I Have Found My Genuine Self Again - I Am Not Alone
Isaac grew up in Las Vegas—a first generation American—his parents having migrated from Mexico. His father is a bartender at the Las Vegas Flamingo, and his mother is a housemaid. He has an older sister; and his younger brother, Andy, is a US Army veteran and an MVP member.
Isaac was in the ROTC and was the first vice president of his high school when he enlisted with the US Marines at 18 before graduation. He left for boot camp in September 2005, two days after his sister’s wedding. His first duty station was at 29 Palms M.C.A.G.C.C. in the California desert for three and a half years with 1st Marines Division 2nd Battalion 7th Marines. He deployed to Iraq from January-August of 2007. During this time, he served as the Radio Operator for his squad. He fell numerous times while carrying heavy radio equipment: the wear and tear from the heavy gear began to take a toll on his body.
In the third year of his first enlistment in 2008, he deployed to Helmand Province Afghanistan. He was injured from I.E.D’s. blasts resulting in a concussion, torn shoulder, fractures, inflamed bulging discs, and compressed nerves in his back. Upon returning from his 2nd deployment,he was placed on limited duty and was prescribed opioids for the pain leading to addiction. “I was numb to the world. I had gone from being athletic to someone with no emotion and a lot of anger, pain, and barely able to move without the pain meds. I only slept a few hours at night and was also self-medicating with alcohol.” He had two surgeries to repair the damage, and his third surgery is scheduled at the beginning of 2019.
While in Afghanistan he re-enlisted to become a Marksmanship Instructor at Camp Pendleton, in San Diego Countyand executed orders in 2009 for his new duty station.
“During the time from 2009, I continued to self medicate with alcohol and increased the pain medications as well as the all of my other prescribed medications. Had I complained to my superiors or was not able to complete a task, I would be stigmatized or punished for being injured. Instead of going on a hike with the rest of my unit, along with others on limited duty, we were assigned to pick up pine needles from the rocks. It was frustrating, and I had to bite my tongue from talking back to my superior officer.”
In 2010-2011 “I got a DUI on base and a second one off-base.” I was placed on restriction and lost rank. “Looking back, I had signs of PTSD. I was able to pick back up in rank. ” He had married his high school sweetheart while in the Marines and had a daughter, now 11. He was working 18-hour days, dealing with many symptoms of PTSD and the pain meds he needed caused his marriage to start floundering, and they eventually divorced.
In 2012 he was medically separated from the Marines, and his girlfriend became pregnant. He asked her to move back to Las Vegas with him with their infant daughter. “The symptoms from PTSD and meds I was taking for the pain and mental health caused other problems with digestion. I had gained weight, I was angry and snapping at people: I wasn’t a good person and ultimately caused my relationship to fail.”
At this point, Isaac looked for help at the VA. “Just when I started to feel comfortable with a doctor or therapist, they rotated out, and I had to start all over again. When the doctor began cutting back my meds, I started buying street drugs with a much stronger punch. At one point I bought 100 pills spending almost my whole disability check thinking I could take some and sell the rest. Unfortunately, I used them all, and it finally was an eye-opener: I had a serious problem with pills. Off or on the meds I still felt like crap. I decided to go ‘cold turkey’ and got off all my pain and psych meds. My girlfriend suggested I should try smoking pot for the pain: it helped me sleep more, eat healthier and curbed my desire to drink. My weight had ballooned up to 215-220 lbs from my Marine weight of 170 lbs. Doctors had kept telling me for years that my body just needed rest, but I was only getting worse. I decided I would go back to the gym and find some way of doing exercise. I spent my time stretching, using the elliptical and the steam room and cold showers to clean the toxins from my body. In four months my weight dropped back down to 150 lbs.” I still dealt with the PTSD, but it seemed a little bit more manageable the more I kept going to the gym and exercising.”
He lived off his disability check for two years: “I didn’t have to answer to anybody or do anything but live on the couch.” During this time, he volunteered at his church and had gone back to school taking 16-18 units in Audio and Video Production from a private tech school. The school went out of business when he was three classes away from getting his Associates degree. “I was stressed and took some time off: I had a ‘victim mentality’ and was feeling sorry for myself, with a ‘whoa is me,’ mentality and I went into a huge depression. I finally woke up and snapped out of it and started moving forward again.”
“I was at a point in my life when nothing was going right other than being off all the drugs. I got a call from one of my Senior Marines in 2/7 who told me about a program starting in Las Vegas called MVP. I went to the grand opening at Randy Couture’s gym, Xtreme Couture, in January 2017. I figured why not—what else am I going to do. I showed up not knowing what to expect other than we would be doing some type of exercise. I started talking to Randy, not even realizing it was Randy Couture! Randy, along-time friend, and sparring partner of MVP co-founder Jay Glazer, had served in the U.S. Army, was a UFC Champion, and actor. I did the workout and stayed after for the group chat to hear Randy talk. There were eight guys from my unit who had done the same deployments as me, Noel Huerta being one of them.”
“For the first in a long time, I did not feel alone anymore. Noel and I began to talk and hang out more. Noel at the time was volunteering as the Program Coordinatorand assisted me in getting a job, andI kept going back to the weekly sessions. I hadn’t worked at a job for five years and was nervous about how I would handle other civilians. I requested to be given Thursday nights off so I could attend MVP.”
Isaac volunteered to help with MVP, and in February 2018 he joined the staff as a Program Coordinator. He now has a personal trainer certificate and may want to pursue a doctorate in physical therapy or start a business by buying a franchise.
The future looks bright. Isaac owns his house in Las Vegas and spends time with his two daughters. “MVP has helped me find my genuine self again, a new purpose and MVP will help guide me to the next stage in life—I am not alone. No more hesitating.”