Again I was watching an action show on television when at the conclusion of the show the hero said to his buddy: “Men like us are not designed to grow old. And we certainly don’t do it gracefully.”
This could have been my life philosophy. And today I am paying for it.
In my life I have been scuba-diving, parachuting, free rock climbing, rappelling. spelunking and orienteering. I have run marathons and ultramarathons, raced triathlons, and road raced bicycles. I survived five days in the jungle with only a knife, flown a jet in a training “dogfight,” and worked 12 days with only two hours sleep. I have watched men die, and killed men. I have been to 27 countries and a couple of places where no one would tell me where I was.
This is not bragging, it is fact that explains many things about me today.
It helps to explain why my body is so beat up. Why it is so hard to get up in the morning, and then takes 10 minutes of hot shower, stretching, and movement before I am functional. It explains the many pains I live with 24/7. It helps to explain why almost nothing today is exciting, exhilarating or satisfying.
On another occasion, I was watching a ”chick flick” with my wife about a female Marine officer that had just been released from the Marine Corps. She was trying to explain what it had been like when she said: “One day of soldiering is like 10 days of civilian life. … It changes you.”
The average military life is exciting, invigorating, exhilarating and challenging. Military life takes one to different, exotic, curious, and interesting places. It gives one chances for experiences unavailable in civilian life. Combat is the ultimate challenge and competition. But even the training in the military is all of these, and makes life interesting and challenging. And the adrenaline rushes are addicting.
My life today is not so challenging, invigorating, exhilarating or exciting. Aberdeen is not different, exotic, curious, exhilarating or even very interesting. But it is not just Aberdeen or Grays Harbor, it is anywhere that is not military. There is not much in a civilian life that provides the adrenaline rushes we get used to, learn to like, and then need.
All of this helps to explain the depression that keeps me in my chair many days.
I have in the last few years found myself a real fan of “action movies,” “action TV series,” and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fights because they are interesting, exciting, exhilarating, competitive and invigorating.
That is probably why many combat veterans are also gun or hunting fans. Both provide the challenge of the search, the challenge and excitement of winning, and exhilaration that is hard to find in an “ordinary” job and family life.
All these things tend to bring on the “adrenaline rush” that is so absent in today’s “normal life.”
A normal life for Veterans often results in anxiety, a terrible temper and anger. I struggled with anger, a foul mouth, extremes in emotions, guilt, anxiety and self-loathing all the time. And it all showed.
But today, I am a man of faith. The day faith came to me, I changed.
I still struggle with anger and all rest, around the clock. But I have better control of it. I have new strength provided by my faith. There was, at least for a time, a peace. I knew that I was forgiven. I knew I had all that I need.
As the scripture Philippians 4:7 (NIV) says: “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
At first I was so calm, so satisfied, so comfortable, that I began to wonder if I was depressed. There were no extremes of emotion that I was used to. There was no adrenaline rush that I was used to. So I thought I might be depressed. I soon realized that I was not depressed. I simply did not need the excitement. I had all that I needed.
Some veterans are able to get hold of these issues and the need for adrenaline even without faith. Some never control it. Some like action television or movies, driving fast, jumping out of airplanes, or some other excitement that produces some level of adrenaline rush. But they can’t accept growing old, and certainly don’t do it gracefully.
Please remember: Many of our young men and women have sacrificed greatly around the world, to protect our country, our rights and freedoms, our allies, and the flag of the United States of America. I am proud to have been one of them, and would gladly defend this great country again today or any day.
Jim Daly, a retired captain in the U.S. Marine Corps, is a member of the Aberdeen Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post 224 and its Veterans Service Officer. He is also a member of the Vietnam Veterans of America.