Life changing moments often come when you least expect them. June 1, 2007, was one of those days for me; but, prior to sharing, I must start a little earlier because many defining moments and people help to shape one’s life. I grew up the youngest of six children; and, being the youngest, my older siblings taught me a lot. My sisters, Sandra and Rosa, taught love through their actions. My oldest brother, Jason, kind of became a father figure later in life, and he taught me to pray. My brother, Paul, was always a hero to me; and he inspired me to join the Army. My brother, Andrew, was my best friend; and, regardless of what happens in life; we will always be there for each other. Though I knew I was loved, I always felt insecure, inadequate, and alone. I know, in a family of eight, being alone seems strange; but I felt no one truly cared. My parents were present in person, but their minds were usually somewhere else. They had a difficult marriage; and, at that point, I don’t think either one knew God’s love. Quality time seemed to be at a minimum. Thankfully, God placed a number of people in my life to help me get to know Him and mentor me. Our neighbors Big Daddy, Grandma and Granny, were always there for me; and they always made me feel like part of their family. One thing about my family, though God was not heavily emphasized in our home, we always went to Church. Church was my escape; even without the family, I went as much as possible. That is when I met Murph. Matt Murphy was the coolest youth pastor that a 12 year old boy can have; he taught me to love God, and he led me to the Lord. He still mentors me today, and he has become an even greater man of God. The last man to make a major impact on my youth was Coach Tuck. He, too, still is a great mentor and man of God, but he taught me that God didn’t mess up creating me and that I was special.
That is how it all started, and I shared a little bit about those who shaped my life. Now, let me get back to June 1, 2007. I was in Ameriyah, Baghdad, Iraq, as a member of 1-23 Infantry. My unit had already been in Country for a year, and the grind was wearing on us. We had already been in a number of fire fights, lost soldiers, and saw more death than anyone should ever experience. That morning I had the chance to call my amazing wife, Brittany. She had only been married to me for a year and a half, and she had to deal with my being at war while rearing our six month old baby alone. We were young and so very much in love, but that was her last phone call from the man she married. I remember complaining to her about being stung by a bee that morning. I have a bee allergy, so I thought it was the worst day ever. Little did I know, that was only the beginning! A few hours after the phone call, we went on a mission to clear a weapons cache. Weapons and explosives were everywhere. We even found weapons of presumably dead U.S. soldiers. After a few hours, my friend Gilbert and I took a break sitting on the back of a car in the carport. The car was parked very close to the house we were clearing, and no one had walked between the two. During the break, our sergeant walked between the house and the car.
All of a sudden, I remember flying in the air; but I could not see well. I could hear nothing as both ear drums were ruptured. A loud thumping sound was the only noise I could acknowledge when I awoke. I saw Gilbert and attempted to help him to safety, while barely being able to move. I also saw my sergeant lying in a puddle of blood, after losing both legs. I tried to help as much as I could, but again I lost consciousness.
I cannot remember much of what happened that day, but I do remember some things that happened later. I had a severe Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), severe migraines, slurred speech, tinnitus, hearing impairment, vision impairment, severe back complications, severe depression, severe anxiety; and I scored off the charts for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). All of those resulted from that incident. After the MRI on my brain, I have had six procedures on it to ease the swelling. I was prescribed daily injections and three other daily medications for migraines. I was on a number of psychotropic medications that changed nearly as often as I changed counselors. I also had medications for pain and arthritis. Overall, I came home on 19 medications. Over the ensuing years, I have been prescribed even more psychotropic drugs.
Counselors were the same story. I got bumped from counselor to counselor, never seeing one more than two or three times. I got so tired of doing intakes, I stopped talking. Many people I talked to only learned from a book, and they didn’t seem to care about anything but a check. Often, I felt merely treating my symptoms made my problems worse.