Luke and Amy Bushatz knew they needed a big change or they weren't going to make it. So, they packed up their life, two boys and headed west. Their next stop? Alaska.
"In 2015 we realized that to really seek mental health help and recover from this super challenging deployment that Luke went on in 2009 and 2010, where he sustained a mild traumatic brain injury, PTSD and we lost over 20 soldiers…. To do that, we had to get out of the active duty Army," Amy explained.
While deployed in Afghanistan as an Army Ranger, Luke's vehicle was destroyed by an improvised explosive device.
He was the only survivor.
They also knew they needed to move somewhere that would allow healing and give Luke the outside space he craved and desperately needed. "We knew when we spent time as a family camping, he felt a relief from all of those things. It was like watching someone take off a backpack… it was really a powerful transformation," Amy said. On a whim, she suggested Alaska.
Luke researched and found a graduate program in Alaska that fit his goals. With her job at Military.com, where she is now the Executive Editor, Amy knew she could work anywhere. After selling some of their belongings and letting the Army move the rest, they filled their station wagon and hit the road. They planted their feet on Alaskan ground in June of 2016.
Although Luke eagerly dove in seamlessly, Amy shared that it took her some time to adapt. Realizing that Alaska wasn't going to change, she knew she needed to adjust her own mindset. A competitive person by nature, she utilized that fire to challenge herself to spend time outside.
It changed her life.
(Courtesy of the Bushatz family)
When Amy realized she'd spent 20 consecutive minutes outside for over 1,000 days and it was changing her life, she felt called to share that commitment to the fresh air with others. She started a podcast, blog and co-founded the company Humans Outside, where she challenges everyone to spend 20 minutes outside a day, no matter the weather. She also snaps a picture each day of her outside time on Instagram to inspire others.
Luke also believes that being outside can have a deep positive impact. "Nature can be an escape or you can use it as a tool to refocus and reenergize so that you can then do the hard work of therapy, working on your relationship with others and yourself to be a complete person," he explained. Luke stressed that going outside won't solve your problems but can help put you in the headspace to tackle them effectively.
"Getting into the mountains helps him take that breath so that he can have the brain space to sort through stuff," Amy said. She continued, "For someone who is dealing with a brain injury… Your injury does not look like an injury because you look perfectly healthy. Going outside is one of the major tools that helps us."
"When you make a big decision to change the focus of your life, the whole paradigm of how you view your life changes. It was really back in 2015 that we made that decision and I was a mess. The decision was to either refocus my life or lose everything," Luke shared. He continued, "That's the thing with the outdoors, it helps me retool myself and my relationships."
In 2017 he went to an event hosted by Remedy Alpine and it was there he found even more peace.
Remedy Alpine is a nonprofit organization that is owned and operated by veterans. Their purpose is to share their deep passion for the outdoors with their veteran community and help them navigate the healing experience that spending time outdoors can bring.
"One of my passions is going outside and taking veterans to the backcountry. I had started a master's program with the intent of starting my own program. It just happened that God put me, Eric and Dave together. Instead of competing, we said, 'Hey let's do this together!" to make this specific program [Remedy Alpine] even bigger and better," Luke shared.
Dave Joslin and Eric Collier met through the Wounded Warrior Project. They realized that they both had a deep passion for the serving veterans and also for finding healing in the solitude of the backcountry. It was there that Remedy Alpine came to life. They brought Luke on as a co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer in 2017.
(Courtesy of the Bushatz family)
"There is a big difference between solitude and isolation. Isolation is not good for your mental health and does not have good outcomes. Going to the backcountry, on the other hand, increases solitude which is linked to healing. But solitude doesn't have to be done by yourself," Amy explained.
Psychology Today says that solitude can in fact improve things like concentration and productivity while rebooting your brain and giving you the opportunity for self-discovery.
"You can find that solitude and find that good healing in the outdoors while overcoming physical challenges in a way that you can't find at home trapped on your couch," Amy said. She understands the difficulty of certain seasons impacting motivation, however. January in Alaska comes to mind for her, with its freezing temperatures and minimal daylight. But they still go outside and it makes all the difference in the world in their wellness.
Both Luke and Amy have simple advice on using the outdoors to create deep healing: Just try it. They did and they've never looked back.
To learn more about Humans Outside and how you can challenge yourself to spend more time outdoors, click here. Want to know more about Remedy Alpine and how they are helping veterans in Alaska? Check out their website.