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A Speck of Hope

With all of the women speaking out and telling their stories, I’m inspired to reach others with mine.

With all of the women speaking out and telling their stories I’m inspired to reach others with mine. If my story can give just a speck of hope to another person - man, woman, adult or child, please talk with someone you trust or call the National Suicide Lifeline (800) 273-8255 (U.S.) if you feel at risk.

In 1982, I made a decision to join the army. I had been working full-time, going to school part-time, and supporting myself. The man I was seeing had been physically abusive and I knew there had to be more to life. A military career would allow me to serve my country, while guaranteeing my education, and providing an opportunity to travel.

Basic training wasn’t the usual ten weeks for me, it was twelve. Over the Christmas exodus some of my unit went home for two weeks but I stayed because I knew if I went home I may not return. It was tough. Halfway through basic training I fractured my pelvic bone but completed my training anyway so I wouldn’t have to repeat it.

The schooling I had after basic training was in a unit which was pretty much just more basic training. After a 5K run one day, the pelvic fracture caused me to fall out of the running formation to the side of the road. The doctor gave me a choice between hospitalization for three weeks or crutches for six; I chose the crutches. I still managed to march with my crutches behind the platoon and participate in the required physical training.

Upon graduation, I received orders for the 21st Replacement Battalion in Frankfurt, Germany. I was thrilled to be in Europe and was amazed by the history and lifestyle. I planned to absorb as much of the culture as I could. The unit I was shipped to was in Wurzburg, Germany on a small military base. I was assigned to the battalion headquarters in the operations/intelligence section. With the commander’s updates and strategy changes, I was tasked to retype the entire TSOP (Tactical Standard Operating Procedures).

Then came field duty. It seemed like we were out there every other week in preparation for a major tactical evaluation, which we performed with excellence. As long as the colonel was in the BTOC (Battalion Tactical Operation Center), I was also there. We worked 14-16 hours a day unless we were on alert status. About the same time our unit was also preparing for an IG (Inspector General) inspection which involved not only scrubbing every square inch of our barracks, but sanding and painting camouflage on the Jeeps.

My barracks room was just past the CQ (Charge of Quarters) desk, on the other side of the vending machines. The vending machines blocked the CQ’s sight of our room entrance. It was a four-man room but only two of us stayed there. My area was in a back corner with a window behind my bunk which provided moonlight. I was rarely there during the day. It wasn’t so bad. Until one night.

My buddies and I went to the enlisted club one evening. My NCOIC (Non-Commissioned Officer In Charge) was there at the bar. When my buddies told me they were leaving, I decided to stay to talk with my NCOIC. He was an awesome soldier; a door-gunner in Vietnam with the 1st Cavalry Division. He was professional yet laid back, and the only soldier that I thought earned the right to put his feet on his desk.

I left the club, walked down to my barracks, went to my room, put on music, changed to bed clothes, and went right to sleep. I was awakened by a hand over my mouth. I couldn’t breathe. A soldier in my unit had come into my room, he had thrown 250 pounds of his sweaty flesh on top of me. He raped me. Up until about a year ago, I had always called it ‘an assault,’ now I call it what it was, rape. It was surreal and sickening. I could feel bile rising up my esophagus. After he left I went to see if my roommate was there and she was not. I sat up the rest of the night nauseous, unable to make sense of what had happened or what I should do next. When four-thirty finally arrived, I got into my uniform, went downstairs and waited for the First Sergeant. I decided to report the incident. When he arrived with the XO (Executive Officer) I asked permission to speak with them in private.

In his office I struggled to tell them what happened. I was trying to keep my military bearing, to be objective, calm, unemotional. At the end of the brief meeting they told me they would speak to the soldier and take care of it. They did not send me to the medic or offer any advice or options. They swept it under the rug. The remainder of my tour there was unbearable. I turned down a nice re-enlistment offer because I could not make the military a career after what had happened.

I finished out my term of service in Texas where I was honorably discharged. I went back home to the Chicago area. I tried to put everything behind me without realizing the impact it would have on my life. Back then, there was no awareness of PTSD by MST (Military Sexual Trauma) like there is now.

Only a year and a half later I found myself going to my first rehab to stop drinking. I had a nine-month-old daughter that needed me and the alcohol was taking over my body, mind, and soul. I had no clue why I was drinking so heavily, I just knew I didn’t feel right.

For the next fifteen years I experienced extraordinary successes and tremendous failures. I wanted to die. I prayed for God, or whoever was in charge, to take me. I started acting on those feelings and still did not understand my obsession to medicate and harm myself. I had been married, had two more children, and divorced. My ex-husband had taken my kids underhandedly which destroyed what was left of me. I ended up using drugs to the point of homelessness. Two years later a drug dealer told me I should go to the VA hospital for my care. You know you’re not doing as well as you think when a drug dealer suggests rehab. For the first fifteen years following my discharge, I had no idea I had access to VA medical benefits.

I substituted drugs for alcohol, and went to the VA after I had attempted to take my life a few times. I was then diagnosed as bipolar. I was put on medications, but continued abusing street drugs without informing my medical team. Naturally, I experienced extreme highs and lows. I had over a dozen ECT (Electro-Convulsive Therapy) sessions that wiped out my short-term memory for a while. Between ECT, medications, and street drugs I could barely function. I could not seem to get out of the dark place and turned my back on God and all that was good.

I was in and out of the psychiatric ward but would never admit my drug use, nor would I follow the doctor's suggestions. In 2006, after several years of speaking to the assigned medical professionals about the rape, they told me that what I had was chronic PTSD (MST) and encouraged me to file a claim with the VA for service-connected disability, which I did.

In 2009 I had been exhausted from drug use, depression, anxiety, and all the symptoms that go along with PTSD. The nightmares kept me awake at night and the hyper-vigilance and panic tortured me during the day. I waved the white flag and went to the rehab program for my drug addiction. This was followed by a psycho-social rehabilitation program to which helped me to regain balance prior to attempting to tackle real life again.

That was the last time I self-medicated. The suicidal ideation didn’t end and I still frequently ended up in the hospital. But I stuck with my therapy and programs, and worked hard to begin to turn my life around. My anxiety caused me to become a prisoner in my own home. A psychiatrist overmedicated me with Fentanyl, Vicodin, and Klonipin to a point where I overdosed twice while in a women’s trauma program. Upon returning, the same doctor put me on a high dose of Xanax which I was able to wean off of a few years ago.

Despite the incident being in my military records, to this day the VA continues to deny that I had ever been raped. Every time I receive a denial letter it feels as though I’m being raped all over again. It seems they are waiting for me to die or give up.

The dense fog that I lived in for so many years was lifted not long ago. I feel like a child with all I’m discovering and learning. I’m finding that even with all the losses I've experienced over the years I am still a caring, intelligent, and creative woman. I thought those things were long gone. My faith is growing stronger and my life has become about giving back. Gratefully helping, and encouraging others where I can in my modest way.

Living with a trauma-related illness is challenging. I still have nightmares and other PTSD symptoms and must take an SNRI and a medication for nightmares that doesn’t always work. A trauma of another type presented itself recently and thankfully I have the tools to begin the healing process without things getting out of hand. I have a safety plan in place and keep working hard and moving forward, by grace.

I’ll never give up. I’ll always keep a speck of hope for closure and healing, for myself and all of the others.