Journey into my world before recovery, as I wrote it in recovery in 2017. I hope that, in sharing such intimate details of my life–childhood trauma and abuse, mental health and substance abuse, personal tragedies and triumphs–I am somehow illustrating that you do not have to be defined by the circumstances of your life forever, as you will see when I begin writing chapters about post-Recovery.
With my life apparently going nowhere—I was unable to secure a job as a teacher upon graduating from College—I thought it would be great to serve my country and see the world. I have always been exceptionally patriotic; something my friends during those years used to think was ridiculous. I did not. I found something to believe in when I had no faith in myself. My first attempt at joining was in 1990. While I awaited enlistment far from my home in Trenton, NJ.
I had tried to get a teaching job that had forced my relocation from New Hampshire, and had gotten fired because I lapsed on my car loan and couldn’t transport one of the directors around–I tried to bury my depression, nightmares, loneliness, and self-loathing in a constant haze of booze and then, for the first time, cocaine. I was told I was denied entry due to acne, but I know my enlistment officer knew I was getting high as I lived with him at the time.
Devastated by the Army’s rejection, I took my enlistment officer’s .357 and put it to my head and was going to kill myself; however, of all things, I let the fact that his kitten was looking at me freeze me in my tracks: I didn’t like the idea of doing that to the animal. I managed to save my money from waiting on tables for the mob (who paid quite well) and from selling shoes. I saved enough to get myself to Massachusetts, where my two closest friends resided.
I managed to stay gainfully employed as a cook at the Mug N’ Muffin, my best friends family chain of restaurants, for nearly a year when the Persian Gulf War erupted; it was then that I decided I would try to enlist again. It was around that time that I met my future wife. Exactly the same day I told her I was enlisting in the Army, in February of 1991, she informed me she was pregnant. I decided for once that it just wouldn’t be right to leave her hanging with this baby by herself, that I would grow up and take responsibility and try to somehow make it work.
Though Basic Training was tough for me—I was 27 surrounded by much younger kids able to adapt more quickly than me—I was enthralled to be serving my country. I think that experience somehow forced my hand by having me prematurely propose to my girlfriend on the phone during Basic Training, knowing full well my gut was telling me NO! I would have to hide in the latrine and cry and wretch as my nightmares threatened to collapse my sanity. But I gutted it out. I made it through Basic and completed my Advanced Individual Training in the top 2% of my class.
I married days after graduation. In that dark and dreary church, with two friends, I knew I was making a terrible mistake. But, true to form, I simply was incapable of thinking for myself and did it anyway. I was assigned to Augsburg Germany as a Records Specialist straight out of AIT. I loved being able to serve my country but I was very unhappy about being assigned to a country that committed the atrocities that it did.
Before my spouse was allowed to come over, I had to make preparations and finish entering my duty station. So I went to Germany and was alone from August of 1991 until early October. Then the worst thing possible happened: my phone woke me up in the dead of night; my wife was screaming into the phone that she had lost our baby; that she had a miscarriage. I will never forget what sounded to me like my mind literally tearing. I will never forget telling God that night that I hated his f*&$-ing guts.
A few years after I exited the Army, and only after many hours and hard drinking, the friend who had driven to South Carolina to be in my “wedding” years later, finally managed to convince me that my ex-wife had made up the story that she was pregnant. After all, where was the body of my 8 month old dead child? At what hospital did she have this miscarriage? How did it all go down?
After investigating those and other questions through hospital channels in and around Milton, Ma., I discovered the disgusting truth—though she never discussed it or would admit it—it was an impossibility that she “lost” our baby. It took me a long, long time to forgive her for that. I knew I had to if I was going to be, and stay, truly recovered. I hadn’t given it much thought then. But at the time of our marriage I did wonder why she didn’t show at all in August. I did wonder at her seemingly calm demeanor through it all, when I was a hot mess. Anyway, it must have creeped into my unconscious as our relationship eventually unraveled in time over in Germany.
I barely managed to keep things together with such back to back terrible incidents in my early military career. I excelled at everything military and I quickly racked up military accolades and received a merit promotion with less than two years of service, even passing the Officer Candidate School Exam after two tries.
However, Rob1, carrying heavy burdens from his youth and the sudden loss of his child, was slowly festering with a deep, unending sadness and depression. My highs and lows got higher and lower. I was slowly beginning to drink more heavily, retreated further into myself and withdrew from my ex who by then was pregnant again. I welcomed opportunities to get extra duty so I didn’t have to manage emotions, just manage the undemanding work of guard duty. Even the birth of my beautiful son Nicholas couldn’t save me…to be continued.