Marine Veteran

I Knew I Had Found My People

“I didn’t have a great childhood.” Andi was born in Omaha, Nebraska and is the second oldest of eight children: five boys and three girls. “My older brother was special needs. My dad was sexually abusive, and my mom had shut down and was depressed. It fell to me to raise my siblings. I tried to hold everything together until I knew my siblings were old enough to take care of themselves. Then I started falling apart.” 

Her parents divorced when she was in her first year of college. Andi was burned out from the responsibility of raising her siblings, so she started partying. “I got into a lot of trouble in my first year of college with a lot of partying and not challenged too much while pursuing a criminal justice degree. It was a small town, and there was a lot of underage drinking. I dropped out of school after my first year in college to join the Navy. I knew if I was ever going to make anything of my life I had to get out of Nebraska.”

“I shipped out to boot camp on September 11, 2007. I turned 21 while I was in boot camp. One weekend shortly after arriving at my training school, I got a room in town with this guy I had been seeing. I remember having one beer, and then everything is blank. He ended up inviting a couple of his friends up to the room, and they all took turns on me. I don’t remember it; I ended up finding out because they were bragging about it to everyone. I was upset and embarrassed, especially because I thought he was my friend. I didn’t report it because I pretended it didn’t happen and it would go away—it didn’t go away, and my drinking got worse.”

“Shortly after completing training school I was deployed to Iraq. While there I didn’t drink for six months. I was a construction electrician with the Seabees and was sent to work on one of our big projects near the Syrian border. The nights were rough, but during the day there was no time to think about anything other than work.”

“Once I got back from Iraq, I started drinking again. At one point I almost felt like I was living a double life. Monday through Friday afternoon I was a model Seabee. I was one of the top performing females at physical training. I was good at my job, and I felt like I was an asset to my command. On the weekends I became a completely different person. I partied hard and blacked out almost every night. Then on Monday, I was back in the gym, back to my rigid, disciplined self.”

“My second deployment was to Africa. I worked hard and partied hard, but the close quarters made it difficult to conceal my problem drinking. After discovering that during a blackout I had punched a Warrant officer in the face for grabbing my ass, I decided that my drinking had spiraled way too far out of my control. I told my command that I had a drinking problem and needed help and their response was to pull my beer card and tell me I couldn’t drink anymore. I stopped drinking for a little while but eventually ended up getting very drunk on liquor someone snuck into camp. As I was going back to my room for the night, I walked past a smoke pit of male Marines, and they called me vulgar names. So I got in one of the guy’s face, and we ended up on the ground fighting—then a couple of other guys jumped in. Someone called the MPs, and we all ran off. That's the last thing I remember before being led away in handcuffs. My command sent me to Captain’s Mast because I had alcohol in my system.”

“When we got back from Africa, I was placed on a 45-day restriction with docked pay. When on restriction they treat you like you’re worthless. It's like being back in boot camp again. They make you stand at attention for hours every day. The only way I was surviving life was by drinking, working out and keeping myself busy. All of those things went out the window when I got put on restriction. After three weeks I was losing it. I begged my command to send me to rehab; they said the beds were full. Inside I was panicking. I was so afraid of what would happen if I lost control and freaked out. My friends started sneaking me alcohol. After 37 days on restriction, I finally lost it. I ended up cutting my wrists and taking half a bottle of Motrin. A bed in rehab opened up the next day.”

“I went to rehab in San Diego for six weeks and worked hard to get better. I was very vulnerable and emotionally spent when I got back to my command, but I was committed to try and stay sober. I returned to our Naval Base in Port Hueneme and was immediately put back on restriction while they waited to bring me up on new charges for drinking while on restriction. I didn’t realize until that moment just how much control the military had over me. I had them take me to my psychiatrist, and I told her that I couldn’t do it anymore. I wouldn’t make it 45 more days, so in 2010 I got out of the military under honorable conditions on ‘failure to adapt.’”

“I had no plan when I got out of the Navy. I shared an apartment with roommates I had before I went to Africa. I was completely stressed and started drinking again. I didn’t go to the VA—I wanted nothing to do with the military or their therapy at that point in my life. I tried going to school again while I was struggling with these symptoms. I was drinking and started using heavy drugs, and eventually, I dropped out. There was no job I qualified for or wanted to do. I became an exotic dancer. I worked at underground poker games, events, andprivate parties. I fitintothis lifestyle and made lots of money. I used a lot of party drugs and eventually got hooked on methamphetamines, and after two years I started getting sick. I lost my apartment, and I lived in hotels for six months.”

“I moved in with a guy I met at an event. He was nice at first, but that didn’t last. The first time he flew into a rage and started choking me I promised myself I would leave. But because I was hooked on drugs I stayed. He started getting worse, and I knew that if I didn’t get out, I would die there. I knew the only way to get my life back on track was to get sober. I found an Orthomolecular rehab in Minnesota, and he helped me pay for it. It was a six-week program that emphasized diet, vitamins, and education. My mom and three siblings drove the three hours to each spend a week or two with me. For the first time in my life, I was truly happy. It felt so good to live without needing drugs or alcohol to function. I was sleeping again, and the nightmares were virtually gone.” 

“After completing the program, I returned to the guy’s house in California. He offered me alcohol, and I ended up relapsing for a few days. He attacked me again, and I decided I had had enough. I gave up drugs and alcohol, left his house and took the dog. I moved into Naomi House, a homeless shelter, on the West LA VA campus. I lived there for six months, and I started getting outpatienttrauma therapy that was five hours a day, five days a week for three months. I still go there once a week.”

She spent the next six months at a Sober Living home. She got an apartment with a girl she had met there. Currently, she’s attending California State University, Northridge. In two years she will complete her degree in Kinesiology in the Applied Fitness and Active Lifestyle Development track. In addition to going to school, she is working as a personal trainer at a non-profit called Heroes Movement that provides free strengthening and conditioning for veterans. “I recently got a front desk job at Unbreakable Performance gym, which was my dream gym to work at and I’m beyond thrilled.” 

“When I got out of the Navy, I wanted nothing to do with other vets, and I thought I could go it alone. During a school break last year, a friend invited me to a session at MVP. I loved it and changed my schedule so I could attend every week. The minute I walked into MVP I got a huge smile on my face. I knew I had found my people. The camaraderie I found with MVP felt like being in the military again, but without the stupid rules. Because of MVP, I started being comfortable hanging out with other vets again. Now I am involved with as many vet programs as possible. There was a period in my life where I felt completely alone; now I have a huge network of friends who have my back—no matter what. I have been sober for 2 ½ years now and loving every day of it. I am so grateful for this life that I have created for myself. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support of family, friends, and groups like MVP. If I could go back ,I wouldn’t change anything about my life because it's gotten me to where I am today, and at this moment, I am right where I want to be. I can finally say, the future is going to be very bright.”