Roy Exum: A Navy SEAL’s Wish

Monday, July 3, 2017 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Man, I’ve been there. Everybody’s laughing and drinking beer and eating watermelon. Kids screaming with glee as their dads throw them high in the air and into the pool. Every girl is gorgeous, there is so much food you can go for seconds or thirds. But inside you feel nothing. Your grin is a fake. The best jokes aren’t funny so your giggle is fake, too. It is July The Fourth and all you want is to be alone.

Your light is out. You not only have no idea how to fix it, you are paralyzed with what was once best described to me as "a fear of fear." Trust me, you are so helpless it is suffocating, totally consuming, and the agony of the disease is so harsh and so real that taking your life to stop it begins to make sense, this to some who are the last people on earth we thought would never even consider such a horror.

I read an article in my Sunday morning readings by Patrick Bisher, and immediately I realized I must share it because it’s the only way we can ever spread the truth to all the tough and proud, the weak and timid too, who think their clinical depression is the worst case ever, that their Post-Traumatic Syndrome Disorder will never go away, or that the horrifying ‘panic attacks’ cannot be fixed.

The truth is mental illness can be fixed. There is no monster bigger than God and the reason I can guarantee it is because The Great Physician provided me with wonderful psychiatrists, the most unbelievably- effective drugs and – most of all – the courage for a proud guy like me to say the toughest three words ever when you finally lose your grip: "I need help."

In the past 25 years I have become bolder in revealing I take "my mind medicine" every day because I’ve literally had 100s of people thank me for my "encouragement." I look at my meds the same way others see their diabetes dose or blood pressure pills. I can honestly not tell you the last time I saw my psychiatrist but you let me miss two or three days of my prescription anti-depressants and "the black dog" will come circling. (That’s what Winston Churchill called his depression.)

If I think I’m tough and proud and can rise above the swell, imagine a Navy SEAL. We, quite rightfully, are convinced a SEAL can bite glass and chew nails. "The only easy day was yesterday," they boast. Or, as another said, "People think SEALs are cold-blooded, heartless, wound-up, brain-washed killers. They imagine you can just point a SEAL in a direction and say, 'Go kill.' The truth is you're talking about a bunch of kind-hearted, jovial guys. The only thing that separates them is mental toughness."

What happens when a Navy SEAL’s mental toughness melts? They are humans but are believed to have a birthright on mental toughness. But the truth is that as we rally around the Fourth of July tomorrow, it is estimated that 20 veterans commit suicide every day. Patrick Bisher wrote the following op-ed for Fox News Sunday and instantly it morphed to at least a dozen other sites. Yes, its intent was to alert us about our veterans but I pray its better purpose will serve those who now have … "a fear of fear."

* * *

A 4th OF JULY WISH THAT 20 WILL TWINDLE TO ZERO

By Patrick Bisher, Navy SEAL

With our nation’s Independence Day upon us, there is a devastating reality out there marring the celebratory reverie typical of this joyous time. Specifically, that we are losing a tragic number of those entrusted with protecting our great country to suicide. According to NPR, a staggering twenty veterans who risked their lives for us are now taking those same lives every day.

The factors behind this cruel irony are many and varied. The causes may be debatable, but the effects are not. Numbers don’t lie.

I served my country as a Navy SEAL but, prior to deploying, looked my own demons in the eye close enough to recognize them in the faces of others who were not as fortunate as I. They came home traumatized, putting on a brave face to mask the inner torment they were experiencing that, ultimately, left them without hope or, in their minds, anything to live for. They’d lost their sense of connection, nothing to replace the camaraderie that dominated their lives when the mission was everything.

They, like me, were serving something bigger than themselves, a greater purpose that defined their self-worth. They felt as if they were in control because the mission before them was always clear, with markers that delineated success and victory, benchmarks they would do anything to achieve. As warriors, they protected the freedoms of this land; have been through blasts, explosions, firefights, and their brains bear the scars even if they managed to emerge with their bodies intact.

I know about this all too well. You mask your pain and you mask your problems, because that’s what you’re called to do to complete the mission.

Until you get home. Then the mission isn’t there anymore, but the problems still are and you can’t mask them anymore. In that moment, the world feels dark and empty, riddled with a cold that can permeate even a beautiful July 4th day. You don’t know what’s coming next and the prospects of whatever it might be terrifies you. Almost like what SEALs refer to as the "black silhouette;" when you have someone in your scope but can’t get a clear focus. That’s life dominated by pain and ripped of clarity. You don’t understand what you’re missing, even as you’re convinced no one’s going to miss you.

As a young boy, I was told I’d probably never walk again due to degenerative hip condition. But I overcame that and convinced myself I could overcome anything. Then I ruined the same hip in a parachuting accident while preparing to deploy. I wallowed in self-pity, seeking answers from within myself that weren’t to be found.

They gave me drugs that turned me into a zombie, one of The Walking Dead. When I took them, I couldn’t feel much except a dull pain, and life was just cloudy. I didn’t care what I was doing to my wife or my friends or my family. I wanted the pain to be gone. And the more it was gone, the more I wanted to take the drugs so it wouldn’t come back.

The specialists, doctors, and therapists all agreed: I could either reclassify or leave the Navy entirely. My SEAL career was finished.

That’s when I gave up on myself, that’s when I hit rock bottom. And maybe that’s what I needed to force me to look in a different direction for help. In my case, that meant toward God. If I wanted to get better, if I wanted my life to change, I knew I needed help I couldn’t get from medicine, physical therapy, or even from my SEAL brothers.

I needed God. And not just God Himself, but trusting that God had a perfect plan for me. Because I couldn’t find the answers I needed inside me. And if they weren’t there, it stood to reason that only by surrendering to a greater truth, that there is something bigger and better for me, would I find hope again.

This wasn’t an easy thing for me to do, because I had never truly surrendered my life, my dreams, my goals, my future, or my desires to anyone at any time, celestial or otherwise. I had always done things my way and if others didn’t agree with me, I’d ignore their wisdom and move on. This was different. I had tried everything to heal, to make my body right and whole. Having failed physically, I had to look elsewhere; inward, toward my soul. If I couldn’t heal myself from the outside in, maybe I could heal myself from the inside out. It was my soul that had to change, especially if I wanted my body to as well, after undergoing hip replacement surgery that was my only chance to remain a SEAL.

In giving myself up to Jesus, I found purpose, community, and hope. Though my outer self was wasting away, my inner self was being renewed day by day. I was no longer chained to whatever past I’d been dragging along with me, and I fully believe that the twenty veterans we lose to suicide every day can be saved from the turmoil into which they’ve sunk by finding a personal relationship with Jesus, just as I did.

Our soldiers’ minds have slipped into the darkness, much like our country has slipped, and turned away from their Father. Our founding fathers, great leaders and God fearing men that they were, made sure we remembered the need for this by putting "in God we trust" on our coins and "One nation, under God" in our pledge to the flag our soldiers fight to make sure waves strong and proud.

Do not let our brothers and sisters turn to emptiness, but go and be the light that they need. Serve them as they chose to serve our nation, putting you before themselves to protect this land, protect our freedoms, protect the very spirit that we celebrate on the 4th of July. Now it is our turn on the home front to pay it back to them, because we understand that freedom is not free; it comes at the highest cost our heroes are now paying.

They need our help today and every day after. From organizations where soldiers can get help like Mission (missioncontinues.org) and the Navy SEAL Foundation (navysealfoundation.org). From you and me.

Let us show them there is hope, that we the people are one nation and one body, together fighting the good fight.

Because my wish for this and every 4th of July is simple: That the day comes when the number twenty dwindles to zero.

* * *

Patrick Bisher, a highly-decorated SEAL for his service in Iraq, has just written a new book "NO SURRENDER: Faith, Family, and Finding Your Way", published by Post Hill Press, that is being officially released tomorrow. You can pre-order it on Amazon and I am informed my copy will arrive this week.

royexum@aol.com



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