Note: This is an archived post from J McClain on the legacy Best of Us website available at

Just like my previous post I’m going to try and explain things from a  warfighter’s perspective to kind of shine some light and give some  understanding as to what it’s like.

Substance abuse is often looked at through a very judgmental lens,  personally I use to do the same thing myself. Looking at it as a  weakness and the people who did so were to be looked down upon. That was  before I had experienced what war was like.

For the first six months of our deployment I was resilient to  the  draw of drug use but there came a point where things were just crazy,you  would sit there day after day getting shot at just waiting for the  inevitability that you were going to get shot or they might land a lucky  mortar round or 107mm rocket and that was it lights out. You kind of  just said “fuck it if I get hit I get hit! Nothing you can do to stop a  big ass explosive rocket from pasting you across the dirt and rocks”.  Mix that sentiment and realization with four hours of sleep a night and  the physical exhaustion of literally climbing a mountain every other day  and the absolute cherry on the cake the Army’s malaria drug Mefloquin.  Mefloquin was the thing that tipped it for me, it gave me nightmares  that I couldn’t discern weren’t real. I would dream about one of our  guys being killed in a taliban attack  (I’ll spare you the details  because it’s better that way)  only to wake up and see him outside the  hut we lived in brushing his teeth. You come to a place where you just  want to escape from that reality that you are living in if only for an  hour or two. I would get my hands on any and all pills I could coax out  of Doc for our various injuries and it ended up crushed up and snorted  up my nose. It wasn’t anything crazy but it gave me what I desperately  needed, the opportunity to not exist in that fucked up crazy ass  reality. I did this only a handful of times during my time in  Afghanistan but each time that I had done so it was at a really low and  terrible time that I really needed a break from. I just want to end this  portion with assurance that nothing I had done personally in this  regard effected our mission or interfered with the safety of those  around me.

Fast forward to my return home. We were all excited to be back. At  first.. I greeted my wife as if it had been an eternity since last I had  seen her (which to be fair it felt like it). We spent a good week  together before she went back home. She had moved back home for my  deployment to be around family so that had me in the barracks until I  transferred to my new duty station. Time spent in the barracks  surrounded by the men I had been at war with and lead into combat was  all I wanted. We drank and celebrated literally all day. We woke up in  the morning at 0530 and had a quick nip before PT  (Physical training).  Upon returning from PT we got dressed and all congregated in someones  room and polished off a few drinks before going down stairs to do  whatever menial paper work was required of us until our early release  for the day. After which we returned to the barracks found whoever was  sober had them drive to the on post liquor store and stocked up for the  night’s drinking. Drink we did! Me and my platoon mates would down beer  and mixed drinks then went straight out of the bottle. It was all fun  and games at first. We were celebrating, we were amazed we were still  alive. “How the fuck did we make it out of that fucking hell hole?” I  would think to myself and look around me and feel fulfilled knowing I  had my guys there with me, it was surreal seeing as how just not that  long ago we were pulling ourselves out of complex ambushes and  firefights. Things turned for the worst after we got all of the  jubilation out of our systems. We were lost , we had no purpose anymore!  Just some weeks back we were fighting a war! We were doing our jobs! We  were taking care of one another and had purpose direction and  motivation! Things got dark fast , thoughts turned to those we had to  send home broken  and those who who didn’t come home. We didn’t know  what to do about it so we drank. Every night we drank! We would  congregate in one persons room and just drink all night. Eventually we  had top go to our new duty stations after we got back from leave and  part ways with our brothers. If it hadn’t been for going to a new duty  station and getting my head back in the game and training up my new  soldiers I would have drank myself to death. One of the only things to  drag me out of it was the future prospect of returning to Afghanistan  and getting to finish what I started over there. I recently was talking  about all of this with my wife she told me taht when she went home she  was “preparing herself for me to die”. She has had history with loss in  her family and told me she thought I wasn’t going to live through all  the drinking that I did while I was living in the barrack waiting to go  to my next duty station. It puts a lot of things in context for me  hearing her say that and maybe it can give some people some perspective  on what it’s like.

Fast forward to me getting removed from my unit just before they  deploy to Afghanistan. I had been diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic  Stress Disorder) and TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury). I was devastated, I  wouldn’t be leading my soldiers I had trained up and turned into proper  Infantrymen. I started taking some pretty serious anti-psychotic  medication. So much so that I had to be prescribed adderall to help with  being functional and a second form of adderall to take specifically to  wake me up in the morning. My reality was now that of a zombie. I  literally shuffled through my days like the walking dead. Not really  present but still there all the same as far as I could tell. I slept a  lot it was my go to activity with the pills I was on regardless of the  adderall I was on. almost 7 months after m guys had left for Afghanistan  I shuffled through the doors of the convenience store on post to get a  coffee I looked down at the post news paper. There was a picture of a  soldier on the cover , it was a friend I knew who I had gone to my first  unit with and spent my earliest days in the Army with. The headline  read “Duke Brigade Soldier KIA from IED attack”. The following week I  found out one of m soldiers I had trained from his first day’s in my  company was KIA as well. I spiraled down further than I had ever been  before. At a friends get together he would have every so often I would  drink myself to the points of completely crashing and breaking down,  sometimes with violent outbursts sometimes just becoming a muttering  mess. I had extra adderall and I started crushing it up and snorting it  all the time. It made me feel something other than the terrible guilt  for not being there for m soldiers. At that point in time I would have  done anything not to feel that anymore. Drugs or alcohol it didn’t  matter all I wanted was to not feel the terrible existence that I was  trapped in. I pushed my wife away and almost tried to divorce her. I had  never even dealt with the stuff I had brought home with me from  Afghanistan it just all piled up and left me drowning  in a sea of  misery that I thought I would never be able to pull myself out of.

Eventually I retired from the Army and moved home. I stopped all the  pills they tried to prescribe me and drank little to nothing at all as  far as alcohol goes. I eat better and exercise and take only vitamins  now. But once upon a time I knew what it was like to reach for drugs and  alcohol to not feel anymore. Now I know better that people go through  their own trials. Veterans are still suffering out there and turning to  drugs and alcohol, and dying because of it. One of my soldiers from my  fire team in Afghanistan turned to drugs and alcohol and in March he  overdosed trying to escape his life of living with PTSD. His name was Christopher Branscom and he was my brother. He is an integral part of  any and all good memories I carry with me from my time in Afghanistan.

Branscum ntc

I hope this can give you a picture of the realities of what post  traumatic stress disorder can lead people to do to escape the realities  of dealing with it. If you or someone you know is self medicating with  drugs or alcohol to escape the realities of living with Post Traumatic  Stress Disorder please please encourage them to get help dealing with  their problems. – a great resource for getting free psychiatric help for Veterans

Contact me if you need other resources for getting a Veteran the help they need email me at