Several years had already gone by since I left the Army. One particular day, everything from my past and present life came to the surface. Over time, I kept pushing everything deep down into an abyss that eventually built up. Then one day, out of nowhere it all rushed over me like never before.
I was on the edge and felt that everything going on in life was about to push me over completely. It was the first and only time, I truly contemplated taking my own life to end the misery and depression inside that was within on every level.
That afternoon I was extremely clouded emotionally and was driving to a specific bridge to jump 150 feet to my death. Someone was looking out for me that day, because I finally came to my senses and pulled over to the side of the road. Once I realized what the fuck was going on, that’s when I finally admitted something to myself that I never wanted to accept:
I have a problem and I need to talk to someone who can help me!
If I kept ignoring what was going on, it would only have been a matter of weeks before I was past the point of no return and would complete the job another day. Unfortunately, I would have been just another alarming statistic amongst military veterans you now read about all too often today.
Sadly as I’m writing this, another Canadian soldier took his own life recently but not before he took his entire family with him that tragic day. I’m a father of three kids and can’t imagine what their lives would have been like if I didn’t talk to someone years ago before it was too late.
It’s the only reason I’m sharing something so personal and private. I sincerely hope it saves just one more soldier or veteran anywhere in the world from taking their own lives including others. As well, I hope the governments and systems that are trying to help those in need can do more.
I’ve read most often and have been told by many veterans in several countries that ‘The System’ is broken and failing the very ones that it was designed for in the first place. It could be just one more reason why soldiers have a tough time reaching out?
Once a soldier, always a soldier and is why we take care of each other. It never stops, even long after we hang up our uniforms and combat boots.
It pains me to say this now, even years later. However, I was in a very dark place at that time where nobody even knew just how bad it was for me on the inside. I was never the one to ever talk about my past, problems or inner thoughts and feelings.
In the military, we were trained to tough it out, carry on and RUCK UP. In the beginning, I was ok with handling things on my own. However, my pride and ego got in the way and I didn’t want or need anyone’s help either, but I was wrong.
Everyone has their own story and circumstances before, during and especially after military service which can be tough to handle on many levels. In my own situation, the struggles were mostly after I released from the military.
Over the years, I never talked about it much with anyone and never dealt with it properly until later on in life. It was one of the main reasons I joined the Army Reserves at 17 years old. Some can relate to this I’m sure, I was hoping for an escape to something better.
After my years of military service, is when I went through some tough transitions and extreme hardships all on my own. It included my personal life and career falling apart all around at the same time dealing with everything all alone.
One of the hardest things for me to deal with over the years was the death of a Canadian soldier in Afghanistan that I knew and served with years prior. He was killed in August 2006 and that has stuck with me ever since even though I was never there and had already released from the military.
Personally, I had carried a lot of feelings consisting of guilt, anger, rage, disappointment, lost my sense of purpose, shame, depression and even regret every time my friends deployed. It really bothered me inside, especially when another flag draped coffin would come back home.
It might sound strange or not even make sense to some people including myself at the time. However, I recall several times sitting in my cushy office making more money than most guys my age in the military, yet I’d rather be a soldier still that had a sense of purpose even if it was in a dangerous place as strange as that sounds. I wanted to be there with my buddies and make a difference in the world which most I spoke with felt that way.
It beat me up for several years, especially the weeks and months leading up to Remembrance Day on November 11th. Some years were rough and I started to abuse alcohol at times which was my temporary crutch. I would get extremely drunk by myself or sometimes with friends which I’m not proud to say but it was apart of that time in my life back then.
With that being said, everyone handles and copes with things differently. At the end of the day, I was just trying to handle those feelings and emotions inside in order to try and numb the pain to get me through it.
In 2002, after 6 years in the military I left voluntarily and was released honorably. Some days, I wished I never had done that. I wanted to do more and should have been overseas with my buddies but that chapter in my life was already closed.
I recall last year when I met up with an old buddy and told him how I felt. He was in Afghanistan along with a few others we both knew including the one soldier who was killed. I remember apologizing and feeling guilty because I should have been over there.
It meant a lot hearing my good friend say that it’s ok I didn’t go to war because I already had done my time years before. That alone bothered me for a very long time and his words helped me let go of that guilt. I needed to hear that directly from one of my brothers who was there because he is one of my friends that I worry about. He was different and not the same man on certain levels and was also struggling transitioning back into civilian life.
It was my plan to be a career soldier like my father and many of our family members. It’s in our blood and I was born the son of a soldier which I loved being a soldier and truly missed the Army especially years later.
At the time, I had a young family and wasn’t so sure anymore if the Army life was for me or my family. I know firsthand what military families go through with deployments, training exercises and everything else behind closed doors. It’s also very hard on the families and military personnel and how they deal with their problems in their own ways.
Every time one of our soldiers came home injured or killed, it really bothered me to no end. I started to take things very personal. It got harder and harder for me to accept or even understand certain things inside as the years went on.
The most upsetting thing to me was I felt that I let down my Army buddies, friends, family including my country. Unfortunately, I let that shit eat me up inside for many years until I finally talked to professionals including a select few who specialize with military backgrounds.
With their help along with a few close friends and especially my buddies, I was finally able to accept and let go of what I had carried inside me for almost ten years. It almost killed me one day because that’s how bad it was at the time. Everyone is different, but the struggles and end result might be similar.
It includes the ones that never came back and the ones whom were injured in body, mind and spirit which I know and served with a few of them as well. It’s also why I’m sharing this personal story because I don’t want my friends to be the next one that might take their own lives. I’ve seen it in their eyes when they talk about certain things and are struggling inside or with transitioning back into the real world.
There are not too many days I don’t see my friends face, especially the last time I seen him in person before he was deployed. I still shed tears once in a while behind closed doors by myself for him and the other soldiers that never made it back. It’s hard not to, whether you were there or not, we still lost one of our own either way which can be tough.
If anyone is reading this and you’re going through some serious things in your life, please understand and take these most important steps that will make a difference:
Most Important Initial Steps:
1) Identify and accept there is a problem
2) Please just talk to someone, anyone will be a good start
3) There are people who can help and better days ahead.
As one can possibly imagine this was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to publish publically but it is for one good cause alone. I’ve been where some of you are right now, despite differences in our stories or the actual reasons why we are there in the first place. Soldiers can relate to one another regardless and is why we have a unique bond like no other.
It was extremely emotional and painful to relive some of this pain and memories. If I’m being honest, I had reservations to posting this because how it could impact my career. Sadly, there are stigmas and ignorance surrounding these topics and that’s someone else’s problems and is not yours. With that being said, I was a soldier first before anything else in my life and hope this can help save just one life from becoming a statistic.
If you are worried about what others might think or how it could impact your career. Speaking from personal experiences, please don’t think about that because there are more important things to consider.
It’s ok to talk and get the help one might need, so please take this sincere message from one soldier to another that was about to take my own life. It does not make one weak and there is no shame. It takes more courage including bravery to come forward publically, but you and your family will thank yourself when you start talking and healing.
Despite my challenges, I am grateful I took the first steps which was to talk and understand in order to heal myself the best way that I could. It was my closest friends, but especially my Army family that helped me survive in order to tell this story years later. Today, I’m emotionally, mentally and even physically stronger now than ever before because of it.
In my own mind, they are the ones that will never run away from you when others might, never forget that you’re not alone. Please reach out to those who will understand what you’re going through more than anyone else in this world.
There are also several other people, some I’ve never even met before that I’d like to say thank you. I’m very glad they came into my life over the years when they did:
It’s ok to talk with someone when you’re ready – Stay safe and please take care of one another
About the author: Pete Howell is a former member of the Canadian Forces Army Reserve and a seasoned Business Development professional within the manufacturing sector in Edmonton, Alberta Canada. Thank you for taking time to read my personal story which I hope you enjoyed. As always, I welcome and appreciate your likes, comments, feedback and please share within your own networks as it could save another life.
Disclaimer: The comments, opinions and views expressed herein are mine and do not represent those of my employer.