I left the military hurt, broken, betrayed and empty. The things I was “promised” if I walked the line, showed up in excellence, and did my part were continually denied me. And the pain I suffered at the hands of others was no longer able to be contained.
Last year, many of us showed our visibility via the hashtag, #IAMVanessaGuillen. I personally experienced 5 counts of MST in various stages; from molestation, to threats, to full on violations. Yet, I buried each experience and used the fuel of the anger to push me towards achieving the coveted Officer position I wanted... yet was denied at every turn. Not because I wasn’t good enough. I finished an ROTC program and went through a separate OCS program. I out-performed men in my age group physically and mentally, excelled in the academic portions, and utilized a mental toughness that went well beyond the scope of what we were trained for. Yet, each time, I was denied simply because my betrayers wanted to withhold something from me to maintain a power over me that the sexual trauma did not give them. And, each time, I quietly broke a little inside.
It took 15 years after leaving the military to not only realize that people did not like me, but to understand why. My anger made me an undercover menace; many in my presence felt a level of threat coming from me that confused them. I didn’t even know. I saw myself as a little ray of sunshine, when really, I was a ball of fire burning people up. But to know why meant I had to acknowledge the previous 5 physical violations and all the mental one that were underneath the surface as well. Which means, not only did others see me as invisible; but I had to portray myself this way to myself as well in order to stay safe from my truth and to breath in life.
One of my favorite quotes (by poet Mary Oliver) begs the question, “Are you breathing just a little, yet calling this a life.” There are so many female Veteran’s who, like myself, have had to do a lot of inner work in order to learn to breathe again. I was taking small breaths yet desperate to once again live this big existence. Because of my traumas, I was breathing just a little which rendered me stuck in a void of invisibility. There, I was ignoring the fact that life was passing me by every single day. It was 20 years later that I found myself on the side of the road in life, gasping for breath and determined to allow myself and others to see me clearly yet again.
I AM NOT INVISIBLE! Those words mean a lot to me. They mean I am willing to keep looking at myself through the mirrors of my life, to see my flaws and still believe I AM worth it. And I consider it my life’s mission to help others to do the same.
So, listen, are YOU breathing just a little and calling it a life? Face your truths, open your heart and let today be the day you breathe again. I’m here if you need a hand. I’ve got your six. Because, we ARE NOT INVISIBLE! -Tonoa Bond