Headstrong Project

Dec 20, 2018

5 min read

‘Facing Stigma’ with Kionte Storey

“I never met my biological mom. I was prematurely born two months early due to drugs and alcohol. I was in an incubator for a few months before I was taken away from my biological parents and raised by my second cousin, who I consider my mom. I was raised by her for 10 years before going into foster care until I was 18. My mom worked two jobs to be able to provide for the five of us, and I think when it came to me she just realized that putting me in foster care would be the best thing for me despite her love for me. I was barely old enough to understand what was happening, and it’s a weird thing to see a social worker and have her explain to you how foster care works. I cried my first night in foster care. I had a good foster family, but it was still a lot different than how I was raised before. There was a definite detachment and as I start to get into my teen years, there are these rules being put in front of me that I don’t agree with. I was in trouble, but I never really crossed that line into doing something that could get me kicked out of foster care. I do thank them though for taking care of me and raising me, especially what I put them through at times by being defiant because of my anger at the situation. It was difficult going through that transition, but in my mind it was justifiable and the best thing for me in the long run. Even though I was trying to avoid the rules growing up, I felt like the rules that the military offered were going to help me. I knew by joining the Marines it would allow me to get out of Stockton, but also allow me to get that structure and guidance that I felt like I needed. I decided to join in July of 2007 and got deployed twice while I was in. Once to Iraq in 2008 and the other time to Afghanistan in 2010. I ended up getting injured in September 2010 while in Afghanistan.

We got information that our area was going to get ambushed, so we were up before sunrise and trying to find a building to hold up in to do some satellite security. Our unit enters this building and I am with my junior Marine outside. We’re providing outer security at this time and guarding the entry. We’re sitting for way too long and I wasn’t sure why, so I walk into the building and immediately somehow trigger this IED. It was weird because everybody else who entered either missed it, or it was just old and didn’t go off until I came in. After it went off, all the air was completely knocked out of me and I just laid there. I’m trying to get up but my legs aren’t doing what my brain is telling them to do. As I’m lying there I’m assuming that I am a double amputee. It took the rest of my team awhile to figure out what happened because there was so much dust and debris. I was conscious and aware of where I was, but I was trying to remain calm so that there was no panic and they could get me out the most efficient way possible. It felt like it took a long time, but it couldn’t have been more than 30 minutes. By the time I made it to the helicopter, I remember being in an excruciating amount of pain. After a while, they ended up amputating my right leg below the knee. The process of me being injured and in the hospital, I had my mom by my side and the doctors. You’re not doing a lot during this process but laying there, and the only thing I thought of during that time is that my guys were still out there and it sucked I couldn’t be with them. After going through a lot of surgeries, I was transferred to the wounded warrior battalion out in San Diego. That’s when I went through those five stages of grief, which eventually led to depression and anger. During that depression, I started to abuse my pain meds just to numb this emotional pain and feel nothing. Outside of my room, I wore this mask and a lot of people thought I was doing alright, but when I’m in the confines of my room I’m dealing with thoughts of suicide and other side effects that come with my physical injuries.

I looked at myself in the mirror and realized this is not me. I was born on drugs and wasn’t going to allow myself to be taken over by drugs, so I quit my medication cold turkey. I started trying to get myself out of my room as much as possible. I started applying for Paralympic camps and doing things that would get me out of my room and where I wasn’t alone. I was really happy being active and I actually ended up being a pretty good sprinter with my new prosthesis. At the same time, I was going to some psychological therapy as well, and I think it was a mix of the therapy and activity that helped me get to a better place. After blowing off therapy the first time around, I realized that I needed to give it another try and went back. I started really explaining everything that was going on in my mind and letting it all out. When you start to say things out loud, you really start to develop an understanding of yourself. The last few times I went to the therapist, I started wanting to know more of the ‘why’, in terms of trauma and why I respond to certain situations in a particular way. Why do I react this way? Why do I feel this way? I started to realize that the way I felt as an adult stemmed from things that I went through as a kid. The injury was the new part of it, but the stuff I was dealing with as an adult, I had to go way back to things that happened to me as a kid. Now I’m just excited to be where I am today. I’m glad I didn’t allow myself to give up, and kept fighting and pushing forward. Going through my back story and what I went through growing up, there are so many paths I could have taken. I used to think of myself as this monster, and now I feel really good about who I am as a person and the direction I am going.”