So yesterday we had the privilege of participating in a 22km Ruck March set up by a great organization, Ma22. The goal of this ruck was to help bring awareness to the 22 veterans that commit suicide everyday.
I had the privilege of meeting Dennis Addesso (President of Ma22) last year during our first Operation Ruck It. Let me tell you the things they do for veterans is amazing. Ma22 sponsors outings and events (baseball games, fishing trips, diving, BBQ’s and much more) for veterans to meet and just relax, giving them that escape they need to help ease the burdens that haunt them. I can’t stress enough the importance of what he and his team have done and continue to do. Through their selfless and tireless service they have and will continue to save more lives than I can count. To find out more about their mission I suggest you follow them on Facebook “Ma Deuce Deuce” or go check out their website Ma22
So this year we decided to carry a litter as a visual aide for those unaware of the weight and burden that the demons put on veterans. We took our Talon Litter and placed 22 sand bags on it, each weighing about 7 pounds. Each sand bag had a different phrase to represent the weight carried. One said “22 a day” for the 22 veterans that commit suicide daily and another had the recent conflicts and wars since from WWII on it. The other 20 had the following…
Flashbacks: These are often triggered by random events or incidents, it can be the smell in an area, a flickering light, sounds, a large crowd, pretty much anything that brings you back to specific moment. Unfortunately these are random and sometimes quite real.
Guilt: Many veterans suffer what’s called survivors guilt. They wonder what happened why did I survive and someone else didn’t. They wonder if their actions that moment caused it, or what if I would have done this instead of that.
“Why Not Me”: “Why did I survive, when my friends deserved to live more than I did, they had kids and spouses” Many survivors start to believe that their lives were not as important those that were killed, or that it should have been them walking that route or sitting in that seat. This feeling can and will lead to other problems down the road if left unchecked.
“I’m okay I can handle this alone” Many believe they can handle all the pain by themselves, that they made it through deployments they can make it through this, they don’t want to appear “weak”. Unfortunately this often leads to substance abuse, isolation, anger, and depression.
“I don’t want to be labeled”: Many believe that if they seek help they will be labeled as crazy or depressed. They don’t want that stigma that supposedly comes with getting help. So they try and hide it from everyone even those closest to them. This eventually takes it toll and sometimes has terrible consequences.
“Everyone has changed”: You come home only to find that those friends you had before the military are no longer the same now they look at you differently or you have nothing in common anymore. Truth is they don’t really change it’s us that changed, we don’t see things the same way anymore and this is not a bad thing it’s just different.
“No one will understand”: No one will understand me, they have no clue what i’m talking about or how i’m feeling, all they will do is think i’m crazy. So many veterans will keep their thoughts and emotions to themselves.
Hate: Hate that you had to go through this, hate that your friends didn’t make it home and hate that you did. Hate that the world around you is clueless. This will fill you with anger and destructive behavior.
Substance Abuse: Many veterans turn to alcohol and drugs to numb the pain. Unfortunately when we do this, a few drinks is no longer enough and our bodies and minds require more, or a stronger substance. Relieving the pain at the moment but causing many long term negative consequences.
Self Destructive Behavior: Cutting, burning one self, drinking and driving. Just a plain disregard for what happens to you. Many use this as a way to punish themselves for the pain they are carrying. Or a way to try and control the way they are feeling.
Isolation: Not wanting to be around people including loved ones. This can happen for a number of reasons, some feel ashamed, angry, fear, the feeling that no one understands and they are judging me and depression. This leaves you with nothing but uninterrupted time to engage in reckless behavior and engage in choices that can be deadly.
Anger: Anger is another common emotion in veterans, the anger of why did this have to happen, why couldn’t I stop it. This usually leads to guilt, destructive behavior, substance abuse and depression if left unchecked.
Nightmares: Many veterans have nightmares that seem so real its painful, you wake up drenched in sweat your heart racing and breathing heavily. For some they have no memory of the dream but wake up drenched and anxious. These dreams can be hard on not only the one having them but anyone round them.
Insomnia: The inability to go to sleep, whether its from fear of having another nightmare or the thoughts running through your head so fast that you cant slow them down let alone stop them. You lay in bed until the sun comes up getting more and more frustrated that you can’t shake this.
Agitation: Whether its caused by lack of sleep, guilt, substance abuse or the “inability of others to understand you” this causes a strain on you everyone around them eventually leading to others keeping their distance or you isolating yourself from the world.
Fear: The thought of being in large crowds alone is enough to give some veterans anxiety, fear of everyone that looks out of place. Fear of losing what they had before. The fear can cause you to take a harmless event or action and turn it into a “fight for my life” moment in some cases.
Severe Anxiety: This can be a really difficult reality for a lot of veterans, it’s a programmed thing in my eyes that soldiers don’t get anxiety, they are supposed to give it. So once a veteran gets his/her first and subsequent (because there will be more) anxiety attack they are totally caught off guard and many believe it to be a sign of weakness, therefor not going for help or advise on coping mechanisms.
Alone: Many veterans will feel as if they have no one to turn to for help, or that they have to fight this themselves. This feeling will lead to isolation and eventually depression.
Overwhelmed: Feeling like it’s all getting too heavy, to much to carry. At this point everything is amplified you feel as though it’s too much to handle and you are running out of options.
Depression: At this point you have no interest in the things you once enjoyed, you have minimal if any regard for your own well being and you feel some if not all of the above and may even feel as if there is no other option than to end it all.
So on the litter we hung the banners shown, with “Brother, The thoughts weigh on us like sand bags, together we can carry the load” This was telling those going through the struggle that they don’t have to go at it alone together we can get through this. There is no reason to go alone.
Let me tell you this litter only weighed 170 pounds (Litter, 150 pounds of sand bags and banners) lighter than most military personnel with gear. But after a while that thing got heavy, it felt like 400 pounds toward the end. What impressed me the most was the other people rucking some total strangers coming up to us and helping carry the load, some only a few meters, others were beast but all that assisted did what they could. That to me amplified to the point across that together we will carry the load. I must say as painful as that was I can’t wait to do it again next year.
There are so many veterans out there that feel as if though there is no other way out, that suicide is what’s best for everyone. This is where groups like Ma22 come in, these guys can connect you with other veterans that have fought with the demons and together were victorious. There is no couch sessions or paperwork just veterans having each other’s six. No wars are fought alone why should the internal wars be any different.
To Dennis and the guys (and girls) at Ma22 keep up the good fight you guys are making an impact that is going to leave a monumental impression.