‘Facing Stigma’ with Matt M.
“After graduating college, I enlisted in the Navy because I’m from a long line of service members stretching back to the Revolutionary War. Almost every generation of my family served in all of the major wars of their era. I joined as an Intel Specialist and my first assignment was overseas. I got to Spain and was sent to Kosovo to help on missions over there. In 2000, I decided to crossover to OCS (Officer Candidate School) and do things from more of a leadership perspective. Ironically I was in a counter terrorism class when 9/11 happened so all the events around that day I remember very vividly. We started prepping after that and my unit got deployed in 2002; unfortunately, I wasn’t able to join them after a couple of drinking incidents led to a non-judicial punishment. Missing out on that deployment was really heartbreaking and caused a lot of guilt on my end. It really weighed on me and that was then compounded on top of later deployments. I did finally get the opportunity to deploy to Iraq twice. One was during the surge in 2006–2007 and that was easily the most stressful deployment because we were out on patrol 2–3 times a week. We had quite a few run-ins, but one in particular was really disturbing. One night the local Mosul police — who were very corrupt in their own right — pulled us over and started harassing us. The officer screamed for us to get out of the car and then put a gun to my head until our translator was able to deescalate the situation. I feel a little shaky now even telling that story, but it serves as a stark reminder of the realities we faced everyday over there.
My final deployment was in 2011 to the southernmost part of Iraq. My daughter was born just before I deployed and luckily I got to see her for all of 36 hours before I was sent out the door. It was scheduled to be a nine month deployment, but I think we ended up doing about six. We were mostly tasked with training the Iraqi Navy to be more like the American Navy. There was no break from the stress while we were there; we were pretty isolated and had to make do with far less than other locations, but we did the best we could with what we had. Once I returned home, issues started creeping up. I started having severe anxiety and was really quick to anger. It was affecting my marriage and it was clear I needed to get help. I saw a Navy counselor leading up to my retirement who then recommended me to Headstrong once I got out. It was a warm handoff, but the first thing I noticed was the stark difference between the course of therapy and treatment modalities. I felt like I was really white knuckling it and just trying to get through my day without self destructing while I was in the Navy. Once I started at Headstrong the approach has been to identify the root problems and reorient how I think. Through EMDR, I’ve been able to reprocess old memories and uproot the feelings associated with them so that they no longer have the same impact they once had on me. I no longer have the same physical response so it’s night and day compared to where I was before. I’m in more of a zen place in my life and at work as well. More importantly my relationship with my family is a lot better. I’m the dad I want to be now. I am also the husband, friend, and partner I have wanted to be. There will always be struggles in life, but I feel like I have the tools to deal with them now.”