On September 11, 2001, I was a senior at Curtis High School in Staten Island, New York. My classmates and I witnessed the towers fall firsthand from across the harbor. Before that day, I hadn’t considered joining the military. But as soon as I graduated, I convinced my parents to sign a waiver allowing me to enlist in the U.S. Army National Guard.
I deployed to Tikrit, Iraq, in 2005 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. While there, I was sexually assaulted by an individual who I believed had my six. At that moment, I found myself more afraid for my life than when mortars were fired onto our base. I replayed the tape in my mind over and over again, trying to figure out what I could have done differently. I was embarrassed by what had happened. Worst of all, I blamed myself.
Upon returning from Iraq, I was diagnosed with PTSD. I spent a lot of time masking how I felt for fear of appearing weak. Pretending I was still the same person was exhausting. Although I was alive, I was dying inside.
My coping mechanism was to stay busy so I wouldn’t have time to think about my traumatic experience. I worked two jobs, enrolled in school full time (including both winter and summer classes), and eventually earned three degrees — including a Doctorate in Pharmacy — by age 26. I couldn’t accept praise for my accomplishments without wondering what someone would think of me had they known how I really felt, deep down inside. I didn’t understand why success in my professional life didn’t heal the wounds of my past, and I was running out of options.
Eventually, the PTSD became completely unmanageable. At 27 years old, I came home from work and crawled into bed with my sleeping parents, sobbing as I finally uttered the words I had been trying to find for years — “I can’t go on like this anymore. Please help me.”
My parents found an inpatient program at the VA Women's Trauma Unit, and I began processing my trauma over the next several months. While I received excellent care at the VA, I still felt something was missing in my recovery.
Wounded Warrior Project provided the missing link. The anxiety I felt before I attended my first Alumni event subsided when I met other warriors who could appreciate my journey and understand how difficult it can be. In just a couple days at the female warrior retreat at the Adaptive Sports Foundation in Windham, New York, I laughed, cried, and felt free to do so!
I’m still in touch with the outstanding ladies who attended the retreat. Having a strong support system of like-minded individuals has enhanced my recovery tremendously. Even now, I continue to benefit from the opportunities I have to bond with veterans. We get each other. I’m amazed at how my attitude and outlook on life have improved since I’ve become a WWP Alumna. My fellow warriors have helped me carry the load by loving me when I was unsure how to love myself.
As a WWP Alumnus, you will build healthy relationships with veterans who are genuinely happy to support you as you progress in your recovery. You are not alone — recovery is here when you are ready to pursue it.