I spent Veterans Day talking to veterans, over the phone, or voice via social media. No memes, no text messages, no quick emails. Honest, real, voice. It’s just so novel, but awkward, and clumsy. For people that used to exist to communicate and accomplish something, we’re horrible at picking up the phone. It’s this mix of wanting to confess you either admired them or wanted to drink gasoline every time you heard their voice. Or both. A little over 70 calls, with about 30 connections to actual voice.
Why would I do that?
It has to do with veteran suicide. And the why. As in why would a group of people with a breadth of experience far greater than most, who’ve been a part of things greater than them as individuals take their own lives? These are people who’ve put others first, not just as a job, but as a philosophical approach to life. If you look at the numbers, (the harshest, dumbest thing to do) (more later) the latest “study” says it’s 17+ a day. It’s a person you know, every hour you’re awake.
For a long time, I couldn’t understand it. Then I became a veteran.
I could sleep in (impossible).
Wear whatever I wanted (finally I don’t look like a walking tree or milkman).
Grow a beard (life robbed me of that joy).
Wear flip flops while using power tools (so liberating).
And, then, I felt it. That sense of being un-rooted. Not being part of something. Bigger than that, not having an affiliation. The word affiliation comes to mind, because it speaks to an agreement, formal in nature, to belong to a group, to live by its guidelines. Everything is different. I felt a little like I didn’t belong. I heard the F word less than 5 times a day (3 of those might have been mine).
And I understood, (at least a little) how they could feel low. The space where they knew how to exist, the rules, perhaps arbitrary or antiquated or stifling, suddenly is gone. And they’re missing something. And they try to fill the void. Other groups. Work. Hobbies. New friends. Alcohol.
At some point, no longer rooted, they make a choice.
Is the call the answer? Is it as simple as reaching out?
I don’t think it’s the answer, but I think it’s an answer.
Because this question is a hard one. Because the problem is real, and it happens every day. And it sucks. And often it begets more of the same from others. And it sneaks up on us. And it takes your family, it takes valuable people and it takes those who you served with. And you can’t blame it on equipment, or war, or a training accident or a sudden illness. You can only blame it on a sadness that hurts you didn’t see, a sadness that somehow finds its way to you.
That sadness finds me from time to time. It hurts losing them. There’s no neat ending to this story. None.
Retired Chief Petty Officer