by Tyler J. Britton
Life is a gift.
I won’t play the victim. I’m not a victim.
But it would be easy to act like one: my body, my mind, my spirit have been crushed for some time. It would be easy to be bitter and angry about Afghanistan. What have we accomplished there? Why are we still there? Hell, sometimes I am bitter and angry about Afghanistan.
More so, I should be ecstatic to be home. But I’m not. Every day is a challenge. To believe. To have hope. To see how far I’ve come. I should be proud of the things I’ve accomplished. But I can’t feel it. I was conditioned not to feel. It’s how I survived and did my job. And now, feeling that pride, that joy, is nearly impossible.
While I struggle to feel nearly anything, I can almost always feel hope. Maybe it’s just a belief in hope. I hope that someday I’ll finally be free from the ups and downs. I hope that someday I’ll feel everything again. I hope that I’ll find freedom from the pain, the shame, and complications of my past.
I get it: it’s not easy to talk about mental health, PTSD, moral injury, shame, guilt, trauma [insert what ails you]. It’s even harder to admit that it dominates your headspace. But you have to start somewhere. So here I am. Striving towards more.
Understand, no one single thing will fix you; there isn’t a magic pill. It requires work, hard work. But that hard work will pay off; even if it takes years. Each of these pieces has helped me to start filling in the puzzle:
- Therapy: I’ve spent countless hours in therapy, processing through my experiences that morphed me. I started journaling to help me remember the ups and downs and remember how far I’ve come. I’ve been through private practice therapy, VA counseling, and am currently utilizing the Vet Center. All to say, find a therapist that you like; there’s no shame in trying a few out.
- Gratitude: I changed my perspective: I started reflecting on what was right with my life instead of how it wasn’t as I imagined. Sit down in a quiet place and write out everything that is good in your life.
- Solitude: I’ve spent more time in nature, forcing me to be with my own thoughts.
- Avoidance: I quit numbing myself to the world with social media, work, and sex. Not to say these things are unhealthy but using them as band-aids for your past traumas definitely are.
- Companion: I got a dog who I’ve poured my heart and soul into. He was the single best investment I’ve made in my life.
- The admission that I can’t do it alone: I asked for help and allowed others to help me. It helped me to believe that I am worthy of help in life.
- Human: I believed that I’m not broken, merely human, and I didn’t need to be fixed.
I won’t lie, each day is different, with its own set of unique challenges. Some days are better than others. But we can’t go through these moments alone. Get help, brothers, and sisters, because there is hope. And if you know of someone who needs help, push them to take new ground. Challenge them. Check-in on them. Be their hope.
I’ve realized I’m more than my past, my DD-214, my mistakes, and my failures. I’m choosing hope and believing better days are ahead. Days filled with joys I can’t yet fathom.
Life is a gift.
Tyler served active duty Air Force for more than eight years. 3 tours to Afghanistan as part of a Critical Care Air Transport Team (CCATT) as a respiratory therapist. Separated honorably as a Tech Sergeant. Flew 90+ missions and over 150 critically injured soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, coalition troops, local nationals, detainees – you name it.
This first appeared in The Havok Journal on March 28, 2021.