It’s your life, do with it what you want.
It seems like a long time ago when I joined the Army. I was naïve, didn’t have any ideas about what I could do and wow, the army wanted me. Man, did I feel important. No one back then told me how smart I was, or how I could make it in college and this just seemed like the answer. So, at 17, I joined the U.S. Army. My mother’s advice: “It’s your life, do with it what you want.”
Twenty years later, I retired as a Sergeant First Class – ten years active and ten in the reserves. I was proud of how independent I was. Then things began to crumble – I couldn’t concentrate well at work. Things that made me happy lost their luster. I became so depressed and I didn’t know why. I didn’t have friends. I couldn’t keep a relationship going. What happened to that proudly independent woman?
I knew I needed help and I reached out for it at the VA. Once I reached out, things seemed to just get worse. Great huh? I sunk so low and was in so much pain that suicide seemed the only answer. Luckily, there were a couple of angels guarding me and I was not successful in my attempts.
I don’t share all this to depress anyone but to share a very dark history of my life. The details of my Military Sexual Trauma (MST) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are not important at this time, but the message of hope is. It took me a very long time to realize and accept that I have PTSD and MST. I don’t talk about it all the time anymore but it is always there. I unconsciously avoid my triggers, to try to live ‘normally’. When my PTSD rears its ugly head, I am so pissed that it has to remind me at the most inopportune moments that my brain and body are permanently scarred from these illnesses.
As I continued therapy, I have started to learn that I want to share this message of what has helped me so that maybe it can give at least one person who doesn’t think it is possible but they WILL get better. What works for me may not work for you, but it is about learning who you are, and developing into the beautiful person you are meant to be.
The hardest thing for me to learn was to accept help. I had always been independent and capable. I relied on no one. I realize now that I did this mostly for survival. I was ashamed to admit to myself that I could not do it on my own.
I, was not perfect. I had learned my whole life that I was the only person that I could depend on. Now, I had to reach out to some stranger? As humiliating and humbling this first act was, it took me even longer to learn that reaching out to ask for help was what normal people did. I learned to do this in very, very small steps. It was the most difficult part of this whole process of healing for me. I could not depend on anyone my whole life. Now, I had to learn to do this unnatural act. What if they said no? People did, I got hurt, learned something then kept on going on. What if….. There were a million “what ifs”. I learned there are people that you can’t depend on. I also learned that harder-to-learn lesson, that there are people out there that will help you. If you don’t reach out, you will
stay where you are in that lonely, painful hollow life that you created. When you reach out, it is scary. When you reach out, you are taking a huge risk. Try just a small step and see where it takes you.
It’s been about ten years of little steps for me now. I have learned a lot. A lot of the trip has been painful. I’ve learned that feeling is a good thing. The numbness that shielded me was necessary to survive but now is my time to live. To live I must have all of my feelings. I need to know when I am angry, sad, hurt and happy. These are part of my ‘tools’ for living. Before, when I was numb, I wouldn’t know when I had been hurt, or if someone or something made me angry. While I may experience pain, now I can figure out what hurt me and what to do about it. What is even better is that when I am happy, I truly am happy and it is not masked. I continue to learn what makes me happy and keep taking steps in those directions.
I’ve realized I’m not supposed to be alone. Being part of society is part of what being human is all about. We are social creatures. Making friends is hard work. I had no clue how to do this. I kept distancing myself from everyone to protect myself. This was important to do a long time ago but now, as I heal, it is important to develop friends. At first this seemed impossible, so I did what I used to do – what how other people were in friendships, read about friendships and learned what I could. Then I took the hard steps and after a lot of trying I have been learning and growing and I have friends. Not just the social kind, but ones you can depend on. After all the small steps I have taken, I am grateful for what I have now. It wasn’t easy but it IS possible.
I also found it important to learn about who and what I am all about. I found pastimes that I love to do. I found many of them give me great joy to do. It’s not about perfection, but the process. I love to garden. It’s not just about the flowers but the preparation of the soil, the gentle growing of the seeds, the watering, the giving of nutrients, weeding, the support you give them as needed. This reminds me of my life struggles and is very therapeutic. It you like gardening start small – one plant. Don’t try anything overwhelming. Just be in the moment and enjoy.
If gardening doesn’t seem your thing, FIND out what is. Start small and enjoy the process.
I’ve learned, it’s O.K. to be where you are. It’s about being comfortable in your shoes. It’s about doing what is right for you to do. It’s about going on your path – knowing what your path is. It’s about loving yourself. It’s about forgiving yourself. It’s about taking small steps each day on your path to go in your direction to be the best you can be. When my mom gave me the advice, “It’s your life, do with it what you want.” I think I finally understand.