The bright spot in all of this was I realized my younger German Shepherd was instinctually waking me from my nightmares. I recognized he had the proper drive to be a working dog, and set out on the mission to have him properly trained to be my own PTSD service dog. After contacting almost every veteran’s organization which was helping to provide service dogs to veterans, I found none of them would train a dog a veteran already owned. I had almost given up when I came across a reputable private company which would train him.
But there was a cost involved. I was fortunate that veteran friends of mine became aware of this. One of them started a source funding account to raise the money through donations. I was in awe that friends with who me I had served 25 years ago made up the bulk of the donors. Not guys I had recently served and deployed with….but these brother and sister warriors from my days in the Berlin Brigade and 1st Gulf War.
Once the money was raised, the training company was paid and our training started. This changed my life on many levels. I was getting out more. I was becoming more comfortable in doing things which I hadn’t been able to for a couple of years. And I was making a new friend in my trainer.
But still, I hit these streaks of not sleeping, or sleeping very little…eating little or nothing…isolating again….not shaving for days or weeks…and I feel myself spiraling, more often than not. And then it takes just one thing to send me to that edge of contemplating ending it all. I was there just recently. Thinking everyone would be better off. And I could finally end my own pain. My own guilt. My own physical pain. My feeling of not fitting in to anything. Feeling so out of place. Feeling hopeless.
And then someone, a complete stranger, really, reaches out to me. Someone I only knew from social media. Just a simple message asking how I was. And I was honest. I don’t know why I was. I was venting, really. I had no one else to vent to. I didn’t vent for pity or help or guidance. I was going to a very dark place in my head and soul, and I was already developing a plan. And then this person, in less than an hour, mobilized a group of veterans to help me out and prevent me from going there. People I had never personally met. People I hadn’t even really interacted with. They came together to help a fellow brother in arms in a big way. Some of my anxiety and stress was relieved. But then I felt weak. Ashamed. And I hit that cycle. Still riding it now.
I try to distract myself with social media, movies, my dogs. But it is still there, under the surface. I don’t know what to do about it. Therapy does little for me. Been to lots of it. And groups, and I read self help books. But most of my human interaction is honestly on social media.
I keep hoping to make a real connection with someone. I am afraid if I don’t, I will never get better. Only worse. Again, I don’t write any of this for pity or attention. Just to let you know you are not alone. I keep getting told that….but every day and night, I am here with my dogs. I’m alone. Except for the people on here, I am alone. And even though I have my dogs, and the people in my Internet world….even if I am with family….I feel alone and out of place. Honestly, I would rather be in combat again. At least there I would have a sense of purpose. And if I were lucky enough, I could die a Spartan’s death. An honorable way out.
Another part of me wants a connection so badly. I believe if my wife (now ex) would have been more stable upon my return, I may not have had such a hard time. I believe if my unit, and my friends I deployed with, would have drawn me in rather than forgetting about me….I would be better off right now. But that’s in the past, and I need to leave it there and cope now. But right now, if I could connect with one person….I feel it would be a turning point for me.
I have such a connection, but it is not entirely reciprocal. She is an amazing person, and a wonderful friend….but I fear that is all it will ever be. So, I try to just be grateful for having such a great friend. Meanwhile, I am creating other opportunities for myself. I am an apprentice dog trainer, with the goal of training service dogs for veterans once my own training is complete.
So, I guess my objective in sharing this with you is to let you know this: For those of you suffering, just know you are not alone in how you feel….even if you feel alone and misunderstood where you are right now. You have fellow bothers in arms who care about and love you, no matter what. And you do bring joy and happiness to people’s lives….far beyond that which you may realize. When you are feeling low, don’t be afraid or ashamed to reach out to someone.
To those who are not personally struggling with this, please be kind and compassionate. Reach out, even if it is just to say hi. Try to make a connection with these people. Let them know they are loved, cared for, and valued. That their sacrifice is appreciated, and it wasn’t pointless. Get them involved so they CAN begin to fit in, and so they don’t feel so alone. Treat them as you would wish to be treated. Be good to one another.
This first appeared in The Havok Journal October 15, 2015.
Michael Lewark is Military Police, with 9 years active duty Army, 19 years in the Army National Guard, and 12 years civilian law enforcement. He is medically retired and currently trains service dogs for wounded warriors and others in need.