…or in non military jargon, Continue Mission!
In January 2006, I returned home from Iraq. By 2007 I realized something was awry with my mental health. I sought treatment from a therapist for the first time in my life to help me understand what was going on internally and how to fix it. Being a veteran, therapy was provided by the VA. Unfortunately, my therapist and I were not able to facilitate a relationship that would extend our sessions past 4 or 5 meetings. Due to my less than positive encounter with the therapist, I decided to end our sessions and seek further assistance at a local Veteran’s Center in my area. Through months of group sessions at the Veteran’s Center, my trust and confidence in therapy were rebuilt and I started individual work with a Readjustment Counselor. After 3-years, the counselor was promoted and our sessions unwillingly ended. Each successive year after, my mental health seemed to resemble a roller coaster ride. I bounced from therapist to therapist and engaged in less than acceptable behavior. But it was through the successes and failures over the years did I feel my life was somehow on a path of self-correction. I started finding comfort and fulfillment in sharing my story with others because it seemed to help not only me but the other person as well. My experiences as a veteran, first responder, and during work with my mental health, was I able to provide insight not only for myself but also for those suffering similar issues. To understand the depth of my experiences and ability to help others, I decided to embark on a new mission and follow the path in front of me and continue my education and development of self-work at a higher institution.
I enlisted in the US Army immediately after high school in 1993. In 1997, after completing 4-years of service, my enlistment was over. I went back home, attended college, started a family and a new career in the technology industry. In 2001, after the events of 9/11, I decided to re-enlist in the military and became a US Army officer. I deployed to Iraq in 2005 for 12-months as an Infantry Platoon Leader. In the aftermath of deployment, I realized how much time was lost with my family and resigned my commission in 2007 and parted ways with the military. However, like a bad addiction, I decided to re-enlist again in 2010 and became a drill sergeant. I trained newly enlisted soldiers and ROTC cadets until I terminated my service in the military for the final time in 2014. In 2018, I became an EMT and completed the fire academy. In 2019 I graduated from the police academy and became a Public Safety Officer, trained in providing police, fire, and emergency medical services to the community. 2020 I realized the job and my current direction in life did not align with my true intentions. So, I stepped away completely from the uniform wearing, physically demanding, and high adrenaline fueling jobs that I identified with for so long.
I am currently pseudo-retired. My wife is a firefighter and I am a stay-at-home dad. Right now, I am struggling to find my identity. My job, a uniform, was always my identity. When all the things I identified with is no longer there, I now see who I am without those things. With the time afforded to me now, I am on a journey to find purpose. A uniform used to be my identity. I identified as the breadwinner, the MAN of the house because I used to provide the family financial stability. After almost two decades, I am reinventing aspects of myself, more specifically my ego. I have learned after years dedicated to recovering from trauma, the tools necessary for my growth, including but not limited to, daily meditation, exercise, writing, and reading.
One of the most recent books I read was authored by a mentor and fellow veteran who held a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology, with an emphasis in Depth Psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute. The book was his interpretation of the classic book of poems The Odyssey by Homer. He detailed how the main character Odysseus’s journey home was comparable to the struggles of a war veteran’s healing process and reintegration back into society. The book resonated with me because, despite the author not knowing specific details of my life’s challenges with mental health and identity, the author was able to detail some of my exact thoughts and feelings I have been dealing with over the past 20+ years. Why did I continue to seek jobs that put my life on the line to protect others? Why did wearing a uniform, in varying capacities, provide validation that my life was worthy of being acknowledged? These were recurring questions that I never had answers for.
This led to the realization that my time spent in a uniform, with the intent of helping others and giving back, was, in fact, a passion of mine. However, I realized how I helped others most effectively was not as a soldier or first responder but as a mental health professional. In the book, the author references Joseph Campbell’s, a writer and lecturer, work around a hero’s journey:
…the great task of our lives is to heed our inner calling—to go on our own odyssey, to transform through our exploration of the underworld, and then to bring the gifts that come with our transformation to those who need what we can offer.
Because of the deep connection, I had with the book, my regard for the author, and my innate ability for research and critical thinking, I started to listen to my “inner calling” and continue on my journey of transformation. I started to review doctoral-level programs in Counseling Psychology to further explore the psyche and develop the abilities to really assist others in an area of life that I was passionate about, mental health.
Pacifica Graduate Institute offering of a PsyD in Counseling Psychology, with an emphasis in Depth Psychology, was my primary attraction to the school. The information I learned, thus far, about depth psychology and how it related to my situation was overwhelming. For the first time in a very long time did I feel I had answers to the recurring questions in my mind. Throughout my life, I have always reverse engineered and/or peeled back the layers to any experience or situation I was confronted with. From a technology perspective to a social point of view, I was always curious to understand the inner workings. Every situation, good, bad, or indifferent, I realized the brain never forgets the interaction. I always felt my mind was attempting to reconcile all the events in my life, experienced implicitly or explicitly, by compartmentalizing the memory. Those thoughts were suppressed to the deepest part of my memories because my mind wanted to protect me from the trauma or because the mind could not process the activity. Depth psychology and psychodynamic theory align the conscious and unconscious. The memories, images, experiences that were once unconscious was becoming conscious. As I learned to truly accommodate and allow the reconciliation, would I then only discover my true self. The person we were meant to be before the evolution of our maladaptive defenses.
As I continued my research into the Pacifica campus, culture, and curriculum, I knew Pacifica was my school of choice. A PsyD in Counseling Psychology would allow me to become a licensed psychologist in the state of California and enable me to help veterans, first responders, and anyone suffering from mental health issues. Information found on Pacifica Graduate Institute’s website reverberates what I discovered through self-work but is stated more eloquently:
Depth psychological approaches to psychological suffering attempt to help individuals become aware of what has been cast out of consciousness or not yet able to be known. Healing is associated with allowing what has been repressed, rejected, denied, or ignored to come forward so that the person can understand, explore its significance and integrate it, allowing for a transformation in consciousness. Depth Psychology also attends to the way unconscious processes express themselves in society and culture, and how culture affects the psyche.
Being a combat veteran and former first responder, I have had my share of exposure to traumatic events. I have seen the toll it had taken on soldiers, coworkers, friends, and families as well. I also understand that working with others who are experiencing stressful or traumatic life events can take its toll and possibly retrigger symptoms in my own life. But I continue to facilitate my evolving capacity for self-care and self-assessment of my own needs and ability to hold myself throughout the experience with compassion and gratitude. With hard work, a strong network of friends and family who have supported me throughout my journey in life, I will be successful in my new mission.