Healing Old Wounds
I was unsure If I would ever become a Marine after being flagged for a possible cardiovascular condition. After several doctor visits and months of waiting, I was finally cleared to attend Marine Corps Boot Camp in San Diego. I boarded a plane two months after graduating high school and began my Marine Corps career. Earning the title wasn’t easy for an 18-year-old young man. It was the hardest thing I had done in my young life, but it was certainly worth every push up once I stood in front of my family during graduation day. It was one of the proudest moments in my life.
After completing boot camp, I attended the School of Infantry at Camp Pendleton. I entered the Marine Corps as a 03 (Infantry), but was still undecided on what I wanted to specifically do in the infantry. I had the option of going Recon toward the end of infantry school, but ultimately decided to become an 0311 Rifleman. My first unit, 3rd Bn 1st Marines, had the motto, “Balls of the Corps”. Our mascot was a bull with an enormous nut sack on him. I deployed to Helmand Province, Afghanistan in March of 2010 and came back home in November of 2010. I had finally turned 21 and was excited to crack a beer…legally. My alcohol consumption was pretty normal during this time. Normal drinking in the Marines is considered moderate to heavy drinking for every day folks. I didn’t see it as a problem, but it was certainly paving my way on the path I ended on. I volunteered to go back to Afghanistan, and was soon transferred to 2nd Bn 4th Marines. During this time, I became a team leader and assistant patrol leader. I deployed back to Afghanistan in August of 2011. I completed my second tour in March of 2012. During this time, I was debating on re-enlisting for another 4 years to become an Infantry instructor. I ultimately decided that getting out of the Marines sounded a whole hell of a lot better than staying in.
Taken during my 2nd deployment to Afghanistan
After leaving the Marines my alcohol consumption became a daily ritual. I got a job as a bouncer in downtown Denver, and spent my days off drinking. Everything began to revolve around drinking. I soon spiraled downhill and my sister—who I lived with at the time, finally had enough. She called my dad to come pick me up. I moved back to Rapid City and landed a job as a correctional officer. I couldn’t wait to get off work so I could drink the entire 12 pack that was waiting for me at home. During my days off, my drinking increased to 20 or more beers a day. This continued for a year until I decided I needed a change from my current employment. I was hired by a company with a Department of State contract to conduct security in the Middle East. I attended a 3-month course in the Southern United States and soon found myself back in Afghanistan. Being overseas became the only time I could get sober. Hindsight, I think I used my deployments overseas as a way to get sober. The fact that I had no possible way to get alcohol was why I wasn’t drinking. I noticed a substantial change during my last stay in Afghanistan. I was hyper sensitive and alert in the most anxiety riddled way. I was constantly thinking about the worst possible outcome when I would leave the wire. Suicide bomber? Sniper? It went through my head daily in unhealthy doses. Was I like this before on my deployments? I couldn’t remember feeling like that. Hell, we were trained, I mean brain washed, to not to feel or think anything. Why the emotional roller coaster now?
I remember thinking that I was done, and I needed to get out of that shithole.
I put my notice in at my job and flew back to the states without looking back. I spent every night drinking, smoking cigarettes, and drinking more. The cycle went on for months. I needed alcohol. It was my medication. It was the ultimate escape from reality. The reality of experiencing emotion. I knew I needed to do something with my life. But what? I had no degree, but I did have a decent military resumé. So, I became a police officer. A few years went by and I was still the same ole’ me. Drinking after work and drinking on my days off. My days off were always a blur. I would hammer down 20-30 beers, order pizza, fall asleep before the pizza would get there, and wake up feeling like death. The stress of the job was getting to me. Dealing with accidents, suicides, and the same assholes on a daily basis. What else did I want to do in life? What could get me sober again?
I always had a beer in my hand
I applied for college and was soon accepted to a private university in Montana. I entered the Aeronautical Science program to become a commercial airline pilot. During my first and second semester I was sober. I managed a 3.8 GPA, excelled at flying, and received freshman aviation student of the year. I was eating healthy, working out, and not drinking. At work one night I told myself it was time to drink. I can’t recall why I thought this, and why I thought it was a good idea to follow through with it. I picked up a 6 pack. Guess what happened? I missed class to drink, I cancelled training flights to drink, and I skipped work to drink. It wasn’t long after that I contacted the police department and asked for my job back. I was flunking school and the easiest solution to my problem was to quit and run away from Montana.
Photo I capturing during a training flight
Back in the patrol car I went, and back to drinking I went. My emotional problems continued to pile up. Drinking ridded me of any vulnerability I felt while sober. It all crashed down one night while I was typing a report at work. I began to get a sharp pain in my chest, my legs went numb, and I became dizzy. “Am I having a heart attack?” I thought. I ran over to my supervisor’s desk and told him I felt like I was having a heart attack. An ambulance was called and an EKG was performed. Everything was normal. Yet, I felt a complete sense of panic and doom. What the hell was going on? I stopped drinking immediately and began to work out religiously. If I didn’t enact some kind of change, my health was in serious jeopardy. I traded one addiction for the other. I worked out in unhealthy amounts and was running 10-15 miles a day until my heart started palpitating. I was running away from all of my problems and doing a good job of it too.
The excessive exercise soon caught up with me as I got bursitis in both knees. I couldn’t run anymore, so what do I do now? Drink of course! I began drinking more than I had ever done in the past. I called into work, missed court, and my apartment was a mess. If I didn’t drink I would get panic attacks. When I was hungover I would get panic attacks. The only time I felt normal is when I was drunk. It was during this time that T & K was created. Maybe this company was started as another way out? A way to get away from my problems and live another life? I didn’t know what it meant at the time.
After a night of drinking I realized it was 1:30 AM and I had to be to work at 6:00am.
I picked the phone up. “Hey, Sergeant. I have some personal stuff and can’t come into work.” AKA, I am drunk and will not be sober for my shift in a few hours. Little did I know that when my Sergeant immediately called back, my life would change. “What’s going on,” he asked. I was sick of fighting, lying, and making excuses, “I’m hammered right now,” I replied. I soon had a supervisor in my living room. It all came out. I had been living this lie for 9 years. Drinking, working, drinking, working, and drinking. That’s all I did. I was sick and tired. But above all, I was sick and tired of being sick and tired, and at this point there was no going back since the department now knew I had a drinking problem. An intervention commenced several days later, and plane tickets were purchased for a rehab in Utah. I began chugging beers on the way to the airport, on the plane, and sat in the Salt Lake City bar for an hour as my chauffer waited. All I could think was, “God make all of this stop.” I was exhausted and defeated.
I may have felt defeated, but I soon realized it was actually my first victory. Instead of tucking tail and running, I was facing my problems head on. Upon checking into rehab, I was notified that my liver was swollen and my blood pressure was far too high for my age. I was certainly going to die if I continued this destructive behavior. My panic attacks grew increasingly worse once I sobered up. The feeling of immediate doom is hard to describe, but it’s as if your bodies fight or flight sequence is out of whack. My mind and body were in fight mode every day. There was no switch to turn it off, and it scared the absolute hell out of me. Seeing and experiencing high amounts of trauma and stress during my careers had finally caught up to me. I was diagnosed with PTSD and started taking medication for my anxiety and depression. PTSD was such a forbidden word in the jobs I had worked; you were considered weak minded and simply told to, “get over it.” I was to blame for it too. For years I would say, “I served in combat. I’m fine. So, I don’t know what the hell his deal is. He needs to stop being weak.” But I wasn’t “fine.” I was covering the emotions that are normal to feel when you experience this kind of stuff with alcohol for nearly a decade. In fact, I was the weak one not dealing with my underlying issues, not the guy getting help, accepting, and facing his trauma. Rehab allowed me to do that, and ultimately heal from it.
My mother and I in Utah after completing 30 days of rehab
Medication has helped me immensely in the three years I have been sober from alcohol. That awful feeling of doom is no longer a daily occurrence, and I still have to work on dealing with anger, stress, and controlling my anxiety on a daily basis. Medication, or “symptoms,” like alcohol, will not cure the problems I have. The work that I have done within myself is the cure. My ways of staying level and maintaining my sobriety are found within the hobbies I’d done my entire life; hunting, fishing, and watching football. Although the days of seeing and experiencing trauma at work are over, I know and accept that they will never leave me, but they get easier to process as time goes on.
T&K really did save my life. It gives me purpose. My purpose is providing jobs to our local community and ensuring our gear is 100% American Made. The fact that we make badass, indestructible gear is just another cherry on top. I share this story with you because the success of this business was obtained through my sobriety. Without sobriety and the power of healing, T&K would be still be a dream I’d drown day after day with alcohol. The creation and success of T&K is an exact representation of that fact that it is never too late to become who you might have been. To create what you might have created. And to actually achieve the ideology behind the American Dream.
My Dad and I at a local hunting banquet. My dad has 14 years of sobriety under his belt!
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