A Week Away

As soon as the second leave period began I jumped in my red Saturn and headed out to Arkansas. I drove all night only stopping for gas and bathroom breaks, popped yellow jackets to stay awake, and chugged mountain dew followed by a ciggeratte every half hour or so. The trip took about twenty four hours but I wanted to leave my car in Arkansas for my cruise, so I knew the flight home would be no big deal.

I finally got to my driveway and hurried to my room to drop my gear. My dog greeted me and I made my way to the back den to snuggle with him on the couch, it was our favorite pastime. My mom joined me and we visited for awhile. I knew my friends were in town and decided to seek them out. We left that night for Monroe to eat and catch a movie. It was nice catching up but I immediately fell asleep upon arrival at the movie theater and I snoozed the rest of the evening. I realized how disconnected I felt from the women I had known since the first grade, but I couldn’t explain why I felt this way.

Their conversation topics were so different from the ones we had in the military. Their wild nights would have been rated G if they had been a movie compared to what I had whitnessed and experienced. I felt so uncomfortable with my thoughts I did not really speak much unless asked a direct question and felt so alien listening to their small talk. Our lives were so different; law school, grad school, marriage, babies, while mine consisted of work, drinking, and smoking cigarettes while attempting to not get raped and preparing for an upcoming war none of them were allowed to be told about due to security. It made me avoid them the rest of my leave period; I needed people I could relate to.

I hadn’t spoken to my first boyfriend in over a year or more at this point but he knew I was in town because of our mutual best friend, Zach. We arranged a meeting of sorts and I made my way to visit him. We discussed how things had been since we last spoke and he confessed he missed me. He was getting ready to graduate college and wanted to join the Navy as an officer so we could get married. I knew it was too good to be true the moment the words left his lips.

We did not reunite and that was the last time we spoke. I left the next day to return to Virginia in preparation of our next detachment. My parents drove me to the airport and I had forgotten about a sex toy a friend bought me as a joke for my upcoming deployment that was in my bag. Embarrassed, I had to tell the poor old lady working security what was in my bag. She looked horrified and processed me through as quickly as possible. I finally landed in Virginia and caught a taxie home. I was the last stop and was very comfortable until I became the only female in the vehicle.

He  started asking me questions and I tried my best to calmly answer without him hearing the panic rasing in my voice or my pounding heart and gnarling stomach. Upon arrival to my home, he asked to help me with my bags. I tipped him generously and quickly replied that I could get them as politely as possible. I ran as soon as I saw his car pull away from the curb and felt like exploding once I entered the entryway of my building. I had never experienced that before with a man I was alone with for no reason and it made feel stranger than the night I spent out with my friends. I threw my belongings in my apartment and called a friend to get a ride to base to check back in off leave. When I got home I finally passed out on the couch with the sounds of the city lulling me to sleep.

The last few days in town and at the command were hectic but flew by. I was miserable being alone at the apartment, especially with no car, but I ordered take out and spent time with my neighbors each evening until time to load up the ship. My last night home I ordered Chinese, drank, and laid in the nude until I knew I had to get my neighbor to take me to the ship. During the process I accidentally knocked the cherry of my ciggeratte down my throat and singed my espoughous.

My throat was throbbing by the time I made it to the ship, but I grabbed my sea bag and linnen bag and manuvered the catwalks to get checked in. After my bags were cleared through security I climbed the ladderwell to my berthing to unpack and get my rack ready for the next month plus. I had a bottom rack this time and it made falling asleep easier, but I found I constantly hit my head on the light provided and I was right in the lounge area where the tv and very loud women spent their off time. I hated the ship, but I was determined to make the best of it.

I Wish my Husband Believed That he Was my Lifesaver

My husband often gets his feelings hurt because I am constantly doing things for others and pushing things I want to do for him off to the wayside. I know it’s wrong and I don’t mean to even do it conciously, but it happens. The day I left for the Navy, June 20, 2001 I knew I was leaving behind a person that cared for me more so than any non related person had ever cared for me. After I arrived at boot camp he religiously wrote me weekly. He was the only one that answered my phone calls and continued to do so after I arrived in Pensacola. 

We spent hours talking while my friends would go out to clubs to meet girls and I laid next to the hotel phone crookedly in the lumpy bed just to hear his voice and long to be in the confines of his little two bedroom apartment back in Arkansas talking the nights away as we always had. I missed his companionship so much that I incurred a five hundred dollar phone bill on my parents calling card in fact, and an infuriated mother.

We made our relationship official, while I was on leave from A-school around Christmas or so of 2001. The week we spent together was so intense, I had never felt love like he had to give. Even after our tumultuous three weeks in Virginia, his immediate move to Massachusetts, the arrival and departure of our child, he never stopped loving me. He was suicidal when I broke up with him the first time, when I was preparing to leave for deployment, but I honestly thought I was doing the best for us both at the time.

He wrote me when I could not receive or make phone calls, when I was restricted from writing letters or emails, still claiming his love for me, a half a world around. When I returned from cruise we had a falling out after a botched visit I attempted to make in Massachusetts. I hurt him deeply, and at that point he decided he was ready to move on with his love life. He let me know in early  2004 that he had met another woman and was smitten by her. I knew at the time I could do little about it, and I was just glad he wasn’t suicidal anymore and seeming to move along with his life. We didn’t speak again for a little over a year. Apparently one night after I had gotten out of the Navy and was at the lowest point in my life, I called him frantic and desperate for a place to go. He told me he had roommates and still was with his girlfriend.

I was so inebriated that evening I did not remember making the phone call. It was the last time we spoke for close to a year or more. After I left Virginia and settled back into Arkansas, my cousin asked me if I had a Myspace account. I replied that my friend had made me one before leaving Virginia but I had never used it. She accessed my old account and I found a message from Andy. He was requesting that I let him know that I was alright after my erratic late night call the previous year. We began communicating again through social media and Thanksgiving of 2006 he called me crying and stating that his girlfriend had broken up with him; he was devestated.

We began speaking more regularly and by March, 2007 I was on a plane to Massachusetts to visit. The moment I saw him in the airport I felt the same as I had the first time I saw him. We hugged and it felt as though no time had passed since we had last seen one another in 2003. I spent the week with him and we had fun visiting the Boston area. I had a blast getting reacquainted with my lost love and when it came time for my plane to depart I felt as if my heart were going to emplode. I felt so lost and alone without his companionship​. We continued talking and I was able to return for a two week visit in the summer.

This trip solidified my decision to move to Massachusetts. I knew to get Andy back I would have to prove my love to him this time around. We began to make preparations for my arrival; slated for June, 2008. It seemed like the longest year of my life, but we remained in constant contact and committed to one another. The day finally came for me to leave Arkansas and start over with Andy. It felt strange leaving, but I was excited for my new adventure. Shortly after my arrival, I found out I was pregnant with our son. 

The moment Andy found out he was committed to being the best father he could be. I instantly felt secure in my new life and relationship and I had been given the greatest gift of all, a life to love. I vowed from the moment I found out I was going to be a mother that I would not do anything to separate myself from my son. Of course I later made stupid choices, but the gift of my son and later my daughter were the missing pieces I needed to remember that I had a purpose in being born on this Earth.

The security and love Andy has shown me the last seventeen years I’ve known him and the gifts of unconditional love I get from all three of them fill every part of me that would ever consider taking my life. It doesn’t get rid of my feelings of worthlessness or that I’m a burden, but because of them I would never purposefully do anything to remove myself from them as they are my life. My sole goal is to make my family the happiest and healthiest we can be physically and mentally with what we have. I know our lives are not perfect, nor do we pretend that they are, but we strive to make it as perfect for us and our kids as possible. 

For the many negative times and petty fights we have and the numerous mistakes, accidents, and bumps in the road, we still continue to move forward, as a family. I’ll never be able to thank my husband enough for throwing me that lifesaver when I needed it most. I hope he knows how much I love, value, care, and cherish every gift he has ever given me, but I’ll never be able to thank him enough for giving me back my life. If it weren’t for his constant support and encouragement to better myself, I would have been gone a long time ago and the fact that I’m still here is priceless.

Halloween Nights; Morning Nightmares

Our command returned to Fallon sometime in mid September or early October. After my stint in my squadron mates room the first detachment, I was sent to complete my temporary assigned duty and placed in first lieutenant, a glorified name for a janitor. The only people in first lieutenant were those that were considered shit bags by the command or those who had no choice. I was partially both, but  respected more than the men that were sent there because of their mental health and other issues.

People were so mean to these men, even lower ranked airman we were working alongside. One day I sent a male out to the Roach Coach to get us breakfast pigs since I had social anxiety and he was always broke. As we were eating he was telling me his grand plan to one day return to our command hanger bay and blow the entire thing up. I had never heard anyone speak like this and the shock read plainly across my face. He gently placed his hand on my arm and looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure you’re not anywhere around when I do.” 

I could feel the pain ooze from his words and the agony his eyes carried, how could people be so cruel to make another human to feel so worthless. He remains in my thoughts to this day as I had no clue then I too would understand the pain he felt. He stayed behind when we went back to Fallon and was processed out by the time we returned. Sometime in mid September we said our goodbyes, and I never saw him again. 

When we returned to Fallon as the first lieutenant component of the command we were assigned hanger bay cleaning and out door grilling assignments twelve to fourteen hours a day. I mostly stayed to myself and occasionally left base with trusted individuals on rare occasions. I wore my SpongeBob costume and passed out candy for Halloween to my shipmates and cooked on the grill and spent most of my time with friends that were off. As the detachment was winding down the last week of October and into November and more brass and supervisors left, I was more inclined to venture out.

One night a FLIR tech promised my friend he would let me in a bar he was working the door at that night. I agreed to come along and used another females ID to show at the door. This was the first time I had ever used a fake ID and I was terrified of getting in trouble again. We made it to the bar and began taking shots and drinks with our remaining crew members. A new officer had just checked into our command and people wanted me to dance with him, but I declined fearing fraternization. I continued to drink, but hid in the shadows until closing time.
We prepared to leave for the evening and loaded up in a white duty van. I know this because the man driving was a third class Petty Officer with utilities on. We were supposed to head back to base, but the occupants talked the watch driver into pulling over at an all night bar, Headquarters. I decided I had enough to drink for the evening and would remain in the van. Another squadron mate also remained behind in the front passenger seat.

I began to feel my eyes get heavy as I was overly intoxicated and I laid in the floor on the van between the two back bench seats to try to feel better. The cool floor of the van and the heat from the vents lulled me to sleep. The next thing I remember is that I woke up feeling nauseated. I tried to sit up but I realized then that my squadron mate from the front seat had penetrated me and was on top of me. I’m not sure what happened next but I got sick. I threw up all over him and the van. 

I got out of the van and was still vomiting when the other occupants rushed out to check on me. Someone asked me if he did anything to me but I was so confused; and I knew I would be in serious trouble this time. The watch started freaking out about the entire situation and I just responded, “No.” I sheepishly tried to clean myself off and returned to the van and headed back to base.

That night was not spoken of again for many years. I denied it for a long time. Was I sure he was inside me, why was his tounge in my mouth, my pants were down, it must have been my fault because I thought he was cute before that night, he must have somehow picked up on it and tried to see where it would go. I went into shutdown basically and became numb to many parts of my life. We left Fallon and returned to Virginia for two short weeks before leaving out on the ship and starting the begining of the biggest atrocity I have ever participated in; Operation​ Iraqi Freedom. I had been raped before, in Fallon on the first detachment, but I had denied that one as well, up until 2016 in fact when asked to tell the truth, fourteen years after the incident by a whitness from that night

Denial was the easiest way to deal with it. I knew from Stephanie that I would be separated or relocated with a huge target in my record and no chance at promotion. I had given up my scholarship, I wanted my MGIB. I shoved it all inside and continued to act as normally as possible, to just blend in, unrecognized until I got out. That morning, and the mornings before when my squadron mates decided that my sleeping body meant consent was granted changed my view on my entire life. My self esteem and worth were shattered, I believed I deserved the bad things to happen to me for multiple reasons and stories yet to come, and I became more depressed than I had ever been in my life.

Never Cry Rape!

About two weeks of being on base most of the friends I met in Pensacola in A-school had gotten their orders and began to arrive in Virginia. I had been spending most of my time with my friend I rode to Virginia with and my friend, Ryan. Stephanie and Ryan were complete opposites but had been in class together and were mutual friends.

One day I met Stephanie for lunch and she was crying. She said that she and Ryan and some other guys had gotten drunk and Ryan raped her. I was shocked and did not know how to respond. She told me she was going to report it to their command and expected to be treated the way we believed we would be treated in boot camp.

She reported it that afternoon and in the midst of a few hours rumors were flying around base. Ryan was notified by legal and an investigation was held. Evidently, everyone seemed to believe Ryan’s story over Stephanie’s. She immediately became a trouble maker for reporting the incident. Our mutual friends refused to speak to her and most on base seemed to shun her wherever she went. Was it because Stephanie was a bit overweight and short and Ryan was slim, dark, and incredibly good looking? 

I did not understand why they would believe him over her. She was on shore duty orders, she had a fiance moving to the beach, she was living her dream. Because there was no physical evidence, Stephanie was removed from the base while Ryan was allowed to remain and was still walking around base the day I got out of the military, almost four years later, free of charge.

After Stephanie left, I cannot remember if she was transferred or separated, I began to whitness other women in and out of my command treated disrespectfully for reporting sexual harassment, assualt, or becoming pregnant before a deployment. They were shunned by their commands and all of the squadron mates they had worked alongside and considered family; ones they trusted.

They were called deployment dodgers, and it was not uncommon to hear females referred to as troublemakers, cum dumpsters, and not belonging in “their” Navy as well as the usual derogatory slang a female might hear. Slut, whore, boat hoe, bitch, and others were all commonly known terms of endearment from many of our peers and superiors.I was saddened and stunned by treatment these women received and it set a precendt for me and many other females in my command to follow; never cry rape!

Back to the basics

Having PTSD has taught me numerous and countless lessons in my life so far but the ones I have the most problems fixing or correcting seem like they should be the simplest to overcome. Remembering to eat, or that I’m hungry, forgetting to set out something for dinner, the piles of random items placed with the intentions of one day making it to their assigned designation, the forgotten medication, freshly washed laundry still in the machine two days after you started them; I could probably keep going, but just simple things I used to take for granted that seem like such a massive accomplishment now.

I know it gets annoying and is hard to live with. I’m reminded fairly often by multiple people, so it isn’t just one person that notices. How I’m late everywhere I need to be, I don’t communicate effectively, I don’t know what social barriers are acceptable to cross with new people, and I either end up intimidated and shutting down or freaking them out to the point that they just disappear. Shutting down and being numb are no strangers to me.I spent so many years that way because the few times I did try to talk about it at various times in my life, I’ve always been asked to stop when I brought it up. Was I sure? What responsibility did I place on myself for putting myself in that position? Did I try to fight? Why didn’t I tell anyone in charge? The would have, should have, could haves already consume me daily since they happened. They are not something I have never thought about. But they are absolutely things that I could not control because ultimately the responsibility comes down to the person committing the action. I thought being quiet was the only acceptable thing to do about my past because after talking to others about my experiences and their rejection, it was really the only way for me to survive.

This afternoon my husband was snippy as is pretty typical during the work week, and for the obvious aforementioned reason of lack of housework I already don’t get done being the main troublemaker. Anyhow, we were discussing things and he made a blunt statement, that no one wants to hear about my past, I’m a very boring person (I know I am a nerd, but I still think this one is debatable), and I guess now that I’m not instant messaging with others, all I want to do is spend time on Facebook or this blog. I get it, my past isn’t pretty, but it is what made me, me. How am I ever supposed to heal from past wounds if I’m never allowed to grieve them, let them out, accept them, rediscover the person that was left in the aftermath, and continue to attempt to live a fulfilling life if I keep shoving all of it down for only my brain to consume itself with?

It is hard for me to feel comfortable in many situations while trying to act like everything is fine on the outside but all I want to do is run and hide on the inside. I think I have to get out my  past troubles before I can get back to the basics of living the life that I desire. I hope by using this outlet as my means of healing, I will be able to make more meaningful connections with people in the future, that are fulfilling and nurturing on both ends. When people ask me why I think and feel the way I do about things that are so different from the views I held as a child, but then make no attempt to meet me where I am at presently in my life, it makes it really hard for me to answer them. I usually end up saying something to the effect of “the eyes can’t change what they have seen and the ears can’t un-hear the things they were told.” I can adapt my beliefs to fit my new world beliefs, but I cannot and I never will be the person I was before the Navy and I wouldn’t want to be. PTSD and all.

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Communication in the Social Media Age

There was a time when I was a young sailor that had seen many injustices to myself and to others. During this time in my life I began a relationship with someone I loved and valued deeply; as a friend. I had been raped several times by that point in my life and I was constantly being harassed by other members in my command for sex. I began dating this man because he was smart, funny, and made me feel safe-plus almost all of the harassment stopped as soon as it become known amongst us lower enlisted personnel that I belonged to him. We had a great time for about a year, but the closer I came to my separation from the Navy, the more I started to panic about his upcoming extension which was to be followed by a cruise with the rest of my friends I had made the last three or so years I had been in Virginia Beach.

He began going on detachments for training and when he was gone the harassment would start back up. Slowly at first, but always there lurking around the dark corner entrance of my empty bedroom. My guy was not very good at communication and hated talking on the phone even more. I began to feel isolated and panic even more at the thought of being alone and I began to seek a new relationship to fill the void.

I eventually reunited with a friend I had known since my mom and stepfather’s marriage at the age of seven. We decided we were going to attempt to start our lives over as we had both suffered tragedies during our short twenty-three years on earth. As my separation date encroached with warp speed, we grew closer together while my guy all but disappeared behind a computer monitor. I cheated on him and finally broke up with him after I left my command so I could not be charged with fraternization if things went ugly. We communicated on and off and eventually he left to go to sea.

Things with my destined roommate deteriorated quickly and before I knew it I was relying on coins to surrvive. After much turmoil, I left my latest home in Newport News and reluctantly come back to Arkansas, but a completely different corner than where I was raised. I quickly got a job and apartment but realized even in Arkansas and in an old one bedroom apartment my minimum wage job and unreliable hours were going to require me to have a roomate.

I started looking around work for possibilities and realized there were no real possibilities. I did have a new intrest in my love life at the moment and we ultimately decided to move in with one another. After my then ex-Navy guy got off cruise a few months later I found out he was still expecting to move to Arkansas for us to be together. I panicked and told him to keep in touch and we would see how things went.

He did not call many times the next couple of months, so I continued my living arrangements. One of my squadron mates was being transferred back to the west coast and stopped to visit on his journey across the country. He informed me my guy still had intentions of moving in with me but I needed to let him know what I was planning on doing. I got mad. I never answered his calls again. We finally were on each others MySpace for awhile but he eventually deleted me, as I rightfully deserved. I never got to apologize for that series of terrible treatment, but I hope he knows I am truly, very sorry for it.

Since that time I have been treated the same way by many people. I always thought I deserved it because karma was paying me back. I have vowed since then to try to be as honest and open with others as possible, avoid the silent treatment when I really want to use it, and try to meet each person with respect where they are currently at.

If you do not want to do, say, answer, dress, come, go, just say so. People can handle the truth much easier than they can handle being lied to and then finding out about it at a later date. It seems like the more invested we become in social media and technology the easier it is to block others from our lives rather than civilly discussing matters and continuing or ending relationships from there.

I have vowed since 2006, when I did this to my friend, a friend I miss deeply and valued greatly, to speak my words when necessary. I take time off if need be, but I will always let whomever it is know that I simply need space. I hope that they know I will always hold space for them as well, and if they ever wish to return, I’ll give them back their space.

 

You are not alone

I decided to start this blog so that I would have a safe space for me and others to tell their stories of the past. I have learned that the more I open up to others outside my comfort zone, it only ends up leading to isolation. I hope that this blog will be able to offer a place of comfort, healing, and support for those that may have had similar experiences or just have never been able to let their voice be heard. The stories in this blog are all real, however names and other identifiers will always purposefully be changed to protect those that were involved. I hope through this blog I am able to bring more awareness to mental health and how it effects us on a daily basis. I hope that those that are seeking comfort or peace are able to find it here, and if there is an untold story that you bear inside you, that you find the strength to one day let it out. I held mine in for decades and I can promise you it did more damage to my physical and emotional states than I would ever like to admit.

I recently befriended another man, although I am a married woman, in an attempt to make a new connection outside of my comfort zone that I thought may understand me. I had a bad feeling about sending my message along with friend request as I did not know him, however there was something inside me that made me just hit the send button after I typed out my message. He accepted my request and told me that I could talk to him about my PTSD so we began chatting. As we continued I began to realize that when I spoke of my past, he never had any reply to my statements. I started to feel uneasy about telling him so much personal information, but I thought, well he is a veteran with PTSD as well, surely he would say if it bothered him. As the week progressed I kept getting the gnawing feeling that he was beginning to distance himself from me.  I tried to send him a message this past Friday to find I had been blocked. I thought, this must be a mistake.

I had just told him the previous day that the silent treatment and lying are two of my biggest triggers. We had just spoken a few hours before and it seemed as if things were fine, but he had become unusually quiet. When I went to send him a funny picture and my messenger told me that “This person is not receiving messages from you at this time” I thought maybe my messenger app was messed up. I reset my phone, and tried again, and got the same message. I then tried to go to his profile and it flashed “no content available.” I was shocked, as I had no real indication that things were that bad in our communication at all. I tried to text him to see if what I believed to be true was so. He got a bit accusatory stating that I was basically wrong and he did not have me blocked. I told him my reasons for thinking that I was and then I never heard from him again. I decided I am not going to waste my time opening up to people anymore that do not really want to be a part of my life or commit the time to understanding me and why I do and behave the ways that I do. This brought me to the creation of this blog.

This was the first person I have opened up to outside of my family since leaving the Navy for the most part and this experience has left me horribly triggered but I know its beyond my control. I had friends when I was out of the Navy but they were not knowledgeable about my past. I had attempted to tell my story once before to a friend after a drunken night of liquor and was confronted the next morning with “Leslie, please don’t drink liquor ever again.” I had remembered some of the subjects I had talked about the previous night, but not all. I took it that I needed to keep my mouth shut about it and deal with it in my head, like everyone had always preferred I do before. I shoved it down for several more years until I finally got a DWI a year after my sons birth in 2010.

I did not know who the person I was had become. I had always grown up with the thoughts that I would have children and a family. I finally had that, and I almost threw it all away because I was mad at my fiance about something that doesn’t even matter anymore. I realized there was something very wrong with me and my behaviors but I did not know what it was. I drank on and off for the next two years trying to fight to keep the bad thoughts away and perpetuate my life of denial until I could not handle it anymore. I was enrolled at Arkansas Tech in my last semester of my bachelor’s work and I was triggered by a discussion about learned helplessness and how women use this to get ahead in life, by acting like bimbos, playing down our intelligence, and these were the reasons that we were raped. I went off, and it was the first time I have ever stated to anyone that I had been raped in my life, and not just once.

I sat around for about a month after stewing on that conversation. I got mad about it every day and then I started researching rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, and finally I found it, military sexual trauma. When I read the description and symptoms of what the Veteran’s Administration termed MST, I thought immediately, “This is me!” I started therapy at the VA on Halloween of 2012 and have been in various groups and independent therapy as well as marriage counseling since that time. I also decided to obtain my Masters degree in Counseling and I am a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor. My hope is that others will see similarities in my negative behaviors and make positive changes to overcome them, as I try to overcome them myself. I hope you enjoy your time here and learn new ways to connect and heal with one another.