Ryan Berg, a U.S. Marine Corps Veteran deployed twice in Iraq. In 2004, he was an infantryman with 2/24 Echo Company, Weapons Platoon, in the Triangle of Death. In 2006, he served in various roles with 1/14 Task Force Military Police and deployed to Fallujah. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in rhetoric from UC Berkeley and a Master of Arts in leadership studies at Saint Mary’s College of California. He’s married to his wife, Nataly, and lives in the SF Bay Area.

Editors note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are the author’s own.

I’ve traveled to the center of my soul.  Doing this has been the single most profoundly difficult, exhaustive, and emotionally arduous inward journey of my entire life.  As I write this, my heart feels battered, bruised, its veins are sore, the wound still bleeds through capillary walls — has yet to clot.  This is all a welcome change from the deep-water arterial surges of depression, anxiety, and panic that have crashed over me as I lay at the mercy of grief.  I understand more fully now why we humans tend to avoid experiencing pain, particularly the soul-shocking fear, anger, and sadness pang waves that begin in the gut, travel up to the brain stem, and settle in for the heavy haul at the core of the amygdala. “Who would pay to feel this way?” I’ve often asked myself rhetorically.  It’s difficult, tiring, pulverizing, and requires inconceivable endurance.  I’ve taken myself to the inner-most nucleus of my emotional universe: scraping the skull of my psyche with a scalpel.  Two years of constant, direct, and intimate facing of my emotional reality, and painstaking examination of influential aspects of my early relationships and cultural identities which have shaped and injured that world.  It’s been extremely dark, lonely, scary — at times screechingly loud — and others: frighteningly desolate and quiet.  I’ve faced my demons: the mountainous pain that’s been held up in my heart nearly my entire life and embodied and directed my every move, imprisoning me.  I’m keenly aware, however, it’s not over, for I’m still alive — a fact I can now feel authentically grateful for.  Although, because I chose to make this voyage, I’m now “guided by soul”, and my life is much less dictated by history, circumstances, or past trauma.  I’m reclaiming my life, spirit, humanity, and deep hope — which had always been there, faintly pulsing like a distant star, disappearing when faced, peripherally visible — buried and suffocated beneath dense layers of rage, confusion, depression, and heartbreak — beating frantically on my chest to get out.

This journey has been formidable, deeply humbling, and transformational.  I’ve had numerous thoughts of suicide throughout, and recently, as I experienced the granular, raw, fibrous, and potent roots of depression, I fantasized of committing a murder-suicide, where I shoot my dogs, wife, and self.  As I drifted fully into the thought, my head hung from the edge of my bed, I stared down towards the tan wood floor, and a deep, dark, whole-body misery tingled through me.  Instantly, and in order, I saw bullets lodge in each of their skulls.  It frightened me.  Not only would this act provide me an escape from overwhelmingly difficult feelings, but my immediate loved ones one too, spared from agony caused by my tragic absence.  I would be doing them a “favor,” I depravedly reasoned.  “What kind of person am I?” I thought as I left the trance.  I debated whether to share this with my therapist because I was so embarrassed, yet I did, and it turned out to be the most supportive action I could have taken. The reality is that I had no control over this thought, it simply arrived, and it spoke to the intensity and difficulty of experiencing my feelings.  “Thoughts and actions are very different things,” she reminded me.  I also told my wife, and while I initially feared her reaction, she listened and understood.  I felt seen and accepted, giving shame no place to hide.

Is all of this worth it?  Yes.  Do the hard feelings actually let up?  Yes, in fact, they do.  The beauty is that when we sincerely look inward, and feel, we end up coming out the other side, landing in a beautiful prairie of a healing heart; where what once tortured us emotionally and psychically is somehow much smaller and seriously less painful.  We gain self-worth, confidence, profound resilience, and increase our capacity for intention — which improves traction and tightens the needles on one’s compass towards goals we’ve always had — yet elusively chased.  Nothing in life feels better — this I can assure you.  A feeling perhaps inconceivable at present, yet it will not disappoint.  We get many of the things we want out of ourselves and life.  Direction, clarity, and best of all, we emphatically increase our capacity to receive and give love.

Fortunately, I did not listen to common sentiments consistently expressed in society, like; “It’s easier not to feel.  There is no future in the past.  Live in the now, you can’t change the past, plus, you aren’t headed that way.” The great benefit of entering the wilderness of the past is that I’ve truly awakened joy, self-acceptance, confidence, and the seeds of resilience have sprouted.  I’ve opened my eyes to come out of the nightmare my life has hereto seemed.  Rather than killing my whole self, I’ve allowed parts of myself to die.  Parts that needed to end in order for others to sprout.  By allowing parts of me to shed, fall away, like leaves in autumn, I’m now able to enjoy a fuller, happier existence — evolve, live, love, and lead.  Living, I’ve learned, is at once; dying.

Author’s note: Because of the nature and content of this post, if you are alarmed in regards to my mental health, don’t be. I’m doing quite well and in good spirits, am supported by my wife, three dogs, and a gifted psychotherapist.

How to Stop Smoking Marijuana

How to Stop Smoking Marijuana

Perhaps you feel desperate.  Up to this point, you use marijuana compulsively.  You've often felt guilty about the habit, tried to stop, but the substance continues to hang around in your life.  You know that, technically, it's not physically addictive,...
Read More
Scraping the Skull of My Psyche with a Scalpel

Scraping the Skull of My Psyche with a Scalpel

I've traveled to the center of my soul.  Doing this has been the single most profoundly difficult, exhaustive, and emotionally arduous inward journey of my entire life.  As I write this, my heart feels battered, bruised, its veins are sore,...
Read More
The Soul Crushing Pain of Family Estrangement

The Soul Crushing Pain of Family Estrangement

My mother was sexually abused by her father.  Growing up, I was completely blind of this horrible fact.  Yet I experienced its profoundly devastating ripple affects: from countless men entering and exiting our lives and home, exposure to my mother's...
Read More
How I Transformed My Relationship

How I Transformed My Relationship

I met my wife on the internet.  Eharmony to be precise. It was early 2015 and I just got out of a tumultuous short-term relationship, which ended because the woman forgot my middle name -- I became enraged, packed up,...
Read More
Torture in Mahmudiyah: An Unbearable Chamber of Suffering

Torture in Mahmudiyah: An Unbearable Chamber of Suffering

Standing a few steps into the room, we both watched in horror, yet were mesmerized as we traded smirks.  We'd never seen anything like this before.  "If this person was responsible for plotting to kill us", we reasoned, "perhaps he's...
Read More
Ali Baba: A Marine Squad’s Brush With Death

Ali Baba: A Marine Squad’s Brush With Death

The boy came up to our first team and yelled out “Ali Baba!” while pointing northward. Long radioed details back to me and I made the decision to take the team in that direction, the target would have to wait,...
Read More
For Me, The Marine Corps Was a Suicide Mission

For Me, The Marine Corps Was a Suicide Mission

I joined the Marine Corps in hopes of dying an honorable death and restoring dignity to my family name.  My reaction to knowing that I would be deployed to Iraq in 2004 was nothing short of hysteria.  "Finally", I thought,...
Read More
For U.S. veterans, what does it mean to heal a moral injury?

For U.S. veterans, what does it mean to heal a moral injury?

The two corporals smiled at the chance meeting, their first in the war zone. “Happy birthday, Marines,” Giannopoulos said to Berg and a few others seated by him. Berg chatted with him for a minute before Gino, as most called...
Read More
Phoenix Rising: Becoming a Survivor

Phoenix Rising: Becoming a Survivor

It’s November 6, 1993, and I’m enjoying a beautiful evening on base in San Diego. I’m 19 years old - out with shipmates dancing and having a few drinks at the club on base. Feeling tired as the night went...
Read More
As It Turns Out, I Am Worthy of Love

As It Turns Out, I Am Worthy of Love

The first time I saw a Marine I was seven years old at a college baseball game in my hometown, Omaha, Nebraska at Rosenblatt Stadium.  They were in the outfield, frozen, wearing crisp white pants, holding a rifle salute during...
Read More
“The Mask”

“The Mask”

I am sad and lonely, I have nobody to comfort me, So I wear a mask that always smiles, To hide my feelings behind my hurt.
Read More
The Fear Within: Nightmares’ Womb

The Fear Within: Nightmares’ Womb

Iraq was hellish.  It was insanely hot, extremely physically and mentally demanding, and imminently dangerous all of the time.  Our late battalion commander, Lt. Col. Mark Smith, a man for whose picture adorns the wall in my study, was pushing...
Read More
Pumping the Breaks on Tears

Pumping the Breaks on Tears

My friend Alex committed suicide a month ago. For context, he was not a Veteran. A week prior to his death, he visited my wife and I at our home. I met Alex in community college in 2007, and we...
Read More
Psychotherapy Has Profoundly Deepened My Sleep

Psychotherapy Has Profoundly Deepened My Sleep

As the whole world knows by now, I am a patient and advocate of psychotherapy. And ever since about nine months into treatment, there was a major shift. There have been several major, profound life-changing positive shifts in my outlook,...
Read More
I Understand Your Deep Sadness

I Understand Your Deep Sadness

A few days ago I was having a really rough time emotionally, feeling heartbroken.  To be up front, today isn't all that glorious either.  Things periodically get difficult since I'm currently in psychotherapy talking about very painful things - not...
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The Heartbreak of Leaving the Marine Corps

The Heartbreak of Leaving the Marine Corps

Just a few hours prior, I sat in the confines of a fluorescent lit conference room with 3 field grade officers, all built like brick shithouses, chizzled, professional, determined, yet compassionate, staring back at me.  They had just stated their...
Read More
Therapy and Shame – Veterans’ Voices

Therapy and Shame – Veterans’ Voices

One of the most powerful things for me has been psychotherapy. I've been in therapy for the past two years, and I just want to address something right now. There are articles and all sorts of headlines about military members,...
Read More
The Damaging Affects of Patriarchy

The Damaging Affects of Patriarchy

When I was in Iraq, I saw men holding hands all the time. As you might imagine, most of us Marines assumed there was something homosexual about doing this, and all sorts of jokes sprung up as a result. After...
Read More
Pain Is Never Weakness Leaving the Body

Pain Is Never Weakness Leaving the Body

...You walk into your bedroom and clang your pinky toe on the sturdy, round wooden leg of the bed frame. A mind-numbing ache ascends instantly from your foot to your skull. You lie down on your mattress and clinch hard...
Read More
As a U.S. Marine Infantryman, Psychotherapy Has Made Me Even Stronger

As a U.S. Marine Infantryman, Psychotherapy Has Made Me Even Stronger

The experience of therapy was new to me.  I wasn't used to someone listening.  To caring.  To someone asking questions about my feelings, and affirming the validity of them.  To someone simply being present as I cried about hurtful events...
Read More

Ryan Berg, a U.S. Marine Corps Veteran deployed twice in Iraq. In 2004, he was with 2/24 Echo Company, Weapons Platoon, in the Triangle of Death. In 2006, he served with 1/14 Task Force Military Police and was in Fallujah, Ramadi and Al Asad.  He earned a Bachelor of Arts in rhetoric from UC Berkeley and a Master of Arts in leadership studies at Saint Mary’s College of California.  He’s married to his wife, Nataly, and lives in the SF Bay Area.

Editors note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are the author’s own.

My mother was sexually abused by her father.  Growing up, I was completely blind of this horrible fact.  Yet I experienced its profoundly devastating ripple affects: from countless men entering and exiting our lives and home, exposure to my mother’s rampant sexual life, a gaping void of maternal and paternal nurturance, constant instability, role reversal — where I often behaved like a father to my mother — to pervasive feelings of depression, worthlessness, anxiety, stress, worry, rage, sadness, confusion, guilt, shame, and self-blame, which all flourished under a thick dome of denial.  I remember one evening when I was thirteen, our doorbell rang and I quickly responded, stomping my feet over the beige carpet as the wood creaked beneath me, as if an alert palace guard, slowly and suspiciously pulling the heavy white barrier towards me.  “I’m here to see your mom,” a man said. He let himself in and walked excitedly to her bedroom.  Earlier in the day my mom had been with someone different.  An hour later the man walked out of her room and a warm, musty, sex-tinged backdraft filled our home, moved instantly up my nasal passage, and the stench of loveless intercourse quantumly linked the whole experience neuronically within my vulnerable adolescent brain.  I was revolted.  My mother’s existence depended on gratifying men, on being with a man — any man at all. I realize now what I witnessed was my mother most likely performing prostitution.  Sex was the currency of her world and our home hid deep a chest of treasure.

Denial cloaked itself in plain sight through the nickname my brother and I gave to our mother; “lil’ mama.” This term unconsciously acknowledged how small and disempowered she was internally, justified her ruthlessly promiscuous behavior externally — and each time it was uttered, we complicity reinforced her own helplessness.  I recognize now that seeds of denial were sewn when my mother was a small child under the twisted care of her father.  Like most children do when they’re abused, she disconnected from herself to survive, leading her to repress and dissociate from those memories as an adult — confining her to only speak glowingly fond of him.  Consistently, we heard, “my father was the most amazing man in the world, and he treated me so kindly.”  Always followed by a story about how the two would be riding in the car together, and she would clear her throat and give him a glance as they passed a gas station — a signal sent to him that she wanted a Slurpee — which he obliged.  My mother’s face lit up as she recounted these moments, yet, like a sugar rush, the feeling dissolved rapidly in front of me as her eyes glazed over to the right, into the abyss, and a blurry, narrow, jagged ray of reality approached her horizon, barbed and stinging, the venom of truth slowly assaulted her.  Not only was her father dead — something profoundly more painful and poisonous; he was not the father she thought he was.

I know intimately the punishing pain of realizing the parent you thought you had isn’t real.  As I began my own journey in psychotherapy, everything I felt about my mother came charging forth.  The unfathomable behaviors she exhibited, heart-crushing memories, deep anger and pain eventually laid bare for my therapist and I to witness and navigate.  I could finally talk about the elephant that had always been in her room, with the door locked, and invisible sign posted, “Don’t come in, Ryan, mom is busy.”  Naturally, in an attempt to heal our relationship, I approached her with my feelings, and she replied, “I love who I’ve become in my life, I’ve healed, God has forgiven me, go heal from all your issues, get over it.”  While the sense of abandonment has been extremely difficult to accept and process emotionally, I’ve come to see that her denial is a self-protective mechanism — the same one that allowed her to cope with the sexual abuse by her father.  She believes that since she was expected to ignore and “get over” her own abuse as a child — that I should handle it similarly.  She disconnects from the past, herself, me, my older brother who’s in and out of jail, and continues to live a sad reality — abusing substances to numb herself — unconscious of the ways that trauma has sculpted her and bleeds the soul.

I’ve been estranged from my mother going on three years.  The pain of which has been skull-aching.  Heart ripping.  Mind crushing.  Yet somehow: soul freeing.  Choosing to take a stand against her lifelong reckless and pain inflicting behavior, express my feelings, and break-free of the constricting confines imprisoning our family for four decades is a healthy and necessary rupture I’ve realized.  I can see clearly the superficial familial system I participated in, how we co-depended on one another, and how staying silent prevented me from personal growth.  I believe my mother and I deserve more.  She doesn’t have to be “lil mama” for the rest of her life, she can be a “big mama”, a strong mother, one who stands up to the past alongside both of her children, instead of continuing to neglect responsibility. I still hold deep anger, hate, and sadness because of her behavior — but this doesn’t mean I don’t love her. Cultivating space for a broad range of conflicting emotions to coexist gives way to a fuller picture of the reality of my mother and fosters healing.

How to Stop Smoking Marijuana

How to Stop Smoking Marijuana

Perhaps you feel desperate.  Up to this point, you use marijuana compulsively.  You've often felt guilty about the habit, tried to stop, but the substance continues to hang around in your life.  You know that, technically, it's not physically addictive,...
Read More
Scraping the Skull of My Psyche with a Scalpel

Scraping the Skull of My Psyche with a Scalpel

I've traveled to the center of my soul.  Doing this has been the single most profoundly difficult, exhaustive, and emotionally arduous inward journey of my entire life.  As I write this, my heart feels battered, bruised, its veins are sore,...
Read More
The Soul Crushing Pain of Family Estrangement

The Soul Crushing Pain of Family Estrangement

My mother was sexually abused by her father.  Growing up, I was completely blind of this horrible fact.  Yet I experienced its profoundly devastating ripple affects: from countless men entering and exiting our lives and home, exposure to my mother's...
Read More
How I Transformed My Relationship

How I Transformed My Relationship

I met my wife on the internet.  Eharmony to be precise. It was early 2015 and I just got out of a tumultuous short-term relationship, which ended because the woman forgot my middle name -- I became enraged, packed up,...
Read More
Torture in Mahmudiyah: An Unbearable Chamber of Suffering

Torture in Mahmudiyah: An Unbearable Chamber of Suffering

Standing a few steps into the room, we both watched in horror, yet were mesmerized as we traded smirks.  We'd never seen anything like this before.  "If this person was responsible for plotting to kill us", we reasoned, "perhaps he's...
Read More
Ali Baba: A Marine Squad’s Brush With Death

Ali Baba: A Marine Squad’s Brush With Death

The boy came up to our first team and yelled out “Ali Baba!” while pointing northward. Long radioed details back to me and I made the decision to take the team in that direction, the target would have to wait,...
Read More
For Me, The Marine Corps Was a Suicide Mission

For Me, The Marine Corps Was a Suicide Mission

I joined the Marine Corps in hopes of dying an honorable death and restoring dignity to my family name.  My reaction to knowing that I would be deployed to Iraq in 2004 was nothing short of hysteria.  "Finally", I thought,...
Read More
For U.S. veterans, what does it mean to heal a moral injury?

For U.S. veterans, what does it mean to heal a moral injury?

The two corporals smiled at the chance meeting, their first in the war zone. “Happy birthday, Marines,” Giannopoulos said to Berg and a few others seated by him. Berg chatted with him for a minute before Gino, as most called...
Read More
Phoenix Rising: Becoming a Survivor

Phoenix Rising: Becoming a Survivor

It’s November 6, 1993, and I’m enjoying a beautiful evening on base in San Diego. I’m 19 years old - out with shipmates dancing and having a few drinks at the club on base. Feeling tired as the night went...
Read More
As It Turns Out, I Am Worthy of Love

As It Turns Out, I Am Worthy of Love

The first time I saw a Marine I was seven years old at a college baseball game in my hometown, Omaha, Nebraska at Rosenblatt Stadium.  They were in the outfield, frozen, wearing crisp white pants, holding a rifle salute during...
Read More
“The Mask”

“The Mask”

I am sad and lonely, I have nobody to comfort me, So I wear a mask that always smiles, To hide my feelings behind my hurt.
Read More
The Fear Within: Nightmares’ Womb

The Fear Within: Nightmares’ Womb

Iraq was hellish.  It was insanely hot, extremely physically and mentally demanding, and imminently dangerous all of the time.  Our late battalion commander, Lt. Col. Mark Smith, a man for whose picture adorns the wall in my study, was pushing...
Read More
Pumping the Breaks on Tears

Pumping the Breaks on Tears

My friend Alex committed suicide a month ago. For context, he was not a Veteran. A week prior to his death, he visited my wife and I at our home. I met Alex in community college in 2007, and we...
Read More
Psychotherapy Has Profoundly Deepened My Sleep

Psychotherapy Has Profoundly Deepened My Sleep

As the whole world knows by now, I am a patient and advocate of psychotherapy. And ever since about nine months into treatment, there was a major shift. There have been several major, profound life-changing positive shifts in my outlook,...
Read More
I Understand Your Deep Sadness

I Understand Your Deep Sadness

A few days ago I was having a really rough time emotionally, feeling heartbroken.  To be up front, today isn't all that glorious either.  Things periodically get difficult since I'm currently in psychotherapy talking about very painful things - not...
Read More
The Heartbreak of Leaving the Marine Corps

The Heartbreak of Leaving the Marine Corps

Just a few hours prior, I sat in the confines of a fluorescent lit conference room with 3 field grade officers, all built like brick shithouses, chizzled, professional, determined, yet compassionate, staring back at me.  They had just stated their...
Read More
Therapy and Shame – Veterans’ Voices

Therapy and Shame – Veterans’ Voices

One of the most powerful things for me has been psychotherapy. I've been in therapy for the past two years, and I just want to address something right now. There are articles and all sorts of headlines about military members,...
Read More
The Damaging Affects of Patriarchy

The Damaging Affects of Patriarchy

When I was in Iraq, I saw men holding hands all the time. As you might imagine, most of us Marines assumed there was something homosexual about doing this, and all sorts of jokes sprung up as a result. After...
Read More
Pain Is Never Weakness Leaving the Body

Pain Is Never Weakness Leaving the Body

...You walk into your bedroom and clang your pinky toe on the sturdy, round wooden leg of the bed frame. A mind-numbing ache ascends instantly from your foot to your skull. You lie down on your mattress and clinch hard...
Read More
As a U.S. Marine Infantryman, Psychotherapy Has Made Me Even Stronger

As a U.S. Marine Infantryman, Psychotherapy Has Made Me Even Stronger

The experience of therapy was new to me.  I wasn't used to someone listening.  To caring.  To someone asking questions about my feelings, and affirming the validity of them.  To someone simply being present as I cried about hurtful events...
Read More

Tom Webb served as a Motor Transport Marine from 2001 to 2006 with two deployments to Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Tom holds an MA from North Dakota State in Public Health with a focus on American Indian and Veteran health outcomes.  While pursuing his degree, Tom assisted in the creation of veteran specific programs at NDSU and also served as the Post Adjutant for American Legion Post 400 on campus.  He currently works as a Veteran Service Officer for the state of North Dakota in Fargo.

screen-shot-2016-10-03-at-4-44-36-pmWhen all one wants to do is sleep for the first time in days, the reality of combat shows there is no time to rest. The messenger in this case came in the form of a Soviet 120 millimeter mortar that landed next to my seven-ton truck around noon on April 5th, 2003.

For two days straight, our ten-vehicle convoy slogged towards the city of Baghdad at ten miles per hour. The five-ton truck I was driving was not running well, but with the slow speed of the convoy, it didn’t matter. The transfer case was slowly leaking and the brakes weren’t holding air. This caused my emergency lights to flash, which I had to disable quickly with my knife since they caused my night-vision-goggles (NVG’s) to black out with every pulse.

We were about ten miles northeast of Baghdad and things were starting to get serious. To disrupt our movement, the enemy had filled the ditches on each side of the road with oil and set them ablaze – which took away our ability to see as we drove.  When using NVG’s, they require near complete darkness –  otherwise one’s pupils can dilate due to the bright green and pixilated view caused by too much light coming in.

I noticed that my fellow Marines began to get nervous. While some of them tried to cover it up, I could see through the facade and was empathic – since I was beginning to feel that way too. We only knew each other for a short while, but the six of us had each other figured out pretty well.

As we approached the Baghdad suburbs, the war became real to me. The entire deployment to this point felt like a fast moving training exercise. The jokes about being back in the desert of our base in 29 Palms, California had become old, but were still recited. It gave each of us a welcomed false sense of security.

The flames were like walls along the road, creating a tunnel effect.  I was anxious and my mind raced about what could be on the other side. Is there a sniper, machine gun, or tank? At one point, the flames crossed over onto the pavement. I though to myself, “Joshua Tree only grows in two places according to legend; Heaven and Hell. Had I entered Hell?” The Earth seemed to open up and large flames were swallowing the road, and me and the rest of the convoy with it, it seemed.

As we passed through, I let out a sigh of relief when I saw two tanks on fire. There were softball-sized holes punched through the sides, with flames dancing around the belly of the tanks. I didn’t see any bodies, but smelled burning fuel and flesh. We knew for certain that someone had been there before us. I remember feeling relieved, and then quickly realizing that one of our own tanks was on fire. We learned later that the tank was shot by a rocket propelled grenade (RPG), and the external fuel bladder exploded.  Thankfully, everyone made it out OK.  As gunshots rang out in the instance, this hellish scene was seared into my memory.

Soon after, we stopped to refuel and I had a chance to eat something I saved along the way. I felt like I hadn’t slept for a month.  As I sat there, several Iraqi Army deserters walked by, and I waved and glanced down at their feet. They had boots on, but no uniforms, and others had military pants, but no boots; just sandals and tattered shirts. These non-combatants were easy to spot, and I was glad they didn’t want to fight. It made our job much easier.

I was so tired that I began dozing off while I waited to be refueled. As I drifted away, I was shocked to see an Iraqi corpse being tossed around by a large military-style forklift. I felt sickened. While I could see the need to move the man, seeing a machine do it was so disrespectful to human life.

I quickly pushed these thoughts down since there was nothing I could do about it, and then told myself, “hey, it’s war”.  And then, BOOM!  A loud explosion erupted very close to me, and I saw my passenger trying to lift himself up from between the door frame and the seat. “What the fuck was that?”, I shouted. “I have no fucking clue, let’s get the fuck out of the truck!”, he replied.

Screams and shrieks of “incoming!” could be heard from everywhere. The entire position was being attacked. Despite being trained for this, it took me a few seconds to respond to the reality of the situation.  I grabbed by rifle, hopped out of the truck, and started to run – forgetting the rest of my ammunition. 

I turned back in the middle of an open road, my heart pounding, ears ringing. I realized that my friends were in a dangerous spot. I couldn’t hear anything, but saw everything vividly. I ran back to the truck to get my ammo, and heard screams and groans nearby – and then saw two Marines had been injured. One ran as fast as he could to the nearest hole with only half of his foot.

The other had a broken and shredded right leg from his ankle to mid-thigh, and was being carried to safety by another Marine.  I quickly met up with three Marines and we all sprinted to a nearby ditch and prepared for the attack.

As we lie there in the mud filled, eight-foot-deep irrigation ditch, each of us began to reflect of what had just happened. I nervously checked over my body to ensure I wasn’t bleeding and didn’t know it.  The war had become real, just like in dreams, and each one of us had different reactions:

One said a prayer.

One prepared to fight.

One laughed.

And one quietly waited.

For 15 minutes there was an eerie silence that permeated the area.  When the risk of attack had diminished, I went back to take a look at my truck. My ears rung badly, and I called the names of guys I knew from bootcamp (which was only a year and a half ago).

As I looked at my truck, I saw all kinds of internal fluids leaking to the ground. It looked like roadkill, and my heart sank. Even though it was just a vehicle, I had become attached to it. That was my truck. When I took a closer look, my heart sank even deeper and I began to shake. Most of the damage occurred underneath my seat. When the mortar hit, I must have bounced out of my seat as shrapnel hit the air pressure tank for the braking system.  I found fragments and small holes all over the cab. It was a miracle that I wasn’t injured or killed.

This was really happening. Men were desperately trying to kill us.

After I was discharged from the Marine Corps, I would often dream about this incident, and thought that it was just a bad dream and didn’t really happen. It wasn’t until I found my journal from this time period that I realized, in fact, it did happen.

How to Stop Smoking Marijuana

How to Stop Smoking Marijuana

Perhaps you feel desperate.  Up to this point, you use marijuana compulsively.  You've often felt guilty about the habit, tried to stop, but the substance continues to hang around in your life.  You know that, technically, it's not physically addictive,...
Read More
Scraping the Skull of My Psyche with a Scalpel

Scraping the Skull of My Psyche with a Scalpel

I've traveled to the center of my soul.  Doing this has been the single most profoundly difficult, exhaustive, and emotionally arduous inward journey of my entire life.  As I write this, my heart feels battered, bruised, its veins are sore,...
Read More
The Soul Crushing Pain of Family Estrangement

The Soul Crushing Pain of Family Estrangement

My mother was sexually abused by her father.  Growing up, I was completely blind of this horrible fact.  Yet I experienced its profoundly devastating ripple affects: from countless men entering and exiting our lives and home, exposure to my mother's...
Read More
How I Transformed My Relationship

How I Transformed My Relationship

I met my wife on the internet.  Eharmony to be precise. It was early 2015 and I just got out of a tumultuous short-term relationship, which ended because the woman forgot my middle name -- I became enraged, packed up,...
Read More
Torture in Mahmudiyah: An Unbearable Chamber of Suffering

Torture in Mahmudiyah: An Unbearable Chamber of Suffering

Standing a few steps into the room, we both watched in horror, yet were mesmerized as we traded smirks.  We'd never seen anything like this before.  "If this person was responsible for plotting to kill us", we reasoned, "perhaps he's...
Read More
Ali Baba: A Marine Squad’s Brush With Death

Ali Baba: A Marine Squad’s Brush With Death

The boy came up to our first team and yelled out “Ali Baba!” while pointing northward. Long radioed details back to me and I made the decision to take the team in that direction, the target would have to wait,...
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For Me, The Marine Corps Was a Suicide Mission

For Me, The Marine Corps Was a Suicide Mission

I joined the Marine Corps in hopes of dying an honorable death and restoring dignity to my family name.  My reaction to knowing that I would be deployed to Iraq in 2004 was nothing short of hysteria.  "Finally", I thought,...
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For U.S. veterans, what does it mean to heal a moral injury?

For U.S. veterans, what does it mean to heal a moral injury?

The two corporals smiled at the chance meeting, their first in the war zone. “Happy birthday, Marines,” Giannopoulos said to Berg and a few others seated by him. Berg chatted with him for a minute before Gino, as most called...
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Phoenix Rising: Becoming a Survivor

Phoenix Rising: Becoming a Survivor

It’s November 6, 1993, and I’m enjoying a beautiful evening on base in San Diego. I’m 19 years old - out with shipmates dancing and having a few drinks at the club on base. Feeling tired as the night went...
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As It Turns Out, I Am Worthy of Love

As It Turns Out, I Am Worthy of Love

The first time I saw a Marine I was seven years old at a college baseball game in my hometown, Omaha, Nebraska at Rosenblatt Stadium.  They were in the outfield, frozen, wearing crisp white pants, holding a rifle salute during...
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“The Mask”

“The Mask”

I am sad and lonely, I have nobody to comfort me, So I wear a mask that always smiles, To hide my feelings behind my hurt.
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The Fear Within: Nightmares’ Womb

The Fear Within: Nightmares’ Womb

Iraq was hellish.  It was insanely hot, extremely physically and mentally demanding, and imminently dangerous all of the time.  Our late battalion commander, Lt. Col. Mark Smith, a man for whose picture adorns the wall in my study, was pushing...
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Pumping the Breaks on Tears

Pumping the Breaks on Tears

My friend Alex committed suicide a month ago. For context, he was not a Veteran. A week prior to his death, he visited my wife and I at our home. I met Alex in community college in 2007, and we...
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Psychotherapy Has Profoundly Deepened My Sleep

Psychotherapy Has Profoundly Deepened My Sleep

As the whole world knows by now, I am a patient and advocate of psychotherapy. And ever since about nine months into treatment, there was a major shift. There have been several major, profound life-changing positive shifts in my outlook,...
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I Understand Your Deep Sadness

I Understand Your Deep Sadness

A few days ago I was having a really rough time emotionally, feeling heartbroken.  To be up front, today isn't all that glorious either.  Things periodically get difficult since I'm currently in psychotherapy talking about very painful things - not...
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The Heartbreak of Leaving the Marine Corps

The Heartbreak of Leaving the Marine Corps

Just a few hours prior, I sat in the confines of a fluorescent lit conference room with 3 field grade officers, all built like brick shithouses, chizzled, professional, determined, yet compassionate, staring back at me.  They had just stated their...
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Therapy and Shame – Veterans’ Voices

Therapy and Shame – Veterans’ Voices

One of the most powerful things for me has been psychotherapy. I've been in therapy for the past two years, and I just want to address something right now. There are articles and all sorts of headlines about military members,...
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The Damaging Affects of Patriarchy

The Damaging Affects of Patriarchy

When I was in Iraq, I saw men holding hands all the time. As you might imagine, most of us Marines assumed there was something homosexual about doing this, and all sorts of jokes sprung up as a result. After...
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Pain Is Never Weakness Leaving the Body

Pain Is Never Weakness Leaving the Body

...You walk into your bedroom and clang your pinky toe on the sturdy, round wooden leg of the bed frame. A mind-numbing ache ascends instantly from your foot to your skull. You lie down on your mattress and clinch hard...
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As a U.S. Marine Infantryman, Psychotherapy Has Made Me Even Stronger

As a U.S. Marine Infantryman, Psychotherapy Has Made Me Even Stronger

The experience of therapy was new to me.  I wasn't used to someone listening.  To caring.  To someone asking questions about my feelings, and affirming the validity of them.  To someone simply being present as I cried about hurtful events...
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