Military culture is one I’ve known since before I was on active duty. Before I even set foot in Annapolis to become a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy. My father medically retired from the navy, and that was all I knew up until about age 7 or 8. What I have come to learn is that the military mind never really goes away. Certain modes of behavior and thoughts about oneself get so ingrained that they can be the hardest chains to break.
One of those chains is the myth that we have to be strong as a military service members at all times, bearing our burdens alone. The truth of the matter, and the reality of life, reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of how we as human beings are designed to live.
When I was a plebe (freshman) at the Naval Academy, my father committed suicide. I didn’t know anything was seriously wrong with him because he held it all inside. That’s what the military taught him to do. I don’t blame the military for his suicide; rather, I blame faulty logic.
Years later, when I was a victim of military sexual trauma, I developed PTSD and didn’t talk about it for years. Although the military and now the Veteran’s Administration treat me for it, at first, they could only treat the symptoms and not the root cause of my anxiety and depression.
The therapists could only do so much because I was ashamed of my situation. Ashamed of how I developed PTSD in the first place.
As a “strong, black woman,” how could I admit that I was the victim of assault when it was the very assault convincing me I should have seen it coming, and I should have been strong enough to stop it. That’s a common refrain among victims. We blame ourselves for something that was truly never our fault.
But because we do, we live in shame and darkness, leading lives that are unfulfilling and limited in potential. It was a long time before I realized how much the assault robbed me of my self-esteem, self-worth, and even the very concept of who or what I was meant to be.
I grew up with so many adults looking to me to be something grand or to do some world-changing work. After all, that’s what smart kids do. After all, that’s what academy grads do. How can I change the world when I don’t feel worthy of anyone’s time or effort? The two ideas cannot coexist.
Once I realized the connection between the two, I began to press on and get the necessary trauma-informed therapy I needed. This allowed me to begin to deeply explore how the trauma fundamentally changed my worldview and how I was still being damaged because of this.
Learning this was like freedom for me. It wasn’t my fault. I’m not the terrible person I thought I was for all of these years. I have a future, and I am a person of worth. And while every day isn’t sunshine and rainbows, I can step forward each day with more confidence and more faith that I’m not alone, it’s okay to ask for help, and it’s okay to be vulnerable.
These days I feel refreshed, renewed, and full of purpose. I know I have a destiny, and I will fulfill it. I know the plans for me will be for good, and I receive the blessings of this world and commit to passing them on to others who may find themselves just like I was.
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