Note: This is an archived post from J McClain on the legacy Best of Us website available at https://bestofuscommunity.wordpress.com/
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.
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.
http://www.giveanhour.org/ – 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 Vestin112@yahoo.com