This first appeared in The Havok Journal on February 25, 2015. However, the subject remains just as relevant today.
What is the difference between me and one of the 22 veterans that take their lives every day? I survived “The Moment,” that one moment, out of many, when the self-loathing and pain reach into the depths of your soul and drag you down to the abyss.
The moment of utter despair, when you can feel no positive solution to anything and you hear the voices in your head shouting at you to end the hurt and suffering — the moment that I think we lose our people. They cannot make it past ‘that’ moment of absolute hopelessness.
Or, if they made it past before, they don’t have the strength to do it again. Life is a series of moments. Perhaps ‘that’ moment is the hardest to accept.
On 9 Feb 2015, another veteran joined the 22. Her name is Captain Jamie Brunette. She was a proud member of the Air Force and Air Force Reserves. And for reasons known only to her, she did not make it past ‘that’ moment.
I don’t know what she was facing. While the article about her mentions various things, those allegations are not the point. Another person who was one of us has faced the enemy inside — and lost. She faced ‘that’ moment and the only solution she found to her pain? The end of all hope, whatever the cause, the end was hers. Perhaps it was all she felt she could control.
I don’t know her and now will never have that chance, but her loss is very familiar to me. She reminds me of the loss of someone who was close to me that did not make it through their moment either. And because I have been there, I write in the hopes that these words might help.
There comes a time, day, night, it doesn’t matter, when darkness envelopes the soul in an oily, vicious foulness that is so ugly it washes away any good we might feel. It’s that moment when pain consumes the value of self. The inner voices that encourage you forward now push you down and nothing seems to help. The abyss beckons and beguiles. Our defenses fall until all we’re left with is the tormented core of our being with nothing in sight but more pain. If we cannot make it back to shore, if we cannot escape the abyss, we die.
This is the moment when strength is difficult to find and hope is near impossible. You feel as if the world rides on your back. If you were just gone, everything would be better. If only you were not there anymore, then everyone else would be okay and you would not suffer. The guilt will end. The pain will end. The imagination that torments you will be silent at last. You convince yourself that death is not just an answer, but the only answer. The moment when taking your life seems like the only sane response out of an ocean of bad choices, negative thoughts, horror, and self-hate.
It is the most powerful self-deception of all because it overrides the survival instinct and destroys us from within.
What plagues us is all different. That’s why there are no hard and fast answers. We each must face our challenges alone to a certain extent because they are unique to us. The very uniqueness isolates us. We find reasons for the guilt or the hurt specific to us and somehow, even if what happened is not our fault, we become guilty of a failure of some kind.
I’ve heard the words from others where they wished they’d died instead of their friends. I’ve prayed to trade my life for one minute where I could make a difference for someone I lost. I’ve heard people hold themselves responsible for vile things that others did to them as if somehow they were at fault for their own victimization.
I’ve met those who made it through their moments. I’ve mourned those I knew who did not. I’ve placed myself as the final line of defense for those closest to me because I cannot lose again. I cannot face the rending heartache of another moment lost.
I know that in the wake of suicide people want answers. Family, friends, anyone, even the curious, want to know “Why?” I know there are no real answers because the only person that could have given them is gone. The ringing silence where they used to be hurt. You hear them when they are not there. It takes a while to realize that they are not just out for a bit. When the realization that they’re never coming back through that door hits you, it hurts.
Allegations about Captain Jamie Brunette have been made, hints of things that could have been the source of her pain. Those rumors will fly regardless of the truth or lack of. I know the investigation will not release what they learn to the general public unless there is a valid reason to do so. Even the family will not be told what they do not need to know. And knowing the unvarnished truth does not help with closure especially when that truth is at odds with what you thought you knew.
We may very well be left where we are. Another veteran failed to make it past ‘that’ moment of darkness. We have to accept that reality, but we cannot let it blind us. We cannot have total victory and while I don’t know why we can’t, why I can’t, I will not give up. You cannot give up either. We must struggle onward because it is important.
I want my words to reach as far as they can. Perhaps someone who needs a little extra strength to make it through their moment can have that strength from me. It is about hope. It will get better. The sun will come out. You can make it out of the abyss to shore and peace.
There are hundreds of external resources for those who need them. But none of those resources are worth a damn if you don’t reach for them. You may not have the will, the strength, or the desire, so let me help if I can.
You are worth saving. You’re more powerful than the trauma you faced. You mean something more than a number between 1 and 22 a day. You will make it through this moment and when you do, reach out for help to gather your strength for the next time.
I need you to survive because I could be you. If I can survive my moment, you can yours too. If you can survive your moment, I can survive my next one. There are no easy answers.
Sometimes survival is the only victory and at others, victory is survival. We have a choice. I want you to survive with me until 22 becomes none — #22toZero.
It’s not the first moment that takes you down, nor the hundredth. We’re all different. Some might not make it past the first or the thousandth. All I truly know is that if you don’t keep trying, keep fighting, the next moment might be the last.
We have a choice. We can face our moments alone or we can face them together, each of us imparting a bit of strength to the other. We can survive those moments where the blackness inside our minds is illuminated by friendship and companions who will not let us quietly slip away. But even with all this, you have to fight that inner battle for us. Together, we can move past “The Moment.”
Writing these words helps me face my next moment, but the words are nothing next to the message.
You are not your misery or your pain. Those can go away with time and healing. But you have to be alive to heal. There are no ‘cookie-cutter solutions’ because there are no ‘cookie-cutter’ people. Your borders are not defined by what you suffered unless you allow them to be.
If you survive enough moments, you just might realize that living is a better goal than dying.
Goodbye Jamie Brunette, Rest in Peace.
Leonard O. Benton is retired from active duty military service with 24 years and two combat deployments to Iraq. He left the Regular Army after 10 years and became a National Guard Recruiter for his first tour in the AGR program followed by over 10 years in Operations as Force Protection, CBRN, and three years as C-IED. He has an Associates’s degree and is currently working on his Bachelor’s. He is an amateur metalsmith and when he is not working or writing he can often be found in his shop pounding away in the attempt to transform a lump of metal into an icon of beauty or function. His years of operational planning, threat analysis, and a deeply cynical view of our imperfect world leads him to focus on world events and cultural beliefs that tend to cause the most friction and chaos in the world around us. He is a libertarian and he believes in personal freedoms and accountability. The Havok Journal gave him an outlet to express the things he sees wrong in the world and the opportunity to once again provide advice on how to fix it. Leonard can be contacted a firstname.lastname@example.org.