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Paul W. – A Mississippi Veteran

“My name is Paul Webster and I’m 38 years old. I pretty much had a normal childhood. I had a great upbringing, a good mom and dad, made good grades, and always had high hopes and dreams.

After Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, I lost everything. I really didn’t have a house to go back to.  Pretty much everything that I had known and worked for was gone. I decided to move up to Chattanooga, Tennessee with to live with my girlfriend. I needed to support us, so I talked to a recruiter and ended up joining the Marine Corps.

After I graduated from boot camp, my girlfriend and I got married and became pregnant. Not long after, I received orders to go to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. That was my first deployment where I was exposed to a lot of combat-induced post-traumatic stress. I was diagnosed with several traumatic brain injuries due to explosive blasts. Whenever I came home from the year-long deployment, I wasn’t the person that I was before I left. I had a seven-month-old little boy and a brand-new wife to adjust to as well.

 Deployment took a lot out of me. I lost a lot of friends over there, and I really didn’t even know who I was anymore. I was in bad shape. I wasn’t the same person. Not only was I trying to learn how to be a dad and a husband, which is enough stress for a normal person, but I had just come back from a warzone for a year and I was just really messed up. I found that  I could cope with h alcohol and developed a drinking problem. I was wounded in combat and as a Purple Heart recipient, I had all these medals. In the eyes of my country, my parents, and everybody else I was doing well.  It all looked really good from the outside, but I was miserable on the inside. I was so eaten up with PTSD at this point.

My nightmares were so bad that my wife wouldn’t sleep in the same bed with me. I was drinking pretty heavily. She told me all the time “even though you’re here with us right now, you’re not here – your mind is over there”. As crazy as it sounds, all I wanted to do was deploy, so I didn’t have to worry about the pressures of being home – being a dad, husband.

.Our sister battalion was getting ready to deploy back to Iraq, so I volunteered to go along with them for my 2nd deployment. I was gone for seven months. I came back from that deployment and things were okay for a little while, but really, I was still struggling.

About three months later, I had an opportunity for a 3rd deployment to Afghanistan, so I jumped ship again on my wife and son. After returning home, I did not know how to deal with myself, so my answer was to begin drinking again.

I got to the point where it wasn’t just drinking at night, or on the weekends, I was drinking at lunch. I was drinking in the mornings just to survive the day.  By the time I  came back from my deployment, I was just trying to maintain my family life while things were really deteriorating quickly.

My battalion commander and everybody else knew that I was going through a lot. I’d come to work with alcohol on my breath and they wanted to help me, but I insisted that I didn’t have a problem.

In the last effort to save my marriage, I volunteered to go on recruiting duty for the Marine Corps in my wife’s hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee. I continued to excel at work and we bought a nice house. By this time, we’ve got two little boys. And on the outside, once again, everything looks great. Everyone’s proud of me – the Marine Corps and her family, but really, inside that house, it was a different story. My three years of recruiting duties ended and I discovered drugs. Ultimately, I lost my wife, my family, and my career.

I used drugs and alcohol as a band-aid to cover up what I didn’t have to feel. While I was on it, drugs and alcohol were the solutions to my problem. As long as I was high I didn’t have to deal with my past.

This went on for the next seven years. I ended up getting caught a few years ago with a small amount of drugs. I went to jail and entered the Jackson County drug court program.

I had a really good friend who was a veteran and- in the same drug court as I am. He went to alcohol and drug treatment at Region One Mental Health Center  When he came home he saw how bad off I was. I saw the change that it made in his life and really wanted what he had. After ending up back in jail, I was offered the option of treatment at Region OneWhen I walked through the front door I was just broken. I really wanted to make a change in my life, not just for me but for my kids, my ex-wife, and my family. I was just sick and tired of the way that I was living. I feel like I’ve accomplished so much in my life I had a lot of trauma that I just never worked through before and I was ready for a change.

My life since I’ve gotten to Region One has changed drastically. I’ve had counselors who have cared enough about me to help me walk through my PTSD.  tI’s been hard work,  but I feel like I’m coming out at the end of it, and  able to even start liking myself a little bit. I’m not afraid to look in the mirror anymore.

I think the power of Region One rests squarely on the shoulders of the counselors. I mean, as soon as you arrive, they make you feel like family – everybody from the director all the way down to the counselors.

If you come into this place, ready and willing to make a change in your life, if you’ve had enough of drugs and alcohol, this place and these counselors are very good at what they do. You can get help here. I mean, this place has changed my life.”

 

The biggest thing that I would say is don’t let your pride get in the way that’s what held me back for a lot of years. The whole suffering in silence thing isn’t what everybody makes it out to be. And that’s what we’re taught is that you suffer in silence like everybody else. That’ll destroy you. Don’t let your pride get in the way. Because life can be so much more than what you’ve been doing.”

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About the
Behind the Mask Campaign

Behind the Mask is a statewide initiative to promote mental health services for Mississippians during the COVID-19 pandemic. The statewide campaign is funded through a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). 

Contact

For all press-related inquiries
please contact
the Mississippi Department of Mental Health (DMH)
Phone: 601.359.1288