“I was working an office job and taking classes at a community college when my sister’s Marine boyfriend came back from Okinawa. He told me about his experience and urged me to talk to a recruiter about the military if I was interested. I had a one year old and I wanted to better our situation so I really considered the military in the hope that it would provide me the opportunity to do that. I ended up joining behind my family’s back two weeks prior to 9/11. After 9/11 happened, I tried to ease their concerns about my deployment status, but I had connected the dots and knew it was inevitable after being attached to an infantry battalion following boot camp. We shipped out of Norfolk, Virginia in January 2003 to Kuwait before arriving in Iraq that February. We spent a month in Kuwait training and building up this little tent city before driving north for two and a half days into Iraq. We eventually made our way into south Nasiriyah, Iraq before we hit a long line of vehicles waiting to go further north as well. I was the radio operator for the captain of our infantry company and while we were waiting, I was eavesdropping on the unit that we were assigned to go resupply. I kept hearing about all the medical evacuations and Killed In Action’s (KIA’s) and I knew full well that was where we were headed. I could see all the smoke on the horizon and all of the convoys and helicopters going in fully supplied and returning empty.
We never got to resupply the unit across the river because we needed to take cover after getting shot at. We stayed in that area for the next month getting into fire fights on and off. Once we secured the south end of the bridge across from the Euphrates, we moved north to this place called Al Diwaniyah where we stayed for a week. We ended up moving as far north as Al Kut before we were sent back home after our six-month deployment. I did two deployments in total with the second one happening three months later in Afghanistan. That deployment was not as combat intensive as Iraq, but we still had to deal with the nuances of war. I was supposed to get deployed one more time before getting out, but I ended up getting a non-combat related shoulder injury that didn’t allow me to deploy with my unit the final time. I think it was very apparent to those closest to me that I had changed after my deployments. I didn’t notice anything at the time; however, I wasn’t sleeping and I kept telling myself that I hadn’t experienced anything in comparison to what troops in Vietnam or WWII experienced. I still didn’t think anything was going on after I got out, despite what others were telling me. I became numb over time but kept pushing through assuming that life was just different after you go through combat. However, at the same time, I was drinking, smoking weed, and self-medicating just to get through my day. I spent the next few years doing that until everything culminated in 2015 and I attempted suicide. I actually had been planning to do it for about three days and the only thing going through my head when I got up on that ledge was that my family would be better off without me.
I didn’t remember anything until a couple weeks later when I came to in the hospital. I sustained a broken pelvis, broken sacrum (tailbone), punctured lung, and other injuries from the fall. During my recovery process, my sister let me know that I was having flashbacks to combat and telling them to run for cover while I was drugged up. I ended up making a rather quick recovery in the short time span of a month, but after being released, I finally had to come to the realization that I had a problem that was directly associated with my combat experience. I ended up finding my way into the Headstrong program through my therapist MaryAlice. She identified what was going on and then tailored my therapy sessions in a way that was best suited for my needs. It was really a challenge for me to express and identify my emotions, but once we did EMDR treatment I had a huge breakthrough. It allowed me to identify and tap into emotions that were buried deep down and I hadn’t been able to access before. I used to just try to get through the day and survive and now I feel like I’ve been able to work on myself and become the best version of me. It’s easy to associate a lot of the success I’ve had to all the people and organizations that have helped along the way, but I’m also really proud of myself and all the work I’ve done to turn my life around.”