By: John Schrey, Help For Our Heroes Alumnus, Transformations BHT

For years I struggled with the last Monday of every May, Memorial Day.  The day our nation has set aside to memorial daycelebrate our fallen warriors.  Those who gave their lives to protect our great country.

Even more than the day itself, I hated the greeting that was attached to the day, “HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY”.  Since 2008 it had become my mission in life to make sure no one around me ever uttered the words “Happy” and ”Memorial Day” in the same sentence.  After all, what was so HAPPY about remembering the death of my brothers and sisters and I experienced while overseas?  How dare you tell me to be “Happy” on a day like this?

How dare you civilians celebrate with your cookouts and laughter while guys like Toves, Wilson, Standfest, Miller, and all their families will never get a chance to experience anything happy together again. Take your American Flags down.  You don’t know our pain.

I would spend my Memorial Days consuming as much alcohol as I possibly could in the memory of those same men I mentioned earlier.  We would write RIP and the Marine’s name on napkins with the full shot glasses above it and take pictures to post in their memories.  I would then, more times than not, get in my car and drive home or to the next bar where I could make sure no one was “Happy” on what had become MY day of mourning.  I had managed to turn a day of patriotism and military appreciation into a day of sadness and self-sabotage and those shots of liquor turned into shots of heroin and cocaine.

The fact is, I didn’t want anyone to honor these fallen heroes because I knew deep down I was not only dishonoring my brothers with my actions but I was edging closer to losing the life I had been spared.

What I failed to realize was that even if some people only thought about my brothers on this one day, at least they were honoring them.  I might as well have been the one spitting on their graves.  That may sound harsh but is the way I felt when I realized how wrong my thinking had become.  I realized the question wasn’t “How dare YOU?”  It was actually “How dare me?”

How dare I not take full advantage of living through those IED blasts?  How dare I not honor these men and celebrate their ultimate sacrifice?  How dare I make Memorial Day about me and not them?

It’s no coincidence that realization came when I finally decided to get sober.  When I became willing to listen to what people were saying and not just hearing what I wanted to hear, I realized just how much I was missing out on.  I realized that if I really wanted to honor my brothers I couldn’t keep numbing my pain and sadness with drugs and alcohol.  They deserved my sadness.  They deserved for me to finally mourn them in a healthy way.  Most importantly, they deserve to see me live my life to the fullest and honor them every step of the way.

By the Grace of God, this will be the third Memorial Day I will spend sober and I know every one of the brothers and sisters I lost, including my blood brother, are smiling and proud of me.  I also know how hard it is early in recovery to get over the guilt and shame we experience around this exact topic.  We come into treatment or the VA Psych ward feeling like we let everyone down especially those that passed away.  Take it from someone who has been there and know that is an outright lie our addiction wants us to believe.  The minute we decide to surrender and get better is the minute we begin to make our brothers proud again.

For us that have lost close friends and family members, this is just another day we can honor and remember our loved ones as we should every day.  But for all those that want to celebrate Memorial Day and honor them as well, to them I say Happy Memorial Day and Thank You.

*This is dedicated to Zachary Picking who survived the War in Afghanistan but succumbed to the war we are fighting here at home. A war within ourselves and a war we must not fight alone. If you are struggling today or any day please reach out and we will be there to grab you.