Veteran suicide, 22 a day, PTSD, etc., aside from being blanket terms thrown out to cover anyone with a hint of struggle after their enlistment, these words don’t truly tell us anything about the why. Ignoring the arbitrary terms and how ridiculous it is to have an arbitrary number repeated dogmatically like it’s gospel, I’d like to examine a possible reason for the why. There can be many reasons why, and I’m not discounting the reality of PTSD and that it does cause some to choose to quit on life. Nor am I defending suicide, I truly believe it is never the right answer and I am sick of veterans romanticizing the news of someone they knew choosing it by saying they “lost to their demons,” and other such bullshit.
I grew up knowing I was going to be in the military, knowing I wanted to be in the infantry and to fight. I don’t know when it started, my Dad was in the Navy as a submariner, but we weren’t really a hardcore military family. I just always knew that after high-school the military was where I was headed. I even believed I was going to be a lifer, because the dream was to be a warrior and where else can one be a warrior but in the military? Six years and three deployments later and I was burned out and looking for something else. I didn’t really look to ending my enlistment as “gaining my freedom” as so many call it.
I found that getting out and attending college left a gaping emptiness, more than just a loss of purpose, to life. It wasn’t the separation from the military that relentlessly left me feeling empty. It wasn’t the immediate loss of my friends because on a six year contract you face that at four years when all of your closest friends get out. I was also rooming with my best friend in Florida, who had left me two years prior when his contract was up and I will never stop giving him grief for that. What I finally realized what it was, I still couldn’t accept it.
It’s the death of the dream, the dream of being a warrior, someone dedicated to a hard life of combat and physical action and adrenaline. The idealistic image I’d held onto for so long growing up, believing I would be fighting the bad guys with other Marines with elite training and superior tactics and weapons, that image was quickly tainted by the failings of what the military truly is. Without focusing on the lack of proper equipment and training, ignoring that I spent more time running around yelling “Pew Pew” than I did firing actual live rounds, ignoring the many failings of military leadership, it’s the failure of reality to live up to the dream that cuts the deepest. While we continue to laugh it off while in, making jokes and just learning to deal with the BS and roll on laughing at how much more misery we will endure, hope in the dream never fully dies because you are still a part of that dream. You’re still “in,” you’re making it work and there’s still a chance the fight and honor you expected will show itself so you continue to lie to yourself with hope.
When your enlistment ends that final bit of hope dies and a big part of who you are, or thought you would be, dies with it. That’s a pretty tough truth to accept, and honestly I’m not sure I’ve fully accepted the dream is dead. The problem is there are many that feel the death of the dream is the death of hope for any purpose in life. You spend your life growing up to pursue the dream of being a warfighter, a warrior, whatever term you prefer, and you spent years in the military with that dream still being the focus of your life. Getting out, accepting that dream is dead, that sucks. What makes it worse is that pursuing a new goal, finding a new dream, means you need to put the final nail in the coffin of your old dream. I have a lot of very successful friends, guys that got out and pursued an education, another dream job, or found a way to renew the old dream in Law Enforcement, Fire/Rescue, EMS, anything that gave life back to the dying dream.
I’ve also lost track of the number of guys that couldn’t accept the reality of losing that dream and decided to make a permanent end to everything. I’m not condoning that, but I wanted to put into words what it took me so long to realize hoping it helps others realize why things in the “real world” have become so empty. The dream can die, and that will hurt for a long time, it might never stop being an open wound, but there are new dreams. Our founder created a shirt with the phrase “There are good, secret things in this world.” I truly believe that, there is so much more in life than that one dream, the only reason it seems like there isn’t is because finding a new dream requires effort, it requires dedication and sacrifice to find those good, dark secrets. If you’re feeling lost because your dream has died I hope this helps show that you’re not alone in that loss, but I hope too that it inspires you to work towards a new dream, a better one that you can actually achieve.
I want to close this out by again stating that while I don’t believe suicide is ever the right answer, I can understand that sometimes it might seem like the only option. A lot articles written on this topic usually include something where the writer offers for anyone feeling that way to contact that, but I think there’s a bit of ignorance in that offer. Suicide seems like an option because it doesn’t feel like you can reach out to me. Don’t wait for someone else to reach out to you, reach out to your friends, it’ll mean far more than some stranger typing away on his laptop offering an ear. Connect with the guys you lived with seven days a week, the guys that dealt with the cancer water and black mold of Camp Lejuene, the guys that made you laugh amid the misery of 29 Palms and deployment, and whatever other miseries you other branches encounter. Those guys that you were so close with for so many years, there’s a good chance they miss your friendship just as much as you miss theirs. Call them, laugh about the old days and find ways to inspire life into new dreams.
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