On May 28th, 2014 Stop Soldier Suicide (SSS) will be hosting its 2nd Annual “Night for Life” fund-raising and awareness event aboard the USS Intrepid in Manhattan. The name of the organization says it all. It is a very harsh reality that after one of the nation’s most unique and longest armed conflicts, we are losing more Service members and Veterans to suicide than to combat – SSS claims that to be at the rate of 22 Service members and Veterans per day! Needless to say, that is an astonishing number – but after spending more time than I’d like to admit to thinking about it, I feel like I unfortunately understand.
I’d like to reference something from my 2013 in Review Article posted here at LifebyDamien:
In the year that ensued I began to realize my greatest, most debilitating fear yet: At 28 years old, I have already lived through the most rewarding, fulfilling, and greatest part of my life. Now what? … realize[d] that MANY Military Veterans have feared the same after beginning their transition back into civilian life.
I’ve been separated from the Marine Corps, physically, for nearly 2 years now – after being a Marine for nearly 10 years. I spent ages 18-28, critical development years (per insurance company actuaries and doctoral studies, the male brain doesn’t complete its development in reason and rational ability until the age of 25). During that time I was exposed to a “normal” that nobody other than Vets will understand… and I’m not talking about combat. I’m talking about love and companionship.
I’ve noticed that I’ve become a huge baby since leaving the Marine Corps – when I see heroic acts on TV, or examples of highly cohesive teams on Prime Time drama – I get mushy. Seriously, NCIS, Hawaii Five-O, Band of Brothers, etc… it’s not because of the psychological trauma the characters are exposed to – but because I see the unspeakable bond that can’t be put into words – and I miss it. I miss it dearly. I look back and from the outside, realize that the way we showed our appreciation for the sacrifices we made for each other were rather arrogant. It was as if unspeakable sacrifice was not just the expectation – but deserved. In the moment, the appropriate response to someone saving your life – or giving you the last canteen of water in the desert was “told you this was a bad idea – now what”. Or “Thanks, I would have been fine anyways”.
That’s because it IS expected – because the bond, the love, the camaraderie was so thick and inclusive that anything less would be disrespectful! I was so incredibly naive to realize my “normal” was the exception. Service members get out of the military – and that camaraderie is gone. We realize that our coworkers don’t care if you have to work late – they have their own plans. The new normal of compassion is “Oh man, I’m sorry to hear that – I hope everything goes well” and 5 minutes later they are on and about their business. People are afraid to ask for a ride from the one person in the group who has a car.
How do you go from a culture that is so incredibly cohesive, so incredibly driven by camaraderie, that lives by the idea that your primary responsibility is the mission, and the well-being of everyone else OTHER than you – to a culture where meeting once a week for a beer is the norm for “best friends”? This isn’t PTSD, this isn’t TBI, this – is depression. This is isolation. Have you ever felt alone everywhere you went – regardless of who is around you?
Now, take that isolated, beaten down feeling and add it to the thought that you have already lived through the most rewarding part of your life. Add that, to the memories of experiences you can’t stop reliving but won’t verbalize because you wouldn’t wish the visual on anyone you care about – or anyone with a pulse. I might say “add” but the effect is compounding, exponential – and enough to convince 22 people a day that their life is better left – behind them.
I don’t ask you to truly feel and comprehend what I am writing about – but I ask you to recognize that there are many out there who do. Stop Solider Suicide is one organization trying to take the number “22” and instead say, “Not today”.
As I write this – I fight, to not repeatedly look at the single picture on my desk… it is not of my wife, my kids or my dog… it is of me standing beside one of the best friends I ever had; who felt life was better left behind him. RIP Charles B Lock, or as my son knew him as “Uncle Charlie” 19 Jun 1985 – 9 March 2009.