“Why do I feel alone?” I wonder.
Is it the experiences I had while I was in? My childhood?
These are the questions that linger even though my experience in Afghanistan was something that many others went through.
It seemed to me that even my battle buddies were dealing with trauma much better than I was.
My time in service was short and my experiences were common. I imagined my struggle was something light that any normal person could be able to shake off. But I couldn’t. And so I isolated myself and self-medicated on a long and arduous downward spiral.
Honestly, my life was a slow-motion train wreck where my family had the unfortunate front row ticket, even though I kept telling myself I should be fine and able to bear it all. For a while, I didn’t talk to anyone, not my battles, not my shrink, and especially not my wife.
To me, no one understood; but in reality – I see now – I never let anyone understand. I never risked being known. And my isolation deepened.
After I got out, I gained weight. A lot of weight. I was sedentary and did not even possess the drive to improve, and in fact I would seek self destruction over self improvement. I saw nothing wrong with the patterns of self destruction that have so gripped me. I would spend the next few years trying to seek solace in drinking, and escapism. It was really a self defense mechanism, but in the long run, it was not helpful. My pain and my experience I would try to wash away with my addictions. I was far from my faith and far from being the high impact man that I should be. All of my bad behaviors and patterns seem to pile up and compound upon each other exponentially. This period of my life took me to a very dark place that I never wanted to be. In short, I was lost. I wanted to die, I wanted my pain to be over. I didn't feel like I possessed the tools to even get back to a normal life.
One of the first things I changed was mindset and my hope in Christ, my savior. I would not have been able to make any further adjustments in my life if it was not for the fact that I am a new creature in Jesus. The next step was my diet, followed by a stricter exercise regimen. I started to put the train back on the rails. Many vets have told me, “I’ll never put a rucksack on again.” Or “you’ll never catch me doing PT again.”
However, my fitness, along with my faith, have been a key component to my continued recovery. Fitness helped me not only lose the pounds, but to keep me less depressed and more focused. Or maybe it was early morning fitness with others, just like 0630 PT that helped me.
As I recover and continue to do my self-care, I realized the value of the support system that I left behind in the Army. Although not everyone in the Army was in my corner, there always was a group of guys that would listen. That I could depend on. I missed my team.
As a veteran now, I found groups that would support me as I supported them. Groups like the church, F3, and veteran support groups. I found that doing hard things with others is what make us closer. Being surprisingly vulnerable with my friends and family has led me to make sense of the self-inflicted chaos that was my life. I would live more openly and let people in, and not be afraid of the hurt that could be done to me.
As an extension of my recovery, I met some high impact men who became good friends. We created this company, American Ruck, with two objectives in mind. Firstly, to help facilitate outdoor workouts. And secondly, to help serve our community by supporting substance abuse recovery and both veteran and civilian suicide prevention. This is an area where I am passionate about as I myself could have been a statistic. Dealing with both substance abuse and suicidal ideations I have found that truly isolation is the kiss of death. That is why I would like to get more people together to do hard things together to build relationships and camaraderie with each other. We had a creed in the Army, and it is echoed in our company that “I will never leave a fallen comrade.” For veterans, many of us have lost friends, brothers and sisters, we will not forget those who are struggling. I want to be the support that I thought I didn’t have.