‘Facing Stigma’ with Justin B.

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“I grew up in a rough part of Atlanta. I had gotten into some trouble while driving on a suspended license, getting a few tickets, etc. Unlike most, I was given a second chance to do good. I was encouraged to sign-up with a Marine recruiter in the back of a courtroom. Although I was encouraged to go that route, I was involved in a near death car accident in which I ended up with my left lung being collapsed shortly after that. I waited to sign-up, but by that point some friends and family had been killed, and signing up for the military seemed like the best bet to make it out; especially after watching my sister find success by joining the Army. I went in as communications but I worked closely with the infantry so I ended up doing a lot of grunt work. I got to my first duty station in September and was deployed by November. We went to Okinawa from late November to February and from there we pushed to Iraq. I ended up in Fallujah for Operation Phantom Fury. It was the hotspot of Iraq. I was actually there with my sister who was in Baghdad and we spent close to four months over there together but separated obviously. I think I internalized everything my mom was feeling at that time having both of us in Iraq and not knowing what’s going on. I was with 3rd battalion 4th Marines which at that time was the most combat deployed battalion in the Marine Corps. Between work, regular Marine Corps duties, and husband life, there isn’t any time to breathe and reset especially with your kids. I started having trouble sleeping and having nightmares. I knew something had changed but I couldn’t pinpoint it so I ended up just going through the motions. There’s never any time to stop or assess what’s going on internally because the mission always comes first. I knew something was really wrong though after I separated from the military. I took my terminal leave and I was just at home playing video games, smoking and drinking, and acting like I was going to school so I could collect my BAH. I found myself drinking way more than I ever had before and was getting wasted every day.

I felt myself slipping so I went to the VA and told the doctor I was self medicating and needed help because I couldn’t stop. They said I needed to stop self medicating before they could see me. I was literally turned away to figure it out on my own. We never really talk about emotions or feelings in the black community, so when I was finally open to saying I wanted to get help, my first interaction with the VA caused me to internalize it. My fiancé was in school to be a therapist at the time and she saw how irritated I was, which ultimately lead us to go get counseling with Naomi. I had a seen a few therapists by this time and felt like they didn’t really care so I had my reservations. As we continued arguing in our relationship and going to therapy, eventually I said, “forget it, I’m good”. I wasn’t though. I ended up going back to see Naomi one on one and and out of everything I’ve done, I think going to therapy has been one of my biggest accomplishments. When I was going to see Naomi on my own, I didn’t realize I was carrying stuff from when I was 8 years old that happened with my dad. So I can say therapy is one my greatest accomplishments. I didn’t think Naomi was going to dive so deep into me. I also didn’t think going to see a therapist would unpack all this stuff that I’ve carried around for 30+ years. I’ve learned trauma compounds and starts to be more layered as you go through life. Even currently, we’re all dealing with COVID, riots everywhere, every time you turn on the TV there’s something new that’s happened or something continuing to happen. I think right now is the most ideal time to see a therapist. Whether you’ve got your kids at home and you’re trying to figure out how to be a teacher, or work from home or work from work, all of that drains you. I don’t think people realize or really understand the effect it can have. I respect any man or woman who can say they need help, and I of all people know how beneficial it can be.”

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Healing the hidden wounds of war

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