This post is written by Frank King, co-founder of Bliss Farm and Retreat.
Recently, we hosted a special retreat weekend with a non-profit group close to our hearts. The retreat focused on healing for spouses who have been widowed as a result of veteran suicide. We’re honored to offer Bliss Farm and Retreat as a space for this cause. As a veteran of the Marines, the experience hit close to home and brought tears to my eyes.
The Marines Life
In October of 2002, at the ripe age of 17, I joined the Marines. I was given a recruit training (AKA boot camp) date of July 28, 2003, and I graduated recruit training on October 24, 2003, from platoon 2092, 2nd Battalion, Echo Company, Marine Corps Recruit Training Depot Parris Island, SC.
Like any Marine, I remember each date with extreme clarity for their significance in my life. Every single thing one does after joining the Marines is done with a level of intensity few outside the Marines can comprehend. This is just the training environment, and the initial discussions of deployment step up the intensity significantly. But this blog post isn’t necessarily about my life as a Marine. It’s about my transition back to civilian life, and how that pertains to the building of our dream, or “building Bliss,” as we often say. It’s the perfect play on words for us because as we’re constantly building and improving our business, we’re also constantly working on our own personal bliss.
When Home Feels Like a Foreign Land
I returned home from Ar Ramadi, Iraq in June of 2007. I remember the bus ride to base like it was yesterday. Family and friends were there waiting on us with kegs of beer and BBQ. I had never been more petrified in my life. Not only was I returning to what seemed like a foreign world, but my four years of active service were also up. After 30 days of post deployment leave, I was no longer an active duty Marine. I told myself that I’d give the civilian life two years before deciding about whether I wanted to go back and make a career of the Marines. My peers expected me to be a career Marine, but I wanted more and I felt I had something bigger to do.
I went from high school to the Marines and defined every fiber of my being as a Marine. Now what? The idea of college, jobs, car payments, finding a place to live, and cell phone bills...it was overwhelming, even mortifying. I had no idea who I was or what I was going to do. Not to mention, this process came with some new demons in my life. I struggled to gain traction, to adjust to being around civilians, and to be “normal.” I drank A LOT.
Eventually, I found some semblance of normalcy and function; I had squared away what seemed like a great job opportunity. But this was the peak of the recession and the company went under after 9 months of my being there. I was now an unemployed high school graduate. While my Marine Corps resume was impressive and I received lots of “thank you for your service” comments, they didn’t translate into job offers. Things began to spiral out of control. I drank more, took more risks, and I became reckless. There were bar fights and nights in jail. The hits kept on coming. My roommate at the time, a brother, a Marine, bailed on me. I was left with more bills than I could afford. I sold as much as I could to stay afloat, which kept me going for a couple of months. Then, I was out of a home and into a storage unit. What money I did scrape together, I drank away. I picked up miscellaneous jobs and had friends here and there that let me stay on a couch for a while, but everyone’s patience ran out when they clearly saw that I hadn’t found a grip. I was angry, depressed and drank as much as possible, while still striving to maintain a degree of daily function.
I was set on giving the civilian life two years before deciding to go back and make a career of the Marines because I wanted more. Only that “more” wasn’t working out, and I hit rock bottom multiple times. So, I went to the prior service recruiter and began the process of re-enlisting. In the meantime, I was given active duty status and working full time at a reserve station. While I was getting a steady paycheck for the first time in a while, albeit a meager one, I was still not in a good place.
Finding Purpose and Bison
During my time at the reserve station, an opportunity fell into my lap, and it was that “more” that I had been so desperately looking for. I was offered the chance to turn a hobby bison ranch into a full-fledged business. Though I didn’t know it, this was right up my ally-- the first step in my transition.
The bison farm was like my own personal rodeo, wild and dangerous enough to keep my interest. More importantly, it gave me a deep sense of purpose again. For the most part, it kept me outside working on the land and sometimes in the office managing every aspect of the business.
As a child, I had grown up in a household where organic food, health, and wellness were a lifestyle, and it all came rushing back to me. Now, instead of being told by my mother what I needed to eat and why, I became passionate about healthful food, having produced it myself. This sense of purpose, the ability to provide people with quality sustenance that was potentially life-changing, was exactly what I needed.
Nature Therapy: An Unexpected Gift
I spent countless hours on the farm. When I arrived, there was hardly a linear foot of fencing that functioned and the pastures were entirely mud; you could practically count the blades of grass on the whole property! I was running tractors into the wee hours of the morning and fixing fences or rebuilding them all together. All of these hours outside doing manual work allowed my mind time to process in a peaceful place surrounded by beauty. There was something intangible but profound that happened in this environment. And it was a critical step in my transition.
Then along came a dog, and this dog practically saved my life. Her name is Lucy, and she was a stray running around my office. One day, she had her paws up on the window sill and looked at me through the office window with a look that stirred me at the depths of my soul. She became (and still is to this day is) one of the most important beings in my life.
I always loved animals and was a dog person, per se. But this was different. Lucy was someone to love in a healthy way. Her love and loyalty in return gave me a sense of responsibility. She never judged me at my worst; instead, she was right there by my side loving me and demanding my affection. This brought me to my knees on more than one occasion. She slept in my bed, herded buffalo and ate drive through cheeseburgers with me. Meeting Lucy was yet another critical event in rebuilding my life after the Marines.
Alas: Marriage, Careers and Building Bliss
Photo Credit: John Huneycutt Photography
During my time on the ranch, I met my wife and partner, Kelly. Had the previous steps in my transition not happened, Kelly and I wouldn’t be together now. Fortunately, they did. Kelly and I complement each other in so many ways, it's scary! Where I’m weak, she’s strong and visa versa. Upon meeting, dating, and getting married, I had decided to leave the farm to climb the corporate ladder. I know, I know. What was I thinking? Well, it turned out to be yet another necessary step. We were able to buy our first home and live in the suburbs of Charlotte. Things were going quite well on the outside. On the inside, I was getting eaten alive by work stress, long commutes, traffic, pavement and concrete everywhere... this life was not for me! Fortunately, my new partner in life wasn’t thrilled about it either.
During a vacation to an extremely rural eco-lodge in Costa Rica, we both had a profound spiritual experience that stirred us in mind and soul, from which came the idea of Bliss. We returned home and began planning, creating a space where one could gain the experiences we had, without a passport. We dreamed of creating an environment conducive to getting back in touch with nature while nourishing the mind, body, and spirit. In our vision, Bliss would help others heal from trauma and build happiness, health, and purpose in their own lives. We began planning for about three years before officially starting the business, and we’ve been building Bliss ever since!
There are still many things to be worked on, both in business and personally. Our idea turned life’s work gets substantiated more and more by experience and other like-minded individuals. Even science is catching on to the fact that finding one’s own bliss significantly determines health outcomes.
The experiences and activities at Bliss Farm and Retreat promote healing, and have been utilized in my own healing journey; experiences like being in nature, finding safety in companionship, having the space to process emotions and events, growing and eating nourishing foods, and being in service to others.
We feel strongly about sharing these experiences with others, especially with those who have known similar trauma and hardship. For this reason, we’re actively creating a legacy of healing specific to military personnel and their families.
Kelly and I are proud to be a part of this and incredibly grateful to all those who’ve helped nurture our vision. I can’t describe how fortunate I am for the experiences in my life, both good and bad. I’m grateful for my loving partner, without whom none of this could be realized, and I’m continually humbled by the ability we all have within us to heal and find Bliss.