Editor’s note: This blog is cross-posted from mentalhealth.gov. Find the original post here.
What does being a Veteran mean to me?
It brings me a great sense of pride and accomplishment unlike nothing before. When that initial “calling” reached out to me – someone who wanted to serve his country – my reaction was one of uncertainty. That feeling of facing the unknown, of, “What you have gotten yourself into?” was with me while on the quiet bus ride late at night heading to boot camp.
As a Marine you learn to function as part of a team under strenuous conditions, some you wonder if they would make it through, and very few men and women I have talked to want to forget what they have experienced while in the military, no matter what it was.
But post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can stem from any number of difficult experiences that come with serving in a conflict zone or other hazardous situation: trauma, rape, murder, stress; all things most don’t want to discuss.
When you experience traumatic situations, it’s hard to bring those feelings home and discuss them with others because you feel like your friends and family just don’t get it.
In October of 1979 while my unit was taking part in in cold weather training at the base of Mt. Fuji, Japan, a terrible typhoon struck our base. A flash flood resulting from the typhoon came down the mountain toward the 5,000-gallon bladders of jet fuel stored above our camp. One of the bladders burst and the fuel was carried into our camp on the water. It ignited, forming a wall of fire which spread to our Quonset hut quarters. Thirteen brave Marines were killed in the fire, and many others were seriously injured.
I was one of the lucky Veterans to have survived serious injury, but the unseen scars caused havoc on my life in the form of nightmares and alcohol abuse.
After many years of trying to deal with these problems a friend suggested I seek professional help via the Department of Veterans Affairs’ health care system and private therapy. I also attended a 12-step program which has greatly helped me in building a sober support network, and motivated me to get involved with and to help others.
I am now a credentialed substance abuse counselor, helping Veterans living with traumatic brain injury and PTSD, and their families. I also conduct peer-to-peer support with individual Veterans.
Today, Veteran Treatment Courts are available to help Veterans deal with mental health problems or substance use disorders. This program gives me the opportunity to work as a mentor for Veterans who may be in trouble with the law or have struggles with their mental health. In this role, I also provide support to Veterans in the program – a shoulder to lean on, and someone to explain what type of help is available.
Talking about mental health problems with another Veteran can be very helpful in the recovery process.
Helping others who went through the same things I did, helps my mental state, and it feels great. Staying focused on and in recovery, staying connected and living in the solution keeps me moving forward.
I still have bad days, but I now know that help is always there; I just have to ask for it! Nothing changes if I don’t change.
Move a muscle, change a thought, and try not to wallow in the pain each and every day. Think about all of the great things in your life, not the things you don’t have. And if you need help, reach out to a trusted friend, family member or colleague.
If I had to do it all over again, I would still serve my country. The only change would be to immediately seek help and ask for it when I needed it.
As a Veteran in recovery, I encourage you and your loved ones to seek out professional help when thoughts of hopelessness arise.
Tim Gang is a former U.S. Marine and disabled veteran, working today as an addictions therapist.