This is a guest post by George Stonecipher, who submitted the following essay as an assignment in Dr. Chris Patti's course at Appalachian State University.
This essay has been featured on the Optimal Living Daily podcast – Episode 400.
I graduated high school in 2004 and went to a small community college in Central New York. I did not do so well. After the school year ended, I moved with my family to North Carolina and spent several years at a local community college. I met my wife at this school and during this time, we found out that she was pregnant. I knew I had to make a huge decision to help her and the baby, and my way to do this was to enlist in the United States Army. So in August of 2008, I went to basic training and started the next four-and-a-half years of our lives.
I deployed twice in the first three years, once to Iraq and then to Afghanistan. Not only did I deploy twice but I was stationed in Germany, and my family came with me. This was a new and very different thing for us. Both of our families were back here in the states, which meant other than the soldiers and their families, we only had each other to rely on. This made us very close, loving, and supportive of each other. During my time in the Army and in Germany, I have experienced many things—from moments of complete joy and bliss, all the way to death and some of the most terrifying, tragic, sad things that can happen to humans. Yet I was young and full of piss and vinegar and had the mentality that nothing was going knock me off my high place. I felt invincible. It was not until after I came back from my first deployment that I knew there was something different about me, but I didn’t know how to cope with it. It resulted in me drinking more than I did before and keeping everything bottled up. However, at this point it was just small stuff. Things really started to fall apart after my deployment to Afghanistan, when I decided to get out of the Army.
We moved back to North Carolina in 2013, and I started looking for a job without any luck. I started slipping back into depression, drinking a lot and taking sleeping pills just to fall asleep. My wife suggested that I go back to school; it would be something new and something that might get me out of my depression. After being out of school for seven years, in 2015 I applied to Appalachian State University and was accepted. During my first year here at APP State I took a Foundations of Human Communications class with Dr. Chris Patti. During this class, he mentioned mindfulness and how we could apply it to our everyday lives. It really stuck with me and made me start thinking about my own life and how being mindful might help me get back to being my normal self. The practice taught me how to really get myself to live in the moment, as much as possible. But it wasn’t easy.
I had never really taken the time to just live in the moment and be present with what is going on around me. But I hoped it could help me deal with the horrible things I had seen and experienced, the horrible things I had done and been forced to do, and the thoughts of all the lost fathers, husbands, brothers, sons, and best friends that so often haunted me. Coping with all this really messed with my mind. I was scared and angry—and worried for my wife and daughter. Initially, in order to deal with these feelings, I did what we were trained to do as soldiers and bottled up my emotions, keeping focused on the mission. This wore me out. Beaten both physically and mentally, I hung up my boots. And since then, I have continued to struggle with thoughts and issues like these on a daily basis.
Out of necessity, I took this “being in the moment” practice and decided to try it out at home, to see if it would help. On a Saturday afternoon my daughter wanted me to take her to the small river that runs behind our house, so she could play in it. I just sat on the bank of the river and watched her play. I just sat there, took a couple deep breaths in and out, got present, and just sat there and watched my daughter play in the river. She was having a blast, splashing away with our puppy. I thought to myself: this is why those soldiers sacrificed their lives. I felt this comfort and happiness come over me. I do not know why, but I just could not stop watching my daughter, seeing how happy she was. I told myself: this is why what happened, happened—so that my daughter and others will not have to know the true horrors of war. Being present reminds me that everything is going to be alright, and that I need to stop dwelling on things that have happened in the past. I have to tell myself that I did what I did, so that others would not have to go through what I went through. Now I apply “being in the moment” every time I feel like I am going to slip into a state of depression, and it helps me realize that all is good. All is good.
George Stonecipher is a US Army veteran who did a tour in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is a communication media broadcasting major, and would like to become a college football reporter/commentator. You can reach him at stoneciphergc [at] appstate [dot] edu.
Dr. Chris J. Patti (PhD) is an Assistant Professor of Communication at Appalachian State University, nestled in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. As an ethnographic writer, his research highlights intimate, relational processes at the heart of human experience through listening to and richly representing stories of love, loss, and transformation. He has published several peer-reviewed articles and chapters on the theme of suffering and compassion. His other passions are rock climbing, longboard surfing, and intentionally doing nothing with his mindfulness meditation club Zen & the Art of Applied Communication. Follow them on Twitter: https://twitter.com/awarenessbites
You can email Dr. Chris Patti at patticj [at] appstate [dot] edu.