When I came home from the Marines in 2006, I knew I had changed. My reactions to the violence in Iraq coupled with multiple near death experiences caused an immense amount of pain in my life. I struggled with guilt and having relationships outside those who never experienced life in the military. In 2007, I was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS). I remember when the doctors told me of their findings; it felt like a death sentence. The doctors repeated that PTS was “incurable,” and I could only manage it through antidepressants and talk therapy.
Personally, the doctors’ recommendation of taking antidepressants and talk therapy didn’t seem like the best option. But it was the only option given to me. I didn’t like the way the pills made me feel and couldn’t get passed my therapist never experiencing combat. Everything she said to me about my experiences went in one ear and out the other. After four weeks, I decided to stop going to therapy and taking the medication. Without any form of treatment, PTS had made daily living unbearable and almost cost me my life. It wasn’t until a day in 2010 that my life changed forever.
I was at my lowest. Nothing in my life seemed to be fulfilling the need to find the peace after my service until I found the power of writing and meditation. The moment I typed those first words on the keyboard, uncensored thoughts and memories from Iraq poured out. My first entry turned into ten pages of flashbacks and memories that were subconsciously hidden in the depths of my mind. Soon, a daily journal entry turned into a 136-page short story memoir. It felt unbelievable to have the weight of PTS that had held me down since I left the military finally start to feel lighter.
Writing gave a sense of release, a place to pen my thoughts and feelings without judgment. I didn’t have to share the running images of war with anyone which gave me freedom to express. When I decided to share my experience with others, I found my friends and families’ reactions to being insightful and compelling. It was the first time I felt connected to other people by sharing my stories. Their positive feedback and encouragement gave me more motivation to continue to write and travel on my long road to recovery.
In addition to writing, I found the daily practice of meditation as a way to dive deeper into my thoughts. I was able to silently reflect after I wrote my stories on the emotions I felt. The more I wrote, the more meditation emphasized my focus and attention to positive experiences particularly of my tours in Iraq. It also helped me remember the good times out in Iraq, the conversations I had and the deep forged friendships I made with my unit. Thinking of these memories helped decrease the self-inflicted blame.
For those who have PTS due to combat experience, day to day living becomes an extreme challenge. The inexplicable acts of combat inflict can inflict multiple injuries from physical to mental. Feelings of rejection and fear are constantly on the forefront of their minds. When dealing with these stressful situations, we look to create a sense of understanding as to why the event happened to us. But there is hope in finding peace after the war. With more veterans leaving the service, the road to recovery is tough but finding peace after combat is obtainable. Through different practices such as writing and meditation, it can greatly help speed up the healing process.
My road to recovery has been long and challenging but rewarding. I am now able to channel daily stresses into something productive and positive. I have found peace after war, a state of mind that helped me closed a chapter and opened a new one.