Scott DeLuzio 00:00:00 Thanks for tuning in to the Drive On Podcast, where we’re focused on giving hope and strength to the entire military community. Whether you’re a veteran, active duty, guard, reserve, or family member, this podcast will share inspirational stories and resources that are useful to you. I’m your host, Scott DeLuzio. And now let’s get on with the show. Hey, everybody, welcome back to the Drive On Podcast. Today my guest is Melissa Anne. Melissa is an army veteran, a military spouse, and tragically, a Gold Star wife. She is also the author of the book Darkness Within which we’re going to talk about in a little bit, but first I want to welcome you, Melissa, to the show. I appreciate you for taking the time to come and join me.
Melissa Anne 00:00:45 Thank you so much for inviting me. I know we shared in our little intro that we both kind of published our books right around the same time last year. I thought that it was really great that we got to semi-officially meet.
Scott DeLuzio 00:00:59 Yeah absolutely, I’m glad that there are more people out there who are sharing their stories and writing books about their stories or even just sharing it in one way or another. Whether it’s on a podcast or some videos or, whatever the medium is. It doesn’t matter necessarily. People who are getting out there and sharing their stories, I think it’s important because we all have a shortage of stories to share. When we share these stories, we don’t even know the impact that it’s going to have on other people. The level of reach that it can have and how much it could actually change and impact some other people’s lives could be tremendous. I’m really glad that you have shared your story and I’d like to get into that a little bit, but first, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
Melissa Anne 00:02:00 I joined the army right out of high school. I was going to go pre-med and kinesiology, and then I was thinking, well, maybe I’ll be a nurse. Well, maybe I’ll do this. And I was like, I’m just going to join the army and figure it out later. And I became a medic in the army. I was there for three and a half years and met my late husband. And at the time was heading for special forces and being dual military alone was already a struggle. Unfortunately, I decided to get out and put his career ahead of mine. We were reassigned. I have a seven-year-old. During that process, I was trying to figure out what to do outside of the military. That struggle ended itself.
Melissa Anne 00:02:46 I got to experience what it is like to be a military spouse and finding your identity while you’re only here for a short amount of time knowing how do I set roots for a year and a half? How do I set roots for two years here? I got to experience this kind of rough on this side. I like learning what kind of business or hobbies I could get into. I got into wedding photography and branding and website design pretty much just to kind of get to know others like military spouses and entrepreneurial spouses. Then he passed away in 2018, which I’m sure we’ll discuss later on. But we were back and forth with issues with him and substance use and things like that.
Melissa Anne 00:03:31 I kind of moved back and forth between Fort Bragg and Arizona, which is where I’m originally from. And I went back to school, got a marketing degree just so I could use my GI bill to help me out. And slowly but surely over the last couple of years have kind of returned to what I originally wanted to be, which was focused on nutrition and therapy and things. As of last year, I was originally in a master’s in social work program and I ended up having a lot of triggers and flashbacks come in. I had to drop out of the program temporarily. And during that pause of healing, I got my personal training certification, I got my health coaching certification, all of this while I’m trying to heal.
Melissa Anne 00:04:26 I don’t need it now, but I went and got all this different education again. And I finally decided to sit down and work on my book, which is a series of flashbacks that start a business with that or just start messing with them for short. And that in and of itself, it sent me through a whole spiral of things and healing that I didn’t know that I needed still because it’s been three years. I’m fine now. And then obviously, with me going through the social work program, it triggered me to realize that I saw what I’d love to do. I started to work on the book. If I want to go back to going to the social work program, which I’m in now. I’m really excited to do school online.
Melissa Anne 00:05:07 If anything, with my life changes, I can move and still do the program. But my focus is just kind of going full health, which is kind of what I wanted to do before I joined the military. And what I kind of loved about the military of being a medic was being able to help people. Because even though I was a medic, I’d be sitting in the barracks and the guys would be telling me stories that they wouldn’t tell their therapists because they felt like they could trust me. I was already kind of being in this therapeutic role, just not officially, with no background. But at least they were releasing it. In a way, it’s been really nice to kind of come full circle and be at this point where even though. I’m not where I wanted to be.
Melissa Anne 00:05:54 I’m in the masters of social work program. Again, only this time I’m in a much better Headspace and I have the book that’s going to, in some ways, give me street credit. Hey, I understand where you’re at. I literally wrote a book about this. In all my struggles, like I know how you feel. I know where you’ve been, maybe not to the same degree, but at least some level of recognition in ICU. My focus is coming back to being a whole health coach. And then once I get my social work degree, being able to focus on clinical therapy and my bigger goal is retreats and getting to focus on things like grounding and animal therapy and focusing on trauma and substance misuse. I think that’s a quick tool, 10, 12 years story in the ruts, so where I’ve been.
Scott DeLuzio 00:06:53 I wanted to kind of talk a little bit about your transition out of the military, because that seemed like it was maybe not really what you were expecting. When you ended up getting out. Being a dual military couple is pretty stressful as there are a lot of challenges along with it. What was the transition like for you? When you got out was there a game plan for you? Did you kind of know what you’re going to do or did you just kinda just get out and I’ll figure this out?
Melissa Anne 00:07:32 So at the time I was going to go nursing, I was thinking, I’m going to go and get out, become a pediatric nurse. I’ll just go get a job. But I realized, especially for a lot of people you’re skilled and you’re a professional in the army for one thing or whatever, branch of the military, but then you become a civilian and you can’t do anything. You need to go back to school for another year or two to do what you were already doing for the last three years. So that was a huge spike to the ego. A blow to the ego. So I’m technically able to do all of the skill sets needed for this job, but I don’t have any of the legal requirements to do so. And so for a couple of months, I was just thinking what am I supposed to do?
Melissa Anne 00:08:16 Literally everything that I’m still doing, I legally can’t do as a civilian. And so, that was a lot of, well, what am I now? I wasn’t a medic. And now what do I have to do, like now what to do? I can’t even do the bare minimum of medical things legally. That was probably one of my hardest transitions. Thankfully now a lot of schools have realized this has been a couple of years now. Thankfully a lot of schools are realizing how skilled people are familiar with the military and finding these transition programs, but they did not have those. And they were few and far between. They were mostly Florida or places where there were a lot bigger installations and military. I think my biggest thing with the transition is that now I’m a military spouse.
Melissa Anne 00:09:03 It is nothing against military spouses at all. you go from being the military one, and now you are the spouse, and now you have no say in anything, you just get to follow whatever their life is going to meet doing. Just kind of finding a new identity in that. And that’s kinda where I started diving into freelance. I had a job, I was doing somewhat pre-nursing, but again, with the whole, how do I plan my life around this two-year span of time? Because he took a hiatus from the special forces program, so I can have our son. We were only going to be in this complex for one year. That’s not long enough to go get my nursing degree. And then the next program was only going to be two years.
Melissa Anne 00:09:49 That’s still about long enough for me to get my nursing degree. So it was my general game plan when I was getting out. But then real life came in. That’s not in the cards anymore. That’s kind of where my entrepreneurial endeavors started. I dove into photography and wedding photography and portrait photography and website design, just kind of testing the waters. I was good at it. People paid me felt good enough for the time being and then just kind of tested the waters really.
Scott DeLuzio 00:10:24 That’s something that always interested me too, because before we started recording, I mentioned that we lived near Luke Air Force Base out here in Arizona. We know a lot of military families. Some of them live in our neighborhood and groups that we were involved in. We just happen to know a few of them. Every couple of years they back up and move and they go someplace else. I always wondered about the spouses. How do they figure out how to do any sort of job when they’re constantly moving? It’s not like you can go in and do a nine-to-five job, that you physically have to be present for. Freelancing tends to be the thing that a lot of them fall back to things such as photography or graphic or website design, or some administrative type of work that they could do from home. As long as they have an internet connection, they can do the work doesn’t matter where they are. And that way, as they’re moving around the country, or even around the world, they’re still able to do that kind of work. That’s interesting that you came across that as well. Because it seems that’s kind of the way that a lot of people go, and I think these days, it’s a little bit easier to do stuff like that.
Melissa Anne 00:11:53 Post pandemic where people are realizing, oh, there is a lot more that we can do at home. Now we can have you work remotely. That’s fine. You can move. That’s fine..
Scott DeLuzio 00:12:06 Before, when it was, we needed you to be here in the office so we could hover over you to make sure you’re getting your work. You’re submitting it on time and everything like it, who cares if you’re at home in your pajamas or whatever. What difference does it make? I’m glad you shared that because I think there’s probably a number of military spouses out there who are probably in a similar situation where they may have a college degree or some advanced training in whatever their field is. But maybe I just don’t know how to put that to use. This is perhaps one of the ways that they can do that.
Melissa Anne 00:12:53 My book is only on a website called Spouse-Ly. I’m a lot to give them a quick little shout-out, I chose specifically because I talked with the owner, the creator, Monica, and I wanted to give spouses their identity back. So many of them lose it. They become a mom. That is their only identity. They become their style. There’s all these jokes in the military about them being their spouse, many of them don’t get to have an identity. Her whole focus with Spouse-Ly is to give military spouses and military people an outlet kind of what it is at Spouse-Ly but for the military. And I think that that was such a great idea and very needed.
Melissa Anne 00:13:42 It’s really cool to just see all these military spouses and get their creative energy out there and make money off of it. Many different things. There’s woodworking, there’s arts, there’s portraits, there’s calligraphy. It’s really nice to see that there’s this neighbor and people are starting to realize, Hey, we gotta support the spouses too. They want to like it, they just don’t know where to start. I felt really called to, even though it’s Spouse-Ly. I’m a veteran. I like this mission.
Scott DeLuzio 00:14:18 You do fit in both categories as well. It does make sense. And it sounds like it is a good mission because there’s a huge untapped market there. People who have skills and talents and want to contribute not only to their household finances but also want to contribute their skills out there to the world. And make a little bit of money off of it. Be seen and be known and make a name for themselves. Just because you don’t have roots that are planted firmly in any one area for more than a couple of years, maybe it doesn’t mean that you can’t do that too. I’m glad that they have things like this. I think there’s more stuff like this coming up realizing that there is this potential out there for these spouses who really need that way to get their stuff out there and be seen.
Melissa Anne 00:15:22 I know because we were in Fayetteville at the time where I started really developing it. And I know they had military spouses on an entrepreneurial foundation that they, I can’t think of what their names are, but I know that if you look for them, they’re out there, it’s not as easily found yet.
Scott DeLuzio 00:15:39 That’s the thing is, with more sponsors getting involved with stuff like this, that it’ll start to pick up some steam and there’ll be more readily accessible groups and organizations that are out there helping people. I’m glad that you’ve shared that as well. But before we get into your book, I think it’s important to give you the opportunity to share a little bit about your husband and who he was as a person. And can you just tell us a little bit about him, so that we can kind of have an idea who he was?
Melissa Anne 00:16:18 We both met at Fort Campbell and he was getting ready to go to special forces. He made it through selection and all of the hard, preparatory things. We ended up unexpectedly having our child. That kind of sped things up a little bit, but he had been an infantry medic. He had deployed back when it was 15 months to appointments and he had had two tours. and opened Fort Drum or something in Washington. I don’t know what it’s called. I can’t think of which Fort it is.
Melissa Anne 00:17:01 It’s Lewis. I’ve heard nothing but great stories of him being their medic, for both locations. He was very excited, very focused on the impact he was going to be able to make and special forces. And as a medic, he was constantly that perfectionist concerned about whether or not he was going to make it through these things. But to be completely honest, that’s totally understandable. The medical portion alone. Many people don’t make it through just the medical portion of the special forces side of things. And that’s the very first part that they make them go through. If they’re trying to become a special forces medic, just because they’re not going to invest all this time. And if they’re not going to pick up through this. He was just very much focused on his career path and his focus of being able to make a huge impact in people’s lives.
Melissa Anne 00:17:57 Unfortunately we had a lot of deals and I write about it in my book, but, and it took a lot of time for me to work through this. He had substance use issues and there are a lot of them, there’s even now, I know they’re in the military and are working on being better about the mental health behavioral health system, but there’s still a lot of lacking when you’re trying to further your career. And you’re also seeing behavioral health. He was never willing to go seek health care. I don’t conform to having PTSD or I don’t, I don’t have it. It’s showing and all these other ways, but that’s okay. While he was still very much focused on his career, there were a lot of things that kind of messed with our relationship.
Melissa Anne 00:18:57 We spent most of our relationship on and off, I came back to Arizona and he would come there. He would be at Fort Bragg. And then we would come in, try to work on things again, and then things would kind of fall apart. But he and anyone who’s been in the military with him has nothing but great stories about how great of a medic he was and how passionate he was about everything. He was super knowledgeable and always liked being very on top of things. He had just had a lot of demons. He wasn’t willing to face them. And at some point they make you face them whether you want to or not. Before he went through the program, he had an overdose while I was pregnant.
Melissa Anne 00:19:48 I knew something was wrong with him, but I couldn’t pick out what was wrong. And then that was, that was the eye-opening answer for me. And then we kind of just brushed him under the rug and he went and worked towards special forces training and did really, really, really well. We ended up having another falling out because you need to take the right. You need to heal yourself. You continue on special forces and not get the healing that you need. Isn’t gonna fix the salute, fix the problem. You’re just gonna have more problems during your missions. We separated again and then a couple of months later, something came up a few, he came out to Arizona for one of his finals Sergeant medical training things.
Melissa Anne 00:20:49 We met up and then two weeks later something came up and he was no longer in the program. Just something came up and he wasn’t sure if he was going to be continuing. And then about six months later, he died. There were a lot of things I didn’t know about until he died because he just kind of kept all of his demons to himself, which a lot of veterans do. A lot of service members do. Unfortunately, it’s the common talk that we have with one another. Why don’t you tell us? If we were drowning, we didn’t know how to tell you. We, what were we going to tell you that you can fix it? There was a lot that came to the surface and I shared in my book. It came down to, he had popped hot on a test. And for those who are fair, let’s not use civilian terms. For those scores, civilian immunity means he tested positive for drugs in a year analysis because I didn’t know that was not a civilian terminology until I was telling someone.
Scott DeLuzio 00:22:04 Honestly, until I knew exactly what you meant. But until you said that it didn’t even occur to me that
Melissa Anne 00:22:11 Two weeks after Hanson had seen me and his son, he popped hot for, or he tested positive for having drugs in his system. And he didn’t tell me, he didn’t tell anybody. He shared that he might go nursing instead. None of this makes sense. You’ve written me a letter after letter with her, see your school through SQT, which I don’t know, half the acronyms where they mean I can’t help you. You can Google it and it’s special forces has a whole training list that you can look up and find out all the acronyms and the meetings and what they do in the different areas. Because even half the military doesn’t even know what the old training is, but two weeks after seeing us, I think he just spiraled and it wasn’t until after he died that I learned from other people, he had been getting involved in a church group of sorts and he wasn’t even religious.
Melissa Anne 00:23:10 I’m not going to get into religion or spirituality in this necessarily. He wasn’t even religious at all or spiritual when we first met. And then so for him to be involved in a church group for the end was where it went on along this journey that this happened. But after he had passed away, she had shared that he had been around that time frame, going through a lot of depression and a lot of things. And it was kind of a coming circle of people who could put up this front. Oh, we’re going kayaking or hiking. We’re having all this great time. And I’m having such a great time, but they come home and then they unpack themselves and their masks come off. And I think that was the biggest awakening for me was just realizing how fake we can be on social media, even my own husband, regardless of how complicated we were at that time, the fact that he wasn’t willing to open up about any of his struggles.
Melissa Anne 00:24:17 We were separated most of our lives. Four years of marriage because of the mental health issues that weren’t getting taken care of. I think the biggest thing was, and the sad thing is, all of his military friends, all the people, he was deployed with nothing but great stories, nothing but how great of a medic he was, how great he was at taking care of people and keeping the morale up. But then at home is a completely different person. A person who’s not mentally there anymore. He was given everything that they had. And then now they have the demons of, I could have done more. I could have done this. What about this person that I can help in drowning and this. I didn’t get to know him very long.
Melissa Anne 00:25:05 He was 31 when he passed and I actually had a freak-out moment. Because his birthday just recently passed. Next year, I’m going to be as old as he was. It was crazy. That’s so young. I knew it was young, I’m only a couple of years younger, but I knew that was young, but to be turning his age next year. He was gone so young and it’s so often that so many veterans are gone so young. That’s a long little story about it. He was two people, and he was both people. He was a compassionate person and an unhealed person.
Scott DeLuzio 00:25:51 And I think a lot of you alluded to this too, but I think a lot of service members and veterans carry both of those personality traits. It’s almost a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde kind of thing. When you’re at work, you’re focused and you’re doing your job. Of course, that’s not everybody, but you might be a great soldier. You might be great, whatever the medic or whatever it is that you do in the military, but then when you come home, it’s okay, now I have to put that down sometime. And I have to deal with some of these other things at some point, but, but they’re hard to deal with. It’s never fun to deal with these things, right?
Scott DeLuzio 00:26:39 No one wants to talk about these things. But that’s how we heal. That’s how we get better by talking about these things. It’s hard to deal with these things just by yourself. Unfortunately a lot of times in the military, there’s this, macho attitude that people end up having where I’m fine. I’ll just suck it up and deal with it. I’ll be fine. But then they’re not fine. They’re not taking care of their own stuff. I think the military has gotten better, over, over the years with how people deal with some of the stuff. Obviously, some improvements still need to be made, but it’s better than it was maybe, 20, some odd years ago or even longer where, where there was no help whatsoever, before for some of this stuff.
Scott DeLuzio 00:27:41 Very limited anyways. When you try to go and deal with this stuff on your own, it doesn’t necessarily get any better. You kind of need to rely on that support network, whether it’s your family or your fellow soldiers or Marines or airmen or whatever branch you might happen to be in, figure out how to get the help that you need, to overcome some of the issues that you might be going through. After his death after he passed away, could you talk about the grief journey that you went through, that you experienced, after, after his death? I know everyone handles grief in different ways, and I’m interested to kind of hear what that looked like for you.
Melissa Anne 00:28:38 As I mentioned we were complicated because we were guests, I was technically his wife, we weren’t together, but we were technically together and I still wanted things to work, but was it will this ever work? From us being separated and our own lives, we barely even talked to each other, but yeah, we were, we were still married. It’s living our completely different lives to be Your husband died. That’s new. We had just texted last night. I had just read through old notes and I was like, well, maybe after he finishes the course, we can work on things for an, I know he’s done moving around for a while. and then to have that door to immediately slam closed with an indefinite answer was kind of a mind blow for me.
Melissa Anne 00:29:29 I actually didn’t realize until last year when I was writing my book, that I never grieved about being a wife. I had spent three years grieving the loss of my son’s father. And I guess that’s a very typical thing for a parent to do as they grieve for their children before they grieve for themselves. It was always all my son’s dad, my son’s dad, my son’s dad. And it wasn’t until I started working on my book that my friend called me out on it. She was saved by your late husband. I was like, shoot. And that sent me down this whole spiral. For three years it was kind of just, okay, how do I take care of my child? How to take care of my child? What, what can I do for him?
Melissa Anne 00:30:16 I’m a widow, whatever, I’m a widow. Okay. But my child, fatherly influences and this and this and this. I had actually approved of all the things you’re not supposed to do in my life. Hey Alex, I just moved to this place. I’ve never really been to all these things. I hadn’t moved to where his dad Stanley was. Because I thought that was good for us. I was well, he’s buried here. If he ever wants to visit this will be good for him, but everything was good for my son. It was nothing ever, what do I need for my healing? What do I need for this? it was, how do I think and mind you, my son at the time was three, almost three or almost four. One of the two, I can’t remember.
Melissa Anne 00:31:07 I think he was almost four. He’s super young. He didn’t have that many memories of him just because even when we were together, he wasn’t there because he was in school all day or in the field for three months. He didn’t have a huge impression on him. For me to put so much of my focus during the grieving process on how will my son feel better? It kind of took a while for me to grieve for myself. I think so, and I just kept busy. I’m going to go bring money in. I’m going to do this. I did exactly what he did just and what a lot of people do. I’m going to just go be busy, doing all the things that I need to do.
Melissa Anne 00:31:56 I had to say, I’m going to move to this new place and I’m going to start fresh. And it was kind of funny. I read it in my book and l joke about it now with some of the friends that I had there. Because I moved to a small town and what brings you here? I was oh, I found a house that I liked. And they’re in the middle of nowhere, I was like, yeah, it was how’d you find this town? I was just selling solo. It took me months to even tell the people there in the small town. They know why,
Scott DeLuzio 00:32:34 But they’ll figure it out. The small, small town they talk about.
Melissa Anne 00:32:39 It was just very much avoidance. I was very avoidant of the fact that this was my life now. I did a single mom thing, but now I’m like a single mom. There is no going to visit dad. And there is no figuring things out together. It’s just me now. I think in some ways, because of our separation, it made it even harder to grieve because I was already used to him just disappearing and being gone. It’s just normal. He was just gone and then it was gone now. I think a lot of it was I would like to break down when I was looking. I don’t have the notes and I know it’s not in the other room, but I had the notes that he wrote me. The two different times that we were separated.
Melissa Anne 00:33:27 And then the notes that he wrote me during SERE school, which is survival training for people who don’t know, they basically treat you like you’re getting imprisoned like a prisoner more essentially is what your school does to you. I have letters from him. I have letters from him from the next training, of him not wanting to be a failure and things like that. They would like to rock me cause they remind me. I guess this is part of the healing process. I just numbed and I just didn’t feel anything. Because it’s easier. And I think in some ways it’s also a blessing because if we were to feel every emotion right then in there we would destroy ourselves.
Melissa Anne 00:34:21 And so I think in some way this plus in that right now I’m just scraping for my child because that’s all my mind and body has to get the energy that I have. I did Talkspace here and there. Just when I was going through. I’m just so tired. Why am I so tired? Hearing them just talk about how I’ve lived all my life defensively, from childhood to living with this life now. Just constantly having to live defensively and how to practice vulnerability without expectation. And so I started being I had shared things anytime I saw a flag, I just saw, I would be auntie, I couldn’t look at a flag.
Melissa Anne 00:35:07 I was sick of the stupid American flag. I don’t ever want to see it again. I don’t want to see a service number and I have a service number. I don’t ever want to see a service member again. I don’t ever want to see an American flag again. And my son was a little like that, and this is one of the things I decided to share. I share my story periodically on social media. It was kind of my outlet and journal and then the small little smidgen of vulnerability after I already liked it went through it. I would like to share it with select people or on social media. But I remember one of the hardest things for me was because my son was so young. He didn’t know what an American flag was. That breaks my heart, that my child doesn’t even know that this is the United States of America flag.
Melissa Anne 00:35:53 He just knows it as daddy’s flag. I can’t even imagine how many other little kids don’t even know. They knew it. His daddy, you were mom knew flag or grandma’s flag or who knows whatever parents flag before they know that it’s a country’s flag. How much that wreck my world felt this call it we as military, we do take a lot of pride in the flag, but for that, that was one of the really big moments for me. How much meaning something can have. I think a lot of it was just avoidance and keeping myself busy. I remember a period where I had pulled out stuff and my son just came in bawling cause he wanted to see photos and not really knowing he had stories to share and do I tell them these are real or not real memories.
Melissa Anne 00:36:53 He was still a little and he can have his memories that he thinks he has with his dad. It honestly wasn’t until last year. Three years in, I finally started grieving for myself of the fact that I did want this marriage to work and I did want these things, but I felt like such a fraud when they were the wife of so-and-so the gold star. I would say last year was when I really started healing for myself. It was because of all of the triggers that came to attack me when I was trying to further my career. If I want to further my career, I have to, I have to focus on my demons now, it’s my turn to focus on these, or I’m not gonna be able to go further.
Melissa Anne 00:37:43 In 2021, I was not only going to be a gestational carrier. If people don’t know that I was going to carry another couple’s child and I was oh, it’s fine. It’s not my child. It’ll be fine. But I kind of forgot how traumatizing my pregnancy was because, at the time that was around the time where my late husband was having a lot of his, I was going to be a gestational carrier. But because during my pregnancy, I dealt with a lot of things he liked and imagined things and he imagined things and it was all drug-induced or a combination of I’ll never know if it was a combination of PTSD. I didn’t realize how unfilled I was until I was getting closer to the process of being a gestational carrier.
Melissa Anne 00:38:39 I’m not ready to call it that right now. I don’t want to relive that again. Even though it was going to be completely different, the whole thing your body keeps score or your body keeps count. I got closer, I was like, why am I so panicked? Why am I struggling to stay awake? Why am I falling back into this defense mode that I was in when I first became a widow, what’s triggering me? I can’t do that. I can’t be a gestational carrier. Then that was around the same time that I was also in the first round of my masters of social work program. We did a lot of research articles and I chose to focus on trauma and substance use and how they relate to one another. Why people who have dealt with trauma regardless of what age are more prone to substance misuse.
Melissa Anne 00:39:30 And that just brought me down memory lane again and again and again. I was just hitting myself with all of these traumatic triggers all at once and it spiraled me. I think I mentioned earlier it’s if you’re either going to choose to go heal on your own or it’s gonna force you to heal, or you’re going to drown. And I reached the point where I was drowning and I was overcommitted, I was not healed. And now it’s just all Pandora’s box- just open. Three years in was when I finally was outta work on this. I gotta figure out why this affects me, why this is hurting me, and just accepting. I remember I just, for me, a lot of my healing comes from nature and I think there’s this beauty of you don’t have to try.
Melissa Anne 00:40:26 And I think there EMDR, there’s so many different therapies out there now that are really nice because I think a lot of veterans struggle because I don’t want to talk about this stuff, but there are so many different ways that you can work on healing without having to specifically speak about it. You can still feel the emotions and allow the emotions without having to have this whole field where you share your life story with somebody necessarily. Because I’ll talk with everyone. For me, it’s always been going on a road trip and letting my emotions sit with me and having a cry session or having a jam-out session in the car and just releasing that energy. I went on a road trip after I dropped out of the program after I told the gestational carrier a couple that I couldn’t do it anymore.
Melissa Anne 00:41:15 I went on a road trip. Because that’s what I do to clear my head. I go on road trips, 15-hour road trips. And so I went out to Colorado and that was kind of the start of my forgiveness process, which is also part of my healing. I drove through Flagstaff, which is the last time I sat in and I saw his dad and I realized, I kind of sat in his shoes. I wouldn’t have sold me anything if I just ruined my career. After writing these letters, not even a couple of months ago. I don’t want to have to tell you that I failed and then to come back and have failed. I wouldn’t have wanted to share that. I would be so depressed. I wouldn’t be so depressed.
Melissa Anne 00:42:05 He would have thought that he just saw my eventual ex-wife. I had just seen my child. I don’t know when I’m going to get to see them again. It was l just a lot of things in mind. I wasn’t in the exact same spot that he was at, but, to be in that kind of mindset of this is the last place we saw him. Trying to get an idea of where his headspace was at, helped me in, some shape or form kind of healing. Because I was so mad and I think a lot of my unsolved feelings were just because I was so mad. I was so mad. I couldn’t feel any other emotions. I couldn’t be sad because I was just, I was bitter. I was mad. How come you are going to be the one to leave?
Melissa Anne 00:42:49 You did all of this to me and now I’m still stuck with the leftovers. Taking that road trip and kind of getting that perspective of everything’s not black and white. I’m that. And I think the problem with a lot of people with healing is that they don’t take the time to take into consideration that we are all perfect humans and we are all battling our own demons, whether we share it or not. And if we just take a moment to look at it in a lens of their perspective, then maybe we can find forgiveness and we can find healing. And that was kind of the step towards my healing and the start of me writing my book as well, because I realized, oh, he wasn’t all bad.
Melissa Anne 00:43:38 I knew it wasn’t all bad, but to kind of start to piece the pieces together of just how broken he was and all of these things along our journey to healing also so somebody is starting to work on the book and kind of coming back from an empathetic lens. That road trip was the start of my healing, but I also didn’t do it properly with writing my book. I didn’t take time to grab myself while I worked through all of this trauma. It was good for me, but it was not at all the way that I would recommend because I’ve got diagnosed with ADHD. I hyper-focused on things and I hyper-focused on four years of trauma all at once and it’s not the best of ideas. I just hyper-focus is when you’re writing a book, you’re right back in these memories, they were right then and there.
Melissa Anne 00:44:37 I knew that but then I would still be writing it and then you’re rewriting it and you’re rewording it. And you’re reformatting. It’s your dislike of marinating in one of the most traumatic periods of your life. And I was not seeing a therapist at the time. I was not going out and rounding myself. I was just sitting at a computer and then going to a job and then sitting at a computer and slipping here and there. It actually brought me through a whole dissociation state. Your realization and the whole other side of the healing process. I think a lot of people in their own shape or form or a different level of dissociation, deal with it, but this was another form of my healing journey was I had put myself into all of these previous flashbacks that I kind of forgot where I was at.
Melissa Anne 00:45:32 He was part of me moving out to where I’m at now to help me get out of the association I needed to be this up was real. I really was here, this stuff existed. But it’s definitely a process everybody grieves differently, everybody heals differently. That’s just been a really big me finally coming to terms with that, and then not hyper-focusing and taking time to ground myself in nature and just be present-minded. I didn’t know how hard it was.
Scott DeLuzio 00:46:10 And it is hard, especially when you’re in the middle of all of that. It’s hard to get yourself out of that, especially if you’re not seeing a therapist who can kind of walk you through some of that process. I know when I wrote my book I realized all these years later all the things that I did wrong in my journey after my brother had passed away. There’s no reason that somebody else has to go through what I went through and make all those same mistakes. And I wanted to share all the things that I did wrong so that hopefully it helps somebody else not make those same mistakes down the line somewhere. You talked about some of the things that maybe you, you wished you had done maybe differently, and stuff, too.
Scott DeLuzio 00:47:17 What advice would you have for other, other people in your shoes? Other family members who maybe lost a loved one during their military service as well, in one of those unexpected kinds of losses, are the ones that when someone is going through a year gears long, but multiple years-long battle with cancer you kind of expect that something is going to happen. You have all this time to mentally prepare, and I’m not saying that it’s any easier or harder one way or the other. But it does give you that time to mentally prepare. But in some of these unexpected deaths, it kind of hits you a ton of bricks and you don’t have that time to necessarily prepare. What kind of advice would you have for other people who might be in a similar situation?
Melissa Anne 00:48:10 I actually had lost my grandma. Six months before cancer. I am mentally prepared. We knew. I had told him like, yes, it’s sad, but it’s a different type of grief, because see, you’ve already been mentally preparing for this event to happen. You’re emotional. Yes. They’re going to be gone, but you kind of had time to slowly ease into this. I think the biggest difference between that, and then me getting a call the next day from an apartment complex, letting me know that they found his body was a lot different. Because you’re in denial. I think the biggest thing is that it’s not going to be linear. You can go in circles 10 times and that’s okay because every one of those times is going to hit differently.
Melissa Anne 00:49:01 For example, for a long time, I couldn’t even look at the flag because it was so triggering. That it’s okay to some degree to allow yourself to kind of almost block out certain things, because we can only handle so much as a person with our emotions, but definitely seeking care from somebody who isn’t their friends or your family who is professional. So I know that therapy isn’t always as readily available first off monetarily for a lot of people, but also just in time, there are only so many therapists and there’s so many people. And sometimes, especially when I was starting my book, a huge issue was that the therapists that I wanted weren’t going to be available until after I was probably done with my book.
Melissa Anne 00:49:54 I had to figure out ways to do it on my own. I would strongly recommend that if you can’t go see a therapist in person, there are so many amazing therapists who will share with you different techniques for grounding and working through emotions. The hardest thing or the worst thing you can do is just pull it, roll it up and assume that you’ll get to it later because that’s when you explode. It showed up in my anger, it showed up and me not being the greatest mom and I did have a lot of my own regrets. I drank too much. I didn’t care about so many things and I definitely don’t want to see people falling into that. A lot of that is just like journaling.
Melissa Anne 00:50:42 I’ve seen a couple of veteran organizations who are focused on helping people with journaling or writing out your feelings in a fictional way. In a way, you’re releasing those emotions, but you’re not attached to it. I would say my biggest piece of advice would be just seeking help. I think even with me going through the association that I had last year, it wasn’t until I finally Googled it, that I was like, oh, I’m not crazy. My body is just protecting me because I just went through a whole storm of bad things all at once. And so definitely, sometimes Google will tell you that you’re dying and you have cancer and all these things, but sometimes it’s really important for you to look it up. And again, like YouTube, there are a lot of psychology websites that can share tools. If you can’t do it with an actual therapist, just finding tools that you can use, whether that’s going out and rounding going and doing meditation I used to think breathwork was so stupid. And now that is so beneficial for my anxiety. I needed this and depression, we need breath. We don’t breathe. We should. And it’s amazing that we, it’s an essential thing. And we, we don’t take deep breaths. We need to, to fuel our whole system.
Scott DeLuzio 00:52:06 I think it’s something that we do every second of every day for all our entire lives. And we suck at it.
Melissa Anne 00:52:17 Is this a full breath supposed to feel? I had no idea. This is really relaxing. I would say if you’re able to see a therapist or a psychiatrist because if you need medications, you need medications. I am not, I’m all for iOS, SCA medicinal. Whatever treatment will work for you grounding talk therapy, EMDR, there are so many differences. And I think that’s actually the beauty of kind of going back to the military assignments and heating of psychology is as we learn more about the brain, you learn about how much it’s able to heal itself. And before we thought people who had a disorder, but if you have depression, you have anxiety, you have postpartum depression. If you have post-traumatic stress disorder we used to think that oh, well that sucks.
Melissa Anne 00:53:08 You’re with it forever. But now we’re realizing you can change. Yes, that was traumatic. And yes, that was never met, but you can heal just a broken bone can heal your brain as well. And I think giving yourself grace through the process, and once again, you can think you’re okay. You can think you can heal from this trigger. And five years later, I might cry from a flag again and that’s okay. Because some memory came back that I needed to release. And again, just giving yourself grace, and finally what works for you? Some people there’s hikes, a lot of people who hike, a lot of people who like to write fictional stories, and a lot of people like to write with music. It’s finding what works and helps ground you and allow you to feel those emotions in a healthy manner and not bottle them up with drugs or alcohol or just complete numbing would be my piece of advice.
Scott DeLuzio 00:54:06 And then I think that’s great advice and that’s a company that I wished all those years ago that I had heard from somebody else because I did all of those things. I was just numbing and not getting the help that I needed and not dealing with the anger. It just was not the best way of dealing with things. I’m glad you were able to share that sometimes it’s good to hear from somebody else that just some of the ways that you can, you can deal with some of these things. You shared some ways that people might just not think about, like you were saying, go on YouTube or some other websites that might have some advice for the grounding techniques and things like that that you might need.
Scott DeLuzio 00:54:54 You just might not think about even doing those things. I can’t afford to go to a therapist, so I’m just gonna deal with it on my own. Well, there are other options out there and especially for military families, dealing with military losses, there are organizations out there, the vet center, there’s other organizations that will actually work with the families as well. There are options out there. It might take a little research to figure out what they are but there definitely are some options out there. I appreciate you sharing that. Before we wrap this up, I want to give you a chance to remind people where they can go to get in touch with you and to get a copy of your book.
Melissa Anne 00:55:47 Yes. I have my website called MelissaAnne.org. As I work towards getting my LCSW, I wanted everything to be consolidated. I have references for mental health, nutrition, exercise, just holistic health, whole health focused. It can also be found at Melissa, an org for social media. My book is located on Spouse-Ly, but if you also go to Melissaanne.org, you’ll see the link for the book there. And then I have from grief to gold and at, from group to gold podcasts, which is primarily focused on solely mental health and trauma and where I promote most of my book on there.
Scott DeLuzio 00:56:31 Awesome. Yeah. And I will have links to all of those websites and social media links and all that stuff in the show notes. anyone who wants to get in touch with you, follow you, or listen to the podcast or anything, take a look at the show notes. all those links will be available for you there. Melissa, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you today. I appreciate your willingness to share such a dark time in your life, with the hope of healing others, right? I mean, I know your message will reach the right people at the right time. Thank you for coming on and sharing that message with us. Thanks for listening to the Drive On Podcast. If you want to check out more episodes or learn more about the show, you can visit our website DriveOnPodcast.com. We’re also on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube at Drive On Podcast.