Today is a bright day for me. I’m on a mission to help combat veteran suicide.
Five years ago, I had a plan to end my life.
I was recently sober thanks to the Veterans Affairs inpatient program. When exiting this program, the typical thing is to go to a sober living house. Having an apartment with bills, I felt that this wasn’t an option for me. Nurses and counselors strongly suggested otherwise and asked, “What are you going to do then?”
“Hike the Appalachian Trail,” I responded, thinking of something bold.
One counselor named Ron said: “Go ahead and leave. I can see it: you’ll be back here in 6 months tops.” Other nurses reminded me that I wasn’t ready and that I needed to work on my sobriety.
Ron’s comment struck a spiteful cord in me, but I also was not ready to hike. Unsure about myself, feeling overweight and depressed, I finished my final semester of school and started working.
Once in the routine of working, I found myself working more and more trying to keep up. With 3 jobs, 225 hours a month, and little time taken for myself, I was crushed under the weight of everyday responsibilities. If this is sober life, then count me out.
I had people around me who supported me and cared about me, but the stresses of life piled on top of the crushing thoughts in my head from the Marine Corps were too much.
This isn’t living, I kept repeating in my head.
So I made the decision to opt out of this life. Luckily, I was concerned about who would clean up the mess, who would be the one to find me, and how it would affect them.
I remembered my thoughts of the Appalachian Trail: Well, if you are going to die then go out doing something fun! After closing things up in San Diego and catching a ride with my best friend to Virginia, I started my hike, starting in West Virginia and heading south.
I honestly thought that I wouldn’t make it 100 miles.
I chose this route for a number of reasons, not least of which was that I had heard that south bounders see fewer people – I could avoid people’s judgement when failure eventually happened.
Once hiking, my lack of experience with gear and terrible physical fitness caught up with me quickly. I made it 44 miles in 8 days, and I was in pain like I had never experienced before. My legs were struggling to hold up my weight and the gear on my back. These huge boots felt like cinderblocks and my joints were screaming at me to stop.
With tears pouring down my cheeks, as they are right now, hoping that this was the moment, I looked up and said my final prayer. “Lord, if I’m not supposed to be here, you’ve got to do it. You’re going to have to break something because I’m not going to stop. So, if this is it, then do it already.”
Ready and confident, I kept limping, walking… Limping. A ways down the trail, an elderly man who was trail running blew past me. That’s right, an ELDERLY man ran past this 30 year old. Humiliated, I hung my head and limped on.
Then, I heard him crash. Suddenly full of energy and strength, I ran to him. “Are you okay? What can I do to help?” Bleeding from his head and visibly dizzy, he allowed me to help him with overstocked medical supplies from my huge pack. After he felt comfortable enough to continue, he jogged away. The adrenaline subsiding, my pain returned and I continued my slow limp to Georgia.
I made it less than a mile before I saw someone walking towards me – my father! He and my mother had come to check up on me and ended up bringing me home. Not to quit, but to recover and reassess. Oh, how blessed I was to have had the home field advantage.
After my pack shakedown, exchanging the heavy hiking boots for running shoes, and some rest at the family house, I was back on the trail and light as a feather…figuratively. I blinked and was at 100 miles, blinked again and was at 500.
Thanks to the direct support of my family that lived in the area of the trail, I found myself not only surpassing 100 miles but also enjoying every second of it — not just the hiking and the trail, but reconnecting with loved ones that I had pushed away and allowing myself to be vulnerable and open to new lifestyles. With a smile on my face and pain in my legs, I found myself bringing positive experiences to the people around me.
When I decided to donate my Continental Divide Trail hike, there were multiple causes that I wanted to support. I chose Stop Soldier Suicide to bring awareness and raise money to help combat veteran suicide.
During my time in the service, I had someone who was with me from the very beginning. We were stationed together, as well as trained together — but as we all do, communication faded. Social media was our only contact, and it was limited at best.
After they were posting some scary things, I reached out to them. They wouldn’t respond. Having dealt with suicidal thought before, I was concerned for them.
Then their social media was shut down. No calls, no texts. Blackout. I was frantic, contacting people in law enforcement in search for any information I could find. Nothing.
Months went by, and I had given up hope. A complete failure as a friend, brother, human to let them know that they are loved and that I was here to help in any way possible.
With less than a handful of weeks before this hike begins, their social media is activated and they are happy and healthy!
This pushed me to reach out to others that I had lost contact with. In doing so, I learned that one of the first people who was in charge of me had completed their suicide, another person I served with is on the edge, and another has been murdered.
Two already gone. It could have been four.
And it’s not a large group of people that I’m talking about. We had each other’s backs before, and now we are distant relatives at best. I hope to never let another veteran feel alone and think that there aren’t other options.
So here I am, hopefully bringing positive experiences to the people around me, trying to extend a hand to anyone in need. I want my hike to be a testimony of how life can get better if we put aside old hurts and come at them from a place of love and compassion.
It’s a lot of work, though, and I could use some assistance. I only know a small number of veterans and, as much as I would like to, I can’t reach them all.
This is where we all act together.
Maybe there is someone in your life that you have grown tired of their shenanigans. Maybe they don’t want to be a burden to you or your family. Maybe they are too “tough” to be vulnerable and open up about the hurts that they have experienced.
This weight is crippling to carry alone.
To my brothers and sisters, I hope to motivate you not to give up. Every situation or past hurt is unique. I understand that once this is an option for you, it’s impossible to ever have it taken off the table. I get it.
Reaching out, opening up, and being vulnerable has reduced the weight on my mental health. The first step for me was freeing myself of the chains of alcohol. My emotional development was halted when alcohol entered my life. The fog that it created in my life blinded me to the situations and feelings of others without my even knowing it.
I now see that these people were not burdened or bothered by me. Instead I was self-isolating, which was pushing my support circle away.
We have been programmed not to talk about our feelings and to handle our business on our own. Feelings aren’t weakness; stoicism is not the better way – it’s setting ourselves up for failure.
The fear that comes with telling someone else your deepest secret is real. Start with your 4th, 10th, or 50th biggest secret and work your way up to being completely open.
Things can get better if we are willing to take the steps and answer hard questions about ourselves. Take the first step today.
— By Greg C. (USMC veteran)
If you or a loved one are in need of support, please reach out to Stop Soldier Suicide. As a veteran-founded-and-led 501(c)3 nonprofit, we are committed to helping as many service members, veterans, and military families as possible. We’ll work with you 1-on-1 to understand your specific needs. Our team will research and locate the right solution(s) to help — and you’ll receive verified resources from us within 3 business days of your initial assessment. We’ll stay by your side in the days to come, reaching out at regular intervals over the course of 24 months to ensure you’re getting the help you need and offer our continued support. Our commitment to you is this: We won’t stop until you get the help you need and the support you deserve.Get Help