‘Facing Stigma’ with Jodie R.

“I grew up in a pretty poor environment in Kentucky and had to raise myself for the most part. My mother was into drugs and a lot of the men that she brought in and out of my life were abusive in one way or another. There weren’t a lot of options in a farming community so I decided to join the military. I graduated high school early and enlisted with Army infantry in 2002 at 17 years old. It was nice to do something I felt like I could control and allowed me to be my own man. After going through basic training, I ended up breaking my ankle and missed our unit’s first deployment; however, I ended up deploying to Iraq in 2004. I was attached to the 1st Cavalry Division and we were sent to Baghdad and all the surrounding areas. We saw quite a bit of combat over there, even for an infantry unit. We were tasked with clearing out the insurgency threats and securing their first voting site which obviously wasn’t a popular thing amongst the insurgency. We experienced a lot of death and destruction like many other infantry units. There were times where we’d hear bombs and then have to go collect body parts and over time that really wears on you. It got to the point where mentally I went numb and wasn’t able to be myself. Things only got worse as the deployment extended into the next year. I couldn’t understand the reason we were doing a lot of things we were doing or how I fit into the bigger picture. I separated from the Army after that deployment and was naive enough to think I could transition into the civilian world and be fine. I came home and stayed with some friends for a while, but ended up applying to the police department and becoming a cop. I was already dealing with pretty severe PTS, but after becoming a police officer I was involved in some incidents that made everything worse. I got into an altercation with an attempted murder suspect and tore my ACL in half. I was down for about six months and that time allowed me to really reflect on whether or not I wanted to stay on the path I was on.

During that time I decided to transition back into the military; however, looking back now it wasn’t the best decision given the issues I was dealing with. The military provided this sense of comfort and dependability that I badly wanted and needed, but once I returned I realized why I had gotten out the first time. At that point I was unable to function in every day life and ended up having to leave a year early from my contract. I didn’t know how to deal with anything. I couldn’t be around people, crowds overwhelmed me, and while alone or in quiet spaces I would feel a pressure building in my ears like a wall was going to explode. It all centered around the PTS and my inability to deal with it so at that point I decided I was going to get help before I did something I would regret. I went to the VA and signed up for every one of the programs they offered. A counselor pulled me aside and told me that I had a very severe case of PTS and the treatments they offered would help only a little, but encouraged me to seek outside support in order to get the care I really needed. I tried a couple intensive care programs and that helped me get back on track a little bit. I then signed up with Wounded Warrior Project and they encouraged me to seek further treatment from Headstrong. They got me in right away and connected me with my therapist, Stacy. Stacy recognized the severity of what I was facing and after building a rapport with her online, I started going to her office. She incorporated my wife into the sessions as well and we were able to work as a couple to overcome some of the issues that I was facing. I also got a service dog and she has helped mitigate some of the issues with PTS that I had in public. We incorporated my service dog, Donna, into our therapy as well. When I’m doing EMDR, Stacy will have Donna help and support me as I process the trauma. Headstrong has been supportive of everything I’ve tried to do to heal and make myself better. Whether that’s video appointments, working with my service dog or therapy with my wife, they’ve pretty much bent over backwards to be supportive and help me through this whole process.”