Michael’s story

My story starts with a patrol in Afghanistan and an explosion. The roadside bomb exploded under my vehicle which killed my friend who was driving and caused me to be medically evacuated to my barracks in Germany.

The next few months meant numerous operations and rehabilitation whilst also struggling to make sense of what had happened. Each month I was given more pain relief which helped not only with the pain but how I felt. I began to drink more and more alcohol to add to increase the feelings of being able to switch off and not think or care about anything. Unfortunately, this meant I ended up having a few problems on barracks and this led to my administrative discharged from the British Army. To become a fully qualified senior non-commissioned officer within the British Army required years of training and numerous tours on operational duty. The transition to becoming a civilian took me the one drive from my barrack in Germany to my mum’s house in the UK; roughly 11 hours.

Within the first month of being a civilian, my drinking increased, and the amount of prescription pain relief medications began to reduce. Registration with a civilian GP failed to get me a new prescription for the codeine, apomorph, pregabalin, and gabapentin I had become used to it. This started to unravel. Following an argument, I had to leave my mum's house and I ended up sleeping in my car I started buying the medications off the street. For 17 years the Army had clothed, fed, and watered me, now at 34 years old I was sleeping in my car in an abandoned mill and popping prescription medications like they were smarties. I was socially isolated and could not see how to help myself.

Over time I struck up a relationship with my dealers, eventually, they offered me a chance to stay in a bedsit. In less than three months I had been introduced to heroin and crack and I ended up selling my car to continue to pay for my new habit. My money ran out and once again I was homeless, this time without a car to sleep in and with an appetite for heroin. I remember sleeping in one of the back rooms of that mill during winter. Freezing cold nights followed by my new daily routine, stealing from local shops on a morning to score and use in the afternoon before waking up and doing it again. I lost my self-respect, pride, and hope for the future and the endless grind made the thought of suicide an easier option than continuing to live. I began planning how to end it all.

Luckily, my stealing had not gone unnoticed in the village and the village rumours got back to my family. One day my mum turned up at the mill and took me to my local service and booked me in with the local housing authority. This is when things began to change for the better. Being a veteran, I was provided emergency hostel accommodation and provided a methadone prescription which

provided much-needed stability and a break away from the madness. During an appointment, I was given a leaflet about Change Grow Live’s March veterans service. This service was the turning point in my life.

Within days of contacting the MARCH project I was made aware of a vast range of support available to veterans; support I did not even know existed.

The changes happened quickly. I was awarded permanent accommodation which was furnished through the support of other charities. I was able to access mental health support for PTSD and receive fast medical care through the transition and liaison service via the NHS. Accessing my resettlement allowed me to enroll and study for a funded undergraduate degree and I received compensation for my injuries allowing me to purchase a car and regain my independence.

I was asked to leave feedback at the time around the support I received I said:

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"It’s unbelievable. I went from actually attempting and planning how to kill myself at Christmas to now, I’ve got my own place, I’ve got a future and I feel like the future. What I’m heading towards it is now actually real. The support is invaluable and without it, I am quite sure I would be dead right now"

I know first-hand than veterans are less likely to seek help and when they do are more likely to need it quickly. The support available to veterans is immense, but people’s awareness of the support isn’t.

That is why I’m glad that my story has supported Change Grow Live’s decision to sign the Armed Forces Covenant.