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Facing fears: overcoming the past

Airman 1st Class Dillon J. Audit

The mental health clinic offers many services on base including substance abuse support for active duty only, domestic violence and child abuse prevention and various classes for active duty and civilians. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dillon J. Audit)

MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. --

I remember the crisp click of metal as my mom locked the door and kept us inside the house.

I heard yelling and cursing coming from outside, and with it a familiar voice followed.

I peered outside from the safety of my house and saw a short, angry man marching up to my grandpa.

Suddenly, without warning, the man hit my grandpa on the nose, causing him to fall back on our porch. He started slamming my grandpa into the wall just outside our house.

I stood there, in shock, an overwhelming surge of anger and frustration flowed through my body like coal to a hungry train. It felt like a volcanic explosion in my chest, thinking of all the times he hurt someone I love.

I decided enough was enough.

That scene, that moment, played in my head for years. One day I realized how much it affected me.

I’ve dealt with the feeling of knowing that if I had faced my fears sooner, I could have spared my family so much pain. I fought the thoughts of telling myself I wasn’t good enough, strong enough or smart enough, even years after the altercation.

These thoughts burrowed in my head, constantly repeating, began to affect my work performance and thought processes. I wanted to improve, pull my own weight and be there for my family, friends and co-workers, I just didn’t know how.  

One day, after talking to a friend he recommended I speak with mental health.

I took his advice and booked an appointment.

My provider and I talked at length about that moment, and other events, that repeated in my head, and consumed my thoughts.

It began when I was a sophomore in high school, living with my mom, two brothers and sister. Looking back at the situation it felt like my whole perspective on the world changed.

At the time I was still a naïve and optimistic kid. I thought I could handle anything thrown at me, until my mom met the definition of human garbage.

I felt like this man took the world I knew and shattered it.

He brought drugs into our lives-using them and making my mom use them.

He forced his way into our lives. Claiming my family’s possessions as his own, or flat-out steal from us.

Most days he would yell, scream and hit my mother. As a kid it terrified me. I had never seen my mom abused so horribly.

It was also scary being the oldest out of my siblings because I felt a sense of obligation to do something, but at the same time I couldn’t help but feel terrified.

I felt that same fear again, this time during my first couple of visits to mental health.  

At first I felt nervous and didn’t know if I really should go. Thoughts of getting kicked out of the Air Force were looming over my head.

Never in my life had I thought to actually tell someone my problems. At first, it was a slow process.

I wanted to be a great Airman and serve as an example for others. But I was stuck spinning my wheels.

It was hard to trust someone I had never met before, but knowing that I was in a safe place to talk about my feelings and receive closure on how my fears affected me was relieving.

My provider helped deal with my fears by talking about how I needed to realize that even though they’re there, they don’t have to take control of my life.

All those years ago, I let the fears overwhelm me. I heard a voice in my head say, “You’re a coward. He’s stronger than you, you can’t do anything and you’re not good enough.”

I was done feeling helpless.

When the memory popped in my head, I wanted to stop feeling worthless and afraid, like I couldn’t do anything to protect my family.

Fueled by adrenaline, I ran towards the man.

I slammed him to the floor and wrapped my arms around his neck, my bicep dug deep in the front of his neck putting him in an indefensible chokehold.

 “Make him stop, don’t let him hurt anyone, make sure he stays down.” I heard in my mind, over and over.”

Next thing I knew my mom pulled me off of him as he gasped for air on the ground.

I noticed my surroundings and looked at my grandpa. There was blood everywhere -- from his nose, on my arms, on the man and the ground.

I looked over at the man who taunted for years looked at me with tears in his eyes. He coughed on the ground and asked me “Why? You almost killed me!”

I almost felt bad for him, looking at him quiver, barely getting any words out. It made me think he now knew what it felt to be afraid.

Minutes passed, which seemed like hours after the police finally came to take him away. As I filled out a statement, I knew he was going away and not coming back.

The memory is still there no matter how hard I try to forget it but because of mental health I now can put my mind at ease knowing that I gained something from that experience: courage, mindfulness, strength and resiliency.

The more I sought help the more I started to feel my baggage lighten. I felt like I wasn’t walking alone.

Anyone could be going through something, whether they’re angry, sad, or just not acting like themselves, remember to always talk to them even if they say everything’s fine.

You being there for that person and supporting them can mean so much more than you think.

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