When my deployment ended, I left Afghanistan and the war. But, like many soldiers, I found that Afghanistan and the war never quite left me.
The extreme emotions and stress of battle linger long after the war is over – and the War on Terror, which began on Sept. 11, 2001, seems far from over.
Many veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress. You don’t even have to have certified PTSD to be affected. I didn’t.
I had anxiety, anger and insomnia – all induced by combat. I was on a path of self-destruction. I was on the brink of losing everything – my career, my house, my marriage, my entire life.
I could barely sleep and walked around in a daze most of the time. When I did sleep, nightmares jolted me awake. My obsessive compulsive disorder became worse. My flashbacks scared me. I couldn’t think straight during the day, and the stresses of life seemed unmanageable. I took it out on my wife, Dayna, and my friends.
I am not a weak person, but the strongest of men start to question whether life is worth living in these conditions. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that more than 20 American veterans, ravaged by war, commit suicide every day.
Veterans call me up all the time to tell me their struggles. I once had a stranger call and tell me that he was sitting in a car with a loaded gun, trying to decide if he should end it all. He told me he was going to pull the trigger – it was just a matter of time. He didn’t see any reason not to do it now and save himself a lot of misery.
“Why would you do that?” I asked.
“Because nobody cares.”
The sad thing is – he may have been right. There may very well have been no one left in his life who cared for him.
I was lost until I found God.
If you’re in his situation, you burn every bridge – with your mom, your dad, your brother, your sister, your spouse, your friends, your family, your coworkers – with everyone. You become such a cancer in their life that they have to walk away to protect themselves.
I have been there. I was a terror, an animal. Most of my loved ones saved themselves by abandoning me.
Once everyone is gone, when every last bridge is burned and you are still unhappy, the question becomes: If you’re miserable and worthless to everyone, what is the point of living?
That is where PTSD takes many people – to a place where they question the very purpose and value of life. This is not insanity — not totally. The question is valid. Everyone, suffering or not, needs to ask themselves: What is my purpose?
I had no answer because I didn’t know who I was anymore. My wife had told me again and again that I had become a different person. She was right. I had no identity. I no longer knew what my values were.
I was lost until I found God. Only through finding God would I find purpose and feel hope again. I could not fix myself; only God could fix me. So I joined His army. I discovered that I had been focusing on my own life when I should have been focused on my relationship with Him. Gradually, sometimes painfully, I began to change.
This is hard for nonbelievers to fathom or understand. Those without faith may think it sounds like hocus-pocus. I won’t argue the point. All I know is that Dayna and I prayed for God to change me, and I then felt God step in to do so. There is nothing He can’t do. He can change people; He changed me. He could change you, too.
All you have to do is surrender to Him, and doing so was the best decision I ever made. It was not easy because I am a warrior, an American soldier. Surrender is not in our vocabulary … except when it comes to God, the commander of the universe. We surrender, but only to One.