raiderAfter 14 years of military action in the Middle East, there is no shortage of men and women who have seen the evils of war. Combat veterans come home from their tours with an altered perception of life and, with that, often an altered personality. Life seems much less exciting, we long for the camaraderie that accompanies war, we long for a purpose much larger than ourselves, and we can’t find much at all in the civilian world that even remotely compares to the accomplishments we made in war. As a combat veteran, I honestly can say, I loved many aspects of war, but the loss of brothers, the hardships endured, and the actions that I took part in are what changed the core of my being, and what led to my downfall.

When I got out of the Marine Corps, like so many others, I felt no purpose anymore. My “family”was gone, some had died along the way, and I was lost and alone. Combat veterans are a proud group of people, and we feel that we can handle any issues that life throws at us by ourselves. I began to self medicate with alcohol to silence my demons, and many of you reading this have done the same. After some time, alcohol wasn’t enough and I began to use harder drugs, constantly chasing both that “high” of combat, while trying to silence the darkness inside of me that the evils of combat had created. While I was high, the past didn’t bother me, I could sleep, I was “normal”, but when I came down, the demons returned. I drew further into myself, my depression deepened, and I walled myself off into my own quiet hell. I voluntarily cut people out of my life, because I felt unworthy of love, of relationships, of being happy, of being “myself” again…

This is the darkest place a veteran can be, and it’s the finest of lines between holding it together and choosing to end it all. At that point in my life, my addiction kept me alive, the purpose of me waking each morning was to drink and to use. I was dead in every other aspect of my life, except for my addiction, and I had created a life for myself with literally no purpose at all. Many veterans have been where I was, and some who are reading this are there right now. Be honest with yourself, do you drink to quiet your demons? Do you use drugs to push out the sadness and depression? It doesn’t work, we never find the closure we’re looking for, and these actions only lead to deeper misery and hopelessness.

My saving grace was right in front of me; my military family who I had abandoned because I “could handle it on my own” had not abandoned me. All I had to do was reach out, and soon the pain I had stubbornly endured alone was a shared burden by all of my family. I didn’t have to find comfort in a bottle, pill, or bag. I found comfort in restored camaraderie and a renewed sense of belonging. Although separated by miles and miles, my family was a phone call or a few keystrokes away. Little by little, my need to escape reality dissolved. I was home and I was not alone.

I share my story with the hope that others can realize it isn’t weakness to admit you are hurting to your military family. The weakest thing we can do, as proud veterans, is to crawl inside our shell and wait for our addictions to overtake us. We never went outside the wire alone, there is no need towrestle our demons alone either. We live in a day and age when we are more connected to people around the world than ever before. There is no excuse for battling depression and addiction alone anymore. All veterans are family, and when one is struggling we can band together to help them make it through. It’s easier to defeat any enemy with superior numbers, even the psychological enemies we battle within ourselves long after we have left the combat zone. We are veterans. None of us are alone, ever.

Never above you, never below you, always beside you.