Even though I’m the one that actively went out and aded myself to about half a dozen veteran social media groups that claim to be centered around PTSD Support and Recovery, I find myself at odds with the posts I see on a daily basis.
“I keep looking at my pistol.”
“When will the nightmares end?”
“I don’t know if I can go on.”
I see posts like these on a daily basis and while it does elicit a response from me to reach out and try to help, why does it also make me so immediately and almost blindingly angry? What is it about other people’s weaknesses that makes me so damn hostile? My counselor tells me that my internal calendar will set off an alarm on specific anniversaries but I don’t usually notice it on my own. In the latter weeks of summer I set aside some time to reflect and remember my brothers lost in Iraq but there is usually some prompting from members of the group. It’s not something that really comes up on it’s own for me.
All that said, the last few days I’ve really had a hard time focusing on school and work. On Tuesday evening after work I found myself heading towards Cave Junction on highway 199. I was headed for Deer Creek Cemetery but I wasn’t sure what caused the sudden need to see him.
I was deployed when it happened. I had called home to my first wife and she told me that she had something horrible to tell me and asked if I would want to hear it over the phone or wait until I came home. I immediately thought that she was leaving me or something crazy like that but what she actually told me changed my life forever. My best friend growing up had taken his life on February 21, 2002. He was at a party, drugs and alcohol were involved in some degree, and he killed himself.
I have never in my life been so rocked by something like this. He was one of the biggest reasons I joined the Marines and even though he was not able to join because of a shoulder injury, he was my number one fan. Sure, we had drifted apart over the years but he was always on my mind and in my heart. We were brothers.
Years later, I had a dream. I was reunited with him in a field on a high mountain plain. When I write it down, I know exactly where we were. We had camped there when we were maybe 13 and 14 years old. Our parents were pissed that we set off on such a long trip by ourselves. For 5 days we stayed up there with only the food and water we carried in and our BB guns for protection. We sat under the stars and watched the lights of our sleepy little town go off one by one. We ate cans of bean and bacon soup, top ramen and pop tarts. We hunted birds and squirrels and explored the far side of the mountain that you don’t see from town.
In the dream I was telling him all about my life and how I was doing. I told him about my family and my children. My adventures and near misses. I invited him to come home with me so he could see for himself, but he couldn’t leave. He stood there like a statue with eyes of pity and regret and watched as I faded away back to reality. He would never see the house I bought, my cool new motorcycle or the son I named after him. He could never come home. He was gone forever.
Now I’ll admit, when I was in the grips of my alcohol addiction, I made a lot of mistakes and hurt a lot of people. There were times when I felt the world was a better place without me and I toyed with the idea of ending it all. I buried the needle on my motorcycle trying to see how fast I could go around a blind corner. I gave fate every opportunity to bring me in early, but it never happened.
What I found in the bottom of the bottle and at the end of the rope was pure desperation. Hopeless and helpless I begged, and I mean begged God for an answer. In the crappy little upstairs meeting hall of the Moose lodge in Oceanside, California I heard my fathers words over and over. “Don’t give up son. Someone is watching you.”
And there it is. The number one reason behind my contempt. Life is going to be hard. Life is going to offer you challenges and hardships so frequently that you’re going to feel like just giving it all up. That’s normal. That’s all a part of the grand design. But someone, somewhere, is watching you. Looking to you for guidance. For a clear path or a sign of some sort. When you throw in that towel, you’re not only robbing someone else of a brother or a sister. A father, mother, son or daughter. A best friend. You mean something to someone. Even at your worst, you’re something special to someone. When you quit, that person will never get to see your smile ever again. They will lose a part of themselves that they never wanted to give up.
I feel that society has tried very hard to paint us into a corner. To label us as broken and unforgivable. Shells of the men and women we once were when in reality we need to take a good hard look at what we’ve been through. I think that when we do that, we can find that the sum of our experiences has in fact hardened our resolve. You don’t make a blade by simply pouring steel into a mold. You apply heat and pressure to it over and over again. You beat the weakness out of it with thousands of relentless blows and then, after it’s cooled off, you do it all over again. Remember where you’ve been and what you’ve done. Remember all the times that life was against you and still you remained. You’re so much stronger than you give yourself credit for.
I guess my biggest point, and I’ve said this hundreds of times before, is simple. If you’re down and the voices in your head are telling you to quit, don’t listen to them. Pick up the phone and call someone. And if you’re phone rings in the middle of the night, answer it. Stay connected and keep moving forward. Do things that scare you. Constant improvement and competition will deliver you from the brink.
My best friend’s name was Justin. He lived at the top of B Street. A short walk from his house were the woods surrounding a small mountain that rises up on the west side of my town called Dollar Mountain. Naming my business Dollar Mountain Woodworks was my way of keeping him alive with me. My daily reminder that there are still some of us out there that need help finding their way.
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