WILL ROGERS AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Okla. --
Life happens. At least that’s what people like to say about down times. Grief, anxiety, depression, anger; all symptoms of “life” when things seem to go downhill. What happens when it becomes too much, when your vehicle of life coasts downhill so fast that the brakes are just burnt out? Where is your break, so to speak? Where is that point in the road that evens out? Flip a u-turn and trudge back up the hill and try again, keep moving forward in hopes of a stopping point, or just give up and let that life engine explode and you’re just another scrap to be thrown away and forgotten? Each point seems so extreme. But, each one of those points leads to somewhere. It’s just which route you are willing to take to get there.
My road started early in life. I learned to take the wheel at a very early age. Some like to call this the childhood trauma that leads to the long-term effects of a broken adulthood. Twisting down paths of some great times and sometimes driving ahead blindly in hopes of finding that sunrise over the hill. Adolescent roads full of speed bumps, traffic warnings and violations, minor dings and head-on collisions all leading to the rocky road of adulthood where that adolescent road seemed like a joyride in the long run. Sure there are some amazing journeys taken, great memories made and people met along the way. But that ugly, beat-up vehicle is still there — those dings and damages glaring back at me every day. I can’t stare them out. Painting over them seemed like a great idea. Paint on that smile, act like it’s not there, no one will notice. Eventually that paint cracks and then I’m back staring at the ugly, worn-out heap again.
At this point in my life I was trudging back up the hill in hopes of a start-over down a less bumpy hill, still holding my breath at every bump that my heap didn’t fall apart. The loom of impending divorce, dealing with the grief of untimely deaths of close family members, the stresses of work, the self-criticism of parenthood, and the ever constant thoughts of “Why me?”, “Why can’t one thing just go my way?”, “I’m just not good enough.” Maybe if I drown out the noise of the engine and the ugliness that I have to look at every day, I won’t have to feel so bad. Here is where the substance abuse begins. The first roads are great! Coasting in neutral. Neutral and numb. Numb and dumb is what I would eventually find out during my journey. Life can go on a long time like this, I discovered. More bumpy roads, minor dings, and head-on collisions of course, but none of that mattered as long as the numbness was there. I could tackle any hill, any accident, and any violation that came along. Or so I thought.
My turning point came about six months ago. A road that started early and the hits just kept piling up and piling up. The never-ending road of self-destruction. Broken with grief, riddled with anxiety, controlled with substance abuse and inner turmoil, I was staring down the bottle and headed toward a deadly collision that I couldn’t numb, paint, or talk my way out of. I had lost all control. In our military careers it is engrained in us; awareness, awareness, awareness, resources, hotlines. The endless boring classes that are left with a box checked and a trifold or card of some sort to be lost in your desk, in your gear, or the back of your notebook. The ole line “this doesn’t pertain to me”, “I would NEVER let it get that far”, or “yep, that’s a sure fire career ender”. That last statement is all I could think about wanting to reach out for help, but knowing with that even more sinking feeling that the rumors, the stigmas, and the black cloud of ending a career that I have worked hard to maintain would be over if I reached out for the help they so willingly seemed to want to give. Wasn’t it easier to just end it all? Put myself out of the misery of keeping up the maintenance of an engine ready to explode, or face the humiliation of everyone knowing I’m a failure at life and just couldn’t handle my life. Two full bottles pleading with me to end it all and just go to sleep. Or facing the consequences of reaching out.
I had my hands on the wheel. Swerve right and drive off the cliff, never to be seen again, or coast around that corner to help, maintenance, and the small undamaged scrap of faith that I had left that maybe it could all be ok. Well, now as I am writing this you know what path I chose. That awareness engrained in me by the career I still maintain has SAVED MY LIFE. The outpouring of support I received by just making a phone call and turning to the very people that have made the same moral oath I have to protect and defend our brothers and sisters in arms has led me to an even, smoother path. I now am behind the wheel of a new life vehicle on a newly paved road to recovery. I am now a driving testimony for a system of support that works. It really works. I now have the tools I need to make it up any hill, through inclement weather, and even collisions in my life course. The end of your road can start with a new road to travel. In this fight of life we all have the wheel. You just have to follow the map provided.