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For 10 years Brian turned to alcohol to try to cope with the memories of war and terrorism. Horrific scenes from his military career played out on a constant and tormenting loop in his mind.
The bomb blast in Northern Ireland that nearly killed him and left him severely wounded.
The smoking debris and dead bodies, so out of place in a quiet Scottish residential street that was the aftermath of the Lockerbie air disaster he was sent to clear up.
The fighting in the First Gulf War, with the very real threat of deadly biological weapons.
In a bid to block all that out, Brian drank so much his doctor warned him he’d die within two months if he didn’t stop.
Brian served for 13 years in the Royal Highland Fusiliers and the Royal Scots before he was medically discharged.
Even though he was around a loving family, he felt alone and lost. Every day was a battle. Every night was worse.
“I used to drink so I could sleep at night. As time went on, I felt I had to drink more because I got used to it.
“People told me, ‘You’re not well’. I went to the doctors because I was jaundiced, I was starting to go yellow, and my eyes were yellow. Though at the time when I looked in the mirror, I couldn’t see a problem. The alcohol was telling me I was fine.
“The doctor said I was a functioning alcoholic. He told me I had cirrhosis of the liver, and if I didn’t do something about it, I’d die within two months.
“Right at the end of the appointment he said, ‘and I can confirm you’ve got PTSD’. To be given that amount of distressing information in such a short time was very daunting. I came out of the doctor’s surgery and thought, ‘God, how do I get out of this?’
“That day was a big reality check, I didn’t want to die. I wanted to see my kids grow up. My wife Ros and the kids were my incentive to get better.”
“When I gave up alcohol, I no longer had that crutch. So, the post-traumatic stress disorder hit me full on. I had nightmares as the reality of everything that I’d experienced in the military hit home. It was a very emotional and trying time.
“I had real difficulty sleeping. Eventually when I did fall asleep, I had nightmares, and night tremors. I’d be sweating and jumping about. During the day I had really, really bad anxiety. When I tried to go to appointments for my mental health or go to the doctor’s, getting on the bus was really difficult. I could only last two stops. I’d have to get off and would be physically sick through sheer anxiety.
“Working out how to cope best with all the symptoms was a long process. You’re fighting a war in your head all the time, every day.
“Being a Dad of two young sons, I didn’t want it to have any effect on them. I knew I needed to do something to get better.”
“I approached Help for Heroes and they invited me to a coffee morning. I remember sitting down in a cafe and someone coming up and having a chat. I could relate to them, and they could relate to me, because they understood. They could answer some of the questions bouncing around my head.
“I then went on a Pathfinder course with their Recovery College. I was with likeminded people. We had that camaraderie and the shared sense of humour. It was good to be back in that environment. I could let my guard down a bit and relax. Being understood felt like half the battle.
“I could ask any question and they’d go, ‘We’ve got somebody who could support you with that’. That was good to hear because before that all I’d heard was, ‘Sorry we can’t help you right now, because you’re an addict’. Whereas Help for Heroes was just much more open, engaging and welcoming.
“I’ve done numerous activities with Help for Heroes. I’ve done archery and I’m now an archery instructor. I’ve done hillwalking. I’ve been on numerous visits. During lockdown we used to do the virtual Zoom calls. Keeping in touch with everybody throughout lockdown was good. I’m now an ambassador with the Charity, as I’m very passionate about veterans’ welfare.
“My wife Ros has met up with other veterans’ partners through the Charity. She has benefited from hearing about other people’s coping mechanisms. They have a talk and a laugh. The partners and families deserve just as many medals as the veterans.”
“I’ve had quite a lot of support from the Charity’s Hidden Wounds team for my mental health. I’ve had some meaningful conversations with them, which have helped me back on the straight and narrow.
“During lockdown I went for a routine appointment with my liver specialist, and he said haphazardly, ‘Oh yes, we’ll just do your liver transplant’. Three days later I was admitted into hospital. All these medical professionals were visiting me and I didn't understand anything they were saying. I was getting overwhelmed with emotions and was very confused. So, I got in touch with Duane ‘Fletch’ Fletcher, the clinical nurse at Help for Heroes.
“He translated the medical jargon into common-sense stuff that I could understand. He was there at the end of the phone every time I needed to speak to him, and he was an enormous support. With it being lockdown, I was stuck in a hospital ward all by myself with all that going on. Luckily, in the end I didn’t need a liver transplant. I had a blood clot which I got medication for. If it hadn’t been for Fletch, I don’t know what would have happened.”
“One of the greatest things in my life right now is I’ve got two boys that I’m immensely proud of. Not only have they grown up and are so mature, they’re so great at what they're doing. They’ve exceeded my expectations of what I wanted for them.
“Jordan is a business banking manager, and he’s achieved that in such a short time. Kieran’s got all these acting and theatre production qualifications, and he’s also excelling in hotel management. So, I don’t think I could ask to be any happier when I think about my sons.
Watch as Kieran talks about growing up around PTSD.
“Alongside the Charity, my wife Ros is my rock. I love her to bits. It hasn’t been easy for her, but she’s helped me through. I swore to her that I wouldn’t drink again, and I haven’t.
“The Veterans War is very apparent to me. Life is better now because I can manage things. But the Veterans War is very real. Every day’s a struggle. It’s not until you learn how to cope with those struggles, that life becomes a wee bit easier.
“Help for Heroes has been enormous in my recovery, whether it be mental, physical or medical support. If I hadn’t tackled what I had tackled at the time – I wouldn’t be here today.”
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