“Today, I Welcome the Day In”
APRIL 5, 2019 | 3-minute read
Vernon remembers the days he spent alone in his room, the shades pulled down, letting as little light through as possible. The walls of his “cave” — as he called it — were his barrier against the outside world.
He couldn’t shake the traumatic memory from his time stationed with the U.S. Army in Panama, where a training accident propelled him and his vehicle down a 25-foot cliff. He was found 175 feet from the vehicle.
“I spent 30 days in a coma,” he says. “I had 375 sutures in my face.”
Alone in his room, Vernon relived that incident every day. “Rolling down that cliff … rolling down that cliff … rolling down that cliff,” he remembers. The injury and the challenges that followed brought his military career to an end. As a civilian dealing with nightmares and physical pain, while missing the structure of military life, Vernon started self-medicating. “The painkillers weren’t doing it. … I started using cocaine.”
At that point, Vernon would find work and keep a job just long enough to support his drug use.
“My addiction was full-blown,” he says. “I actually went to prison for my drug addiction.”
“That’s When I Really Knew I Needed To Do Something”
One day, Vernon’s stepdaughter stopped him in his tracks. “You’re no fun anymore,” she told him. “You just lay back here in this dark room. Don’t you think you should go back to the hospital?”
For Vernon, the despair in her face inspired a moment of profound reflection. Her words were what he needed to hear. “Since then we haven’t looked back,” he says.
Vernon joined a substance abuse treatment program as his local VA medical center. The program helped him, for the first time in his life, see the connection between his substance abuse and mental health. “All day long I’d admit I was an alcoholic and drug addict. But I refused to admit for a time that I had a mental health issue,” he says. “When I started addressing both of them as one, that’s when the light bulb went on.”
It takes a strong man to ask for help. But you’re not asking for a handout — you’re asking for a hand up.Vernon
Through treatment, Vernon’s nightmares became less frequent and their power over him diminished. The results inspired him to get involved with his church. He became active in the community. He started working out. “And the money I was spending on drugs and alcohol? ... We now have a house, two cars,” he says. “That’s amazing.”
Vernon credits the bond with his stepdaughter for helping him realize it was time to make a change. “For someone to love me like that … I always thought I was unlovable,” he says. “But I’m lovable today.”
Now, every morning when Vernon wakes up, in the room that was once a reminder of his isolation from the rest of the world, he starts his day by walking to the window, opening the blinds, and letting the light shine through.
“That used to be my cave. That used to be my hiding place,” he says. “Today, I welcome the day in.”
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