On September 11, 2001 my life changed forever. I was working full-time and attending classes at Des Moines Area Community College. I was drinking a lot and didn't really have much of a purpose, but that quickly changed on 9/11. When the United States was attacked on that day I was offended, I will never forget the anger that I felt deep down inside of me. I had been researching the Army for a few months, and it became clear that this was my chance to make a difference. I wanted to be more, so I enlisted in the Army the next day.
I deployed to Iraq on March 13, 2004. I left my my fiance and family here so that I could do what my country needed me to do, to fight for it. Iraq was where I became a man. It is where I truly felt that I was a part of something bigger than myself. I was honored, it humbled me, and it gave me a purpose. The mortar attacks never bothered me. The Improvised Explosive Devices never bothered me. Taking a man's life never bothered me. What bothered me was hearing that a fellow service members life had been taken, and witnessing my First Sergeant being killed. That bothered me a lot, and it still does to this day. But, I still wanted more.
When I got back from Iraq in March of 2005 I was so happy to be home, but at the same time I was depressed that not everyone got to come home to their families like I was able to. I put that in my pocket and carried on like a good soldier was supposed to. As a man and as a soldier society built a fence around me that I was supposed to be able to handle the things that I did and saw. It didn't end up working that way for me, but I pretended that it did so that I wouldn't tarnish the "tough guy" reputation that I had been given. I was married to my beautiful wife in October of 2005, and I was honorably discharged from the Army in March of 2006.
I immediately got a job with the Travis County Sheriffs Office, and I soon became an alcoholic, and addicted to any kind of pill that I could get my hands on. Sleeping pills, pain pills, diet pills, and even Vitamin C as crazy as it sounds. Everyone was telling me how hard it must be to be in my shoes, and I fell right into that trap. I drank heavily, I popped pills to help me sleep and to take away the depression and anxiety that I was feeling. I was an addict. And I was an addict for the next 9 years.
My behavior and addictions got worse in those 9 years. I tried to hide it the best that I could but it was really starting to take a tole on the people that I loved the most, especially my wife and son, who was born in March of 2012. I never hit my wife, but I was not always nice to her. She took the brunt of everything that I was doing to myself. At one point in 2013 I was 320 lbs. and I was a mess.
On August 1, 2015 I attended an event put on by the CrossFit gym that I had just started to attend. I had already been drinking and taking Trazedone by the time it had started. I had my then two year old son with me because my wife (who was 3 months pregnant at the time) had just started esthetician school the previous week. I was on a mission that day, and my mission was suicide. By the end of the day I had taken an entire bottle of Trazedone and had drank numerous beers. I don't remember much. My plan was to quit feeling hopeless and helpless. I was done and I didn't care about who I was going to hurt, I just didn't want to hurt anymore. I was selfish.
I woke up the next day, and I should not have. My two year old woke me up and told me that his mom said that they were leaving. I was confused. I had no idea what had happened. My wife then told me we had gone out to dinner that night, and that she was no longer putting up with what I was doing to myself and to my family. At the time she did not know that I had attempted to end my life, because that was something that I was embarrassed about. Men aren't supposed to be quitters, they are supposed to be leaders.
That afternoon I went into CrossFit Waukee for open gym. I was at rock bottom and needed to take my mind off of reality. But that's not what happened that day. Instead what happened that day changed my life forever. The only person that was there when I showed up was the owner, Reggie Hoegh. I had known Reggie for about a month at this point. We weren't close, but he knew my name and he knew that I had wanted to lose weight. What he didn't know is that the previous day I had tried to end my life and that my marriage was in shambles.
He started talking, and talking a lot. I found that to be unusual because Reggie isn't the most outspoken person, actually one could say he is the complete opposite. (I will leave the man-crush compliments for later though). I started listening to what he was saying, actually listening, which isn't always easy for me. He talked to me about a diet plan and what I had to start doing to lose weight. He showed me "small" things that I could work on in the gym and at home so I could become better in the gym. Then, it hit me. God had put Reggie in front of me that day to show me that I was being given a second chance. So, I took it.
Everyone struggles. No matter who you are, at one point you will struggle. Some people handle it well, I did not. Anxiety and depression put me in a dark, dark place. And somehow I was shown grace and allowed a second chance. I will not step foot in that place ever again, because I am more.
That day I became sober, I became more. I am not just a Combat Veteran who lives with PTSD. I am also a Veterans Advocate who helps other Veterans receive the benefits that they deserve. I am more than a recovering addict, I am also a recovering addict who mentors high school students in hopes that they don't travel down the same road that I did. I am not just a former obese man, I am a member of a CrossFit Community that I truly love and enjoy, and I try to show others how important physical fitness is to our mental and physical health. I am not just a person who used to hide his emotions in fear of what others would think of me. I am a husband and father of two young boys who has faced adveristy during my life and hopes to be a positive role model for them and to anyone that will listen.
I will not be what society expected me to be. I am sober. I am a friend, a son, a brother, a father, a husband, a veteran.
I am more.
©Ginnie Coleman Photography, 2017