So there I was… in the Congo, actually it was Ft. Knox, Kentucky but it was as hot and sweaty as a jungle. I wasn’t doing very well with my physical training at first. I could push-up like nobody’s business, years of doing sit-ups and pushups ( #militaryfamily ) . I was fast as lightning on the track but had no stamina due to my asthma. And because of my years of tough emotional training, they could literally scream in my face with spit flying everywhere (Covid probably put an end to that) and I’d still be grinning at them. Very little emotional torture phased me.
My Lieutenant told me I had an extraordinarily positive mental outlook. We were assessed once a week and I blew that part of the test out of the water every time.
I had two choices growing up and even into adulthood – give up or cope. I chose to cope. I could have given in under the sheer weight of all that I went through, turned to addiction or taken my life. Or I could find a way to persevere. I chose to keep those positive words ever so close to the forefront of my mind. Whenever I felt myself slipping, as depression is known to do, I fought back. And it felt like a fight. Often feeling exhausted during or afterwards.
NO. I have God.
“No one loves me”
My Grandmother did.
"I am a failure."
I will succeed.
I lived with abusive parents. I can't change my past. "It is what it is," that was another quote of my Grandmother's.
My 5 siblings each have their own story. My sister opens up on social media, detailing the abuse we went through and regrettably she shares my experiences as well without my consent. We don’t speak to each other. I love her so much and I want her to be safe and happy, but she’s not healthy for me and I have learned to accept that.
We all were broken in some way by our experience. One sibling confesses he can't relate to people and has anger issues. But he doesn't realize that when I look at him, I'm proud of the person he has become. We all have issues. But we succeeded!
I used to be afraid to speak up about the abuse I went through. I did not want pity. But there are kids going through similar around the world. Foster homes with children like us and children on the edge of adoption. Or adults and teens who feel like they need to put on a brave face to hide the embarassment of their past.
We are not alone. And we can overcome.
Recently, I came to the decision to be brave enough to accept my past as part of who I am. To share my story - good and bad. Because I'll be honest - I had some great moments with my parents! Moments I treasure. Like my mother chasing us in the backyard, scaring us and tickling us while we laughed and laughed. It was such a cool, dark night and she was in such a happy mood... I miss those moments.
I've come to realize we all have our weaknesses, our scars. The struggles we live with. Hers was mental health and denial about her alcohol consumption. So many people told me she had a problem with alcohol. As a child, I refused to see it. She was highly functional. As an adult, it almost pains me to think back and realize it was so blatantly obvious.
Living through abuse or neglect doesn't make our positive memories any less real or important. Sometimes the positive memories make it harder to cope with the negative. Why did they treat me this way if they loved me? Why did they leave us? Why would they hurt us? These may be questions you ask yourself. And the answer is, it wasn't anything you did.
Most kids and adults who have experienced a painful childhood know what I mean. Don't hide. Don't censor your life and pretend most of it didn't exist or cherry pick the good from the bad or worse, only focus on the bad and ignore the good!
We can hold our head's up because abuse doesn't reduce us, it doesn't define us. It shows the world we are strong and resilient. We can say, "Yes, I went through misery, but I endured." And focus on the positive. Let your pain become your battle scars! Wear them proudly for the win they are! YOU SURVIVED.
There are others out there like us. We might not know looking at them, just what they have gone through, how they endured or what kept them going.
We are all survivors.
Early in my training, I had helicopter rappelled and screamed the whole way down with my eyes squeezed tight. On top of being weak in a few areas, I was also a comedian (No Brass, No Ammo). Humor has been a major coping mechanism my entire life. I initially screamed from terror when the trainer decided I was stalling too much and shoved me off the platform into the pale blue sky… but halfway down, I continued my screech just to elicit a laugh. As my feet touched ground, I opened my eyes to discover my Sergeant was NOT laughing. Quite the opposite. I do believe he face palmed... I was so embarrassed.
And then that moment came a week or two later when I stunned my Sergeant and made him proud.
Fully geared up, heavy military boots, belts, pack and weapon, we had just completed training wading through water with our weapons and gear. And we had an OPTIONAL training exercise afterwards. Take it or walk, most of my platoon walked. They sat out in the sunshine and dried their BDUs. But I decided this was the moment to show my Sergeant what I was really made of. More than just mental strength, I was going to face my physical fears and opted IN.
I stood a few feet away from the edge of the slippery diving platform, as an additional exciting feature, each participant was also blindfolded. I had just climbed what felt like triple that height with rubbery legs and building panic in my lungs. I looked out at my Sergeant and a collection of people down below. He stood at ease near the pool watching. I took a determined breath and lifted my arms. I was to hold my weapon over my head and step off the platform into the deep water below. I decided to gather ALL the courage I could muster and shouted triumphantly, “For the Outlaws!” which was my platoon's nickname. A HOOAH bellowed up from the ground where my squad was. And I charged forward off the edge. Bad idea. With the extra gusto I had given to my drop, I was falling out of control. And the blindfold… small dark, trapped spaces, high dive and water below. The 3 fears hit me all at once as I plummeted towards the water. Regretting instantly that I chose to opt in. I felt my air escaping and in a panic, I threw my weapon and jerked the fabric off my face almost at the same time I hit the water. My M-16 narrowly missed a fellow soldier waiting in the shallow end with a rescue bouy. I sliced through the water, heavily weighed down with gear and as my face was rapidly enveloped by water, I caught the alarmed expressions of the male and female soldiers treading the deep end on either side of me. My arms flailed and I sunk and they immediately dove after me, flanking my sides. All I saw was blue and bubbles in what seemed like slow motion. The pressure was changing as I dropped in a stunned sort of limbo. Grabbing me under my arms from behind, they drug me to the surface. I sputtered and breathed. I was alive!
But I felt stupid. I threw my weapon. I wasn’t supposed to do that! I failed!
And it all happened so fast.
Guiding me to the edge, the soldiers asked me if I was okay as I drug myself up onto the pool’s ledge. My clothing was so freaking heavy. I realized I was fine, so I reassured them just as a big hand clamped down on my sopping wet jacketed shoulder. Behind me was my Sergeant, grinning ear to ear. I thought I had screwed up, but he looked so proud. He helped me to my feet.
“Outstanding, LaVaux. Outstanding.”
Throughout our lives, we will face hardships, struggles, pain and loss. We will face fears, worries, anxieties and the slap in the face that we screwed up or are not enough.
We face fears like now, with Covid-19 in our communities and family or friends or neighbors suffering.
It’s those moments, when we are struggling to get to the top, to breathe, to break through. Those are the moment when our efforts need to be acknowledged by our team for the sheer survival and feats that they are.
Outstanding. Excellent. Fantastic. Superb. Amazing. Incredible.
Because you are.
Whatever you are going through, whatever your past or future. You are all of this and more.
Support your team, your squad, your army. Tell them they are outstanding. And you can conquer your fears. You can face your worries. And hopefully not throw your figurative weapon and almost take someone out in the process. ...Baby steps.