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

I stood in the battalion parking lot with my arm firmly around my wife’s little body watching the rest of the platoon come down the stairs from the bus and into the arms of their loved ones.  As tears welled up in my eyes I felt a sense of pride and honor that to this day I have not come close to feeling again.

For the last year and change, it had been our hope, our dream, our prayer, and our PURPOSE in life to bring everyone in our platoon home to their family.  We had left that same parking lot eight months earlier, after months of sacrifice and training, and headed to Helmand Province, Afghanistan to do Route Clearance for Counter Insurgency missions. I had been there before two years earlier where we had lost a lot of men and I was petrified of losing any of the young warriors that had joined us since then. I was hard on those young Marines. Shit, if you asked them, I was borderline sadistic at times in the months leading up to our deployment.  I didn’t care what they thought. The few of us that had been to that God-forsaken country knew what it was like to lose brothers and we knew what it would take to survive, or at least have the best chance of surviving. We hammered those boys with discipline and demanded attention to detail in even the simplest things. What they perceived as hate and anger at the time was actually the highest form of brotherly love and we were relentless. That fall night in 29 Palms, California, that relentlessness paid off as we safely returned every man from 2nd Platoon home to their family.  If “Sense of Purpose” were a mountain, we had just summited Everest and for a long time, that became the problem.

A lot of my writings come from experiences in combat and the Marine Corps, but I believe the essence of the feeling and the message I want to convey stretches far beyond my experiences alone.  What happens when the 20-year veteran middle linebacker hangs up his cleats?  How about when the police officer retires and the fireman leaves the firehouse for the last time?  In other words, what the hell do we do when we lose the only sense of purpose we ever knew?  I wish someone had asked me this question before I got out of the Marines so I could have prepared for it, or at the very least, kept it in the back of my mind. When I got out of the Marines I had no idea how important having purpose in my life was. As I started to spiral out of control I knew something was missing and I knew I missed the adrenaline of combat and the “kill or be killed” mentality, but I had no idea how important a sense of purpose actually was. I think part of the reason was that it was easy for me as a man to talk about tough guy shit like combat, but never did we sit around and talk about our “purpose in life” or how important that might be. The fact is I used cocaine to fulfill that craving for adrenaline and heroin to try and fill that emptiness or void left behind when I thought I lost my purpose.

There’s that cliché statement you hear in treatment about trying to fill a God-sized hole with drugs and alcohol.  Whether you believe the God piece or not is not for me to comment on.  What I do know is, whatever the hole was that I was trying to fill with drugs and alcohol has now been filled with Purpose again.  It’s my belief that no matter what your concept of God or a Higher Power is, when you’re fulfilling your purpose, you’re living in your concept of God’s will.

So let me expound on just my experience with Purpose. Even when I realized how important and vital Purpose was to my recovery, I had to come to terms with a few things.  First and foremost, I had to stop thinking I would never feel fulfilled again because I had reached the pinnacle of Purpose in 2010 when we returned home.  It was an unfair expectation I was putting on myself.  Staying with the “Everest analogy,”  just because a climber reaches the top of Mount Everest doesn’t mean he won’t enjoy the climb up Kilimanjaro.  In other words, I had to stop chasing that feeling from 2010 and find other ways to make a difference.  The second thing I had to do was find my “Kilimanjaro.”  I found that in the rooms of AA and with other veterans like me who feel trapped in the past and see no way out.  I used to hear people in meetings say they were “So grateful to be an alcoholic” and I would think to myself, “What an Asshole.”  And maybe he was, but I totally understand that statement now.  If I hadn’t been through the things I’ve been through I wouldn’t be able to serve the Purpose I am able to serve now and I would be lost or dead.

If you are struggling today or any day please reach out and we will be there to grab you.