Veterans Are Proud of Sobriety and Improved Mental Health
May 04, 2023 | 4-minute read
When her husband suggested she talk with a therapist, Laura knew he was right. Her history of disordered eating, alcohol misuse and sexual trauma ultimately led the Navy Veteran to an intensive therapy session for women. That group session and the one-on-one therapy sessions that followed have helped Laura gain a clearer perspective — one in which she can process her trauma in healthy ways.
“My sobriety today means the world to me,” Laura says. “It means I can wake up with a clear head, that I can be proud of myself, that I can stop hating myself for a lot of things that weren’t necessarily my fault.”
Laura is one of a handful of Veterans being featured by Make the Connection during Mental Health Month. The Veterans describe how their lives and well-being have improved since receiving professional mental health care. Their stories complete the thought “Today, I am …” and include information about the treatments that helped each Veteran process their past and map out their future. Today, Laura is proud of the strides she has made in managing her mental health concerns and finding balance in her life.
Laura’s challenges started well before she served as an aviation electrician’s mate in the Navy. Her efforts to control her life and emotions led to bulimia, a condition that involves overeating and self-induced vomiting. Laura would drink until she passed out, once waking up to find two men sexually assaulting her. She carried her unresolved traumas and unhealthy coping behaviors into Navy service and beyond.
Soon after transitioning out of the military, Laura tried several therapists and therapies, and she was diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder. Laura recalls one “eye-opening” moment of healing that happened in an intensive therapy session for women at her local VA. “While I was the only person there that had sexual trauma from outside of the military, my issues were very similar,” she says.
In therapy, Laura found relief by looking at her fears and triggers with logic rather than responding with emotion. “These days, I’m not terrifically triggered by much,” Laura says. “I’ve done a lot of work to get to this place.”
In addition to therapy, Laura has found that exercising and getting meaningful tattoos have helped her feel power over her trauma and navigate her emotions.
“I think today I’m most proud of the fact that all the things I thought bulimia was helping me with, like keep having control of all the things around me — it actually was doing the opposite. I had no control over anything I was doing,” Laura says. “But these days, I’ve found this really healthy balance of having control but not needing to have control all the time.”
Like Laura, George also tried to suppress his difficult life experiences by drinking — until it nearly killed him. George says he started drinking heavily after he was spat on and ridiculed in the airport on the way home from serving in the U.S. Army in Vietnam. He isolated himself to avoid the pain and drank to numb what feelings were left. George was in his early 40s when his body started shutting down due to alcohol misuse.
With the help of substance use treatment, group therapy and art, George hasn’t self-medicated with alcohol for more than 30 years. He creates commissioned art and mentors other Veterans. George’s aim is for no Veteran to feel unappreciated or alone, the way he did in the airport 50 years ago.
“I think that’s very important with all human beings,” he says. “Working with a Veteran is happiness for me. Having somebody saying, ‘Hey, welcome home,’ to you. ‘You are a human. Thank you for what you did. Now let’s move on with life.’”
Today, Laura encourages her fellow Veterans to seek the mental health support they need “because they’re worth it. They’ve done this great service to our country; do the service to yourself. You go out and save everyone around you; save yourself. It’s just — you’re worth it.”