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Talking Helped Army National Guard Veteran Heal After MST

4-minute read

Talking Helped Army National Guard Veteran Heal After MST

4-minute read

Read Stories > Talking Helped Army National Guard Veteran Heal After MST

Numb. That’s how Melissa felt when she decided it was time to deal with the emotional pain that lingered after she survived military sexual trauma (MST) while serving in the U.S. Army National Guard.  

“It doesn’t matter what the woman looks like, all the guys are hitting on you constantly,” Melissa says. She was vastly outnumbered by her male colleagues, and while serving in Iraq, it felt like there were 100 men for every woman. 

Melissa says experiencing MST affected her life in a major way from the moment it happened. But it would be years before she talked about it.

“Somebody else in my unit had suffered a military sexual trauma as well, and she reported it,” Melissa explains. “I chose not to report mine because I saw what she went through. She got taken off of her duty, she was put on a different duty, her weapon was taken away, she was ridiculed by other soldiers like, ‘It didn’t happen,’ ‘You put yourself in this position.’ So why say anything at all?”

When she returned home from serving, Melissa kept up her silence even with those closest to her — like her fiancé. 

“I didn’t want him to be anywhere near me,” she says. “I didn’t want him to touch me, but I couldn’t explain to him why.” At the same time, Melissa was “having a lot of trouble really just getting back into society.” She wasn’t sleeping and was having anger issues because she was “bottling it all up.”  

That’s when the depression set in; Melissa recalls not happy or sad or pained or relieved — just flat. Her fiancé recognized the unhealthy changes in Melissa and encouraged her to talk to somebody about what was bothering her.  

“I basically rolled into VA on a Friday at 4:30 and I was like, ‘I need to see somebody,’” Melissa says. She adds that she had “a full mental breakdown” and was set up with specialty mental health care, including therapy and medications. “Talking to somebody who is professionally trained to kind of help [you] understand more is great,” she says. 

Even so, she didn’t open up about the MST right away. She started by talking about her sleep trouble and other concerns. Only later was she comfortable enough with her therapist to talk about her experience of MST. “It was like a weight was lifted,” Melissa says. “Like, ‘Oh my God, finally somebody else knows besides me.’” 

About a year into therapy, she told her now-husband what she had gone through, and her uncharacteristic behavior suddenly made sense to him. 

“He has become very, very supportive over the years,” Melissa says. “Even though he does not understand it — he has never been through it — now that he sees what the VA and all the other organizations can do for me, he has no problem stepping up and saying, ‘Hey, my wife is struggling right now. She needs help.’”

Melissa encourages other MST survivors to try a variety of therapies until they find what might work best for them — no matter how long ago the trauma may have occurred. For her, talking about her experience with a mental health professional was the key to healing. 

“You have a voice,” she says. “Just because you haven’t said anything yet doesn’t mean you can’t.”

No matter what you may be experiencing, find support for getting your life on a better track.

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