Since separating from the US Marines I‘ve lost brothers to suicide, murder charges, and drug overdose. I’ve battled anxiety, depression, PTSD, substance abuse and suicidal thoughts myself. As more and more of the men and women I served with
When I got out of the Marines in 2011, coming on the heels of my 3rd and final deployment, I was ecstatic. I thought that for the next few years, I’d sit around, smoke weed, collect unemployment checks and do just enough to get a passing grade at community college. I could survive on disability, free dinners and other handouts, offered up by well-meaning patriots and businesses. What a dream!
Fresh out of combat, I returned home invincible and entitled. These choices and my attitude landed me at the lowest point of my life. I spent too much time and money on people and things that didn’t matter. I used drugs and drinking to distract me from myself. There was no doubt that I was depressed, angry and completely lost. I had no direction or sense of purpose, and everybody I knew and loved was scattered throughout the country.
I thought my life was over. Then I realized it was over only because I was sitting on the sidelines.
I’ve come to believe that the best measures of a life lived well are how much you give, how much you grow and how far you go.
This new philosophy opened up doors I didn’t know existed, but only after I stood up to the plate. It took me on a trip around the world, put me on a path to a Master’s degree and allowed me to create a life that would make Paul, Ben, Ian, Giles, Will, Dean-O, Donahue, and the rest of my brothers who will never have the gift of life again proud. I feel like my life finally began nearly nine years after my EAS date. It’s around that time I started barfing up all of the bullshit belief systems force-fed to me since birth. It’s the year I realized I had the freedom to choose how my life turned out. I understood that I must create a life that is my own because these people I knew and loved will never get the chance to again. So must you.
To my fellow veterans, the greatest battle starts close to home. It’s upstairs, in your own mind. My advice is to not ignore that gnawing feeling in your gut saying that there has to be more to life than this. There is!
It’s time to repurpose yourself and find a new passion and new mission to focus your energy.
A purpose to pursue something that is larger than yourself is the true pathway to the freedom you have fought for. The world needs you to create a legacy that will live onto the next generation now more than ever. There is literally nothing you can’t do, but you can’t do it carrying around sea bags full of baggage from your time in service. If you choose to wait for or rely on handouts you are sabotaging your own ability to enjoy the freedoms your friends have fought and died for. No one owes you a thing, but you owe it to them to live your life to its fullest potential.
Who will greet you at the gates of Valhalla? What will they say once you get there?
There are actually things you can do to improve your situation, no matter what you are going through, where you’ve been, or where you fear you may be going. You simply must choose to course correct and create a different life for yourself and your community. Anyone experiencing anything can alter their trajectory, starting with the assumption of responsibility for the life they live. You no longer have to be a victim of genetics, a poor upbringing, a shady past, or trauma sustained in service to your country. It took me 30 years to realize that fact. It doesn’t matter who died, what diagnosis you received or what dire circumstances have befallen you. These challenges can transform you, and your story of service and sacrifice can help create the community of connection and contribution that you crave.
Life is a transition. Do not become disillusioned with the idea that you will someday reach a point where you can just stop caring, trying or otherwise serving something larger than yourself. In the civilian sector, just as in the Marines, “Complacency Kills.” Seeking comfort, instead of a challenge, is the surest way to squander your dreams. Separating from the military is the start of your new life, not the end. No matter how long it’s been since you’ve separated, it’s never too late to stand up from the sidelines and start up something new once again.
Start by taking full responsibility for your own health and happiness and find the courage to face yourself. I live by the motto, Give, Grow, Go and here’s how it works.
What skills and talents must you learn and develop? Dream of all the possibilities, people and potential found all throughout our planet.
What faraway places have you always wanted to visit? Then go out and take action!
You have the power to create anything you want in this life but your dreams will die if you find shelter in comfort and forget the reason you served in the first place. Veterans, the world needs you to stand up from the sidelines. Your time in service of something larger than yourself has only just started. This is your call to action.
Happy Veterans Day!