My Journey into the darkness

My Journey into the darkness

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    24901712, the only number that is burned into my memories, I would forget phone numbers, my wife’s birthday or my wedding anniversaries but I never forgot my army service number. It was the first thing that was issued to me when I reported to the training depot for basic training on the 26th June 1990 at the Junior Leaders Regt, Royal Artillery, Gamecock Barracks, I would shout it out when spoken to by the training staff so as to burn the number into my memories, I needed to remember it if I wanted to be paid. The pay master would sit at a desk and I would march up to his desk and halt, “24901712, JUNIOR RECUIT DYKES SIR”, my pay was handed to me, “PAY CORRECT SIR” about turn and march away, get it wrong and I wouldn’t get paid and most end up on the square for some extra drill.

    I also had my Identity card or the MOD 90, it Identify me as a proud member of HM Armed Forces and was not only a part of my uniform but also part of me. If I lost this important part of me then I would be up on a charge, not only would the Battery Sergeant Major would be ripping me apart for the lose but I would also be up in front of the Battery Commander who would ensure he either lighten my pay packet by a few quid, normally seven days pay but I could also expect extra duties. Throughout my 24 years’ service the MOD 90 only got changed twice, from a flimsy plastic thing to a modern credit card style that incorporated all my details on a bar code on the back.

    All my army kit or 1157 was packed up and I was carting it all over to the clothing store in the QM’s department ready to handed in, it was the 18th May 2014 and I was getting ready for my discharge from the Army, 24 years and 1 month after I had reported for training. It had been one hell of a 24 years that had taken me all over the world as well as operational tours in places such as Iraq and the Afghan, it had its high points and of course it had its low points, along the way I had lost brothers and experienced some scary moments myself. On my way to the clothing store I passed some Phase 2 recruits, still wet behind the ears, their uniform fresh from the clothing store looking new and still got the musty smell of the stores, some of them hadn’t even started shaving yet, hard to believe that I was in that position 24 years ago when some of them were not even thought of. All my uniform, webbing and equipment that I had been issued from 24 years in the army was in a big pile in the clothing store of the QMs Department, some the equipment had some memories attached to them, my Bergan and webbing was laid on the counter after years of been worn and weathered. The storeman signed my clearance chit and I was out of the door, the whole process took less than half an hour and I felt I had lost a major part of me, like my arm had been chopped off. On that floor in the stores was not only uniform and equipment but it was part of me, memories of operational tours and exercise, part of my physical body, a uniform I had worn for 24 years with honour and been stripped from and discarded, outside the QMs dept I felt physical sick, as I progressed round the Regiment getting my clearance chit sign and handing in documentation felt like I was been stripped of my Identity, my emotions were all over the place and I was starting to feel like a nobody. In one day I had gone from been a Senior Non Commissioned officer in charge of men been stripped of my identity and parts of me till I was a nobody, it then got to my last stop to hand in my Identity card. That was the hardest moment having to hand over my Identity card or MOD 90, it had been a part of be for the best part of 24 years and there I was handing it to a young clerk only to watch him cut it up, and to receive a scrap piece of paper that was to act as my Identity card for the next 24 hours, what the hell was this all about, a scrappy piece of paper to replace my Identity card, something that was always with me and felt part of me, it felt like it had been surgical removed with a rusty knife.

    “OMG I AM IN CIVILLIAN LIFE OR CIVVY STREET, WHAT THE HELL HAS HAPPENED!”

    Civilian life or as it know in the forces community, civvy street, that dark forbidden place that is inhabited by civilians outside the wire were normal people led normal lives. I left the camp gates for the last time, it was just the same as every time I had left and entered camp for the past 24 years, there wasn’t a brass band playing, no firework or cheer leaders as I left the camp gates for the last time, the guard on the gate as I handed in the scrappy piece of paper which I had exchanged for my precious Identity card wished me luck and begin the two hour drive home. I felt like I was nothing were as beforehand I was a Sergeant in The Royal Regt of Artillery, I had been a leader of men, responsible for at any one time up to thirty young soldiers lives and welfare, in a position of responsibility and now I was just a “Mr”. On the drive home I felt everything had been forcefully taken from me, my uniform had been stripped from me and my Identity card had been surgical removed from my hands in a cruel and painful manner, my emotions were all over the place. I didn’t have a clue about civilian life, things people took for granted I didn’t know about, questions going through my mind, what about a job, how will I provide for my family, how will I cope socially with civilian type people, they are different to the military type people I normal socialise with and feel at ease with, after all they was my family. The drive home seem to be the longest drive of my life, my mind was echoing the past 24 years of my life as well as my emotions and the dreaded fear as to what the future would bring.

    I still had a spare Identity card that I had forgot to hand in which is still in my wallet to this day, a single physical life line to my past life in the Army.

    Time to find a job, the resettlement the army offered when I was going through the discharge process was a joke, it was a feeble attempt at the Government to make it look as if the Government was doing something to help Veterans resettle into civilian life, only good thing I got from the resettlement was how to learn to write a CV. Most of the course or workshop were down south round London or Aldershot and hardly anything up north, everything I wanted to do I had to fill out loads of paperwork or get signatures and it wasn’t worth the hassle at all. I went on a workshop about Financial, half way through the morning like about a dozen other people I left because we couldn’t understand what the hell they were talking about. I got my CV out there and I was lucky to be able to secure an interview with Pay monthly company as a Field operations manager, wonderful I have a job, I am able to provide for my family, gave me a boost in my start in civilian life. I was still missing something, there was a big gap inside me as if something had been taken from me by force. After three months training, I took up my post at the Warrington Depot with the enthusiasm to do well and hopeful kick start a second career in my new life in civvy street.

    Then my problems started, and my mental health took a hit.

     It was a slow process that started with little things, I started to feel unsure about myself and environment I was in, it was a strange new world with strange people I couldn’t understand, at times it felt like a different language. I didn’t feel right an  in social environment, I didn’t understand the people and I felt the people didn’t understand me, if I went into a social environment I was unhappy, these people didn’t understand me and I didn’t understand them, I tried to fit in but I couldn’t and it got worse. My threat assessment started to go off the scale, I would walked into a place and first thing I would do is look for a exit and then a secondary exit, I would assess who was the biggest threat and who I would need to take out first, if I need to sit or stand anywhere then my back was to a wall and I had to watch the door, always scanning the environment I was in, looking at anyone I consider a threat and how I would incapacity them. It soon got to point I made excuses not to go out, I couldn’t face been in a social environment with people that I couldn’t understand or understand me, everything was a threat to me and I kept fearing the worse and felt I needed to fight someone, I felt like a hand grenade with a lose pin.

    The dreaded words I use to fear was from the wife “I want to go shopping downtown” My mind would go into overdrive as soon as we got into town. I would be looking for likely firing points for a sniper, likely ambush points, were would I take cover if I started to suddenly received incoming fire, loud bangs were even worse, scanning the crowd for any one likely to be a threat even to a point if someone was on their phone in my head they were in a position to trigger an IED. Don’t go near the bins as these were likely places for am IED to have the maximum effect.  WHAT THE HELL, somebody has left a bag unattended, I need to get out of the kill zone, is it on a timer or is it going to be remote detonated. I don’t listen to people, I can hear them, but words are not registering, heart is starting to race, and I am starting to breath faster and I can feel my muscles starting to tense up to meet any threat. I don’t want to go shopping because in my head it’s a place of danger, a place for an IED to go off or a place to be ambushed. There is a fear in my head of seen downtown becoming a war zone, snipers opening fire from windows, been ambushed, explosions, people been killed in the street, blown to bits. If I had to venture into town then I would try and do it early morning or late evening when it wasn’t too busy, it didn’t get rid of what was going on in my head, but it helped a little.

    It’s coming towards the end of 2016 and this was my second attempt at complete a suicide plan, I had demons in my head, and I was trying to fight then but I was losing. I had the feeling of been a failure, I couldn’t look my family in the eye because I had failed them, failed as a husband and failed as a father. I didn’t fit into the society and community I had walked into when I left the army, I missed the army and felt I had been abandoned by the system, I wasn’t prepared for this and I was angry because I felt like I was screaming and nobody could hear me and nobody would listen to me. I was parked up in the company van and I was crying, a grown man crying this made me feel even worse, in my head I thought I would be better off if I wasn’t around and family and friends would be better off with out me. I was in a dark place and there was no way out and no hope. I had it all planned from the first time I had tired to complete a suicide plan, two bottles of pills and a bottle of cheap brandy to wash the lot down but I couldn’t get the bloody lid of the bottle of pills because I was shaking that much, I was in tears and my emotions were all over the place. I was sat in this Van in the middle of no were try to take my own life and I couldn’t get the bloody lid off the pills, couldn’t even do that right, reflect back to that point maybe there was something stopping me taking this step because as I threw the bottle of pills in anger on the dash board it landed on a leaflet about the Bury Military Veterans Service I had been given early on in the week by a friend. I got out the van to get some fresh air and compose myself, next day I phone into work sick and booked myself a doctor’s appointment at my local GP.

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Borough of Bury Veterans Association