Death, Life and the Pursuit of Happiness
By RU Rob
Three years ago I wrote a piece for The Rhino Den entitled “I have PTSD…So What?” Since then I have not been miraculously cured of my affliction and as a matter of fact, the last several months have been a combination of good, amazing, bad and horrible…all at the same time. After a couple of really hard days, I think it is time to share my thoughts, just like I have done in the past.
Last week I lost another friend. That makes 29 30 (found out about another this morning). What is so remarkable about that number is that over the last thirteen years I have lost a total of 34 friends to combat related events. I fear that the number of friends lost to suicide will soon dwarf those lost in actual combat.
The pain of suicide is no less today than what it was the first time I found out that an old squad leader had committed suicide. I was in shock. As I have grown older I now have a better understanding of how to prevent it, by almost becoming a victim of my own actions.
There is a meme that has been floating around social media for a long time. Its caption…”The moment you realize you will never be this awesome again.” Usually this quote is found on a picture of some magnificent war photo with someone displaying a massive amount of testicular-fortitude.
It took a long time and a lot of denial, but that moment arrived and it knocked me on my ass.
For years and years I tucked away thoughts, feelings, pain and emotions. I had the mentality that “Soldiers do not complain, they receive their orders and drive-on. No questions, no concerns, no problems.” Everything was buried deep inside me and never properly addressed. From physical ailments to relationships I thought that if I ignored it, it would go away. Unfortunately, there is only so much pressure you can put on yourself before walls start to weaken and burst under the stress.
I was dangerously close to being a statistic, just like my friends.
I not only needed, but wanted, life.
Recognizing my unhappiness and taking the first steps to relieve that pressure were horrible. It got worse before it showed any signs of getting better. Releasing years of angst and emotions were not as simple as quickly surfacing after a long dive; I had to ascend slowly or risk a dangerous outcome. People were going to be hurt and I had to separate myself from things I thought I loved. Relationships were affected and not always in a positive manner. It is not something that happened overnight and it is one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life.
Once I started working on the emotions I then continued by working on my physical ailments. The neglect I put my body through over the years was made clear when I really started addressing the problems, one at a time. Joints destroyed, hearing loss in the moderate/severe range, non-existent sleep patterns; long-term injuries that could have been minimized had they been properly treated.
It was this moment that I realized that I will never be as awesome (in my own mind) as I once was. The culmination of everything that I thought was wrong compared to that which I found to be true was blinding. I got worse before I got better.
I began to make changes in my life. I used to keep myself busy with anything and everything to mask the pain and prevent me from having the time to think about it. That, in turn, was exhausting me and causing me further stress as I couldn’t keep up. I stepped down from a leadership position in a volunteer organization. I made time for myself. I started moving on from stagnate relationships as well as those that were generally negative in nature.
I unfriended almost 500 people from my social media accounts, people that I had never met that clogged my daily feed with negativity. I didn’t need that. Instead, I focused on a few relationships that were of a positive nature to me. These amazing people supported and accepted me for both my strengths, my weaknesses and loved me unconditionally. They have always been there for me when I needed them and I am confident they always will be. Without people like these my odyssey would have been more difficult. I don’t think I could have done it without them.
My journey isn’t over. The pursuit of happiness is ongoing. I have identified both who and what makes me happy. I am giving them 100% of my attention and fostering new, long lasting relationships. I am not there yet, but I am on my way.
Please don’t think I am trying to knock anyone in their own pursuit of happiness. Lord knows I have struggled with my own failed attempts. But, you can be happy, just as I am now finding out.
One of the things I now use in specific conversations is the Portuguese phrase “para sempre” meaning “forever.” If you think about it, every single thing you do from this point forward is para sempre.
My new objective is to be awesome again…para sempre, with some help. When I get there, I will let you know.