Inspired by the experiences of Melissa Colin
by Eboni Ramm
I was in the Army, started out in Reserves then ended up going into the regular Army. My reserve unit deactivated and they gave me a choice of waiting around for something else to happen or going into active duty, which is what they were pushing for. Unfortunately, they said, “You’re gonna have to change your MOS.” At first I was kind of upset, but then I thought about it and I was up for an adventure. I decided to try something different. So, I went from being a 91 Bravo Medic to a 98 Delta. My position was now an emitter locator identifier, (pinpoint triangulation, central electronic warfare which falls under Intel). And, you know, when you’re a young kid, you think, ‘Wow, this is cool. I’m going to have a security clearance and I’m gonna have a top secret security clearance.’
During the training, the first few months were great. I loved it. I was in a new place, in Arizona, and I made some really great friends. Then, I started having trouble with my First Sergeant, First Sergeant Miller. Everything kind of just took a nosedive after that. It wasn’t all at once. It was gradual. He was nice at first I mean, as nice as one can be. I later found out that every cycle, he singled out one person who was always female and I was that female, that particular cycle. He started out with little comments like, “Women have no place in my fucking Army.” I just took it with a grain of salt because you kind of get shit; that’s just the way it is in the military. Things started to progress from there. I was stressing out and finding it kind of difficult to focus. He had this gigantic English Bull Mastiff dog that he would bring into the barracks and he named it Major because, as he said, he always wanted to boss around an officer. This dog weighed more than I did. He would block me in corners with this dog inches from my face, drooling and growling at me. And Miller would get really close to my face and he would say how easy it would be for him to let go of the leash. I was fucking petrified years after that. If I saw a medium or large sized dog walking down the street, I would make a beeline for the other side, and this shit started fucking with me pretty badly. I was having horrible nightmares about the dog and about him. I started drinking.
No one is supposed to make physical contact with you, touch you or anything like that, but that didn’t stop him. He was starting to get a little inappropriate. He’d spit on me on purpose, in my face. He would constantly remind me that I had no place in his army. He’d also grab me and push me up against the wall. He started taking away any civilian privileges I had. I wasn’t allowed to wear civilian clothes. I was no longer allowed to have any phone privileges and when my family called me, I wasn’t allowed to talk to them.
One particular afternoon, I was two maybe three minutes late to formation because I had a kidney infection and I was on medication at the time. So I was in the bathroom because I was going to the bathroom a lot. I got an article 15 for that even though he knew that I was sick. I was then made to move every bit of furniture (including filing cabinets and heavy furniture, everything) in the CQ office by myself and strip the floors, mop them, buff them, and move everything back by myself. This went on for about three to four weeks. I was going to school for the 98 Delta program and my grades started slipping. It’s really hard to focus when you’re just so consumed with what’s going to happen next, what’s going to happen to me when I go back to the barracks. So, I had just about had it at that point. One night in the barracks, I was made to scrub the floorboards around the entire barracks and but I wasn’t allowed to stand up and move. I had to crawl on my hands and knees to do this.
So, I was probably about a third of the way done and I just lost it. I asked myself, “Why the fuck is this happening to me? What is it about me that’s making him treat me like this.” I picked up the bucket of soapy water, the sponges, and I just chucked them down the end of the hall and I started screaming. Next thing I knew, I was pulled outside, pinned down on the ground by three people, and put on suicide watch for the rest of the night. The next day, I had a psych evaluation and was put on a tranquilizer, which was making me very, very sleepy, so I couldn’t stay awake in class. I’m getting in trouble for that with a couple more Article 15s. I decided I’m not taking this fucking medication anymore because I just can’t function. I’m failing, I’m falling asleep and I’m getting in trouble. My psychiatrist was willing to try a different medication or lower the dosage so I could function. At that point, they started physically forcing the pills down my throat; holding me down, telling me to open my mouth and shoving the pills down my throat. So, I didn’t have a choice but to have the shit in my system to keep me subdued, I guess. And in class, I’m falling asleep and getting screamed at every 10 seconds because I cannot keep my eyes open. I just lost it one day and took my keyboard and started smashing my monitor with it. I got removed from class, escorted out of the building and brought back to see to Colonel Reed, he was a psychiatrist.
I started drinking at that point. I was not a drinker before. One particular weekend, I went over to see some Marine friends at their barracks who were there for training as well. I’d gone over before, you know, we’d get pizzas and whatnot, watch stupid movies. It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary and one night while over there, I’m getting pressured to drink and so I do. I was just like “fuck it”, you know, I just need to not think about this shit. And I blacked out. The next morning, I woke up. My pants were off. My shirt was up. I felt like it was like an out of body experience. I guess, like just a combination of panic, yet dissociating from it. They also decided while I was blocked out to take Sharpie markers and write some pretty disgusting things and swears all over my body, not on my face, but like from my neck down. And this was Sunday. I went back to my barracks and I took a shower. I tried scrubbing all of it off of me and it wouldn’t come off of me. I knew that if I showed up at formation with this shit all over my body, it was just going to be hell to pay. So, I took nail polish remover and alcohol and I started scrubbing it with the rough side of the sponge until my skin was raw and bleeding. I showed up at formation that evening. We were in PTs, shorts and T-shirts. And of course, they saw my body with all these wounds because there was no way to hide it. I got in trouble for that and felt absolutely humiliated.
Over the next few days, I decided I needed to say something to explain why I looked like that. And I thought, I just need to report this. So I did and I ended up getting in trouble for it. They didn’t believe me. I was told I was making it up because I was trying to get other people in trouble so the focus wouldn’t be on me. Shit just kept getting worse from Miller because my grades continued slipping. I mean, who the hell is going to be able to function when they went through all this shit? You know, it’s one thing in the beginning to get singled out and to get shit on and spat on, but when you go through being sexually assaulted, it just strips your humanity away. I continued failing. There were a couple of times when my grades started going up a little, but it didn’t last long; more Article 15s, more falling asleep in class. At that point, I decided just to continue taking the medication on my own because anything that could numb me, I needed that at the time. Because I had gotten so many Article 15s at that point, I think they just kind of viewed me as useless. I begged them over and over to just let me go back to being a Medic, find me a unit and put me in. I don’t want to be here anymore. I can’t. This is not a healthy environment. They didn’t.
In addition to going to my psychiatrist once a week, I was also seeing a therapist once a week and then group therapy once a week.
I met one of my best friends in group therapy, we’re still very close to this day. She went through some shit too with her First Sergeant and because she and I bonded as friends, we were told that we were not allowed to hang out with each other, which was ridiculous. There was no rule about us not being friends, but it was another way to just take everything from me.
This is before things started getting really bad. I was about a week away from getting my promotion, going up to an E3. Miller, just out of the blue, pulls me up in front of the entire company. We’re in our BDUs and he started making an example of me in front of everybody. It was just humiliating. He was belittling me and spitting on me, of course. Nobody did anything because nobody wanted to speak out of line. He came up to me, faced me and everyone’s staring at me, of course. I remember him just yelling and screaming, but I can’t tell you at that point, everything that came out of his mouth. All I could hear was just noise, yelling, screaming noises. He ripped the rank off of my collar, threw it on the ground, stomped on it, spat on me again and told me to get back in formation. So, as time went on, I told them I didn’t want to be there anymore. They had already started preparing the paperwork for me to get discharged and he was insisting on a dishonorable discharge. My psychiatrist, Colonel Reid said that there’s no grounds for me to be discharged with anything but honorable. Long story short, after lots of fighting for my rights, it kind of went up from there. I was able to get an honorable discharge. I had like 18 days, accrued vacation time. They give us a choice, either you can take the vacation time or get paid for it. So, I decided I wanted to get paid because it’d be nice to have a little extra money in my pocket. I never saw that. That was kept from me.
When I was going through the debriefing process, I didn’t get a physical exam or anything like that, like they’re supposed to do. I didn’t know how the hell I was going to end up getting back home. With all the Article 15s, they kept withholding pay from me. I didn’t have money to get home. Thankfully, my family was able to pull their money together and get me a greyhound ticket. There was a sense of relief, because I knew that I would never have to see any of those people again. But the shame I felt was far greater than the feelings that I had. Feeling like everything was my fault. The sexual assault was my fault. That I kept falling asleep in class was my fault. That even wanting to go into the military, I didn’t deserve that. When it’s pounded into your head day after day after day that you have no place in the army specifically. When you hear that every day, you start to believe it.
When I was 8-years-old, I made the decision that one day I’m going to go into the army. My grandfather who I was very close with, these are my mother’s parents, he’s a World War 2 Vet. I would always ask him to tell me his army stories and there were things that he would tell me, but certain things that he didn’t feel comfortable talking about. He was somebody I always looked up to and I wanted to make him proud. Growing up and as a teenager, things weren’t great at home with my mother and stepfather and I thought, “I need to get away from them. I want to do something with my life. I can’t afford to go to college, so I’m going to stick with this plan to go into the army.” So, I did and after I got out, I also felt shame for letting my grandfather down. He ended up passing away in 2002. I never really told them anything, I just said, “They just let me out.” But then, my grandparents never pushed me to talk about anything I didn’t want to talk about.
After getting out, I was a fucking wreck. I started self-medicating, mostly alcohol. I couldn’t hold down a job. I just had this tape loop in my head of Miller’s voice saying that I was never going to amount to anything or make anything out of my life, I was a fucking failure and I would always be a failure. And I believed that so, I can’t tell you how many jobs I got fired from or how much money I pissed through when I had money, just on booze. I was in and out of hospitals for suicide attempts. I just couldn’t, for the life of me, get my shit together and I became very reckless. When you get to a point where you just don’t care anymore, you just want the thoughts in your head to stop and the nightmares to stop, you get desperate and you distract yourself. I was very skilled at that. I climbed out with a fuck ton of therapy, drug and alcohol counseling. I still struggle, but I can function now. I started I would say probably around 2013-2014, so I’m six years clean.
What’s great about the VA for me is, having seen countless mental health professionals, I decided to start mental health treatment probably two years after I was discharged because I thought, “I’m strong enough, I don’t need help. I need to just figure shit out on my own.” But deep down, I knew that that was never going to happen. So I had numerous therapists and hospital stays. Then starting therapy with the VA really was a blessing because I felt like I could talk to someone who wasn’t completely ignorant to veterans issues, that they’ve heard stories like that before, and that they’ve helped veterans before. You know, I fell out of therapy here and there but kept going back. In addition to being medicated now with a medication that is very helpful, Lamictal, and individual therapy and then DBT, it’s been a really good balance for me.
While I feel like I’m never going to be 100%, I’ve worked really fucking hard to make it this far, to not put a gun to my head, to ask for help when I need it and be willing to accept help. I still struggle accepting that this shit wasn’t my fault, that I didn’t deserve to have the things done to me that I had, but as they say, fake it till you make it and try to convince yourself. I think if I just keep up with the course I’m on now, maybe I’ll get a little bit closer to accepting those things and believing those things. I still have trouble every time I hear somebody scream or yell. My body tenses up and it’s like reliving a lot of that stuff. There are scenes in movies and on TV shows with assault and things like that that I can’t watch because it feels like it’s happening all over again. My head gets back into that space and I start panicking. Thank God for Ativan. DBT is very helpful. It’s been teaching me how to not be so reactive and to just experience things. DBT has helped immensely. I’ve actually taken DBT two other times and for me, it’s always good to have reminders of the things that I learned because sometimes you can slip up or fall back into old patterns. I see a lot of other people in the DBT group who, in the months that we’ve all been going, open up a little bit and they’re learning to express themselves more, and getting to share our experiences of how we handle things. It’s really helpful. I really don’t know what I would do without it, DBT.
The last time and only time that I’ve ever done group therapy was when it was ordered. I thought about maybe looking into some of the other groups. Knowing that there are other people kind of going through some shit right now, you don’t feel quite as alone. I would say that one thing that what I didn’t like about it was there was a lot of one-upmanship, like an “I’ve got it worse than you’’ kind of thing and that’s not what this is about. We’re here to talk about our experiences and share. I would say, probably the best thing I got out of it was meeting one of my best friends in the world. She’s somebody who I can call. When we call each other it doesn’t matter what time it is. We can just talk about shit because she witnessed what I was going through and I witnessed what she was going through. It’s hard enough when you’re going through this shit yourself, but when you also see it happen to someone else, it’s just as horrible, especially if they’re someone you consider a friend. Shouldering that burden with other people takes the weight off your back a little bit. It’s nice to have that support. You don’t feel so alone. It’s not like how I would imagine a regular group therapy session to be where it’s just pretty much just all civilians. They can’t really relate to some of the things that you’ve experienced because it’s just a different life.
So my friend’s name is Marie. She and I actually just a few days ago we were talking about him and we’re both pretty sure that he’s since retired. Whether or not he’s still alive, I don’t give a fuck. He can rot in hell for all I care. He was probably in his early 50’s at that point, so I don’t imagine he’d still be in.
I would say that therapy absolutely does help. For one, it’s a way to keep yourself alive. You learn a lot about yourself. It’s painful as fuck at times because a lot of the shit that you bury away, comes up. I’ve talked about this with my therapist, that there’s so much I don’t want to talk about, that I would much rather just keep it buried inside. It’s like being a champagne bottle with a really tight cork, it just keeps getting shaken and eventually, there’s going to be so much pressure in there that that cork is just going to blast right off of it. And all that shit is going to come out at once, and it’s not going to be pretty. So I’ve told my therapist that as hard as it is for me to think about this stuff or talk about it, I need to because I need to get it out. I need to make room for other things in my life, other memories that I would like to make. And it’s kind of hard to do that if I’m just going to sit on it and bury it away. It’s not healthy to do that.