In the latest FATE profile, I spoke to Josh Lannon, Founder and President of Warriors Heart and former addict himself. Warriors Heart® provides private treatment for “warriors only” (active military, veterans, and first responders), who are seeking residential treatment for chemical dependency, alcohol abuse, and co-occurring psychological disorders relating to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) or the psychological effects of MTBI (mild traumatic brain injury).
It’s a 40-bed inpatient treatment center located on a beautiful ranch in Bandera, Texas, right outside of San Antonio on 543 acres. Warriors Heart does detox, inpatient, outpatient, and long-term sober living. Their focus is working with men and women from the warrior class that are struggling with addiction and then the underlying issues, PTSD, moral grief, injury, survivor’s guilt, and those sorts of things.
After 9/11 Josh saw a lot of friends fight for the country and come back in bad shape. They were really struggling, and Josh wanted to be part of the solution. It was with them at the top of his mind that he formed a partnership with retired, US Army Special Operations Tom Spooner and former Law Enforcement Officer, Lisa Lannon to start Warriors Heart.
Addiction at an early age
Growing up, Josh really did not take well to structure or to school. He had a free spirit inside of him, which drew him to older more rebellious kids. Coming from a divorced household, Josh was living with his mom while yearning to be with his dad. By 11 years old, he was misbehaving in part because he wanted to leave his mom and change his living situation. Hanging out with 16 and 17-year-olds provided Josh an escape and his first exposure to alcohol.
As Josh describes, “I didn’t start out smoking pot. I didn’t start out taking pills or anything. I sipped a drink, and I sipped a beer here or there, and I did a shot with my buddies. I thought that was cool, and then that gradually led into, at 13, full-blown addiction, where it was taking control of my life. I ended up in a treatment center program in California called Charter Hospital.” Being stuck in the Adolescent unit in the treatment center made Josh feel like he was being treated like a criminal, like the scum of the earth when really, he was a lost kid trying to figure out life.
By 14 years old, his mom could not control him anymore and shipped him off to live with his dad, exactly what Josh wanted all along. His dad had this glamourous lifestyle, having made good money from previously running nightclubs in California. Josh found that exciting. His dad always had people around who were drinking, partying and having fun. He would witness this behavior on a regular basis and thought that it was completely normal and what adults did. He loved it.
At 15, he decided to move with his dad to Hawaii to pursue other entrepreneurial ventures. This is when his father started teaching him entrepreneurship. Josh recalls exactly what his father told him at the time, “Look you’re relatively lazy and incompetent. I’d rather teach you how to run businesses, otherwise you’re never going to get a job as an employee.” Josh thought that was kind of a mean thing to say, but the truth of the matter was that he realized his father was right. “Watching him, he surrounded himself with smart people, and that was one of the reasons he was successful. So here I am 15 and working for him and just figuring out entrepreneurism, figuring out management, figuring out business, because I enjoyed that so much more than school because it was real.” This led to Josh dropping out of school in the 9th grade and being homeschooled by a tutor his dad provided.
After living in Hawaii for some time, Josh’s dad decided to move to Las Vegas while Josh stayed back in Hawaii and tried to figure things out on his own. He was surviving but certainly not thriving when several years later, he received a call from his dad asking Josh to join him in Las Vegas, to help him run a country nightclub he decided to open.
Creating the perfect addict’s life
Josh, now 19, and an alcoholic at the time, was stoked beyond belief to be going to Las Vegas. He thought “The Super Bowl of partying!”, hell yes, I will come! So, Josh moved to Vegas and helped his dad build the number 1 country nightclub in town bringing in over 1500 people a night. This environment certainly did not help his addiction, in fact it exacerbated it. It was escalating out of control.
But Josh thought he knew it all and had everything figured out. He met his wife Lisa at the nightclub where she would go to line dance. She ended up becoming a Law Enforcement Officer and the joke was that Josh would get them drunk at the club, and Lisa would book them into jail. The irony of having a wife who was a police officer while Josh struggled with addiction was not lost.
This lifestyle led to Josh working all night long and then drinking once work was ending. Sometimes he would drink straight through to the next day’s reporting time. Josh thought he had a system set up – Josh provided free drinks to the cops who were regulars at the club, including the NARC officers, SWAT officers, and VICE team. It was not difficult to be friends and hang out with them since his wife was in the police department. He should have been thrown in jail for multiple DUI’s and other indiscretions, but really, he was one of the lucky ones who avoided it.
This feeling of invincibility only exacerbated his problems. Josh thought because he knew many of the officers and detectives that he could get away with anything if it came down to it, not the case. Lisa worried because she never knew if Josh would be booked into jail or end up in the hospital or morgue.
Josh talked about the problem this invincible attitude created. “The problem is I couldn’t get away from myself. I was drinking, I was partying, my life was falling apart, my marriage was falling apart, and it just wasn’t working anymore. And honestly, I was ready to commit suicide. I was done. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I didn’t know how to end it. I tried everything. I tried just drinking beer. I tried just drinking on the weekends. I tried not hanging around certain friends. I did all the variables, but it just wasn’t working.”
With all the pain and suffering that Josh was going through, he knew something needed to change. He describes thinking of ending his life, “Interesting, on the night I almost took my life–I almost shot my head off–my wife comes home, in police uniform, and I had been out on about a three-day bender. She looks at me laying on the couch, and says, “Josh, that’s it, I’m done, either you go to rehab tonight or I’m going to divorce you.” And that was the lifeline I was looking for, and I was like, “okay, I’m in.”
So, Lisa got on the phone, found a place in California to bring Josh too, and off they went that night to make check-in the next morning. Although Josh had been to rehab before, the big difference this time was Josh wanted to go and get clean. He was exhausted from trying all the things he thought would work. Josh realized that his way was not working, and he finally surrendered.
Josh’s path to recovery had finally started. “When I surrendered, it was the most freeing thing in the world. It was like, “Okay, let me follow the advice of other people that are getting sober.” Because I understand that from a business concept you find a mentor that’s successful in what you are doing and follow their advice. It’s like, well this same thing applies to recovery, so I did that.”
Getting clean and staying clean
I am sure a lot of us know how many addicts get clean, and then relapse, which for many recovery addicts is part of the process. While getting clean is of course the first step, it is staying clean that is the ultimate goal. How did he do it? By taking one day at a time and by dedicating himself to personal development.
Josh and Lisa set their house up as a sanctuary by getting rid of all drinking glasses and alcohol related paraphernalia. It was a safe place with no temptations.
He attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings as a stopgap, which provided him with a spiritual recharge. To be able to go into the meetings with peers and discuss the challenges and frustrations in a safe setting was extremely valuable. This also had the side benefit of helping his marriage because every time he was acting like a jerk his wife would cue him to attend a meeting.
Through these experiences and personal development, he gained wisdom. Josh explains, “I knew that if I didn’t drink, life was going to be much better than it was, but it didn’t mean my problems were gone. I’d still have my behaviors. I’d still have my old way of thinking. I’d still have belief systems that I really had to take a look at closely. So, I really started to get into personal development seminars, reading books and studying with my wife on how the brain works and why people make decisions that they do. So that’s really helped me because it channeled all of that energy that I had from drinking and partying into business and into personal development.”
A Career in Sobriety
After completing the program, Josh went back to his Las Vegas job working at the nightclub. It was New Year’s 2001 going into 2002 and he was working the floor, when he had enough. “I just can’t do this anymore. It was like my spirit was saying ‘no more.’ So that night when Lisa came home I said, ‘You know, what if we create a life of recovery? What if we help people get sober instead of getting them drunk?” She was onboard.
That’s when Josh decided to call up Spencer, the owner of the rehabilitation center he attended in California. Josh became friends with him while he was at the facility. He recalls having conversations that when Spencer was in the midst of his addiction he always wanted to open up restaurants, but now that he was sober, all he wanted to do was open up rehabilitation facilities. Josh remembered that conversation, and reached out and Spencer was more than happy to mentor Josh.
As Josh recalls, “Right out of the gate, I got a mentor. So, I drove back down to Laguna Beach, California, and sat and met with Spencer. He handed me all his policy and procedures manuals, and said, ‘You want to learn the business, start here.’ So, I started asking people different questions in the different departments. I said, ‘Spencer, why are you doing this for me? Because wouldn’t I be competition for you?’ He said, ‘It’s one alcoholic helping another alcoholic, and all I ask is that you pay it forward someday,’ and it was a game changer for us. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh!’ And I get it. And that’s when I understood, true recovery is about serving other people. And I just dedicated my life to it at that point.”
That’s when Josh and Lisa went on their mission, with no money, to create rehabilitation centers to help others struggling. They raised 1.5 million dollars. They went to banks who would consistently turn them down because they had no degree in counseling. “Get your degree and come back”, they would say. So, they went the private route, and they were told “NO your business plan is not good” over and over again. Every time Josh learned, and they made corrections.
Josh went to one private investor in particular three separate times, and that third time he came knocking everything changed. In that third meeting, Josh was with Lisa and this gentleman was questioning why he kept coming back. They explained why this business was so important to them. They talked about their personal experience with addiction, and that they were dedicating their lives to helping others. Their story, combined with their resiliency and not giving up resonated with him, and finally they got the investment that they had been working years to achieve. They received a 12-month hard money loan, which after one year, they were able to pay back. This sheer determination is what entrepreneurship is all about.
When they went to hand back the 1.5 million-dollar check to pay back the investment, the gentleman who lent it to them who was in his 80’s at this point shocked them by saying, “I’m going to discount your note $200,000. This will give you a fighting fund to keep going. Good luck guys.” Josh was shocked, not because he had an extra $200K to run the company, although this would help tremendously, but because it reinforced that there are others out there who want to help. As Josh says, “There are people out there that want to give other people chances. There are people out there that believe in the entrepreneurial spirit; you’ve just got to find them because they’re there. I think that’s probably one of the biggest lessons. Man, don’t give up on your dream. Keep going, because someone is going to say yes eventually. “
Journey Healing Centers & Warriors Heart
Once Josh received the loan they opened up Journey Healing Center with the mission “To be in service clean and sober”.
Journey Healing Centers focus was for anyone that was struggling with addiction from 18 to essentially 80 years old. They were serving alcoholics and addicts, and successfully built six locations running their business until 2013 when they sold it to Elements Behavioral Health.
After the sale, Josh and his wife took a year off to rethink what they wanted to do. They traveled the world with their kids. They realized that they wanted to continue down this path of helping others because it saved them. His wife Lisa being an officer, as well as Josh had a lot of good friends in the military, so they partnered with Tom Spooner, who served in the US Army for 21 years to form Warriors Heart.
Josh had met Tom through the various gunfire and close quarter combat courses he was taking, and the relationship grew from there. Josh, Lisa and Tom started putting together the Warriors Heart plan, built a team, identified properties, and purchased the Purple Sage Ranch (former corporate retreat center) in Bandera, Texas.
Warriors Heart has been opened since 2015, and to date has had over 350 men and women through their program. They are becoming recognized as one of the leading companies that is serving our warriors struggling with addiction, PTSD, and those underlying issues.
To heal more protectors, Warriors Heart was certified for TRICARE insurance in 2017, which is used by retired veterans and active military. They work with VA Choice and the Veterans Administration programs, as well to help get the necessary funding for the vets. They also started partnering with police that are still active to retired officers, firefighters, EMS, corrections officers, FBI and even CIA.
Their expertise is the treatment center side, and that’s where they really looked at sustainability. In Josh’s eyes, it’s a huge part of being a social entrepreneur. And everything they think about is how can they sustain this, not just today, but in the future.
The Parallels of Addiction and Entrepreneurship
Throughout our discussion, Josh and I spoke a lot about the shared traits between addicts and entrepreneurs. “You cannot sell a lot of BS for as long as you did in active addiction because it’s not easy. There’s a lot of games involved and a lot of moving the shells and the cards around. To be in active addiction, it takes a lot of smarts. So, addicts I don’t think are stupid people. They’re just channeling their energy in the wrong way. Once you free that up, man, it’s a gamechanger. It really is,” shared Josh.
Comparing this to Entrepreneurship he continues, “In being an entrepreneur, there’s no right or wrong answer, it’s all trial and error. So that’s where it’s so important to work personal development, to have a code of honor, to have values, because it’s easy to go off course, and you want to do things legally, morally, and ethically. So, it’s like you’ve got to keep your side of the street clean in order to stay in business because you don’t want licensing boards coming down. You don’t want people filing complaints. You’ve got to do it right.”
“As an entrepreneur, we take a lot of crap. I mean, we do. We take it all. From the customers to our employees, we’re just absorbing, filtering, making corrections, making more corrections. It’s interesting, I see like an organizational chart. You put it upside down, and that’s who holds the most pressure, you know, from the top, and then your executive team. These are the ones who are holding the pressure of the business. So, because we take a lot of pressure, it’s important to have avenues to release that. Some people find it in church. Some people find it in working out.”
Josh continued, “As a person in recovery, I found that drinking, gambling, and partying didn’t work for me. So, I had to find vehicles that can release all this frustration and keep myself clean. I personally found it in the martial arts. I love hitting the heavy bag. It’s just therapy for me. Kind of like Brazilian jujitsu, when a guy’s smashing you and all I can do is just breathe, just that breath is a win. My little voice kicks in and says, ‘Just breathe, you’re okay, just breathe.’ Then I can think and start to find a way out.
The times someone comes in my office and drops a bomb, and there’s a problem, and everything in me is screaming, but it’s like that little voice calms me and says ‘You’re okay, just breathe, just breathe.’
If you work out, hire a personal trainer that can put you under pressure so then that way, you can learn to release that pressure, self-talk, ‘I’m okay, just two more reps’ or whatever it is. You know, if it’s eating, hire a health coach to help you with your eating plans. Surround yourself with professionals and coaches, those that can help you through the process. I think that’s key.”
This hit so close to home having lived through these same exact feelings in addiction and entrepreneurship. The feelings of having your emotions control your actions, and not being in control when an unexpected event occurs with your staff or in your business. “Being able to calm yourself and breathe” as Josh says, is key. For him it was martial arts, for me it was running, for someone else meditating. All positive ways to reinforce the importance of breathing and managing situations with an even keel. Josh believes that scheduling activities like these in your life is key and provides you with discipline that is a must for recovery.
How to Support and Get Help
Josh has been clean and sober since he went into the treatment program on November 27, 2001. He continues to run the phenomenal recovery program Warriors Heart right outside of San Antonio, Texas. If you, or a loved one, have an addiction, PTSD or other challenging issues you are suffering with, and are or have been a part of the armed forces, police, firefighters or other public safety professionals and want to find out more information about how to help or get support from Warriors Heart, you can find them at www.warriorsheart.com or call 844-448-2567 (24×7 hotline answered by warriors.)