One of the most difficult times any veteran can go through is the transition back to civilian life. Speaking for myself, my transition was very much a bittersweet experience. Personally, I loved combat and outside of the military, I never felt comfortable expressing my love for war outside of my close circle of friends who also felt the same as I did.
I spent six and a half years as a sniper in the Marines and another five years as a security contractor. In total, I deployed four times in the service and completed nine rotations working on security contracts. It was certainly an experience I’ll never forget and I saw not only the ugliness of war but also the beauty of peaceful resolution, although oftentimes, short-lived. It was the upfront, in-person contrast between peace and war that fascinated me the most about my service and the lessons of those experiences shaped my life and, in part, made me the man I am today.
For me, leaving that line of work was very difficult. However, throughout that time I always felt that I was missing something “normal,” and therefore I decided to become a real estate investor so that I could set myself up to return home and see what a “normal” life was all about.
Looking back to three years after I left Baghdad in 2016, I can say that it was a great decision for me personally. However, the three years following were the hardest years I’ve ever had. I had grown accustomed to coming home between deployments and spending anywhere from 30-60 days partying, traveling the world, causing untold mayhem, and drinking heavily. I could do this because no matter what I did on leave, I’d be gone within a very short period of time and my two worlds never interacted with one another. I could be any version of myself I wanted to be on leave. By the time I came back around again, the mayhem was forgotten and I could begin a new set of mayhem only to be forgotten again soon. By the time I came back overseas again, there were usually a new group of guys to run missions with along with the other guys I’d known for years who were on the same plan as me.
On April 20, 2016; I left Baghdad for the last time and returned home for good. I’ve often wondered if the date my last rotation ended wasn’t some sort of unfortunate foretelling about what the future had in store for me for which I’ll get to in a minute. About 5 months before leaving, I had bought my first mobile home park with my business partner. It threw off enough cash flow that I was essentially set to return home and be able to financially support myself while building a business.
By the end of that first year, we closed four additional properties and we were well on our way to something big. However, I was also a functioning alcoholic who smoked weed nearly every day and would occasionally use other drugs such as acid, cocaine, pills, and a few others that I don’t even remember the names of. I also had a series of near-misses while drunk driving to go along with it.
Ultimately, moving to Tampa to be closer to my business partner to help run the business may have been the decision that allowed me to write this today. I think that if it wasn’t for his positive influence in my life during that time, I’d have just kept going deeper into that world. It took me a very long time to admit that I had a problem even after my drug and alcohol problem became obvious to everyone else around me.
Once settled in, I continued to work during the day with a few beers in me and smoked weed at night. Soon transitioning to smoking weed first thing in the morning, then drinking, followed by smoking weed at night. In fact, on my first date with my wife, I was high and didn’t even bother to shower that day or put on any nice clothes. It’s honestly a wonder I got a second date!
My drinking and drug use didn’t come to light until about 8 months after I had moved to Tampa. I had hidden it so well that nobody suspected that I had these things going on for the exception of my girlfriend (now wife) and her friends. My issues came to light to my business partners and employees shortly after I had broken up with her. Partly because I didn’t want her to waste any more time with me and partly because a healthy relationship was starting to interfere with my ability to drink and use drugs. Selfishness under a mask of selflessness.
The incident was particularly embarrassing but I had pulled an all-nighter of working, smoking weed, and drinking with a friend. Sometime that morning, I had become maniacally paranoid and started emailing nonsense to my business partners, among others. I had convinced myself that they were now the enemy and that there was something nefarious about everything that they were doing with regards to me. This continued into the late evening when I became so paranoid that I got into the car very drunk and very stoned and made the 10-mile trip across town during the end of rush hour to hide from my friend and anyone else who might be after me following the events of that day at my ex-girlfriend’s (Now Wife) house.
To this day, I’ll never forget that moment where she brought me in and comforted me while I was completely out of my mind. Or the next day when I had to confront my partners and the people who’d received nonsensical emails and texts from me. However, as addiction goes, it was only the beginning.
Over the next few months, I continued to have similar, less severe incidents. Ultimately culminating with me walking away from from my business for a few months towards the end of 2017. Another poor attempt at hiding selfishness with an excuse of selflessness.
My business partners invited me back into the company in December of 2017. This was even though I still had a very serious problem and they were well aware of it. I had just gotten engaged and I had also started to try to clean up my drug use. I was still drinking fairly heavily but I no longer smoked weed or did any other drugs. At least, that was the case in December. For the most part, most of 2018 went well professionally.
We grew very fast as a company and we did very well but I still had a few issues that spilled out into the company. The entire year I struggled going back and forth between drinking, having an alcohol incident, switching to weed as a substitution, having a weed incident, and then switching back. This ultimately culminated with the incident that led to my removal from the company.
On Thanksgiving Day, I got extremely paranoid after making another recent switch to smoking weed and began a rather nasty email attack against our former property manager. This property manager also happened to be a very well-respected industry player. Rightfully so, this action became the last straw. What I can say is that getting fired from a company you helped found and also own is one of the most painful experiences you can go through. It took me many months to pick myself up after that and it was very difficult for not only me but for everyone involved.
Over the months following, I slipped further into drug and alcohol abuse until I ultimately decided to take control and stop drinking and doing drugs. Over that period, I explored several things but finding my way back to my religion, strengthening my relationship with my wife, family, and friends, and attending therapy ultimately helped me come through a better man.
I feel that most of what I struggled with during that time had to do with losing the accountability of a strong influence. The military provides all of us with a mission and a purpose that is very easy to wrap our arms around and be excited about. Leaving the military causes many of us to enjoy that lack of accountability and oversight but it also makes it necessary for us to find our own personal purposes that are worth living for. It’s truly a double-edged sword. I think finding that purpose whether it be in service to your faith, your community, your family, your fellow service members, or all of the above is vitally critical for a healthy and happy life.
Regardless, every person has a responsibility to care for themselves. It’s not your wife’s responsibility, It’s not your pastor’s responsibility, and it’s not up to your family and friends. You are a hero to all who are close to you and everyone wants to see you beat whatever you’re going through. Whatever is happening in your life, you are still alive and you are still in the fight. The darkness is all in your mind and you can find your way through it. It’s not easy but nothing worth doing in life ever is.
One of our goals at ADPI Helps is to confront addiction head-on and logically. The fundamental truth I came to realize about addiction was that addicts (myself included) will rarely quit when confronted with selfless reasons such as how our actions affect others or how our actions affect our own health. That’s not how addiction works, unfortunately. Instead, I always found it helpful to challenge the positive aspects of drug abuse and alcohol that I held within my own mind and rarely expressed outwardly. The toughest questions for me to answer when asked were “why do you do it?” or “what do you get out of it?” Hearing that enough times caused me to think about why I couldn’t answer those questions truthfully, even to myself internally.
There are many reasons why addicts do what they do. For me, I held the belief that smoking weed and drinking opened up my creative abilities and I enjoyed the myriad of ideas that would flow while intoxicated. Steven Tyler (of Aerosmith) alludes to this in an interview he did after he got sober and it was the first time I ever heard someone say exactly what I was thinking. For me, it wasn’t until I began to question the reality of what intoxication did to my creative abilities and came to admit that not only did it not help the process, it hindered it tremendously. When asked during the interview, Steven Tyler openly admitted that his best work (and the work he’s most proud of) was done sober.
I also had extreme anxiety during my three years as an addict. For a large period of my time as a daily marijuana or alcohol user, I would relieve my anxiety by smoking or drinking. During that time, I gave the drug the credit for curing my anxiety without considering the possibility that it may have caused the very anxiety it “cured.” It was only after I stopped both for an extended period that I began to notice that my anxiety began to become less severe and I found that I was sleeping better. Having actual dreams again was a cool side effect of short periods of abstinence! At least it was for me because I didn’t dream while using.
A 7-day break may help you see for yourself what beliefs you hold. Treat it like a science experiment, gather data, analyze the results, and formulate an honest conclusion. You don’t have to tell anyone you’re doing it and you may be surprised at your change in attitude or change in perception.
I think it’s important to understand that honesty with yourself is at the heart of an issue like drug and alcohol abuse. There are all sorts of programs out there and ways to force yourself to be abstinent but the goal should be to be a willing and happy participant in your sobriety. It’s only after you challenge the benefits of the drugs and begin to see it for what it is that you can do this. Otherwise, you’ll just remain an addict who isn’t allowing him or herself to partake. In other words, you’ll still be controlled by the drug but not allowing yourself to use, and who wants that?!
I don’t possess the willpower to be abstinent so being happy and willing was the only way for me to do it.
I can’t stress step 4 enough. REPEAT until you can answer the simple questions completely.
Lastly, it’s important to know that physical withdrawal, in reality, is very minor with most drugs, even though it may not seem so. The power of your mind to induce the impression of physical responses is very real and is usually the result of not addressing a perceived benefit. It relieves my anxiety or it helps me sleep are good examples. When you feel physical withdrawal while abstaining, it’s important to identify that belief accurately now that it is coming into view.
If you fall back into the addiction trap, so be it. You can start another experiment soon enough and move closer to understanding your addiction and the reasons why you do what you do. Failure is a part of progress in all areas of life and understanding your addiction is no different. I probably went through at least 20 or 30, 7-day experiments before leaving my addiction behind. Sometimes I made it 7 days (or longer), sometimes I didn’t make it 7 hours. I always found it interesting that my physical and mental withdrawal symptoms were so varied each time which is likewise telling of how the human mind has the power to create things that aren’t there. Especially while being controlled by a drug either through intoxication or prolonged, will power-driven abstinence.
The truth is the most sacred thing in this world and you owe it to yourself to know the truth about your reasons for using drugs and alcohol. If you explore your beliefs about the benefits of drugs and alcohol, you’ll likely come to find that there are a lot of falsities disguised as truth regarding this topic.
"In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies."
- Winston Churchill
I think the same could be said about the business of selling addiction. Regardless, the decision is always yours and it’s your responsibility to make the best decision for your life. We are here to help you and there is no judgment attached to what we have to offer you.
- Charles DeHart