08 August 2014

A Warrior's Cry From Within

It's particularly dark outside as you're walking along a little alleyway. You can hear the sound of your breathe and your footsteps each time they hit the gravel. You take a look to your left at your buddy that you have known for many years it seems, even if it's only been maybe two. Behind you is the new guy that just joined your group about a month ago and ahead is your leader. It's quiet.  You realize it's much quieter than usual. That's when you realize the meaning behind it and look at your buddy. He smiles at you, and from out of nowhere there is light flickering from different directions and your buddy, your brother, goes down.  

That's when you wake up. Looking all around and slowly noticing your room. Staring out the window and it's coming together. Another nightmare. A very vivid flashback to the night when your best friend was killed in an ambush. Just one small memory of a tragic night that you can never let go of, or think you can never let go of.  

For moments like this many veterans turn to drinking or other forms to help ease the pain. The memories that haunt them. I know this because I once did the same.  I was an alcoholic. I drank a lot. I used to spend half of my paychecks on buying cheap vodka and then that turned to whiskey. Which at one point, I had a run in with the law. I was booked on burglary in the first degree and public intoxication. Burglary because I kicked in the front door to a park ranger’s house in the middle of the night while him and his wife slept. Due to him just having surgery, he wasn't sleeping with his gun. I could have wound up dead that night. 

For several months I was in court with my lawyer explaining what happened that night was because of blacking out and having a flashback. I had medical records documenting that I had PTSD. That saved me from having to serve 7-20 years in prison. Instead I had to seek help, take AA, and on probation for two years. I did my best with it all. Wasn't easy. 

I had someone come into my life that made a change in me. She stayed by my side through my drinking and just when I thought I had completely lost her, she gave me another chance. 

In 2013, my daughter was born. The day after Valentine's. I knew from that point on, I could never return to my old life. I have a beautiful woman by my side and a beautiful daughter to raise. I gave up on working at McDonald's, where I had been for several years. It was something to do. I went back to school that year, and a year later I graduated with a degree in a profession called non-destructive testing. I remain sober even with as many occasions that make me want a drink every so often, but I stay strong. It's a battle I'm going to keep winning. Even with the road rage and hatred for being in public places or around people, I stay strong. I don't give up.  

I've also learned that by actually talking to other vets, it helps. Especially when it comes to some of the older generation veterans. It doesn't have to be someone that served in the same branch as you. All veterans end up dealing with the same issues in one way or another. How you learn to cope is your choice, but some require you to make the right choice. Easier said than done right?

Think of every infantryman that went through before you. They've been there. They know what you've gone through. They may even be dealing with it as well right now. Find a network of other veterans who will help you.

The other night, I saw a post on Facebook of a guy who was contemplating suicide. By the time I saw the post an hour later, there were over 600 comments from other vets willing to help. You are not alone. Don't end your life because PTSD is making things difficult in yours. Make something of it ands fight back. Fight or flight is what the VA psychologist wanted to call it.

It's your life. Own it. Let your children, family, friends-- let them know if you need help. It's always there for you. Just stay away from the alcohol if you want help. It's never good to self medicate yourself to ease the pain. It'll still be there when the bottle is empty.

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*These opinions belong to the writer and in no way reflect the views of the DoD or other departments of the US government.

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