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'I Closed My Eyes, And When I Did, I Saw My Pistol': The Warax On Suicide
Editor’s note: May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and the West Point history department last week asked veterans on Twitter for their advice on how to “positively add to the discussion about PTSD.” One vet who responded with a personal story was The Warax, the anonymous, Seuss-inspired former Marine whose cantankerous takes on post-military life and politics have earned him a big social media following. “The first time I thought about killing myself the idea was easy to dismiss,” The Warax’s story began. What followed was a gripping but very recognizable lesson on how depression and suicidal tendencies can set in as a veteran’s career sunsets through no fault of his own. We asked the Warax to share his story here in an essay, and he agreed.
If you or a veteran you know is in crisis, you can always reach help on the Veterans Crisis Line: Call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, chat online, or send a text message to 838255 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
Until the explosion, what scared me most was the thought of being killed, but what is most terrifying about war is that you can be destroyed without dying. It happens gradually; like getting older, you cannot see it happening to you. Each day I woke up, looked in the mirror and I recognized the person looking back. Until one day, I did not. I would stare at myself in the mirror trying to see what was broken, but I couldn’t see what was wrong. I saw my same eyes, same face. Same arms, same legs. But I was not me, and that realization was terrifying.
The man I was before the IED strike was smart, confident and decisive. The man I became, as I saw myself then, was not. Most of the time I couldn’t remember where I was or what I was supposed to be doing. I would stare at my Marines, unable to remember their names. When people spoke to me I misunderstood them, and when it came time to respond I was unable to organize my racing thoughts. I would clutch at words as they flashed through my mind, only to see them slip by like water and evaporate before I could open my mouth. As days turned to weeks and then months without improvement, I felt myself being hollowed out by despair and anger.
The first time I thought about suicide, it was easy to dismiss. The idea first popped into my mind as I listened to a Navy doctor explain to me that I would be medically retired, that I would not be a Marine anymore.
Until that moment, I believed that the doctors would be able to fix whatever was wrong with me. Through the confusion, pain, hate, and sadness, I was holding on to the belief that I would return to the Fleet eventually. When the doctor told me I would not get better, that “life is now about making the most of what you have left,” I felt as though the floor gave way beneath me.
I listened and understood that all my plans, my career, my friends — and most importantly, my Marines — would be taken from me. I saw that what I would get in exchange for what I loved most was pain, confusion, and that smoldering hatred I felt hollowing me out inside since Afghanistan. In the doctor’s office I closed my eyes, and when I did, I saw my pistol.
The thing about suicide is that the first time you think of it, it’s scary. The thought of dying is unwelcome and terrifying. And because of that it was easy for me to push aside. Like anything else though, the more time you spend with something new the more familiar it becomes.
Eventually suicide was on my mind all the time. And I already knew how I would kill myself, after all. I would shoot myself in the head with my pistol, of course, which I reasoned was an appropriate way for a professional soldier to die. Every morning as I walked to the Metro from my apartment, I imagined taking my pistol out of its lock box, inserting the magazine, chambering a round, and blowing my brains out. Soon this looped in my head, like a short gif, no matter what I was doing. Before long I welcomed suicide as a release from the pain, fear, and hatred that dominated my life.
I am still here though, and I will tell you why. I am alive today because when I was a young Marine, my platoon sergeant took the time to talk to us.
Gunny carried himself like someone who grew up fighting, and he had the scars to show for it. He squinted and smirked like Robert DeNiro, and when he spoke he did so with a heavy Boston accent. Gunny was the most military man I’ve ever known, and frankly, he scared the hell out of me.
But once a week, Gunny sat on the floor of our berthing area and talked to us about life, and we listened, half-circled around him. There was one conversation in particular this man had with us, on his own time, that helped save my life. That day, Gunny talked about his own experience with the psychological cost of war, explaining that mental health is as important as physical health. As we sat around him, Gunny told us that thinking of suicide is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of a medical emergency.
“Thinking of suicide is a sign of a medical emergency.” I remembered those words, years later, and in the darkness they saved me. Because of that conversation I realized I was sick and that I had to ask for help. I did. And I am here. Thank you, Gunny.
It is easy for soldiers (and civilians) who have experienced war to forget that life is beautiful. It is easy to forget because the horror of war chips away at who we are gradually, and like getting older, we do not notice that it is happening. But life is beautiful and life is full of love and hope. And each of us deserves to be a part of that, no matter what we’ve done or seen. Remember that.
Top Navy official calls out government lawyers for spying on legal team of Navy SEAL accused of war crimes
In a scathing letter, a top Navy legal official on Sunday expressed "grave ethical concerns" over revelations that government prosecutors used tracking software in emails to defense lawyers in ongoing cases involving two Navy SEALs in San Diego.
The letter, written by David G. Wilson, Chief of Staff of the Navy's Defense Service Offices, requested a response by Tuesday from the Chief of the Navy's regional law offices detailing exactly what type of software was used and what it could do, who authorized it, and what controls were put in place to limit its spread on government networks.
"As our clients learn about these extraordinary events in the media, we are left unarmed with any facts to answer their understandable concerns about our ability to secure the information they must trust us to maintain. This situation has become untenable," Wilson wrote in the letter, which was obtained by Task & Purpose on Monday.
Those really sweet, hand-held drones that the Army bought in January were finally put to the test as they were fielded to some lucky soldiers for the first time at the beginning of May.
For many people, millennials are seen as super-entitled, self-involved, over-sensitive snowflakes who don't have the brains or brawn to, among other noble callings, serve as the next great generation of American warfighters.
Retired Navy Adm. William H. McRaven is here to tell you that you have no idea what you're talking about.
Supreme Court refuses to hear yet another challenge to the controversial Feres Doctrine on military medical malpractice
The Supreme Court on Monday denied a petition to hear a wrongful death case involving the controversial Feres Doctrine — a major blow to advocates seeking to undo the 69-year-old legal rule that bars U.S. service members and their families from suing the government for injury or death deemed to have been brought on by military service.
FORT IRWIN, California -- Anyone who's been here has seen it: the field of brightly painted boulders surrounding a small mountain of rocks that symbolizes unit pride at the Army's National Training Center.
For nearly four decades, combat units have painted their insignias on boulders near the road into this post. It's known as Painted Rocks.