To my readers,
I hope this finds you well. If you're reading this, you've either met me, heard me on a podcast, read my book or you're considering reading it. Unfortunately, on the back of a book you can only give so much information about the book, the author, and there really isn't much room for anything extra. So I wanted to provide extra context of what led to the book, what I experienced through out the book, as well as my journey through life after war.
Before we get started, I feel it's important to address the veteran community who have conflicting views over my book. I want to acknowledge that many of you, (as well as many of the men I served with who I consider brothers) have experienced much more combat, grief, and worse deployments than I have. My goal with the book is not to publish an action-packed book, portraying myself as Rambo himself. My goal, is NOT to sit here, breaking the silent ethos talking about how great we were. In fact, deciding to publish this book was the most moral conflicting decision I have ever made. I prescribe and have always prescribed to the philosophy that you go to war, do your job, and when you get home, you don't speak about it to people outside of the warfighter community. With so many cases of stolen valor, embellishment, and everything in between, I have always felt it better to say nothing.
That being said, the silent ethos isn't working for many veterans, their families, and it wasn't working for me. Staying silent has led many veterans to isolation and suicide. For me, I feel the silent ethos applies to boasting and bravado. It does not apply to helping others in need, getting help for yourself, or speaking to a counselor. Knowing that many of you from the warfighter community will be and are extremely upset by my decision to speak out with this book, I wanted you to know that I am doing this because I'm tired of seeing guys spend a life down the rabbit hole of darkness. I feel if some of us can share our experiences with each other and each other's family we can bring light to the darkness other people are trapped in.
I do NOT consider myself as more courageous or brave than other servicemembers and I do not look at my service as a debt society owes me. Instead, I feel as though I had the privilege to serve the country I love that has given me more than words can describe. I know many other servicemembers whom I have utmost respect for with either decorations, experience, or acts of courage in combat that most of the world can't possibly begin to fathom. I do not consider myself in any shape or form to be a hero, although I've been fortunate enough to know a few. So I want to thank you all for your service, and know that I have the utmost respect for all of you. And tell you directly that this book is not meant to betray, anger, or cause turmoil amongst our warfighter community. And I will be the first to say that for many of you my deployment was a walk in the park compared to yours, I am impressed and thankful for the sacrifice, courage, and bravery, many of you have demonstrated in your service.
Through my time in the military I was incredibly fortunate and blessed to serve underneath some amazing mentors, leaders, and now, friends. As a result of my service, I was able to meet some of the most brave, courageous, and extraordinary men and women that I have ever met. I also experienced the flipside of the coin under leaders that were subpar, destructive to morale, and difficult to respect let alone work for. I still consider myself fortunate, to have experienced the negative aspects, because it demonstrated everything I don't want to be as a man, a leader, and a person in general.
In a novel, you have to select stories that contribute to the overall thesis of the book and leave out other stories that don't directly contribute or keep the reader engaged. Although there was excitement at times in Afghanistan, there was an equal amount of time refreshing my Facebook newsfeed, bored out of my mind. During our deployment, while our unit was waiting for our follow-on mission at the ISAF HQ in Kabul, there were extended periods of time spent in the gym, walking around the shops aimlessly, and watching the same movies on repeat to burn the time. It wasn't all action every second of the day for our entire deployment. For some guys, this is a normal deployment. For other men I served with who deployed earlier in the war, they sustained combat daily for 12-18 months.
While a servicemember is deployed, our lives are placed on pause like a movie. We have a year to think about and ruminate over the events that transpired before we left, the relationship issues we had with our family, loved ones, and friends. While we're away, the movie of life continues for everybody we left behind. So when we get home, we expect to pick up life where it was paused. But we're at a different part than everybody else. When I got home, I was in the honeymoon of returning home from war. I was in denial that I had changed, and I wanted to be the person that everybody remembered without change.
I began sleeping 3-4 hours per night, I grew irritable, easily agitated, and I began to unravel at the seems. I refused to talk to a counselor, receive any sort of sleep medication, and I felt it would eventually pass. After two years, it still hadn't passed, and I began questioning the validity of how I was feeling. I was stuck in a mindset where I continued to think, "Other guys you know had exponentially worse deployments than you. You know guys with amputated limbs, and guys who were KIA. What in the world do you have to be bothered by when your deployment and life has been a walk in the park compared to others?" This with many other things led to increased depression and alcohol consumption.
After my journey through the Himalayas, reading the book The Art Of Happiness by Howard Cutler and the Dalai Lama, and talking to a counselor, I realized that the best moments and the worst moments in our life are all relative. For some people, the worst moment in their life was failing a class, or not getting the job promotion. For those of us who have had what we call "worse" moments, with life and death, we consider the other person's experience trivial. What I learned was this isn't a productive, healthy, or even realistic way to view this. Through my degree in Psychology I learned several psychological theories, the theory that we as people base all of our future actions in life based on previous experience is the most applicable theory. If failing a class was the worst experience they have ever experienced, then that's what the person bases their definition of "bad" off of. Our interpretation of "bad" is based on the worst experience that we've encountered. To each person, the rating of bad is the same because it's the worst each person has experienced this far in life.
For me, this helped foster empathy toward other people in civilian life. Before I realized this, I felt I couldn't relate to anybody outside of the military. Then, when I tried to relate to men that I looked up to in the military, I felt a though I couldn't relate to them because their deployments and life were filled with much more trial and tribulation than I have experienced. It led me to feel isolated from both sides of the fence, alone. As a result, I would get down on or feel bad about myself if I considered myself to be having a bad day which led to further feelings of inadequacy and depression.
After my journey through the Himalayas, I spent months recovering, unable to workout, walk up a flight of stairs, and I could pretty much only sit all day to breathe. I had never spoken about anything that happened overseas that bothered me or anything that happened before the military. After advice from a counselor, I sat down writing "from the beginning" everything that happened in life that bothered me. Once I started writing, I couldn't stop the memories from flowing, both positive and negative. It opened an entire bottle of emotions that I had suppressed, and it took me the better part of six months to sort through, process, and work through.
After a month of writing, I began to realize every area I went "wrong" with my family, ex-girlfriend, and friends. I began visiting men I deployed with talking about life after war. I began to see re-occurring themes amongst combat veterans and their families with very similar fights, hurtful words/ actions, and thoughts that I had experienced.
I realized that although there are many war books, there really isn't a book about what to expect as a servicemember returning home. Or as the family member, lover, or friend of a returning servicemember. So, although there are some war stories in the book, the book is the returning home story about the issues many of us face when we get back. I made my best attempt to write the book as everything I wished for a long time that 22-year-old Steele, his family, and significant other would have known that may have prevented so many fights, broken hearts, and difficulties upon my return.
Currently, the veteran suicide rate is 22 veterans per day. With many more struggling with depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and divorce. With my book, my goal is to raise awareness to these issues and reach veterans who may be on the verge of giving up and feeling as though their life will never get better. I will not sit here and tell you all that the theories, ideas, or solutions I propose to some of these issues are the answer. For some, they will be. For others, they won't be. I by no means feel or even think as though I have all the answers. My views over the last five years have drastically evolved, and I expect they will continue to evolve the older I get. My hope is that somebody else who reads my book is inspired to share their own experience, and improve upon or find solutions that work for other people.
For those of you who are suffering in silence, who have never told anybody that you’re at the end of your rope barely hanging on, I’m talking to you: I want those who feel as though nobody cares whether they live or die, or those who feel there is no hope left to know that I care about you, that I care you’re alive. I may not know you or have met you, but I see the potential in you and how much you have to contribute to this world. Despite what social media might tell us, none of us are perfect, life isn’t perfect, and we’ve all said or done things in our life that makes us cringe at the thought in retrospect. In our lives, there are mountains, and there are valleys, taking your life doesn’t make your life better, all it does is take away our ability to ever see our life get better, and I promise you it will. Sometimes, you just need to set out into the unknowns of the world, crawl into a rock, and brave the storm to get to the blue skies and morning light.