“Before you leave this office today Freeman, you will select someone to speak with about the issues in your life.” These words seemed to offer two choices to me: get help with your issues or lose your career. The small office was crammed full of mental health professionals. Chaplains, psychologists, and other titles shifted from one foot to the other. “How am I expected to talk to people about Iraq, when none of them have the combat experience necessary to understand what I have gone through?” One by one they came by and offered their services. I shook so many hands that day, I felt like I was running for office.
Every one of them seemed to say the same thing, save the last one. This brunette stood in the back until she was last, as she approached me, she pulled her card out. She shook my hand, and then said: “Sergeant Freeman, I have no idea what you have gone through and I have no idea what to say to you. However, if you want to talk to me, I want to listen.” She turned around and walked out of the room. Before she could make it to her car, I caught her. “Ma’am, when can I come talk to you?” We set an appointment for the following day. For the remainder of my time in the Army, I had a scheduled appointment every week. When I left the Army, we would have consultations over the phone. Apart from God Almighty, Joy walked with me through the darkness. At no time did she criticize me for how I felt. When I got angry, she let me yell, when I was drowning my troubles in alcohol, she poured out every bottle of liquor in my apartment. This did not sit well with me, but gradually I came to terms with it. Tough love is still love.
It is easy to wallow in misery or to look back and see only the trouble. However, during the darkest period of my life, there were several people who stood by me. Their friendship, advice and companionship allowed me to breathe and reset. As bad as my walk in darkness was, it could have been much worse. When we walk through troubled times, we are never alone. It may seem that way at times, however, God always has a plan. He places individuals in our lives to lift us up, to assist us in maintaining a sense of balance. I am thankful that God put people in my path to help slow my descent into my own personal hell. Otherwise, I may not be here today. Through thick and thin, those who stayed by my side, I owe you.