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Counseling: Bouncing Back

6/27/16

“Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom.” General George S. Patton

All my hard work and discipline had finally paid off. Eight years of National Guard duty, while working full time, having three kids, going to college part time, and a two year Active Duty tour (a typical married Guard member’s lifestyle) had all pinnacled to my recommendation to join a few other high-speed individuals in Officer Candidate School (OCS).

I plunged headlong into my training; attending drills, following an insane PT regimen, reading manuals, completing my Secret Clearance packet – I was in the best shape of my life, and the most prepared I had been for anything in my life. I was looking forward to the rest of my career as an Army Officer, and maybe I would retire as Major when I got my 20 in.

And then, I got sick. I don’t mean the flu, I mean some long-term, life changing illnesses. Career faltering illnesses. I presented symptoms during the second mile of the last PT Test before leaving for Phase I of OCS (the best results since basic training up to that point), and failed the test. I got sent back to my unit (typically shameful to be sent back to the unit after failing out of a school).

The rest of the next four years consisted of a lot of doctors’ appointments, many tests, medications, medical equipment, and a surgery. The wake of all this ended with me not being allowed to reenlist; my military career was over at 12 years and 6 months, to the day. No ceremony, no benefits, just a certificate mailed to me a year later.

During one of the physical screenings in the midst of my last four years, I answered one of the questions that are designed to screen for mental and emotional disorders. I think it was something like, “In the last 12 months, have you felt down or depressed?”. Uh, ya think?!, I thought, and marked “Yes”.

You see, that’s not typically something you do during a physical screening in the Army. If one is 100% honest on every single question, a 10-hour day at a physical screening just got longer – and usually the rest of the unit has to wait on you to finish (not a cool move). Don’t be “that guy”. No one wants to be “that guy”, because everyone wants to get out of there! But, I was completely honest that day.

My day ended by an officer telling me that I had 30-days to get a psychological evaluation. I was being ordered to go to counseling.

This was a true turning point in my life. An entire year of counseling spent learning to resolve things I never knew bothered me. My life was on a way different trajectory than I had planned. Through the simple act of talking through simple things with a trained professional, what I thought was my ‘demise’ was in truth a catalyst for change…for improvement.

Rock bottom is not meant to be a place to take up residence.

Rock bottom can be a springboard for change, for better.

Once I hit bottom, things changed – I changed. The climb back up started when I did the odd thing and was honest with myself, honest with others, reached out to somebody, and changed my focus from what I couldn’t change to what I could. I’m still climbing, and things continue to get better.

Counseling helped me when life got tough, and by going early (before a major crisis), I probably avoided a lot of additional pain.

What change are you in the midst of today? Are you ready to try something else?

Ryan Sargent, MSEd., LPC is a Licensed Professional Counselor at Military Veterans Resource Center; a graduate of Mount Vernon Nazarene University (2011) and the University of Dayton (2015). He has worked with adolescents, adults, and couples in a private practice setting helping with personality disorders, substance abuse, mental/emotional disorders, anger, stages of life crises, grief, and relationship issues. Ryan is a veteran of the U.S. Army, a former firefighter, and has 16 years’ experience working in a corporate business environment – all of which help him relate to a myriad of client experiences. For more information about MVRC’s counseling services, contact Ryan Sargent at 614-230-0401, or email ryan.sargent@milvetsrc.org.

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