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What if a Veteran’s Suicide Has Nothing to Do with Being a Veteran at All?

Unprecedented Mediocrity

I am not a clinician therefore if you are suffering from the real and genuine traumatic effects of combat I encourage you to seek professional help, reach out to a buddy and continue the fight. However, if you are a Veteran and life just seems to sort of suck frequently then pay attention. If you are a Veteran who bemoans the statistic of the “22 a day” yet you go out blackout drinking with fellow veterans losing their jobs,families and joy for life due to the devastating effects of alcohol abuse pay attention. If you are depressed because your wife left you because she found out you were banging Mary Jane Rottencrotch in the bar bathroom or you can’t seem to get ahead at work due to referring to everyone as “f*&kers” then I’m talking to you. Life, by it’s nature and it’s infection with fellow flawed humans is inherently hard at times. People get sick, they lose loved ones and financial failure is around the corner for us all. The fact that you are a veteran does not make you immune to life. So I’m going to revoke your veteran card that says you get to check out, pass on the pain to loved ones and commit suicide because you are a veteran. What if many veteran suicides have nothing to do with one’s veteran status? What if the veteran community is letting blood to save a veteran when a good old fashioned antibiotic would do?

Again, Not a Clinician

I spent over 13 years working for a non-profit in the child mental health field, but I was never a clinician. I served in management and was the muscle often for the times when an emotionally disturbed teen decided they didn’t like their clinician’s tone with them. Yet, being around that field for so long you can’t help but pick up a great deal of casual wisdom. For instance, clinicians would often dig in to find out what was causing random outbursts of anger and aggression in the child. Fascinating clinical work, but after a decade plus I began to pick up that there were certain drivers for various behaviors.

For instance, a child might be acting out because he has a deep seeded clinical need or he might not feel safe in the cottage with his peers and acting out keeps the staff around. A child might have traumatic experiences driving disruptive school behavior or a child might not be very good at math and there is a reason they act out in math class only. We even had this guy from Harvard come in and teach a whole series on trauma saying that “kids do well if they can” and if they don’t it’s because they “lack skill not will.”

I know lot’s of veterans and am a veteran myself. But I’m here to tell you that should I ever kill myself, I’m not calm down, it will have nothing to do with the fact that I am a veteran. However, I am doomed to be added to the veteran suicide statistic if I do. So here I am opting out of that, saying if I commit suicide it will be on my own terms and because the world rejected me and Bea Arthur’s panties relationship. Look, pushing 40 and realizing the gravity of life I get it’s hardships but I’m trying to say perhaps the driver for your struggles has nothing to do with the fact you are a veteran. Maybe it’s time to get an accurate diagnosis and maybe it’s time to address the real problems.  

Alcohol Will Totes Kill You and Ruin Your Life

I drink and I see nothing wrong with it. Even as a thankful follower of Christ for his grace and mercy, I think there is something to be said for it. But if you have lived even a half pubic hairs worth of life into adulthood and you can’t see the devastating effects alcohol has on lives you are living blind. This is a problem because the military has a love affair with alcohol that almost seems historic. Heck, even my beloved Marine Corps was born in a bar. Gents, alcohol will destroy you if you let it. It cares whether you have a Combat Action Ribbon or not. Just look what it did to Superman. 

For those experiencing the traumatic effects of combat and using alcohol to mask it, again I encourage you to seek clinical help. Shocking, but did you know that detoxing from alcohol can actually kill you? I know there are some veterans out there suffering from the wrath of alcohol. You have lost jobs, families, and kids that want nothing to do with you. It could be because you are a veteran, but then again some civvie who never stepped foot in a boot is like, “here hold my beer” and shows you how alcoholism is really done.

Alcohol abuse is a killer in the veteran community and we, myself included, tend to yet hold this substance in a state of reverence. You binge for a while and then think you ought to quit, but you start sweating and have heart palpitations. You are irritated and the only thing that you can think of that mentally and physically calms you down is another drink. You distance yourself from your family, your work begins to suffer and you fail to realize that all those symptoms of not drinking are your body saying “please God no more.” What if your deployment status had nothing to do with your troubles in life. What if alcohol abuse was the driver and ought you not address that before you become one of the veteran 22?

Life is Hard, Veteran or Not

If you are struggling from the real effects and trauma of combat, please seek out professional help and reach out to a buddy. But if you are bummed because your start-up business to revive the Chia-Pet industry didn’t take off in the market welcome to the business world. Veteran or not, the carnage of the market and business is littered with failed attempts that deserve the honor and respect of any self-respecting capitalist. You just didn’t have a viable product and that has nothing to do with your veteran status.

Marriage is hard because women are always messing up stuff. My wife reads this blog so that one is for her. Marriage is hard people. Never before have you loved someone so much yet several times yearly want to light them on fire. But you don’t because it’s illegal and you’ve Googled it already. You might not be getting a divorce because you are a veteran but perhaps you are coming to terms with your own selfishness.

Personally for me, it is faith that pulls me through life. I am a Christian and believe I am inexplicably saved by a righteous God through unmerited grace. In light of eternity, what can really go wrong. But I feel the pull of life. I feel the financial strain, I feel the disappointment when I am not a good father or husband and I feel depression that comes from having to observe a world on social media that seems to have it all together. Perhaps what you are encountering has nothing to do with your veteran status. Perhaps you are encountering the struggles of life and it’s time to diagnose the problem.

In Conclusion

I’m not a clinician, but I understand drivers for behavior. Exactly when did Veterans lose our ability to grind it out? When did Veterans lose our ability to reach out for help in a fight when the fight seemed too strong? When did we somehow make the word veteran and suicide synonymous? If you experienced severe trauma from combat please seek help. But if you are downing a fifth of whiskey a day seek out some rehab treatment.

I don’t know the proportion of the “22 a day” that experienced the traumatic effects of combat, but I know for a fact until alcohol abuse is addressed in the veteran community we won’t make a dent. Maybe you lost your job because a mortar landed near you or maybe showing up for work drunk at 9am is poor form? I do not know what you are struggling with right now, but I am confident for many reading this article it has nothing to do with you being a veteran. We need to start reaching out and addressing the drivers of behavior that have nothing to do with being a veteran if we are to make an impact on the veteran community. 

Veteran calling

Life just be hard yo. Yet, it’s worth pushing through. Specifically, you don’t get to pull your veteran card and check out. We veterans lose many brothers and sisters to their “demons” every day. But what if those “demons” haven’t so much as set foot in a combat zone. Do we do our brothers and sisters a disservice by giving them a socially trendable tag to check out. If you are experiencing the real traumatic effects of combat seek out professional help. If life is just hard, do not pass on that pain to your family and loved ones by leaving to early. You wouldn’t do that in combat and life is different. Just the thoughts of a rambling voice to consider. What if a veteran’s suicide has nothing to do with him being a veteran at all?

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Jeff Edwards

5 Comments

  1. Great post Jeff, I think a lot more of it is (paraphrased from you) not being knowing how to deal with the world as a whole…. I had to restrict my alcohol intake to weekends only and in moderation as it was getting too dang expensive… no cheap stuff for this ginger…. that and given time my liver would have paid the price, but many cannot make that adjustment. they self medicate themselves into either an early grave due to the abuse, or they get too stinko one night and decide to pull the trigger…

    • Well said, it can get expensive and I’ve had my moments where I have not done my liver any favors. So me good things happen from pulling back.

  2. So I’m not a clinician, counselor, therapist, or voodoo doctor…but I am a (non-combat) vet and an alcoholic.

    I’ve sat with my wife next to me, tears in her eyes, begging me not to open my next drink (which BTW was nothing more than a shitty 40oz of shitty malt liquor) have looked her square in the eyes and said, “sorry.” I’ve blown off important events and moments with my kids to drink. I’ve forced my wife to kick me out, in front of our kids time, and time again. I got popped for my first, and last DUI. I’ve ruined pretty much everything good in my life due to drinking.

    I’m 39, living in my friend’s basement, broke, no career, divorced, and I only get to see my kids 1 weekend a month. But I need to count my blessings. It could be a lot worse.

    The only reason it’s not worse is because I finally asked for help. I finally admitted I couldn’t do it on my own. My alcoholism isn’t due to combat or anything service related but I still have demons, demons that drove me to deeply sink myself into a bottle for years. Those demons and the drink would have eventually been the end of me. Not by own hand, but still because I was too proud. Had I not asked for help, the end was clear…

    I thought rehab and counseling was for pussies, the weak. I WAS WRONG. Asking for help can be hard, but there are people out there in the Veteran and AA communities who are willing to help, who want to help.

    Alcohol and my pride cost me so much before I finally had enough and asked for help. If you reading this are going through something similar, please, reach out, ask for help. It’s not going to be easy, but it does get better. One day at a time, one moment at a time, it does get better. Stay in the fight! You are never alone!!

    • Thanks for sharing that John. I’m confident your story can and will help others. While it’s been a hard road for you it is very encouraging to see where you are heading now. A future without precedent awaits you I am sure and I’ll you’ll be in a prime position to help others go through or avoid the same.

  3. Veterans aren’t hatched from special danger eggs. They are a product of our American society just like every other merkin. Our society is presently fucked up beyond belief. Do the math, and don’t be shocked when you find that sewercides is up across the board. In fact, combat vets actually have a lower rate than their non-combat age cohort, with the exception (maybe) of the veet-nam vets.

    As you rightly point out, life isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. When it sucks, it sucks. The answer is and has always been suck it up and drive on. Do it or don’t. I don’t give a fuck, that’s on all ya’ll ownselves. Play the pussy victim card all you want; that’s the best way to become a monumental p.o.s. Or be a real human, appreciate what you have and where you live, suck it up, drive on, and do something else for the country fercrissakes.

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