A copy of my DD214/honorable discharge from the U.S. Navy arrived yesterday. I was missing out on veterans preference availability on jobs by not being able to submit that as well (not a smooth move on my part). But I wasn’t exactly prepared for the emotions attached to a simple piece of paper from a portion of my life that started 39 years ago.
I knew I was flunking out of college and for only one reason. I’d rather drink during the day then go to class. I know that I’m also not the first person (nor probably the last) whoever decided that was a good thing to do.
I woke up one morning with the mother of all hangovers and came to the conclusion that life just couldn’t go on this way. I got THAT part right. So I went down to a nearby recruitment center to join the Air Force. The Air Force office was closed. As I was walking up the hallway past the Naval office, a chief petty officer standing outside the door stopped me with this, “Why do you want to do something as dumb [that’s not exactly the right word, but I’m not going to use it here] has joined the Air Force? You can do a lot better here in the Navy!”
The next thing I know, I’m on an airplane to sunny, humid Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Illinois. Making life decisions with blurry eyes and a pounding head is not a good choice.
But here are things that I have learned from that experience:
- When I drink, my life is unmanageable. Simply put, this is why I don’t drink anymore. It is difficult enough making some choices about life when a person has all her faculties. It is impossible to make sane choices with a brain marinating in a chemical stew.
- The answer to the internal pain which results from looking in the mirror and not seeing the person looking back at you that you expect to see is not engaging in hyper masculine behavior and cultural expectations. The answer is facing reality full in the face.
- The county veterans worker has never worked with a trans-veteran before. She had no idea there were as many of us as there are. I suggested that she get ready. Even in a rural county there will be more trans veterans behind me, sooner or later.
- Living in an environment that socially encourages heavy alcohol use is obviously not a good mix. On the Naval submarine base in New London, CT, I could walk out the barracks door and be in the petty officers club in 100 yards. In those days I could drink as much as I could hold for well less than $10. The biggest building project on base that I recall was the remodeling of the base liquor store.
- My oldest child was born in the hospital on that base. After all these years, after all that has happened, after all the failed family and personal relationships, I look back on those days with a wistful sense of loss and of expectations unfulfilled. I don’t live in that past, but that past is without doubt part of me.
The only reason I’m sharing this is in the hope that maybe the one person who reads this and who is facing similar questions will think a lot more carefully about the future than I did. Whatever decisions you make as that person, let them be your decisions that are open and honest and realistic because you are going to own them forever.