Nobody teaches you how to process your buddy’s suicide.
So I shoved all the emotions in. I buried them down. I just numbed it all. There is no time to come to grips. Continue mission. Just keep going as if these things never happened. With time, all things heal, right? Wrong.
Command made general announcements that chaplain services and mental health appointments were available. But where do you get the time? Can officers actually go without judgment? But, quite frankly, I didn’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to talk about it. I want to forget it. But I can’t. I had to learn to process it. But how?
I frequently think about my friend, Garrett, in particular. Garrett was an Army Ranger who served in combat with the 75thRanger Regiment. Rangers lead the way. Garrett was the toughest dude that I knew, and he cared about the people around him. He set the example. He took care the lowly new guys like me.
I wonder if I can still call myself Garrett’s friend? He called me one day asking for a character reference. He said there was a mishap with the lab and he erroneously “popped hot” for drugs on the urinalysis. Why didn’t I see the red flags? Why didn’t I call him out? I wrote the character reference letter. We talked families, made some jokes, and I told him to keep me posted – typical “masculine” banter. He was fine. But did I actually think he was fine or is that what I told myself? I continued mission.
A year or so went by. I didn’t think too much about Garrett as is typical with Army friendships and all the moves. I was buried in my cases, wrapped up in my own stories, and consumed with my own life. I heard that Garrett had gotten out. I put texting him on the “list of things to eventually do.” We’ll eventually catch up, so I thought.
I got a call from a friend one day. It felt off. My friends, especially Army friends, don’t call to chat. Garrett killed himself. His mental wounds caught up with him. Why didn’t I do more? Why wasn’t I surprised? It was so obvious that he had to be hurting. Why did I convince myself otherwise? Was I ever really his friend? How can a friend put the potential discomfort of a hard conversation over a buddy’s life? Why didn’t I say, “Garrett, let’s get help. I’m struggling too!”? I feel like Garrett would have done that for me.
Here is my point to all of this …
I intended to write a general article about the human connection benefits of yoga. I wanted to simply share how yoga helps Veterans. I want to share the amazing benefits of a guided yoga practice offered by the Veterans Yoga Project.
Instead, I thought about Garrett. I thought about how my yoga practice created the space for me to acknowledge and grieve the loss of a friend. It helps me come to grips with my military service as well.
I practice yoga with others because I need to share the human connection, usually without talking. I teach yoga because I get to hold the space for others to do the same. I am a student/teacher/human. The individual yoga practice in the interconnected community space helps me.
Yoga creates an environment of awareness, patience, and compassion within us and in our community. The breath awareness, mindful movement, gratitude, and connection with others provides the space for healing. I never expected such a simple practice to have such meaningful benefits in my life.
I’m in a great space today because I can actually grieve. I can be with my feelings instead of shoving them all in and avoiding the discomfort. Something as simple as guided yoga planted the seeds for this growth.
Please don’t struggle alone is the ultimate lesson learned here.
I invite anyone to come practice with me. We can hold the space, have fun, and celebrate this human condition. I teach with the Veterans Yoga Project and at the Hennepin County Bar Association. Anyone is welcome.
Bio: Mike serves as the North Central Outreach Coordinator for the Veterans Yoga Project. Mike served on active duty in the Army from 2007-2015. Mike teaches yoga and wellness in military and criminal justice communities