Afghanistan is finally winding down and for most of our military this means less awareness and support from the US populace. Financial support from the government and from support organizations will most likely decrease without the war in the spot light. A growing problem is already raising high concerns with the military about our veterans who return from war and this will continue long after our troops all return. Military suicides are killing more of our brave men and women then combat. Our veterans return from war only to be so overwhelmed by what they have experienced and the adjustment back to civilian life or the old routine, that they take their own life.
When I returned from Afghanistan in December of 2009, I was so thankful to be back in the United States and to hold my wife and two daughters. I had already being dealing with emotions that were new to me and that I didn't understand. Depression, insomnia, anxiety and intense anger were consuming me and I felt out of control. I assumed now that I was back in a controlled environment surrounded by my loved ones my problems would go away. Life for me would return to how it was before my deployment when I was the funny NCO (non-commissioned officer) with a smile always on my face. Instead I was destroying property in my house, punching holes in the wall and scaring my children. I was angry that I couldn't sleep and when I did I had nightmares and would wake up screaming, punching and kicking into the air.
I saw many other veterans with serious physical injuries. Many who had lost a limb or were recovering from horrible burns, with shrapnel still in their bodies. I couldn't understand why I was having any problems. I had no scars or wounds that needed to heal. I was safe with the people I missed the most. Yet all I could do all day and night was think about Afghanistan. I shut down as a husband and partner to my wife, I wasn't spending any quality time with my children. I wasn't a social, fun person to be around anymore and avoided even my closest friends. I thought I was masking my emotions well, but was asked frequently, "What's wrong?" or "You okay?"
It got so overwhelming I decided to drink a twelve pack of beer and overdose on my depression, anxiety and insomnia prescription drugs. My rational thinking was gone and I saw this as a resolution to a problem I didn't have any answers for. My wife didn't know I took all the meds and just thought I drank too much. She stayed up all night because she thought several times I stopped breathing and would all of a sudden gasping for air. Two weeks later, I drank again and didn't want to leave it to chance with the prescription drugs. I got my 45 caliber pistol out and held it to my head. I cried in front of my wife and youngest daughter yelling to them I was going to kill myself. My wife took my daughter into our bathroom and locked the door.
I had a brother-in-law living in my basement at the time and he had heard enough. He came up to me and said "give me the gun." I didn't resist and gave it to him. I passed out and woke up the next day with foggy memories about what happened. My wife was already sitting on the couch crying. My girls were at her mother's. As much as she wanted to support me during this difficult time, her motherly instincts to protect our children were stronger. She told me, I can't have them around that anymore. If you drink again, I'm leaving with the children. I cried too, not knowing how I went from being a sharp leader, to an out of control alcoholic who was scaring the very ones, I was supposed to make feel safe. The ones whom I loved the most were hurting because I wasn't getting help.
I finally started getting some counseling and I got a wake-up call. My counselor said, "Suicide can be contagious in families. If you killed yourself, it is more likely that one of your daughters would contemplate suicide if they ever encountered something overwhelming in their lives." I couldn't bear the thought of my girls even considering the thought. I made a vow to myself to keep getting help, try different meds and try anything that might ease my pain. With time and diligence I slowly got better and returned to the father and husband I was before. I still had thoughts of suicide from time to time, but would remind myself about what my counselor had said. I couldn't go through with it for my daughter's sake. I turned the tide and now speak across the US to military and mental health providers about overcoming PTSD and suicidal ideation. I'm in control of myself and I'm enjoying my family again, spending quality time with them like before.
This post is part of a special Huffington Post series, "Invisible Casualties," in which we shine a spotlight on suicide-prevention efforts within the military. Every weekday in September, we'll feature a different blog post by someone who is either an expert in the field, who has been affected by a suicide, or who has contemplated suicide. To see all the posts in the series, as well as original reporting, audio and video, click here
If you or someone you know would like to contribute to our series, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
And please, if you or someone you know needs help, call the national crisis line for the military and veterans, 1-800-273-8255, or send a text to 838255.