By: John Schrey, Help For Our Heroes Alumnus, Transformations BHT
For a long time, I used to get really annoyed and frustrated when I would hear civilians using terms like Bunker Mentality, Fox Hole Prayers, and War Stories. I used to say to myself and sometimes others stuff like, “you don’t know the first thing about a bunker” or “have you ever been in a fox hole?” And someone using the term “war story” to describe doing a drug actually pissed me off. If this stuff upsets you, I totally get it, I had to do a lot of work around my thoughts and judgments about these terms being used as metaphors for nonmilitary things. Actually this was just one of many judgments I had to work through but maybe I can help you better understand or at least see things from a different perspective.
My life changed forever when I woke up one morning after sleeping for almost 48 hours in a house in the middle of nowhere Texas. I was once again coming off another stint of homelessness and hopelessness and had been given an opportunity to go to a small men’s treatment center in Wimberley, TX. I had been to treatment countless times before but this time I guess the seclusion, and of course lack of females, made it different. Some dude had come into my room to ask me if I wanted to come eat dinner with “the boys.” I honestly had no idea where the hell I even was and I was terribly sick from heroin withdrawal but I needed to eat. I came out of the room and saw 12 guys standing around the table with their arms around each other’s shoulders. They opened up the circle and we said a prayer standing over what would be my first home-cooked meal in a long time. It wasn’t a religious prayer, trust me, because these guys, from what I saw, were not all church goers but it was as spiritual as anything I’d ever experienced. I can’t tell you exactly what it was about being in that group but for the first time in years, I felt genuine hope. For the next 30 days, this became my bunker and those dudes were my Brothers in Arms. See, what I came to realize is I may not have been in combat, but I was dead in the middle of a war and the enemy was kicking my ass.
I can remember being pinned down in a trench, which obviously isn’t a bunker; it’s worse because it doesn’t provide overhead cover. We slowly moved up the trench as a unit to try and get fire superiority over the enemy which in this case we eventually got when a cobra came and laid down cover fire so we could get out. My point is, there is no way one of the guys in the squad was going to pull a Rambo and hop out the trench alone and attack. That to me is equally as insane as thinking I can just stop doing drugs by myself with no help from anyone else. Why do I think that? Because that’s precisely what I would do every time I got out of treatment. I’d say “thank you for the knowledge, but I got this and I’m out.” This time was different. Most of us had been through facility after facility and many of us had been dead from overdoses numerous times and we knew what we were up against. We knew we couldn’t leave that bunker alone again or we were as good as dead. We formed a bond I hadn’t felt since I was in combat. It was then that I realized just how much I had missed that feeling of connection. We had come from all over the country and some of us didn’t get along a lot of the time but just like in the Marine Corps, we quickly realized we were in this together and we made it work. We laughed, cried, fought, talked shit, and shared stories about our kids, wives, ex-wives, and baby’s mommas. We slowly learned how to feel emotions and enjoy life again.
So now when I think of the term Bunker Mentality it extends far past the battlefields in Afghanistan. It can be found in every treatment Center, VA Psychiatric Unit, AA meeting, and Sober Living House. It’s a mentality that says we have to do this together because alone we have no chance. Make no mistake, we are under attack, and although we may be able to hold off the enemy for a little while, we need reinforcements because the real problem is, the enemy is in our own mind and sometimes we may not even see it coming.