not funny, you know? Wow, that’s got to be a lot of pressure for someone. I did that to even my romantic partners. And talking about living consciously—when you start to sit back and look at the pressure you put on other people, the expectations you put on other people, especially when we’re all like struggling in this, this place, this warzone. I try not to live my life in regret. But I do wish that I could go back and be a kinder, gentler, spiritual being during that time. But I suppose maybe somebody would have died. Maybe I would have died, you know.

Andy Vantrease  21:56
Right, that’s such a complex thing. Because as I hear you speaking, there’s language of such a self-responsibility for how you acted and the decisions that you made as a leader. And of course, everybody has self-responsibility, but the system that you were trained in also has a lot to do with creating that version of you that became the standard, that became judgmental.

Jessica Bugbee  22:24
I think that’s kind of what programming can do to us at times and being so caught up, you know. I took my responsibility very, very seriously. And not having the right support when you come back from a battle or from a conflict or even from a training exercise that goes awry, there isn’t mental health support in ways that there ought to be.

Actually, when I was on my second deployment, when I was in Afghanistan, it was probably the harder of the two deployments because I already knew what I was in for, to a degree. I had more responsibilities. Again, I found myself a female with 500+ men, and all eyes on me. There were times when I didn’t really think that I would make it out to be honest with you. I’ve never attempted suicide in my life, but I have lived in darkness, for sure. I ordered a yoga mat, and on that yoga mat, I definitely did a lot of abdominal exercises. I did a lot of push-ups. But I also found myself laying on that mat and holding myself and feeling my body. I had such intense anxiety, to the point where I was afraid to go to sleep at night, I was afraid that if I fell asleep, that I wasn’t going to wake up. I would just lay there and count my breath. I know now that I was actually practicing breathwork at its core. Innately, we know what to do for ourselves if we just listen.

Andy Vantrease  24:22
So, what are the procedures and the services that are in place within the Army when it comes to mental health? You’re doing these things and finding your breath, alone, while on your yoga mat—unbeknownst to you at the time, doing yoga—but just walk me through like what actually is available for people?

Jessica Bugbee  24:42
Well, let’s just say after a regular mission—and by regular mission, I mean just like a patrol where we went out and we were just like patrolling the streets, and we got shot at a couple times or nothing would happen—we would just come back. We would do whatever we needed to do to unload, to reset for the next day, and then that would be it.

Andy Vantrease  25:05
And it’s up to the individual to decide what it is that they need to do to reset?

Jessica Bugbee  25:11
If you have a good team leader, they’re in charge of figuring out what they’re going to do. But on a regular basis, no, there’s not going to be someone checking in on your mental health. But if somebody was to die out on a mission, okay, then of course, everyone’s coming back, the chaplain is going to come in and say a couple words or whatever. But it’s really, the chaplain is available for you, here he is, the chaplain will go and say a couple of things, the chaplain may go up to a couple of the individuals. But after the chaplain, or maybe even an additional chaplain comes from another unit, or the behavioral health psychologist—there’s one per brigade, and that’s roughly like 3,000 soldiers. Now, you can go and talk to these people, but if a soldier is being seen, or sergeant or someone is being seen going and talking to them all the time, then that’s going to alert your command team that there’s something going on. If you’re seeing your soldier constantly going and talking, you’re going to want to know what’s going on. And you have that right to go and speak to your soldier because if they’re going out and handling a weapon, I would want to know what’s going on, right?

You can’t “blackball”—and I’m using that language—people for going and getting help for mental health. It happens in the police force, as you know. I mean, it happens in the first responders. We just systemically, as a society… we have a crisis, we have a trauma, and we just don’t talk about it. We don’t even talk about death. And I think COVID has even shown us we’re so displaced from that as well.

Andy Vantrease  27:02
Obviously, this culture when you’re in the service carries over to the experience of how you ask for help, how you struggle, what goes on when you come back home. I’m wanting to ask as a civilian, like, what do service members want civilians to know about that experience returning home? What do you need from us? What do you need from your loved ones in that experience?

Jessica Bugbee  27:37
Well, that’s super charged, that entire question. It is also a question that if you asked me, I will give you one answer, and if you ask someone that is just coming out of or off of active duty military, they will more than likely say something different. Through the groups that I’m facilitating—the PTSD group, the women’s group, the Vet Talk group, the warrior writers group, the hiking group, the kayaking, the walking group, all these different groups that we have and that I’ve been involved in—what I’ve learned is that our stories are different. The experiences that we have are a little different. But the feelings, the emotions, the physical sensations in our body, it is the same. We feel the fists curl up, our shoulders roll in, the body wanting to just curl, our jaw clench, the headaches and ringing in the ears, trouble falling asleep. The pacing, and the worry and feeling alone, and the guilt of whether or not we should have done that, and like wondering what it was all for… So, someone that’s gone through a healing process, ask questions, but be prepared to sit, listen and engage. Don’t be nervous to ask questions. But someone that is not especially in tune with their body, I probably wouldn’t ask too many questions about it.

Andy Vantrease  29:31
Yeah, I mean, that’s understandable. There are different phases of every healing process, just different types of trauma. You know, it’s from a particular place, but that’s what this is.

Jessica Bugbee  29:44
I would have to say that when I got out, I thought I was ready to share my experiences with people, and once I started to, I knew that they weren’t listening. So I stopped, and that didn’t take long at all. It was like a couple times, people didn’t listen, and I didn’t share. I didn’t even share my experiences really with buddies from the military. I had that survivor’s guilt. I felt shame, I suppose. And I didn’t know how to mend that.

It took a long time. It took a long time, until like I said, I hit that wall. When my body finally broke down, and I couldn’t hold it in anymore. My PTSD was at its worst, and I was so angry. I was becoming that monster that I spoke about. That’s when I knew that I really needed to start to get help. I didn’t know how to talk about anything. And you know, I really didn’t feel worthy…

Andy Vantrease  30:50
Feel worthy of receiving any help?

Jessica Bugbee  30:53
Of receiving any help, of talking to anybody about my experiences. I tried the VA for a little bit, and that really got me pissed off. I did work at the VA, by the way, for a little under a year, and that actually triggered a lot of my PTSD. Because I witnessed how much veterans were just a disaster. I was upset with the processes of the behavioral health system when I went in to get care for myself. It just really pissed me off that I’d have to answer the same questions every time I went back: How many nightmares? How many dreams? How much anger am I having? How many flashbacks? It was just every time I’d have to answer the same questions, and I didn’t like it. So, I ran away from it. I avoided it. I tried private therapy.

What ended up helping me was meditation. I finally found meditation, transcendental meditation. I started running again, that’s always been my go-to. I found myself back in nature, hiking. A health coaching training really transformed my entire lifestyle: the food I put into my body, the stuff I put on my skin, my relationships, everything. It transformed my life. Then I went into plant medicine. I was having a problem with substance use with alcohol. And like three months later, I stopped drinking and went into AA, and after that, my life just started to really dramatically change. In between all of that, I started telling my story. I started opening up about my military stuff, sharing a little bit more with people like my mom, other friends. But very select people, you know, very, very select people.

Andy Vantrease  33:00
When did Veterans Yoga Project and when did TRIBE come into play? Because those two things seem to be a big part of the path as it relates to yoga and the movement part of your healing.

Jessica Bugbee  33:15
TRIBE was being formed during my 300-hour with the guidance and mentorship of Phoebe Leona, founder of nOMad always at Om, and with Amy Gatzemeyer and CeCe Zenger, as well. During the 300-hour training, we had Deb Jeanette, who’s the president of Veterans Yoga Project, come in. That was in 2018, and shortly thereafter, we were VYP teachers. Then I became area manager in New York for the Hudson Valley, and now it’s transformed to the Mid-Hudson region for Veterans Yoga Project. When Amy and I were in the military, not having the tools of yoga, not having the tools of how to harness our own breath, how to move our bodies in such a way to get this stress, these sensations out. We’re never going to stop trauma. Trauma is going to happen, you know. You don’t have to be in the military to have PTS or anxiety or depression or eating disorders. Trauma comes in different pathways—vicarious trauma, indirect trauma—but we can prevent the triggers of PTS, of anxiety, depression substance use and abuse. That was what I wanted to give back, to help prevent. To give people these tools that I didn’t have. So, we came up with the name TRIBE, which stands for we “Teach Resiliency, Increase Balance and Endurance.”

Andy Vantrease  35:00
Oh, I didn’t realize that was an acronym.

Jessica Bugbee  35:02
Of course! The military, right?

Andy Vantrease
Haha right! It’s got to be an acronym.

Jessica Bugbee
It has to be an acronym. So, how can we retain the service member? How can we prevent these triggers from happening? How can we just give the service member—and their families—because it’s really important that this is not a singular job or career field. This is a family; it’s a lifestyle. In the military, there is a focus on “Train the Trainer,” so my dream is to have this train-the-trainer program, like a 30-hour yoga teacher training program, and you have these master yogis that then go and train sub-company level people in these 30-hour yoga trainings. Then they can go out and they can conduct these yoga sessions. I’d like for that to be dispersed in every military installation, you know. TRIBE has weekend curriculums, 14-hour trainings, and it’s all accredited by Yoga Alliance. We have yoga teacher trainings. We have a moral injury training that’s free. We have other trainings that come up that are hosted by well-known speakers.

Andy Vantrease  36:28
Are you always working with either active duty or veterans?

Jessica Bugbee  36:33
TRIBE does focus on active duty military; however, we do open everything to veterans. For scholarships, the primary focus is to active military and active military spouses. And then it goes to veterans, and then to veteran’s family members. But yes, we’ve also done trainings for units that are like going into deployments.

Andy Vantrease  37:00
That’s awesome. The other thing that I really wanted to hear about because it was such a thread throughout this entire conversation is you realizing the importance of peer-to-peer work. That started with your club in high school and running the youth safehouse, and now you are a peer specialist in the Vet2Vet Program.

Jessica Bugbee  37:23
One of my main positions here at the center is the Peer Advocate. I tell you, I’m very happy that I am in Veterans Yoga Project’s Compassion Fatigue Training. Check that out if you don’t know anything about it. Please check it out—I’m giving a plug to it!

I facilitate a lot of peer groups, and one of the cool things that I get to do is just sit back and kind of watch the groups work that magic. One of the groups that I have is a PTS group, and the age difference has got to be, like, sometimes even 40 years. And it’s hybrid, so we have people that come in person, and then I’ve actually had some of my own soldiers that tune in, which is super cool. I got these guys to do some breathing exercises, journaling, you know, they do that with me. It’s pretty amazing. We have guys that have Parkinson’s, that suffer from Alzheimer’s that come in. Just the amount of support that another man has for another man, to get up and walk him to the bathroom because he forgets where the bathroom is. Sitting and listening to one man talk about how he doesn’t understand how he made it through the weekend because he was just in so much grief. You know, we have this open line of communication, so everyone has each other’s phone numbers and emails. It’s just unbelievable the trust that is developed inside this space. You can’t have that anywhere else. You know, just because we had that commonality of being in the military, raising our hand and saying, “Yes, we are going to serve our country, serve our community.” We just believe in something greater and we have that respect for one another. You see each other’s soul, I suppose.

Andy Vantrease  39:30
Yeah, I can imagine it was even like that feeling that you had with your grandfathers. There doesn’t even have to be an exchange of words.

Jessica Bugbee  39:39
Yeah. And it’s the belief in the mission of really serving others that are kind of lost in this space of leaving their tribe and finding their tribe. It’s just unbelievable. It’s palpable here, and I really hadn’t found it anywhere else since I got out.

Andy Vantrease  39:58
We spoke about you intelligently turning to service as a way to alchemize some of the things that were going on in your life and to give of yourself to help other people. But you’ve been on this journey of figuring out how to do that and keep your cup full—that whole self-care piece. What practices are in place now? What’s your mentality around that caring for the caregiver piece so that you can continue to show up?

Jessica Bugbee  40:30
Well, my truth, Satya: I did not practice that very well, despite even close people around me trying hard to say, “Hey, here’s the mirror. You’re hurting yourself, or you’re getting hurt.” My body kind of screaming out to say, “Hey, slow down.”

I look in the mirror every day, and that is something that I didn’t do for a long time. I would quite literally keep the light off while putting makeup on. But I look in the mirror every day, and I have my self-massage practices, and I have mantras, because I don’t always have the best narrative in my head about my body, or about my work, my personality. So even if there’s a little false motivation, I need to turn the volume up on that. Loving Kindness Meditation has always been a huge practice for me. And telling my story, sharing my story. Letting that out is a part of this, that’s what’s healing. That’s what’s allowing others to do the same. That’s also like the self-forgiveness piece. I believe that helps with PTSD, helps with anxiety, depression. The getting out into nature—that is actually my jam. Being where the source is. You know, what better way to really heal? It’s all right there, and we’re all a part of it.

Andy Vantrease  42:16
You had mentioned to me that based on how life has unfolded and the things that you’ve had the opportunity to do and been drawn to, that your dharma is as a warrior. And you’ve been on this healing path for years now. I’m curious of how you see yourself as that warrior now? What is your view of what a warrior is and can be?

Jessica Bugbee  42:48
That’s a good question. A warrior does not need to be big and scary, fast and fierce. A warrior can be slow and methodical. And it’s been a hard lesson to learn, you know. My body at various times in the last three years has shut down in various ways, physically. A warrior knows when to speak, and when to let the other lead. A warrior knows when it’s time to put down their sword.

I know that I’m not finished serving, and I know that I’ll always be serving. It’s a much slower process now. It’s a guiding now, and it’s coming from a place of wisdom now, you know. I had someone say to me one time—and this was when I was in Iraq, and it was a person that was in a group called the Asymmetrical Warfare Group. And if I was to stay in the military, that was a group that I was going to, like, apply for. But anyhow, they said, “I’ve never seen anybody work as hard as you do.” You know, as a staff sergeant, I was just like, all over the place, and usually you have your privates doing those things. I’ve just always been that doer, but again, it came from that place to like, not sit and be—and I can now do that. I can now be at peace, be at ease with what comes in my body. I don’t run, create a story of what it is, or hide and shy away from it. I, like, stay. And it’s pretty profound for me. And I’m really proud of myself, because it’s taken me a very long time to get to this place.

Andy Vantrease  44:58
Yeah. What is it that brings you hope these days? What is it that keeps you going?

Jessica Bugbee  45:05
It’s just amazing to know that the dream I had—and still have—others have that and believe in it too. They’re carrying it on and building into it, the TRIBE teachers. Watching veterans that are struggling and come into the center, and sometimes they scare me with their stories, and I get in the car at the end of the day, and I’m just exhausted. Then months later, I see them out the window, and they’re walking in with one of the other struggling veterans, and they have just come back from meeting and driving one another an hour and a half to a medical appointment, because one of the other ones were too afraid to go. These are grown men, and they didn’t know each other four months ago. And that—that gives me hope. That gives me hope, and healing—that gives me hope. Forgiveness on so many different levels. I just see miracles happen every day. If you look, you can see them. But when you’re not present, you’ll miss them. Every day, they’re right there.

Andy Vantrease  46:51
Jessica Bugbee. The realest of the real and an honorable warrior in so many ways. I didn’t grow up with family in the military or even close friends, so being able to have this candid and transparent conversation about Jess’ experience has really taught me a lot about what people are going through and the millions of people that serve our country and serve in other branches of the military. It’s really helped me to understand where they’re coming from and what the challenges are.

With any kind of trauma and PTSD, it takes so much courage to step forward and not only ask for help, but persist in your own healing when so many of the structures in place seem to be lacking in resources and efficacy. Hearing from Jess about how many avenues she had to go down before finding meditation, yoga, breathwork, AA, it’s a wonder how far she’s come in just a few years—and thank goodness she and so many others are out there creating these programs.

If you’d like to learn more about Jessica’s work, you can find her in three places: Tribeyogamilitary.org, HVCVR.org and her personal website, JessicaBugbee.org (soon to come). If you enjoyed this episode, you may also like our first ever episode with Dr. Daniel Libby, Executive Director of Veterans Yoga Project and creator of Mindful Resilience for Trauma Recovery and Compassion Fatigue. Simply go to our Dandelion Effect Podcast page wherever you listen and scroll all the way down to Episode One.

A special thank you to Matthew Marsolek and the Drum Brothers, whose music you hear at the beginning and end of this podcast, as well as Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen, who first turned us on to the phenomenon of the Dandelion Effect and how ideas move through the world.

This podcast is a production of the Feathered Pipe Foundation, a 501c3 dedicated to healing, education, community and empowerment. If you’d like to help support this project, please visit FeatheredPipe.com/gratitude or leave a review on Apple podcasts and share with your friends. Be sure to tune in to our next episode in two weeks. We cannot wait to share another amazing conversation with you. Until then, have a beautiful day!