A big struggle that we face in America today is connecting with our veterans.
These men and women give up so much in order to protect our freedoms, yet when their service has ended so has their story. A lot of veterans, like myself, often keep the pain and struggle inside. We don’t like to open up and communicate the emotions we feel. We go through our day as if nobody will understand, and so we just keep it to ourselves.
The ones who suffer the most from our silence are our partners or significant others. They live with us day in and day out. They see the pain we are going through and don’t know how to react.
Connecting with our veterans is not easy to do. Often you don’t know what (or what not) to say. The older generation might feel disconnected from the younger generation. The veteran might feel out of place at times and want to be left alone. It’s important to reach out, let them know you care and haven’t forgot about them.
How do we do this? A simple “Thank you for your service” or “What can I do for you today?” will do. Make them feel special and not alone.
I joined the Marine Corps 12 years ago. I had no idea what I was getting myself into and the war had just started. I didn’t really care what everyone else thought—I wanted to do something for me. 11 years and three combat deployments later, I found myself back in normal society. The transition was so difficult that I didn’t even feel like the same person.
I went from living a structured life, a guaranteed pay check and never having to worry about the next meal to being out all on my own with a family. It was a scary thing to take in. I felt as if I was 18 years old again and leaving home for the first time. That’s not the only thing I felt. I felt like I lost my purpose, and depression started kicking in. If you add PTSD to the mix then you have a recipe for disaster. I started to isolate from everyone around me and was living in denial.
After about eight months into this new life and having not talked to anyone about the way I was feeling, I broke down. I took myself on a journey that ended up being the best thing that has ever happened to me. I told my wife I was going on a business trip and took off for four days.
My destination was sunny Las Vegas!
Before this, I had turned to gambling as my go to, my coping mechanism. That was a catastrophe and I was quickly addicted. I was planning to place one last bet in Las Vegas and then end my life. I could see what I was doing, but I felt as if I couldn’t control it.
Depression and addiction were eating at me like mother nature would at a dead carcass. After all the lies, deception, addiction and depression, I took myself to the top of the hotel and sat on the ledge. Reminiscing on my life and all the horrible things I had seen and done, I was about to end it all.
But, out of nowhere, it was as if a light switch turned on and my dark empty mind lit up like a Christmas tree! I
drove myself to the nearest hospital and checked myself in.
Over the next seven days I opened up about everything. I called my parents, my wife, and my friends and let it all out. It was the most difficult thing I have ever done, but it was necessary. I felt like a brand new person! The weight was lifted and I started to feel like myself again. I started to go to therapy sessions, met with counselors, attended gambling anonymous; you name it, I was at it.
I finally accepted the help and was determined to move forward with my life. Never in a million years did I think I would ever fall so hard and almost do something that would have not only affected me, but everyone around me.
Since then I’ve taken my struggles and have been using them to help others that deal with similar issues. I write a blog and share daily stories with veterans and normal everyday people to help them find hope and inspiration. My writing focuses on veterans because that is what is near and dear to my heart, but there is a message for everyone. Veterans are not the only ones that suffer from PTSD or a mental illness. I emphasize that in my writing and share stories that will relate to almost anyone who has ever had a struggle.
The following is a piece that I wrote for the loved one who holds a broken veteran close to their heart.
Be patient and gentle for we are delicate. We are hurting more than you can imagine. Our tongue is sharper than before, sharpened by the pain that consumes us. Our voice is louder than before, it subdues the cries that ring in our ears.
You might feel neglected or left out but please don’t think it’s personal. We feel dazed, confused and strive to live the life we had before. We will never be the same, please understand.
For every brother we lose, we lose a piece of our self. We become weak and vulnerable, but this does not mean we will fail. We must fight harder to defend against the demons that try to penetrate us.
We will eventually talk and when we do please listen, nothing more and nothing less. Sometimes we might share some, sometimes we might share a lot. You will not understand what we are saying and please don’t try to, just listen and let us wipe our tears.
We would never want you to feel the pain we embrace, we wouldn’t wish this on our worst enemy. If I wake you in the night as I toss and turn, don’t be afraid. I’m fighting a battle inside and will do anything to keep you safe.
I will always love you, remember this. If you can handle me then I will die for you!
I’m going to leave you with one last thought. A lot of times we don’t know someone is hurting because they have silent cries. The scars are on the inside and invisible to you. If you know someone has been through a lot, be available and compassionate, it could be a life saver.
Author: Tim Foster
Editor: Cat Beekmans
Photo: Benjamin Balázs/Flickr