The cost of joining the force – Not only war injures you
With Anzac day fast approaching I felt inspired to write this. Half the time I don’t even know what day it is and I had to check the date today to see how long until Anzac day. This will be my first year that I do not participate in anything. This is not because I forgot but due to logistics. I am in Pai, Thailand. I am barely floating. It has been three weeks now where I have hid away in my hostel, hotel or bungalow. I float through life merely existing. Feeling like this you keep asking yourself why? I know why… I think I am trying to forget but I can’t. I never went to a declared war zone. I nearly did but this didn’t happen and the story for this will follow at the end for those who have served with me and know who I am.
After serving eight and a half years in the Royal Australian Navy I can vouch that this is not easy. That this is an organisation with all sorts of conflict. That we have serving and ex-serving members who are suffering. This may be for all sorts of reasons. Some have physical injuries due to the physical demanding work – be it on a ship, out on the field or just from recruit school. But there are those who also suffer mentally. Most of the men and women who serve join at a very young age. Still finding their identity. I remember when I joined being someone extremely motivated. It was just the other night that I was on the phone to my parents where they reminded me of my potential and intelligence. Over the past few years I have been broken down that much that I even started to believe I am worthless. I don’t know how many times I have confided into my therapist in how worthless I feel. Why is this? What brought me to this? I am extremely proud to have served but I also miss the young girl I used to be a few years ago. When I signed that blank cheque I gave myself up and I lost me. I am now trying so hard every day to find that person again now that I have been medically discharged.
This brings me to the environment I was in for more than eight years. Now due to my category I have served on an Air force base, Army base and Navy. I have also worked in tri-service environments. In these environments there is a bully culture, sexual harassment, and belittling. I have been in various environments and it exists everywhere. I have read through some of the submissions made to the senate inquest into suicide for ex-serving members. I had to stop reading because it is horrific the incidents that have occurred. Without intentionally being offensive towards a religion a good description for some of the instances that have happened can be related to the Catholic priest scandals that have emerged. I am talking about young impressionable kids who either joined or served in the cadets. The only medal they have to wear is a scar on their heart. I have one medal to represent four years of service. But I also have the scars. The scars from mental, physical and sexual abuse. I still victim blame. I still tell myself what if I had done this instead, or that it is my fault I feel like this.
The further I venture into the world the more I am learning about all these wars of the past. The most recent one not many of us would have heard about is the Secret War in Laos. This was during the Vietnam War however there are still victims from this war. Kids who were not even alive at this time. Anzac day we come together to remember those who served in the past and currently. People will often come up to you and say thank you for your service. We also need to thank those who may not wear a medal, who may never have gone to war. But were a victim of the system.
I often used to compare it to a high school environment. Wherever you go your reputation will follow you. Maybe the idea of staying in high school may sound fantastic. I am not a psychologist but I can tell you an environment like that is toxic in the adult world. Because of this environment I literally refused to relocate back to a certain posting. I was not mentally strong enough to deal with this.
This year I have learnt so much about the sacrifices people have made in order to live in a free country with equal rights. Every time I go to one of these memorials my eyes brim with tears. I have an understanding of what it takes to make this sacrifice. With the current political issues going on in the world I just keep thinking every single politician would benefit from a visit to Aushwitz. It was an emotional day. It hits home the full extend and the cruelty of war. It is not a memorial to glorify war. It is a memorial to remind us to never repeat the past. I am still in awe that humanity could have gone to that extend.
Now I want to share my story. If anyone suffers from any of these reach out. There are so many people who are absolutely amazing and caring. There are also so many support services. Not enough because there could always be more.
I wrote this because for the first time in my life I am ready to open up and share my story. As to what happened. Since 2013 every workplace I ever went to and was relocated to I would have someone ask me if it is true that I broke into someone’s house naked. I also had friends of mine who worked 4500km away ask me this. There has been so many times in the past I felt like telling the truth. This is the moment that damaged my career entirely. I loved someone once. He did not only physically harm me, he emotionally damaged me, he was gaslighting me into believing everything was always my fault. One night though after a disagreement he had physically thrown me against the wall, had dragged me naked through his house. I had fought back but the moment I collapsed in tears was when he stopped. I had realised then I need to go to the police and report this. He realised I was going to do this and broke down and sobbed and asked me not to. Now this was not just any guy. This was someone I worked with. This was someone I was meant to deploy with to the gulf in six weeks for six months. I used to be easily manipulated. This is the person I thought I loved. Of course I would want to work this out and believe that the person who just harmed me would never hurt me.
He was a master manipulator. He knew exactly what he was doing. I was blind. After keeping my distance from him for a few days and being back at sea on the ship I get a phonecall to come to senior equity and diversity officers office. I walked in there. He had sat there and words were being said. I was being accused of harassing him. This guy had invited me to his house two days prior but not I am harassing him? I was in shock, I was covered in bruises. I had taken photos of these bruises. I sat there stunned just saying Ok. I was embarrassed. I was victim blaming. The thoughts were going through my head to strip down naked immediately. To show the Warrant Officer the physical bruises. To tell him that it is not what he thinks. Instead I just burst into tears and walked away. I felt so ashamed of being a victim of physical abuse and now to be manipulated. He made contact again. This unhealthy relationship continued in secret. The day after we finished our final assessment I had taken a shower. I collapsed, I cried, I finally had time to think about everything that happened. The only person who knew the truth was him. I needed to speak to him. I had to get these thoughts and emotions out to someone. At this time I felt like I had no one close to me. No one I could trust. I went to him. The very person who had left me black and blue a few weeks ago. More gaslighting happened, he made me feel like everything was my fault. I left, I told him to have a nice life. I drove home to go shopping for a dress for our end of year function. I was in the car with two female sailors. My phone kept ringing. He had called the ship to tell them I was suicidal. Which I was not. I was sad, I was hurt but I was not suicidal. This turned into a series of events. Within days I was off the ship. I never got to serve in a warzone. I never got to use my skills that I trained for three years for. What happened was a three and a half year battle to clear my name. This never happened. The system failed me. I am out now, trying to find a purpose again. To me right now it is my own mental health. I have my moments, when I am not well, I take care of myself first. When I am well I take care of others. This is my story. Not everyone who served have injuries from war.