I spent quite a while trying to decide if this journey was one that I wanted to share. For the longest time, I thought that telling anyone would lessen me, make me seem weak. I thought that way because I felt that way. I saw myself as damaged goods. If I couldn't find myself worthy, how could anyone else picture me that way?
As the years went by, I saw friends and family succumbing to the same ailment I had. But, I thought I had it under control. My poison was alcohol. I found myself in the depths of despair wondering if this is what Hell felt like. Maybe I had succumbed, too. Maybe this was what I was doomed to feel like for eternity. It seemed like nothing was real except grief. I was numb to everything but the idea of letting go. How easy it would be to just put a bullet in my head. If this was Hell, I couldn't kill myself twice. And if this wasn't, I could end this misery in seconds. Peace at the end of a barrel.
When I was in the military, I saw so many of my fellow soldiers, leaders, and families, as having it all together. How are they able to function? I couldn't imagine them being able to understand the type of hopelessness I felt. I'd go to the field and see my peers working effortlessly together, with seemingly no cares in the world.
When the uniform came off, I'd make sure I did the best I could to avoid crowds. In crowds, I felt even more alone. I'd wonder what it was like to love being around others. Did these people grieve? How can they walk around smiling when the whole world was made of death? What was it like to go about your day and not feel impending doom beating down upon your shoulders every second of every day? People became alien to me. I looked like them. I spoke their language, but I wasn't them. I felt like I was pretending, copying their mannerisms, their smiles, and the way they carried themselves. I couldn't look people in the eye because I knew that they'd see me for what I was: garbage in the shape of a person.
Until I tried to cancel myself several times, and truly realized that suicide wasn't cowardice, I felt something change. Pretending wasn't as easy. I was horrified to realize that all of these people who ended their lives lived theirs as I did mine. Many with the same technique: using alcohol to escape. All the smiles were empty-like mine. They did grieve. And they did it for the same reasons I did: to hide the pain.
I knew that when I left the military I wanted to do something to help veterans. By then, I had spoken to countless of them about their stories. Some of those are still with us and others aren't. The demons of addiction overpowered them as they plagued me. There wasn't much of a difference between us except that my suicide attempts failed. I came to understand the despair behind their decisions. I came to understand why I felt the way I did- and to a great extent, still do.
Many of these veterans are still here with us, struggling every day just to keep going. I know-they know-we all know how easy it would be to just lie down and rest. Anyone who has struggled with addiction is familiar with wanting to just let go. Right now, there are veterans sitting somewhere, perhaps at home, with their kids, with family, alone, wondering which day is going to be The Day. When will be the hour of my demise? And there's a peacefulness to it under the chaos of our thoughts. But still, we go on until we can't.
Every political cycle, the subject of "22 a day" comes along. Talking heads expecting to hold a position of power, appealing to The People, trying to convince us that they care about veteran issues are everywhere. The tone is empty, the promises meaningless. Veterans are pawns, available to be exploited and left to rot. They are disposable assets and when they are used up, they are tossed aside like trash. We know this, but we don't like to talk about it in "polite society". Mission 22, one of our charities, helps provide crucial services for vets with trauma and addiction, but suicide is somehow still a taboo subject. It should be at the forefront.
In Oklahoma City, Veterans Community Project bought property a few years ago. The property is meant to be used to build tiny houses for veterans. The property is located in an urban area close to the capital so that veterans have access to public transit, doctors, grocery stores. utilities...Many veterans lack crucial benefits for medical care because the government wants as few "service-connected" disabilities covered as possible. Almost 70,000 veterans live on the streets. There are more than 300 in Oklahoma City.
But none near the capital on the property VCP purchased will be getting homes this year. Why is that? The homeowners near the property protested it. They wanted no part of having a veteran community tarnishing their streets. How dare they try to put filthy vets in our community? And the battle is still ongoing.
The very concept is what started my research into vet charities and how to spotlight them and bring awareness of how many members of the public feel about programs such as the Veterans Community Project. I want people to know about the dissonance occurring among our veteran community. When politicians aren't telling you how to feel about something, some people feel nothing. Why is that important? What incentive then do young people have to enlist? Gen Z has never known a period of time in which there was no war. More and more young people have decided that they aren't going to be cannon fodder for the rich, pawns on a chessboard, or casualties of a pissing contest among the elite. They see how it turns out. And so do the veterans struggling to wake up and battle themselves every day.
In cooperation with Maddog Shows and CEO Raimund Weidinger, I decided to use our event companies to bring the Warrior Series to Oklahoma. The event is to be held 14-15 July at the Pontotoc County Agri-Plex & Convention Center. We will have 10 bands, 5 competing each night in their respective categories: country and rock. The audience determines the winner by vote, each vote is a $1 donation. All donations are going to VCP and Mission 22.
Not talking about a problem doesn't make it go away. Doing nothing is what led us here in the first place. With division, we fall. And this time, in this age, we may have no warriors left to save our destruction.