ARMY, NATIONAL GUARD
My name is Shannon and I have PTSD, but I’m okay. It hasn’t always been this way. I deployed to Iraq in 2004, strong, confident, and ready to fulfill my obligations to the Louisiana Army National Guard. I left my home, my family, and my expecting wife, completely willing to do whatever it took to bring my guys home safely.
After a year of running combat patrols, mainly on the outskirts of Baghdad, and bearing witness to things that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, I made it home. Miraculously, we had all survived and were all in one piece, or so it seemed. Little did I know at the time that coming home was half the battle. We came home in the midst of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. In the chaos that ensued, there was little to no time to reintegrate back into civilian life. When the dust cleared, I immediately returned back to work. With bills to pay and a new family to support, there was simply no other option. Between work, my wife, and a new baby that barely knew me, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I wasn’t ok. I was stressed. My anger was out of control and my drinking habits were at an all-time high. Although I knew that there was a problem, I pushed on. I was drinking heavily, my marriage was a wreck, and despite the fact that they lived in the same house, my children barely knew me. I was on autopilot, a ghost, a mere shadow of the man that I once was. In June of 2014, after struggling for many years, I finally reached my breaking point.
It was then that I realized that I had two options: get better or die. In hindsight, choosing hope over following through with the suicide note that I carried in my pocket, was in fact the best option.
I walked into Camp Hope on the morning of June 3rd and I won’t lie, I was nervous. However, the minute I began hearing the stories of recovery from the guys there, I knew that I was exactly where I needed to be, and I knew exactly what I needed to do; Shut up and listen.
It is never easy to swallow one’s pride and admit that your way just isn’t working, but that is exactly what I had to do. I had to change my way of thinking. The road was rough. I had to go to places in my head that I didn’t care to go. The process was made easier thanks to the caring staff’s invaluable advice, coupled with the brutal honesty of the program. In the 3 months that I spent there I found that I had not only begun to heal but that I had formed lifelong bonds with staff and residents alike.
Through my hard times I learned to open up and actually allow myself to depend on other people. They never failed me. I realize that we are all still at war, in our hearts, and in our minds. In our own way, we are all still outside the wire, and, as any soldier can tell you, it’s not somewhere that you want to be on your own. Much like our deployments, we have to depend on one another. By ourselves the chances aren’t nearly as good, but with a bond that can only be experienced between soldiers there is nothing that can’t be accomplished. I’m living proof. Since joining the program my life has done a complete 180 degree turn. My finances have more than doubled, my credit is better than ever, and my relationship with my family is improving daily. My spiritual walk is sound and as of October 3rd I will have achieved four months of continuous sobriety. The depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide are a thing of the past. Do I still struggle? Of course I do. Still yet, I wouldn’t trade my worst days now, for my best days then.
I thank God every day for leading me to The PTSD Foundation of America | Camp Hope and for those who went above and beyond to bring me out of the darkness.
For those who are struggling, feeling like there is no hope, I can say only this: I have been there. I had all but given up on life. However, there is hope. There is healing, and it does get better. Find those things that are important to you. Find those things that are worth fighting for, and do what soldiers do: Fight. Fight for those who love you. Fight for those who depend on you. Fight for the day when you too can say; I have PTSD, but I’m ok.