In 2005, I returned home following a 12-month deployment to Iraq. Upon my return, I began struggling with post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, acute anger and sleep issues. Night terrors became a common occurrence and prevented me from having a normal night of sleep.
I was deployed again in 2006 for 15 months, only worsening all the issues I was already facing. My physician prescribed Ambien for my sleep issues, but on the nights that I took it, it felt like I had blacked out for 10 to 15 hours. I talked to him about this, but he did nothing to help me.
I didn’t seek help for my mental health, mostly due to the stigma within the military. After all, a warrior isn’t supposed to show any sign of weakness. I eventually turned to alcohol and painkillers to keep my night terrors away so that I could sleep.
Facing Substance Use Issues
By late 2007, I was a closeted, functioning alcoholic. My nightly routine was to wait until my wife went to sleep, then break out a bottle until I was drunk enough to pass out. When the alcohol stopped doing the trick for me, I took my wife’s Percocet and Vicodin; this went on until sometime in 2011.
Unbeknownst to me, others noticed I had been showing up to my unit physical training reeking of booze. Finally, I was given an ultimatum by my platoon leader to either self-enroll into the Army substance abuse program or the unit commander was going to refer me.
Following a brutal detox and completing the substance abuse program, I was able to overcome my drug and alcohol addictions and kept my cravings under control. Unfortunately, my sleep issues continued, and my anger grew more every day.
Spiraling into Depression
During my journey down this road, I was also having affairs with other women. I was an enlisted soldier in Georgia at the time. I was separating from the military and had originally planned on moving back to Arizona and finishing my bachelor’s degree at the University of Arizona in Tucson, but since I had an amazing connection with the officer’s wife, I decided to stay. At that point, I began to spiral into the pit of depression.
This depression overwhelmed me for the better part of three months. Even though I felt happy in my affair, the darkness consumed me. I was drowning in the reality that I had no plan in place. The constant worry caused my depression to worsen. By this point, there were far too many days that went by when it would take all my willpower for me to make it out of bed. My depression was then compounded by ending my affair, and I reached a breaking point.
After years of struggling, I finally realized I needed to seek professional help. Because I built a wall so high between me and my wife over almost 13 years, she never suspected any of what I had been doing. After deliberating about it for a few days, I confessed my illicit deeds to her and decided I no longer wanted to be this version of myself.
For the first time, I honestly thought she was going to leave me, but because of her immense love for me, she promised me that she wasn’t going anywhere. That day, I decided to give therapy and counseling my entire effort to get well.
After numerous therapy sessions, my counselor suggested I see my doctor for my sleep issues. I was taking Prozac for my depression and anxiety, and my doctor put me on Trazodone for my insomnia.
During the transition of getting used to my new meds, my depression completely engulfed me. One night after taking my meds, the thought lingered in my mind that it would be better if I not wake up the next morning. I recall sitting alone on the couch downstairs in the darkness telling myself that it would be easy to just end it all. I don’t remember anything else from that night but, somehow, I ended up in bed upstairs the next morning when I woke up.
I reluctantly told my wife about how the night before my mind led me to seriously think about suicide. I had never contemplated suicide before this, and she made me promise if I ever had thoughts of suicide again, I’d tell her no matter what, and I have kept that promise.
It has been nearly three years since that night, but I am always mindful that it happened. During one of my sessions, my therapist recommended that I keep a journal as a form of therapy. This story was my first entry and has been a huge part of my recovery.
Today, I am no longer struggling with many of the issues that began in 2005. I haven’t had thoughts of suicide and, hopefully, I am now closer to overcoming my post-traumatic stress, depression and sleep issues. I am sharing my experience in the hopes that my story might help someone who is traveling down a similar path. Please remember that you are not alone.
If you are a veteran in crisis — or you’re concerned about one — free, confidential support is always available 24/7. Reach out to the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, or send a text message to 838255 for immediate assistance.
A.M. Bayna is an aspiring author and a veteran of both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. He is currently a senior at the University College of Syracuse University and is working toward his degree in Professional Studies. You can follow him on Twitter at @abayna72.