Submitted by anonymous
I am an addict.
The first time someone tried to kill me I felt a flood of emotions. I felt fear. I felt anger. I was worried about my teammates. Then there was confusion. I was not expecting to be confused. My confusion was surrounded by motivated hate. The longer you spent downrange, the more determined you became to get the hell home.
Amidst all the confusion and fear, I also felt alive.
I felt wired because every moment you are being shot at, you are harmoniously, breathtakingly alive in the most barbarically instinctual way imaginable. You are introduced to a high you will forever chase. It is your first love, it’s also your first addiction. Every single day something is blowing up. Every day your brain rips apart a little more. Gunshots tear up your memory and IED blasts ruin your functioning. They chew holes into spots that used to be filled. That’s where your identity used to be. You lose grip on your past and have trouble functioning in the present and cannot fathom planning a future. It takes twice the time to write a sentence as I struggle to place this pen on the paper. Phone conversations send shards of metal piercing into my eardrum and deep into my brain.
I always thought I was crazy, but I have a broken brain. I died at war. The old me left everything I knew to go to war. I never came home.
The son my parents knew, the brother my siblings knew, and the caring, passionate man my girlfriend knew… he never came home. Since I didn’t die, what else would you call it? I liked the old me, but the old me died, covered in the blood of others. He died from the blasts, died staring down the barrel of my gun. The new me is crazy and anxious, and can’t remember. The new me lost all love, the new me runs, the new me avoids. The new me remembers enough about the old me to miss him and resent the monster I’ve become. Those who miss the old me, stand in front of the new me and feel my loss even though I am standing right there. Everyone who knew the old me wants him back, they don’t like who I’ve become and no one wants to be around the new me… especially me.
Every day, I live with that. Over and over, the same smell, the same heat, the language, the women yelling in the streets, there is nothing sweet about it, it’s all spoiled misery and I was their company. For the most part, I was okay with it… the static covers my brain.
All I see is white… where am I? What is happening?
I am in the lead vehicle, dismounting to open the door to a skeleton. Or what is left of him. There are pieces of his skull, his torso fused to his plating, you can’t hear anything besides the air zipping by your head, you cannot see anything else but the misplaced chunks of hair and flesh tossed on the humvee interior. You turn back to see the flames and flashes and hoping that one accurately placed round will end your misery. Through the flashbacks, binge drinking, drug overdoses, addiction, contemplating suicide attempts. WHAT IN THE WORLD IS GOING ON WITH MY BRAIN? Last night, I sat in my cot, and across the room sitting in the chair was a young girl covered in blood. Why is that farmer from the hajj mart dead in my shower? Their eyes stay with me. They are all black. Their monstrous eyes pierce through my soul. No colors. Just black.
I loved owning the night, but with the night came the darkness.
Like most, I felt most comfortable and in control in combat. You wake up and expect to die, you commit to death, punch your ticket before you even step off for another mission. You ran the scenarios in your head and once the rush was gone, you became a drunken, drug-abusing, narcissistic human being who could barely make it through the day. I didn’t have much of anything going on, on the inside. So, I had to make up for it on the outside. I went from being a top performer on the team, a respected professional to becoming a nuisance and a burden who created more work and more problems for everyone around me. It is a difficult concept for me to understand.
Simply, I exist from second to second. As I said earlier, there is no meaning to my past, my present is intolerable and honestly, I don’t expect my future to exist. When the sadness and brutal depravity of this world is literally laid at your feet and you find yourself sinking knee-deep, embedded within it rather than above, what hope do you really have?
All my shattered, spent, halfhearted actions have produced nothing but sadness, disappointment, and misery to those who I love. Do we endure? Do I endure? Do I tolerate this life I am plummeting into, do we… do I let go of all things? I should remove my attachments. My Resentments. My Possessions. Even my loved ones. Should they do that so I can be free of pain and suffering? But what if I am already completely and utterly emotionally detached from this world, I’ve invested in nothing. I am not even investing in myself. I should be steps away from freedom, right?
The old me is gone, and she hates the new me… “Pull the damn trigger, end my life, end my misery… clean the goddamn walls and get on with your life.”
Deep down, I knew a part of her wanted to end it all, end her stress, end the drug abuse, end the nightmares. But no, I’m on my own. In the darkness, I own the night. I am doped up again, much to her dismay. I am walking down into the basement. It’s cold, damp, dark, but quiet. Bone-chilling silence.
When it’s dark, the darkness brings them back, I see them, I see their dark, black beady eyes. I hear their voices, their screams. I feel their blood. I sat there facing the wall, staring at the hole in the concrete. In an instant, I am back on the streets of Baghdad, the same hole from the blast that killed my brain. The darkness, the shadows, the numbing sound of silence, everything is quiet… except their voices. I don’t know where I am. I can’t tell if the smell is from freshly spilt blood in the heat of the night or leaking rusted pipes. I am holding the shotgun under my chin, the cold sensation of steel sending chills down my spine, familiar chills, chills from death, chills that know when death is near. Safety off, finger on the trigger. This is where I’ll die, not in a firefight like Hank, not in an ambush like Pooch, not in the war, but in a dark, cold basement.. buttstock on the ground, resting my head on the muzzle, hand gripping the barrel, thumb on the trigger.
…but I didn’t pull the trigger.
And then I found myself here. Writing this to you. Writing about my pain. About my… addiction.
The darkness. The dark companion you’ll always have, either assimilate or go absolutely bloody insane. I found love for benzos in the teams, it took the edge off the steroids. The doc looking at his paper, asking me if I had any of the following… going down a check sheet, he prints me off a paper and starts running down a list: “In the morning: Adderall, Xanax, Gabapentin, Ropinirole, Pantoprazole, Tramadol for hypersensitivity, anxiety, nerve pain, restless leg and acid reflux”, with a blank stare, he continues on, “in the afternoon, Xanax, Gabapentin, Ropinirole and Soma… you know what they are for,” and then he finishes with, “before bed take Trazodone to help you get to sleep, Xanax, Gabapentin and Ropinirole again, Zoloft and Prazosin for your nightmares…”
If I wasn’t going to kill myself, surely this chemical cocktail would kill me.
Your transition is similar to your addiction. The way I was told is first you need to admit you have an addiction. I am an addict. Trust me its powerful to finally admit that. You need to healthily cope with that addiction and it’s a lifelong process. Just like the transition from the military.
In 2018, that is where I was, full-speed, suicidal. Coming home to an empty house, everyone in my life had left, and only at the expense of myself, only I was to blame. I lost the brightness in my life and I only had the darkness and the chemical cocktail to thank. I was angry and upset at those strangers around me for being totally disconnected from human life, walking into each other on the streets, eyes glued to their social media accounts, and work agendas. I hated every single one of them, they made my transition into civilian life a living hell.
They reminded me of preschoolers, kicking and screaming, running around with no purpose or motive while assuming they are the most important, know-it-alls. Our American way of life is so disconnected it is very hard for me to find where I could connect into it all. We are a severely detached and divided nation and for once I actually missed Afghanistan. I missed the tribal feeling, the one-mission, one-goal those men and those women had. Their connections within one another are truly admirable. It sucks knowing you will never meet the caliber of men you met at war. Never.
But I was “home”, and my “welcoming” came with a hard hit down to rock bottom. You’ll either learn to cope or you’ll kill yourself. So, I decided to immediately cease the V.A. prescribed cocktail all at once. For I knew, the next bottom that I would hit would certainly be death.
This rock bottom came hard and fast and I was alone. Quitting everything at once is something I’d never recommend to anyone. I laid in pain. Tossing and turning. Crying on the cold floor of an empty apartment. Changing my sweat-soaked clothes and shivering, vomiting and keeping my Glock 19 nearby.
I don’t know what physically pained me most, detoxing, or the darkness. I suffered in pain for fourteen days. On the fifteenth day, my ex-girlfriend brought me to the V.A. where I spoke with a therapist.
I cried to that therapist for hours and the urge of escaping came over me.
I then found myself 900 miles south and the brightness finally arrived. She saved my life.
I moved to the oceanfront city to find “myself” again, to try and fix my broken brain. This time I wasn’t alone. From meetings to working out, running the beach every morning, and learning new skills. I kept busy, but a purposeful busy.
Two years later and I still hold true to that. I am purposefully busy. I live by the values that encompass a stoic, virtuous man. I show up everyday. I value myself. I have a renewed sense of purpose. Am I perfect? Hell no. But, I continue to invest in myself. I set short-term goals and conquer them and for the first time in a long time, I have ambitions for a future. I own my time. I know that time is precious and limited.
I am sober.
I also am careless about what others think. Those “preschoolers” will never understand you. And that is okay. I have a new tribe. I created that tribe.
I’ve found that when you love your flaws and imperfections, to be completely self-reliant, and to depend on no one and especially no substance, you will create your own ‘brightness’.
If anything of what I’ve written connects with you, I challenge you to follow that path. Just fight the urge to do it alone and don’t go cold turkey, but get sober. Find a therapist and a doctor that will take you seriously, especially those that are actively finding ways to heal our TBI’s. Reach out to those that have already started that mission. You have to be on a mission to heal yourself, to heal your brain, and to heal your soul. I challenge you to find ways to build a new tribe, to have fun, to take action, to create change, and always move to actively become a better version of you.
We are leaders. Be heard, when you aren’t speaking. Be present, when you aren’t there.
-15 year Army SOF veteran and a lifelong recovering addict.
This first appeared in The Havok Journal on October 8, 2021.