Ryan Normandin: Through The Maze Of Addiction
Ryan works for a private security and private investigations company that assists undercover work and investigative reporting. His experience with the darker side of humanity seems loathe to leave him, even in his transition into civilian life.
Sometimes our curses can become our gifts if we know how to re-purpose them.
Leaving the Army in 2015, after serving with the 173rd Airborne and 75th Ranger Regiment on multiple deployments, he has had a couple of years to de-compress, but it has been one hell of a journey for him. We discussed memories, and how so many of them are hard to carry so we try to silence them with alcohol or pills or both and hope that time will soften them enough for us to bear them with more dignity and acceptance.
Since he stopped drinking, and began exercising and taking better care of himself, his memories seem to be coming back with a little more clarity. Sometimes the memories are a gift, but other times they are not. He shared with me the struggle common to the combat veteran to articulate the memories, the feelings and the trauma associated with them. He expressed the difficulty in sorting and sifting through them to try to make some kind of sense of it all when they’re hard to think about, much less write down on paper to get them out.
That’s where I come into play.
I know that I have just a few things to offer these men and women, these warriors I view with enormous respect and have the honor of talking with during these interviews. I have personal experience with family committed to service in the military and law enforcement, I listen from my heart and I write for them, not about them. I am a safe place to tell the story without fear of judgment. When their voices shake, I write them steady and clear. They share their struggles and I see their daily victories over experiences I don’t ever want to have. I write from just outside of where they are and show who they are as best I can. There is no other way to write for All Secure. It is always an honor to do so, and Ryan is no exception.
The seeds of addiction begin the numbing of the senses.
Ryan drank heavily throughout his military service except when he was deployed. He started self-medicating towards the end of his career when his PTSD was going haywire. He knew it was time to throw in the towel or keep going and drive himself into the ground. He opted to get out, but at the time, the options were to go to school, become an entrepreneur, a contractor or just stay in the military.
Five days out of the military, he got a DUI. He went home to visit some friends in San Antonio and was invited to see what the old crowd was doing. After drinking to excess he got in his car and drove away from people he knew no longer cared about him, who were no longer his friends because they didn’t know the person he’d become. He was pulled over and later spent ten days in jail after his charges were downgraded. The judge did factor in his recent discharge from the military and his cooperative and respectful behavior.
That wasn’t enough to make him stop drinking.
He started a business that fell through, and his drinking escalated. This was on top of the eight medications he was given by the military/VA for his PTSD. He considers his “snapping point” to be his divorce earlier on. His wife wanted no more of the Ranger Regiment or Special Operations. His dependance on pain killers and his excessive drinking certainly didn’t help matters. The stress of the dissolution of his marriage exacerbated his PTSD. When he lost what he considered a stabilizing influence in his life, his tentative sense of balance failed completely. It would escalate even further when his best friend was murdered in 2017. He had lost a huge mentor in his life who had finally made so headway with Ryan and his issues. His best friend, a veteran as well, encourages his involvement with helping veterans and seeking help for PTSD. With his best friend gone his drinking was reaching a dangerous level.
He began an escalated downward spiral into self-destruction.
Ryan shared the experience common to many combat veterans. If you are a stellar performer in a special operations unit, they’re going to do whatever it takes to get you back out on target. They care about the fulfillment of the mission. They care about the performance before the person. Sleep medication, serotonin re-uptake, muscle relaxers for injuries…as long as you can perform, they don’t care.
As a team leader you agree to all of this. Because your tribe needs you.
On the other side of the scale, he speaks of his love of his service to his country, his brothers in the unit and the positive experiences the military offers. It is only in the dealing with, and the healing of, the individual veteran that we see the grievous flaws in our system. Those who have served us are not dixie cups to be discarded and should not be treated as such. Guidance, training, cognitive therapy and transitional tools are necessary and should be a mandatory offering to the warrior retiring from the field.
He believes that the three years of his transition held within them many transitions. It’s not a light switch, it’s a process that leads to another and another and so on. Transitioning out of the military is different for each individual. It can, and usually does, take years to transition “properly”.
In an attempt to reach out and further heal himself while helping others, he has been involved with several non-profits founded to assist in the raising of PTSD awareness and offer recovery options. They stand for the right thing, and the intentions are honorable, but the events to raise awareness were rampant with a mixture of alcohol and anger. It became an environment poisonous to his recovery, and he chose to step away. Much like the military itself, a fine and noble organization of people, the greater purpose is undermined by the not so noble means to an end.
Not willing to be hypocritical, he is bluntly honest about his own abuse of alcohol in the past, but chooses to raise awareness in ways that do not disempower the brothers he seeks to help, or enable the addictions that limit their ability to take their power back.
How does a physically broken, over-prescribed, self-medicating veteran thrive?
This is where, as a decent human being, I become some flammable mixture of horrified, heart-broken and angry. In the military it is critical that your weapon is maintained in pristine condition. Even a grain of sand can cause a misfire which can be the difference between life and death. Those serving in the military are highly trained weapons personified, yet are taped together, medicated with whatever will keep them performing, and rubber stamped as good to go for the sake of the mission. It is the simple practice of riding the pony till it drops. And they are dropping to the number of 22 suicides per day. Military weapons are treated with greater care than the combat veterans carrying them.
Where is the turning point?
In Ryan’s case, it was a combination of scaring himself into action, and finding an example of someone much like himself stepping into the arena to engage in his own life again with a voice, heart and spine committed to bringing himself fully home. His fear came when liver enzymes were much too high, and his mind and emotions became more erratic. He began to study the medicines he was given and learned that some of the ones he’d taken for 4 1/2 years were not meant to be taken for more than one year. Some of the medications were not meant to be taken with others, and something taken for one symptom caused the worsening of others or created new ones entirely.
The founder of All Secure, Tom Satterly, was the example Ryan found to become prescription free. It was Tom having the courage to speak openly about his physical, mental and emotional state, his difficulties transitioning and the over-medicating of the symptoms without treating the illnesses that gave Ryan a plan to relate to, and a fellow warrior to reach out to. Since last September, Ryan has been off all VA medications. He no longer uses alcohol to self-medicate. He educated himself onto a path where he sets real goals that are important to him, takes care of himself physically, and chooses to be the father that his six year old daughter deserves.
We honor the brothers and sisters we’ve lost by living extraordinary lives.
This is the first year that Ryan hasn’t faced the anniversaries of battles and deaths by getting intoxicated and re-hashing the events. This is the first year that he chose to add something to his life instead of numb it, to deal with the past instead of dwell in it. He made the decision to live in honor of those who could no longer be here. He chose to spend time with his daughter, play with his super hero dog, Bruce Wayne, and be the very best version of himself that he had to offer. He did not drown his memories of their loss, he celebrated their lives.
He honors them by living a life of integrity, to the very best of his ability.