I experienced many difficulties transitioning to civilian life. With uncontrollable drinking, anger issues and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the perfect storm was brewing in me every day. When my volatility finally erupted, I couldn’t understand the fear and anger on peoples’ faces. I ran the streets for a very short while but the people out there made it clear I needed to go. Even though I felt dirty and low down in my heart, I still carried myself with the dignity and honor that the military provided me. Anyplace I went, except for Afghanistan and Iraq, I felt like a fish out of water.
When I finally began reaching out for help, I kept ending up in institutions. If something triggered me, it was like being in a firefight and calling to my buddies, but it seemed that everyone I called to only responded with disgust.
I found myself in the dark place between the judicial and mental health systems. Nobody could help me. Finally, when I was hospitalized, a doctor demonstrated how I was one step away from the abyss.
I had to shrug off the judgment of others, look past the fact that I was becoming an outcast, and accept the fact that society had no hope for me. An Iraq Vet I never met before picked me up the day I was discharged from the hospital and brought me to a halfway house.
I was shocked from the experience and only felt safe with my back to the corner in a large chair in that house. I had a Bible and the book Alcoholics Anonymous. During the day I stole food (mostly popcorn) and coffee from the kitchen while the other men were at work. I was nearly paralyzed with anxiety, the prescription medication made it worse, and the coffee calmed me slightly.
Over the last three years I’ve slowly built back up. I attained Chapter 31 (Vocational Rehabilitation) to earn credentials that will empower me to show others the way up and out. But there have been a lot of dark and lonely days. I’m not kidding when I say that it was one of those dark days of discouragement that I discovered The Mission Continues. I was able to understand why the founder did what he did.
I applied for a fellowship because I knew it would give me a leg up as an institution that would key in on my military strengths. After a few months of working with a Fellowship Program Associate who was tenacious about bringing out those strengths and applying them in a challenging, unfamiliar environment, I began to realize that The Mission Continues is not only uniquely equipped to understand me, their talk about “the next greatest generation” is not rhetoric. It’s real.
I am serving my fellowship at Sulzbacher Center for the Homeless in Jacksonville, Florida. After almost five months in my fellowship I am seeing how the choices I make to stay well and productive directly impacts the people around me. I get charged from seeing the tangible results of my efforts in helping individuals and strengthening various programs and service organizations. My hope is to see these individuals turn around and help someone else, and to see these alliances among programs and service organizations continue to draw people together for the greater good.
David Daugherty served 17 years in the military. He is a Veteran of the United States Air Force, and is currently inactive in the Army National Guard.