In 2009, I graduated from college and was then deployed to Iraq. As a reservist our mobilization efforts begin early, since we aren’t training all year long. In preparation to mobilize, we trained six months for this deployment prior to leaving. Shortly before leaving, I was separated from my original unit and attached to an all-male/ infantry unit, there were a total of three females and I was the youngest and lowest ranked of the three females. I was tasked to work for our commander. My deployment was what it was. An experience I will never forget; good and not so good.
Once we returned from deployment, I was ready to pick up right where I left. I was a fresh college graduate, it was time to meet up with my sorority sisters and college friends, go out, drink and have a good time! I should have known better. The first outing was internally horrible. I didn’t understand why I was paranoid, I mean, I was educated enough to understand where I was at. I drank more to ease my nerves, but then my alcohol tolerance was also not the same as when I left. Lastly, I found my interests weren’t the same as my friends. All the talk of reality shows, and newest phones didn’t do it for me. My heart and mind was still in Iraq. Although there was a major threat over there, there were also people that were victims of their own surroundings. Visions of Iraq remained so vivid- I saw small clay like homes, dirt floors, children without shoes, I could still see myself setting up surveillance and pulling guard. Coming back to America, was an awakening of how large our world really is and yet we live in our own silos. People would easily annoy me. I really didn’t want to be around anyone and I couldn’t explain what was going on internally, so I never showed it. To my family and friends, I was the same person I was before and everything was fine. I kept it that way too. Never once allowing my mind to act on how I was feeling.
The guy I was dating would tell me that I jumped in my sleep. I didn’t think much about that. Outside of the sirens on base, and the few times we were mortared nothing very traumatic happened to me. Besides, much worse had happened to many other people I served with who had gone on multiple deployments and they were fine. This was my mindset. The guy I was dating would become my finance and soon my husband, but I almost ruined all of that because I never thought anything was wrong with me, and the drinking continued. Finally, I was given an ultimatum, get help or there won’t be a wedding. I am so blessed to have been with a man that cared so much for me. The ones we love the most are usually the ones we hurt the worse.
When I look back at this moment of realization; how internalizing things affected not just myself but others, I also remember thinking what will people think about me? What will my family say? My siblings say? How can someone like me; determined, a survivor, college graduate, leader, ‘the smart one,’ the one who got out… how someone like that could become so weak. Those aren’t my thoughts today, but those were my thoughts at that time. I saw counseling and therapy as something for the weak minded. I had accomplished so much, to get to that point, and I didn’t even feel like anything in my life should have been significant enough to take me there. All the while, I was drinking heavily, but I was still functioning, I worked two jobs and got into graduate school. I would cried without reason- but I was physically fit, had a wonderful fiancé and managed a social life. How could anything really be wrong with me? But then the suicidal ideations started. I had thoughts before, but this time I was making plans. More than once I had placed my pistol under my chin, finger on the trigger, ready to apply pressure. There was this one time when I really knew it would be my day to go. I left my house in an alcohol induced argument, parked at my high school track, and I had my pistol in hand, finger on the trigger, I was breathing heavily, tears were coming down my face, and I was tired of this life. Before I knew it headlights pulled up behind my car. I didn’t want anyone to witness my death so I put my weapon in my glove compartment and there was my fiancé banging on the door, for me to get home. I put him through so much. The final straw was when I found myself praying to God for my death. Another night of leaving my house, in an alcohol induced state. I was headed to Galveston. All I would have to do is jump and the waves would take me right under. I remember praying and actually asking God to do me a favor by having a truck or an 18 wheeler take me out on my way there. I made it to Galveston and stared at the waves. It was windy out so my body swayed. Tears begin to roll down my face and in that moment I didn’t recognize who I was anymore. I wasn’t me and I couldn’t end my life like this. I drove back home, and saw the state of stress and worry in my finance. I felt horrible. Who had I become?
I started taking therapy seriously. Seeking professional treatment was one of the greatest things I could have ever done for myself. I know it isn’t a weakness but strength instead. I realize how important it is for me to understand myself and in order to do that, we have to dig deep. Digging deep, required me to be open about my childhood, upbringing, events that stood out in my life and my military career. Everything we do even as a child and our childhood shapes us. I am able to consciously make decisions and understand who I am and why I think the way I do, why I act the way I do, and I also know what my triggers are.
Too often we judge others by what we see. But what we can’t see is usually what makes them who they are. So let me ask, where does your strength come from? Are you barely holding on to dear life? Are you ready to let go? What are you doing for yourself? I learned- my mission can be me, so I still have to do the work. The work to healing, to happiness for myself and my family. Today, I love the person I am. I am still strong, I am still independent, I am still determined, I am still a great role model, and most of all, I am happy, inside and out.