ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England — In the Air Force, you constantly hear resiliency messages and taglines. I was like everyone else and didn’t take these messages seriously, but they’re here for a reason. This is my reason.
I hate to admit it, but it’s true. I live every day in fear. Anxiety boils down to fear, regardless of whether you want to admit you are fearful or not. I’m a strong person, so I struggle to accept this fear.
I’ve had anxiety for as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t a choice. I didn’t choose anxiety to follow me like a dark cloud and disrupt my life. I wish I didn’t feel anxious in social situations, while I drive, or when the phone rings. I have many different triggers that make my heart race: I shake, fidget and become itchy. When I mentally experience too much stimuli, my body reacts in fight-or-flight mode.
So why? Why do I struggle with this problem when we all know it’s not normal? I said this wasn’t my choice in the beginning, and I stand by that wholeheartedly. But, it is my choice to allow it to control my life now and in the future. I was an anxious child, overweight and unhappy. I hated me.
I developed these feelings at a young age because I was raped when I was 7 years old. When you’re that young, you don’t understand what is happening to you. I was confused, so I took it out on myself in other ways. I had no one to talk to, and I shut down emotionally for a long time.
This pain continued to affect my adult life. I was abusing alcohol and making poor choices. I drank to lose control. Drinking relaxed me and took the anxiety away. I didn’t have to care about anything when I drank, not even myself. I didn’t care about myself because of the pain I felt deep down that I carried for so many years. I didn’t tell anyone about the event or accept what happened to me until around this time last year.
As an Air Force broadcaster, I kept getting assigned to produce video projects about sexual assault prevention and alcohol abuse. I kept hearing the same message over and over: that it’s OK to get help. It’s a sign of strength to admit there is a problem and that you need help. That’s when I decided to take the leap, and I didn’t look back. I was breaking down, my anxiety was at an all-time high, and I knew I couldn’t get over this hurdle alone.
I was in the military for nearly five years before I was able to ask for help. It took me 16 years to accept the root of my anxiety and alcohol abuse. Please don’t let it take this long for you. I’m thankful I went through therapy before getting married or starting a family, as I can’t imagine how my emotions would have affected them.
I’m grateful I had the support of the military when my life was crashing down around me. I had a variety of free resources at my disposal. I chose the mental health route, which led me to Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention & Treatment. ADAPT didn’t kill my career; it changed my life for the better.
I’ve reached a place in life where I want to give back to others who have experienced sexual abuse. The Victim Advocate program is giving me that opportunity. Now, I can help others when their lives are crashing down around them.
Remember, these resources are available on base or by phone for a reason. Please don’t let your pride get in the way of asking for help because life is what you make of it, so make it a great one.
Editor’s note: To view a list of Hill AFB’s helping agencies and resources, visit www.hill.af.mil and click on the “H3” link located on the righthand side of the webpage.