This is a story about a friend of mine. It is not only a very sobering story that touches close to home for me, since I am a spouse of a veteran who has been through several difficult deployments, but it is also a story that I hear over and over during my work at the Cohen Clinic in Fayetteville, NC.
These are my friend’s words:
“I am a former Special Forces soldier, or as I usually put it retired Green Beret. I did my time with one of the groups. While assigned with them, I was deployed numerous times to Afghanistan and other countries. Like many brothers I have seen my share of combat. However, what I was not trained for was dealing with coming home after four, 9-month rotations of heavy fighting.
Some of my experience included my teammates getting taken apart by IEDs, then trying to find what was left of them to send home to the families. Hearing teammates scream for help on the radio and knowing that there is nothing I could do torments me to this day.
My combat experiences shaped me into someone else. I was very angry. I felt as anger was the only emotion I could allow because anger is what I needed to survive. When I came home I could not let go of the monster of anger that kept me alive because it had become part of me. I was cold to my wife with zero emotions; the intimacy was dead. Being around my kids did not make me happy. I was angry that I survived, while my brothers died. I felt like a failure because I failed to bring them home and I did not deserve to be here. I started to drink heavily hoping I would not wake up because it was the only way I could cope. Every chance I got I would find my way back into combat because that is where I was happy. Sadly, every time I went back to combat, I came back worse. Nightmares, visual and auditory hallucinations, anger outbursts etc…you name it, I had it.
It was not until my wife put her foot down and told me either I get help or she was leaving.
In 2009 while I was active duty I was diagnosed with PTSD and I had no idea what that was. All I knew is that I would start crying uncontrollably and all the pain that I had stuffed in me was coming out when the doctor asked me how I was. There was a dent in my armor which was a humbling process; there was something wrong with me and it was not going away.
When I started this journey in 2009 I had no idea I was going to learn so much about PTSD – from grounding techniques, breathing techniques, cognitive thought process, split self, stuffing process, avoidance, exposure therapy; the list goes on and on. These are the tools I use to get me through the day, especially when anniversary dates start getting close and my anxiety goes up. I constantly ground myself by putting my hands in ice or anything to bring me back from that dissociated state.
When I retired in 2014 things were worse as I was no longer in the structured environment of the Army. I was on my own and felt as if I was drowning, I contemplated suicide, but my thoughts never turned into actions. The only thing I did was to seek out the closest VA for therapy. PTSD was trying to control me again and I was losing the fight.
After three inpatient facilities (that I went to voluntarily) and therapy from 2009 until today I can say I am in a better place.
As I reflect back, I look at what I put my family through and realize no amount of “I am sorry” will erase what they went through with me. I have tried to talk to my wife, but she does not want to hear it because it will change her image of me, plus she does not know how to help. I have been out of the Army now for 4 years and I still go to individual therapy and group therapy. One I go to for me and the group therapy I use as a compass check. I have come to accept that I will be in therapy as long as it takes as I do not want to become a statistic.
My advice to people is get help. Therapists are like shoes – you have to find the one that fits. Look for anything that is going to challenge you or feed the inner beast. I found Jiu-Jitsu helps me deal with my inner beast, it gives me an outlet and it is challenging. I was able to get into Jiu-Jitsu with WeDefy. Which is an organization that helps veterans dealing with PTSD thru Jiu-Jitsu and is available nationally. I encourage you guys to check on each other.”
I am lucky my friend is still alive considering all what he has been through. I had no idea about how much he suffered before he finally found relief. So many veterans don’t make it; their demons are too strong, and they can’t get the help when they need it the most. This story makes me hopeful that more lives will be saved, and more veterans will be brought back to the light by the work our clinic is doing in the community.
Reka Reyna is the Outreach Coordinator at the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Cape Fear Valley in Fayetteville, NC.