MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho --
Since joining the Air Force in 2010, the term resiliency is one that I hear often.
I joined the Air Force hoping to make a better life for myself and to have a career. I never imagined that I'd have to worry about being drugged and raped by the people I'm supposed to be able to trust with my life. Being resilient and bouncing back from this is something that I still struggle with.
It was a Friday night and I decided to go out with friends who were graduating technical school and moving on to their actual careers. We went to dinner and I had a drink. A couple hours later, we went to a bar that was close to the base and I let someone buy me a drink. I began to not feel well, and as I went out to get some air, someone asked to borrow my phone. He came outside to return my phone but dropped it before handing it to me causing the whole screen to shatter and shortly after the battery died. I went back inside to find my "friends" gone.
The next thing I remember is seeing a man I knew on top of me and he looked to another guy in the room and told him that it was his turn. I felt like I was in a glass box and their voices were so far away that I heard them as echoes. I woke up the next morning feeling sick, scared, confused and naked. I grabbed what clothes I could find and ran out of there. I wasn't sure where I was or how I would get home.
After I got outside I realized where I was and began to run to the home that I had known for the past month. After I got far enough away that no one would see me, I slowed down and walked the remainder of the way back.
As I walked in to the dormitory, I came across one of the Airman leaders asking where I had been and why I had not answered my phone. I couldn't make the words come out of my mouth, so I pulled my phone out of my pocket and she saw the shattered screen. She grabbed her phone and called our military training leader, and handed me the phone.
The voice on the other line was stern and told me that I was very dumb for not calling to let anyone know where I was and for just leaving. This continued on for what seemed like forever, when the voice finally stopped and said, "Well first let me ask if you are okay."
I was not okay. I had every intention of coming back, turning them in, and going to the doctor to run tests and collect samples. Had that conversation been turned around, I probably would have.
I spent the rest of the weekend in my bed, except to go get a new phone so my mother wouldn't worry. I became a totally different person and numb to the world. The next two years I tried to pretend that it didn't happen and that I was okay, but I was emotionally dead. I avoided anything that would remind me of what happened and I always looked for another way out of a room, tried to spot items that I could grab to defend myself if needed and always carried a knife.
I finally decided that I wanted to change the way I was living. I want to feel normal, have an actual relationship and get a full night sleep without the nightmares.
I began to see a doctor, but it didn't last long. I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. I knew recovery would be hard, but I wasn't expecting for everything to go wrong and to lose a good friend to suicide in the process. It was more than I was prepared to deal with so I decided to go back to avoiding, it because that seemed easier.
I recently decided that I need to be strong and am once again seeking help. It's a rocky road and one that's tough to travel, but once you hit rock bottom, you can only go up from there. I hope to be an encouragement and help those that may be dealing with similar issues. It's okay to be scared, but it's not okay to let it run your life.
The Air Force has given me so many different avenues to seek help and counseling. I began seeing a couple different agencies, but stopped because it became too difficult to deal with. After a couple months I began seeing another doctor who can hopefully help me to move past this and on to a better life for myself. I have supportive friends, and this has taught me what it means to be resilient and a true wingman.
(download hi-res version of the main image here
, U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)