Month: April 2015

G.I. Jane

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One of the first missions I went on. We were surround by children. 

With all the news stories covering women in combat, my life, the one I left, has come to the forefront of my thoughts. I can’t open my social media news feeds without the trending stories: women in ranger school, “Ashley’s War”, the real G.I Janes, etc. I look at the pictures and a part of me smiles with pride at these girls I personally know and empathize with. They are strong and amazingly capable, their stories deserve to be told. I am proud of all of them.Yet, as much as I want to support the excellent news coverage, I want to crawl back into bed and stay there. I want to hide from the world and make it go away, pretend it doesn’t exist.

This is because of the mental, emotional and physical toll the military took on me. I remember when I decided to join the military. I was 18 and dating a former infantrymen. He wove stories together of adventure and intrigue. I fell in love and jumped into the Army with both feet. I was motivated and enthralled with being the best. I didn’t only want to be competitive, I wanted beat the guys; and I did. I graduated college as a Distinguished Military Graduate. I branched Engineer as a 21-year-old. I conquered the Sapper Leaders Course where I was the 23rd female to graduate (in Oct 2008) since the course had been opened to females in 1999. At the time, I had no idea how many females had made it through. I thought a more had and my accomplishment was nothing unique. All I cared about was the training and learning about myself. That is what the school did more than anything; it taught me about myself. I learned I hated the cold. In fact I am not a nice person when I become cold, I can’t sleep, I won’t eat, all I care about is getting warm. I thought about quitting and learned to rely on others to keep me motivated when I wanted to quit, because they all want to quit. I learned to keep walking when tears would slowly roll down my cheeks at my self-doubt. In the end I learned I was capable of doing much more than I previously thought.

When I got to my unit, I deployed to Iraq. I was shoved into the military intelligence section for the entire deployment. I was frustrated. I didn’t understand how I was the only lieutenant who could be stuck in an office job for the entire deployment. What bothered me more is I was the only Sapper-qualified lieutenant. This meant if you took away gender, I was the only qualified  junior officer to lead Soldiers in a Sapper unit. Alas, I was the only one they refused the position. With frustration, I kept my head up. I worked hard even though I was constantly being shoved into positions I didn’t want. My motivation would waiver and I would keep thinking to myself one day I will have the job I want. One day I will be in the fight. This would have been fine and I would have continued to manage, but my home life exploded.

My spouse died and it left me in a tough spot. Mentally and emotionally I was bleeding. Physically I had lost weight. I was a mess financially as I struggled to pay off the debts in his name without life insurance. I felt alone and miserable. With the military as my job, there was no time for me to heal. No opportunity to move home and deal with the events that had destroyed me. Instead I was stuck in a place rendering me with minimal support and a lot of emotional pain. I began a downward spiral. I started drinking heavily, having inappropriate relationships, demonstrating risky behavior. I was trying to deal with the pain in my heart the best I could, given my circumstances. The connection between the military and my spouse was so strong, it had been a huge determiner in our relationship. To move on with my life I needed to get away from the military. I needed a change, yet I was stuck in a job I didn’t have the heart for anymore. The person I was when the adventure started didn’t exist anymore.

Yet, when the opportunity arose, less than a year after my spouse died, to leave and deploy I saw it as a solution to my problems. I could leave the place we had created memories and I could save money. I was using it as an escape. The deployment offered the excitement I had initially expected from the military. It was a great opportunity for me to try to be my old self. The deployment was with special operations. The best of the best. When I went to the selection course, I wasn’t nervous. I knew I was capable; I knew I would succeed. The selection was easy compared to Sapper School. The girls were motivated and impressive, I put my head down and tried to focus. I made it though and learned I would deploy to Herat, Afghanistan, with a Special Operations Team.

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Me and the other girls in my squad during the Selection course for CST 2

From the beginning my partner and I didn’t get along. I spent so much time trying to reconcile our relationship, I didn’t put the requisite amount of time into the mission. However, our location was relatively safe with little to no combat activity while we were there. I usually describe my deployment as rainbows and unicorns, hugs and kisses. We spent the time talking to the women of the different villages, learning their culture, working in a medical clinic, and supporting the local schools. Still, I was on the front line, in the villages, pulling security, doing what the guys do. The most memorable experience I have was creating a soccer league with the children. They would line up daily to be scanned for any type of weapon before being allowed to play soccer for an hour each day. The beauty of a little Afghan girl playing soccer with a huge smile on her face will forever be planted in my memory.

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Picture of an Afghan girl that would come to our base to play soccer.

Why then,  if I have such beautiful memories do I cringe at reliving my military career; having to remember losing a comrade; dealing with the political push for women on the front lines? It was exhausting. Perhaps it took its toll on me because I never had the time to heal from the loss of my spouse. But outside my loss, the emotional, mental, and physical fight that is fought by each one of these women is something few will ever know. Physically, some women can keep up, in fact, some women can beat a lot of men. The stress of being in danger takes a toll, yet this is the same physical toll men have to suffer through. Mentally, it is a whole different ball game. As a female you are expected to perform better, faster, smarter, and more professionally. If you don’t then you are considered the weak link. Emotionally, women will always be the outsider, women will never be “one of the guys.” Women are always on the receiving end of the guys betting of who can sleep with her first. Emotionally on these deployments women are isolated. To be taken seriously and maintain a state of professionalism, all walls have to stay up. A state of constant defense is created. Then, when another female does something to fit the “female stereotype” the pressure to perform better increases, because everyone is waiting for your moment of weakness to show you will fail too.

By the time I was done with my deployment I was looking forward to coming back to the states for some stability to heal, yet right when I got back I was jerked to a new location, then another. Constantly on the move. Constantly on the defensive. Constantly being watched for a mistake and failure. This crushed me. I needed time to recover, to heal, to process, instead I was greeted with contempt and hatred for being a professional women who just wanted to do her job. The memories make me defensive and physically ill so my only solution is to pretend they don’t exist. To stop acknowledging my past. I try to stay away from it so I can breath, yet some days the memories catch up to me. I hope one day when they do I’ll be able to smile with pride. It’s hard to balance what I need to be healthy and wanting to show my support for the strong women who are still in the fight. They are much stronger than I am and I am proud of each of their accomplishments.

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The women of CST 2 at graduation. In memory of 1LT Ashley White.

The Alcoholic Cheater

Jameson

In the despair of my situation I stare down the bottle of whiskey. It’s almost gone and with it everything else. One more drink and it will all be gone. Everything. I won’t think and, more importantly, I won’t feel. To take away the responsibility of my actions. God, my actions. Everytime I think back, the shame steals my breath, steals my soul. I tip the bottle back and drink.

It’s a dream, the bliss of ignorance. I thought I was happy. I’d done everything a small Christian society dictated. I’d dated the same girl since I was 14. A childhood romance that bloomed into a marriage and a child. I started college. I did everything that I was suppose to do that makes people happy. It was the American Dream; love, family, education, a decent job. There were tiny moments when I was happy but then there would be a glance. I couldn’t put my finger on what I saw in that glance, but eventually I started to make small changes to see what the glance could show me. Then it exploded.

They say the truth shall set you free. In a way it does, it removes us from web of lies we have entangled ourselves in, but it can leave us in shambles with nothing but pieces to pick up. In my case I was left with nothing but pieces; with them, I am still trying to create a new life. It started after I got married and had a child; the deceit of lies began to grow. I realized my young wife and I had nothing in common, other than our son and long history of being together. I would start to find excuses as to why I needed to spend time away. I spent the majority of my days with my friends working or smoking pot. As long as I provided for my family, I was allowed to do whatever I pleased. I started hiding simple things about what I was doing; then bigger things like finances. We were crashing into insurmountable debt, but I had a job and was providing. That is until the job market crashed and I was out of work. With the pressure of providing for my family and the relationship with my wife becoming more and more distant, I found her best friend to confide in. We talked about everything without the stress and reality of my marriage. Hiding from my relationship I saw a commercial for the Army. Instead of talking it through with my wife, I made the decision that I was going to join. It provided another place to run away from reality and also improve the financial situation I was still hiding.

In a way the decision to join the Army made me feel like I was finally back in control of my own life. I could make my own decisions and be happy. It made me feel successful and capable. It breathed life back into me. It was me and me alone. However, it also created new stressors of an unknown future. I didn’t know where I would be living or if I was going to deploy. With the unknown in front of me I took “leave” and went home for a couple of weeks to spend time with my family. The time with my family turned into a relationship and sexual episodes with my wife’s best friend. Just before leaving, my wife discovered the deception and the truth came forward- the truth that I had been cheating. I’m not proud of it but it wouldn’t be the last time either. With the threat of being alone looming, I begged her to stay. She did. For the next couple of years we struggled to make it work.

Eventually the military sent me to Korea and it was a relief for me to move without my family. I could again be myself without the approval of my wife, or I could at least ignore the incessant nag by not answering her emails or phone calls. As I spent more time on my own, I created my own life and began to discover who I actually am and who I wanted to be. I became involved in working out and crossfit. I started to coach. I was becoming capable and my own person again. As I created this new life without my family I met a new girl. This girl made me feel alive. She began to challenge my way of thinking and life. I fell in love with her hard. I connected with her on a level I had never connected with another human being, but I was married and she knew it. So I lied, I told her my wife wanted a divorce even though I was the one who wanted it. That was all it took and I was in. The time with her was where I grew and developed more than I had my entire life. She challenged me. She let me see myself through new eyes. Eyes that could accept my life wasn’t what I wanted it to be and I could change it. It was ok to be me and have my own happiness.

As all lies do, this one came crashing down and I lost her. It was inevitable. I was still married with a kid, lying to her about it. However, my time with her gave me the courage to finally man up and do what I should have done a long time ago. I got a divorce. I felt like a failure and still do in some ways, but as the truth came out and my life fell to shambles, I learned what I didn’t know. The truth shall set you free. The truth was I wasn’t happy married and neither was my wife. By separating we have provided the opportunity to let the other person have happiness. The truth is I am afraid to be alone. The truth is I don’t think I deserve to be happy. The truth is I think that I am a horrible person for the things I’ve done. The truth is I look at the bottom of the bottle of Jameson and try to forget..

Staring Down the Barrel of a .40 Glock

In memory of Brandon January 23, 1985- July 12, 2010

Written in memory of Brandon January 23, 1985- July 12, 2010

I sit down and stare at my hands. I had just gotten off the phone with my wife. It would be our last conversation. She didn’t know that though, in fact, I hoped she would call me back; take it back, tell me she loved me, but I knew she wasn’t going to. I told her the same thing I had told her two years ago when we had a similar argument with her declaration of wanting to get divorced. I had a job. That I’d be gone for a couple of weeks and she wouldn’t be able to get a hold of me. I’d send her a check in the mail to help with the debt we had gotten in. The story was plausible, but she wouldn’t understand the true meaning behind it until later.


It wasn’t the first time I had been abandoned, but it would be the last. I thought back to my childhood and remember asking my grandma if we were going to stay with her. My siblings and I had been bouncing back and forth between my mom and my grandparents for as long as I could remember. My mother had me when she was 16. Since then she had been married and divorced six times. My father never existed in my life. In fact he wasn’t even on my birth certificate.


This wasn’t my first marriage either. It was my second. I had gotten married young and when I joined the military she cheated on me. We fought it out and we got divorced. When our divorce was finalized I was going to end it, but I met her. She was unlike anyone I had ever met. Her ideas, thoughts, family was everything that I wanted, but never had. No one in her family had been divorced. They were stable and constant. She was stable and constant. I clung to her and in turn she loved me. Even as she was asking for a divorce now, even as she was abandoning me, she was offering to pay for me, take care of me until I was able to finish school, able to take care of myself. Anything she could do. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to be there she just didn’t want to be married. She didn’t want me.


I snapped back into reality, she was serious about a divorce. If I couldn’t make it work with her, I would never make it work with anyone. I put everything down in my room. I picked up my concealed carry permit and the Glock, grabbed my bag and put my bivy cover in it with a handful of other things. I put in headphones and listened to Shinedown’s
.45 on repeat. I started to walk. Four miles later I realized I was standing where I met her. I looked up the mountain and found a rock to lay down by. I pulled out the bivy and crawled inside.


Eventually someone would discover my body. I wondered how long it would take. No one knew what I was doing. I had told the two people that I cared about that I had a job and would be unavailable. No one else would bother trying to get a hold of me. How long would it take her to realize the job I had was to take my own life. The money she would get from my life insurance would cover the debt we had gotten in. She probably wouldn’t even realize I was gone. She ripped out my heart. I put the barrel of the Glock to my heart. The heart she had destroyed. With Shinedown still on repeat I pulled the trigger
.

The Cheated Upon

To err is human, to forgive: divine. These words are familiar to most in modern culture, it’s ingrained in our mind to forgive one another for wrongdoings. Lately, forgiveness is not for the benefit of the trespasser, but the one whom was trespassed against. It’s supposed to lift a weight off our soul, or our proverbial shoulders. We are supposed to feel free of some sort of burden, free of what’s holding us back.

But what if that burden drives you? What if holding on to that anger, rage, sadness, hopelessness is what pushes you further than you thought you could go? What if that pain you still hold onto is a reminder of where you don’t want to be and don’t want to do? What if that makes you a better person?

Fresh out of college, and high on life, I married a girl I’d been dating for about three years. Both of us young and immature we got married for the wrong reason: we were afraid of being alone. Of course neither of us realized this until a little ways down the road. Our first year together came and went and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Around our second anniversary things started to go downhill. We grew apart, she became irritable and despondent, I became moody and slightly depressed, everything that stereotypically happens when a marriage is about to fall apart. And then the bomb dropped.

She told me about him and their affair. It had been going on for months. It pushed me into a tailspin of emotions. Anger, hurt, sadness, loneliness, hatred. I became the emotional, self-loathing, wimp I never thought I would become. The news pushed me into a depression that was nearly the end of me. I was petting Churchill’s “black dog.”

Alas I was cursed with amazing friends. A pep talk from my coach brought me back to reality and gave me a new lease on life. I moved out and began my new life, on my own.

Are the actions of my ex-wife in the category of the unforgivable? I have been grappling with that question for over a year. How can we forgive the one whom we trusted the most. She was entrusted with the most intimate details of my psyche, every vulnerability I was afraid to show anyone else. She broke that trust.

The pain and anger is still there to some degree. The memories are still present. While I don’t wish her any ill will nor give her any thought in my day-to-day activities, her actions are a constant reminder of why self-sufficiency is the most important thing in my life. That pain pushes me to be a better person so I won’t be hurt again, the anger reminds me of what can happen when I depend on someone else for my happiness.

My life is much better without my ex-wife in my life. I’m experiencing a level of maturity I never knew existed. Pipe dreams and impossible outcomes are now plausible ideas. My lack of forgiveness has lifted the burden of expectation. The expectation of society’s version of normalcy. No longer do I act based upon society’s idea of what I should do. I act based upon my own morality and virtue. In this particular case, there is no morality in forgiving the unforgivable.

Myself

In the heart of darkness there are memories locked away. Memories that create excruciating  pain that I don’t want to remember, but are still there. They seep into my mind at random moments, knocking the breath from my lungs, leaving a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. When they emerge I am plunged into the depth of them. I wait for others to see my defeat, but they don’t. Thats when I realize even if they did they can not save me from myself.  I alone can.

Things happen in our lives that are painful and uncontrollable. They ensnare us in a web of the darkest part of our minds for what feels like days, months, even years. They come and go,  building on to past events each time, adding to the latest state of depression. Each time we wonder why bad things happen to us. Dwelling within our suffering gives the illusion of hopelessness. It is a dangerous place to be. This is a view I have decided never to allow myself. Instead I’ve concluded the view that my greatest trials are and will be my biggest miracles.

At 14 I was sexually assaulted. This act created a whirlwind of emotional and mental damage during a crucial developmental stage in my life. Ashamed and embarrassed I shut my family out while I struggled to comprehend our intertwined actions. I felt like I was a bad person because I had done something against my beliefs even if I had not wanted to. Years later I deduced that others actions hold no bounds over me and my own mistakes are acceptable. It is what I do after these acts that makes me. I am the miracle of my present and future not my past.

In the depth of my military service and two combat deployments I learned to have much empathy and compassion for other people. I watched and experienced the changes the military makes to individuals and communities, good and bad. It was there that I learned you won’t change the culture you’re in, the culture will change you. With this knowledge I realized the culture I want to be apart of is one that helps builds and motivates people. It is a miracle to know I can choose to be apart of the culture that builds instead of destroys.

At 23 my spouse and best friend committed suicide. I always struggle to write much more than that statement. I don’t want to feel the pain that comes with acknowledging half my soul, half my heart were ripped from my body. His death created a reality that suicide is very real and a viable option. Someone might ask how I can possibly see something so painful as a gift from God, but the answer is simple- I learned the value of life the day he died and began living mine. Life is short, chose to love, live, and laugh over and over again.

I have often been told I am strong, an inspiration. I do not agree.  Others say they couldn’t move on if they were sexually assaulted. Others say they couldn’t join the military and deploy. Others say they couldn’t survive if their spouse, their best friend, died. Most say they couldn’t do a lot of things. They are wrong.

I truly believe Winston Churchill was correct when he stated, “we are the masters of our own fate.” Choose your own fate. if you are feeling lonely, seek others; depressed, serve others;  unmotivated, exercise; unattractive, smile;  defeated, rise. Change your circumstance don’t wait for someone else to change it for you because they cant. Take the darkness that fills your heart and choose to find the glimmer of light. Then hold strong to that light until it amplifies into the sun and you can bask in its warmth and love. Your future is a miracle and you are strong enough to master it. 

Shh… Don’t say that!

cropped-taboo12.jpg“Mom, that lady is fat.” A four-year-old grabs his mother’s hand and deliberately points to the obese lady in her unflattering sweatpants and an overly baggy shirt. The “fat lady” pretends not to hear, but it’s obviously too late. Her face is red and she is trying to look the other direction, avoiding embarrassing stares from bystanders. The mother instantly scolds her child. “Shh… Don’t say that! It is rude.” Trying to smooth things over, she apologizes for her child’s simple observation. The child, reinforced by his mother’s reaction, understands that he did something wrong.

As children we learn to communicate using words. We are operantly conditioned by our society to learn norms. Through reinforcement and punishment we learn what is appropriate to say, and more importantly we learn what not to say. Alas, we descend into words that are Taboo. Curse words, body parts, sexual words are used to be offensive and shocking. As we age, these words change into topics of discussion. How many times have we been told not to discuss politics or religion at work? Heard a parent dreading the “birds and bees” talk (because no one wants to say “the sex talk”) with their child? The controversial education of sex in high school or college? How many times have you been told not to express your emotions? If asked what you shouldn’t talk about on a first date, how many answers instantly pop into your mind? Finances? Personal problems? Past relationships? Family problems? The list continues.

Taboo seems to be ubiquitous. It is in our individual lives, our communities and even our government. The positive side of Taboo words is that it keeps everyone comfortable. No one gets offended. No rife of contention threaten communities. Taboo words illustrate emphasis during communication. The difference between your boss saying “Why did you spill the coffee?!” compared to “Why the *Fuck* did you spill the coffee?!” is very different, and very distinct. Even in our own lives “O’shucks!” just isn’t the same as “Oh Shit!” Taboo words have their place in our common language. They keep everyone at ease and allow us to communicate more effectively.

Despite the positive connotations with Taboo words and topics allowing our societies to function with ease, there are negative consequences. The most glaring example is sex. Sex is a natural progression in the majority of human lives, yet we treat it as a mystical unicorn. Sex education is protested. Parent’s dread the birds and the bees talk. Society yells abstinence until married, all in an effort to avoid having to talk about sex. The drawback is adolescents feeling the uncomfortable vibe, conditioning avoidance of educational conversations. Why is this bad? Teenagers are dealing with new-found hormones. They often find themselves in situations they are unprepared to deal with and no one to talk to. Teenagers can not get birth control on their own, unprotected sex leads to risk of sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies. Opening up these Taboo topics for educational conversations can provide the tools to properly deal with and prevent real life events.

Taboo words are a daily part of our lives. From learning as a child what we should or shouldn’t say, we build on centuries worth of society norms. We learn when and where to discuss topics or bite our tongues. We keep the peace by avoiding Taboo words and topics. Nonetheless, complete avoidance creates complications in real life. Events occur that are outside social norms, but by opening up Taboo conversations we can facilitate resilience to traumatic events and the natural occurrences of life.