“This time around I saw I needed help and eventually sought out the help for myself because it was the first time I felt people around me genuinely wanted to see me win.”
Baltimore, Maryland – August, 2020
My name is Charmaine Denise. I am Belizean-American. The first of six siblings–three older and three younger–born in the United States, and the only one to serve in the military. I was raised in Belize by my grandparents until I was school age then grew up and attended schools in Queens, New York.
At eight years young, I was sexually assaulted by a family member. After the incidences, it left me angry, withdrawn, and ashamed… I felt dirty, like “damaged goods,” and to blame. I became combative in my friendships with my peers. Track became my only escape. It was the way I learned to numb and detach myself from pain. At 16, I didn’t see a way out of “my prison.” So, at 17 I went to see a recruiter and began planning my escape.
Today, I’m a U.S. Army veteran and have served 13 + years in the U.S. Army, U.S. Army National Guard and U.S. Army Reserves combined. It was about four years ago, I began to unravel, I was coming apart at the seams. My moods, my behavior were becoming irrational and unhinged.
Fort Dix, NJ was where my military training began and the onset of several traumatic incidences I witnessed and experienced as a young soldier, woman. I was sexually harassed and later assaulted by someone in leadership, someone I held to a much higher standard than my own. I also witnessed my fellow soldier and battle buddy attempt to take their life due to the stresses that come with training. And later another incident with someone much closer to me right before deploying to Saudi Arabia.
During my time in service I served overseas in Korea and deployed to Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Storm. Unfortunately, my time in was marred with the ultimate betrayal, abuse, regrets, despair and an inherent grief/suffering. I struggled daily and found myself self-medicating with alcohol in order to function. However, it only fueled my anger and I’d become more resentful toward myself and hopeless as I continued to suffer in silence. Later only to manifest itself into other things i.e. unhealthy relationships, suicide ideations and attempts, abusive relationships, promiscuity, and alcoholism.
After the loss of my brother, I was in a very dark place. A huge dark hole… Depression. Everything and anything seemed hopeless. Eventually I lost my job and my house. I sold most of my belongings, put the remainder in storage and began living out of my car. A few months later my mother became ill and it is how I ended up back in New York. Being back home I was faced with the very issues I ran from. Through the advice of my therapist and my best friend I admitted myself into the VA hospital. This time around I saw I needed help and eventually sought out the help for myself because it was the first time I felt people around me genuinely wanted to see me win.
Volunteers of America was where I met some of those people. After being released from the hospital they set me up with one of their transitional housing. I was allowed to stay there rent free for six months until I found my own place with the help of a housing specialist. These last four years I’ve been living in the Bronx, NY in my own apartment and doing the necessary work to manage my mental health through the many groups I’ve attended at the VA. I learned about the VOA Peer Specialist/Battle Buddy program from an employee at VA. And it’s because of what I received from them I saw this as an opportunity to gift back what was gifted to me.
There is where I learned of the Moral Injury Resilience Strength Training Retreat. Not knowing much about it, I looked up Dr. Brock’s YouTube video. Initially I did not know what to expect from the retreat. I definitely was not expecting it to have such an immediate impact on me, my view on life and my journey onward.