Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. military and the 10th leading cause of death in all the United States, claiming the lives of close to 50,000 people a year. I hope to change the stigma of talking about suicide by sharing my experience and reaching out to anyone who feels overcome and alone.
I joined in early 2013, attended basic training and then proceeded to Pensacola, Florida, for CTT “A” School. From there I went to Norfolk, Virginia, to the USS Bainbridge where I served onboard for just under four years. We completed one deployment and several outings during my time there. I transferred from DDG-96 after receiving orders to VQ-1 in Whidbey Island, Washington. I love my job and being able to fly, however the job has not been easy in terms of work-life balance. My deployments here are frequent and it has led to me being deployed for over half the time I have been at this command.
Thinking back to the very beginning, I realize that I was slipping into depression exceedingly early on. Some of the warning signs I missed were finding little interest in doing things, disassociating from the life I was living, and going through each day tired no matter how much sleep I got the night before. In addition to this isolation and exhaustion, I faced an extreme deployment and work schedule which kept me from my family. Before I even realized what I was doing to myself, I was on my way home from another deployment with no place to live and a significant other who wanted nothing to do with me.
I found a place to live after spending two weeks in a hotel trying to figure out my life. You would think this is a step in the right direction, but it was straight downhill from there. My day-to-day life was seemingly normal but when I got home, my mind would take over. Scenarios manifested in my mind where everyone’s life was better without me. I allowed the voices in my head to get the better of me: destroying me and convincing me that I was worthless. The easiest way to escape these voices was to drown them out with alcohol. Every night, seven days a week, I was resorting to alcohol to get myself out of my own head. Three bottles of whiskey a week is what I inevitably fell into.
All these circumstances combined with alcoholism was a recipe for disaster. The old idiom “When it rains, it pours” was the epitome of my life, and it all came crashing down. I received bad news after bad news and my stubborn manliness shut down my willingness to ask for help. I bottled up everything and unleashed it on the plentiful bottles that I kept stored in the freezer. Until one night that bottle of emotions came crashing down, shattering and pouring all my emotions out. I tried desperately to suppress the feelings, to hide the tears that fell like rain. I almost instinctively grabbed a fresh bottle of whiskey and drank to excess. The thoughts ran through my head like track dogs after a rabbit, the manifested realities with me gone played on repeat in my mind, and the drinks kept flowing. It was too much for me to handle. I grabbed the pistol on my bedside table and fell to the floor with no intention of getting up.
As I raised the pistol towards my head, imagining a false sense of relief, I met my guardian angel. My 110-pound German Shepherd trotted over to me, as I lay on the floor in a pool of tears and plopped himself straight onto my chest. He unintentionally lay across my arm, pinning it to the floor so that I could not pull the trigger. For almost an hour I was on the floor being crushed by my saving grace, but it gave me time to think. I thought about what I was doing and began fighting off the ideas that I had let fester in my head. I was finally able to gather the strength to get up and put myself to bed. The next morning I sold every firearm in my possession and started the climb out of the darkness I found myself in.
Rock bottom was the best thing that ever happened to me because the only way to go from there is up. It is not an easy path, and it’s quite slippery, but no matter the circumstance giving up is not an option. You may not be able to see if through the blinding darkness, but I promise there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Do not allow yourself to fall into the pits of your own mind. Do not allow the voices in your head to tell you that you are not enough. Do not suffer in silence like I did.
“Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem” - Phil Donahue
If this message reaches one person in the darkest times of their life and gives them the strength to get up and reach for help, then we have succeeded. Even if it just gets the conversation started, we have made leaps in the right direction. Confiding in strangers is the hardest thing you can do, but confiding in someone that you know has gone through what you are going through is a little easier, which is why I am leaving my email and phone number. If you are ever struggling, please do not hesitate to at least reach out. I will always answer.
Brandon Alward joined in August of 2013 and currently serves at Whidbey Island, Washington. He actively advocates for mental health awareness and opening the line of communication to get help to those who need it.
Editor’s note: This is an Op-Ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times managing editor Howard Altman, firstname.lastname@example.org.