Listening: An Invisible Healing

By Aaron WoodallFebruary 6, 2014

Please note: This blog discusses the reality of suicide from the perspective of a military medic. We believe honesty is key in challenging stigma, especially for those in service, but read with caution if you think you might be sensitive to such descriptions and discussions.

When I was only a child, I received a toy doctor kit. It was then that I knew I was meant to help others, which later led me to join the military as a medic.

A year-long military deployment changes everyone. No matter how small the change may be, there will be something different. You may not always be able to see it, but certainly someone will notice. Whether you are the one deployed or it’s your wife, husband, child, friend, parent, brother, or sister, it will result in change, and not always the good kind. Thankfully, reading TWLOHA’s mission statementsomething in which I believe wholeheartedly, with the utmost faith— kept me going in my times of need during my deployment.

After twelve long, hard months as a medic in Afghanistan, it was my time to return home. Finally, at last, the goal had been reached: I was on my way home. Little did I know, I was about to step into a much different type of battlefield. I never knew how unprepared I was for what was about to happen to me.

Ten days after returning, I was sitting in my aid station, getting ready to go on a much-needed two-week leave, when I heard something. I stopped for a second, thinking it was a gunshot; I must have still been in a battlefield mindset, but certainly, it couldn’t be … The front door opened, and I heard a soldier cry for help. I ran out the door and into the Behavior Health Clinic, the next building over, where I was guided to the relaxation room. There was a soldier lying on the ground … I can still remember the smell of the gunpowder in the room. It is something I will never forget.

From that day on, I became someone different, someone with a mission. A mission much larger than myself. I was going to help and do my part to prevent depression and suicide.

After deploying, I had numerous friends die by suicide, attempt suicide, engage in extremely reckless behavior, or even become so depressed as to starve themselves into the hospital. It pains me to think about all of them—especially the ones who are no longer around, including one of my closest friends. But I tried to be proactive and take classes on signs of depressions and suicide intervention. I even started a program to help others become more aware and reach out to these people. To take it a step further, I sought to help all of those around me, no matter their job or rank, to steer clear of perpetuating the stigma of mental and behavioral health.

While all of these things are beneficial in the long run, what helped most was something very simple: listening. (Tweet This)

On a few different occasions, I found myself with someone who needed help. They were crying out desperately, and no one could hear them. I sat for hours one-on-one with some, talking and listening. I quoted my favorite sentences of TWLOHA’s mission statement: “The vision is hope, and hope is real. You are not alone, and this is not the end of your story.”

It most definitely was not the end of their story, and I believe they realized it in that moment. Currently, these same individuals are living life to the fullest, after having been in the dark for so long and denying themselves the professional care they so desperately needed.

I am realizing there are things to hold onto around us everywhere. Literally, everywhere. We just need to find them and grab on tight. Most importantly, when others cannot find something to hold onto—a reason to keep going, a reason to stop, a reason to put down the bottle—we can reach out and be their anchor in that moment. Help guide them to where they need to be, to love and be loved. To live and say they really lived.

It does not take someone in the medical field or on the battlefield to help others. We can all do something. We can all affect the change. It doesn’t matter if it is a military member, friend, relative, co-worker, or even a stranger at the mall. It doesn’t matter how rich, how poor, how popular, how unpopular, how one speaks, how one dresses. Everyone deserves life abundantly, and it should be our goal to ensure everyone has that opportunity.

Quietly listen and affect the change.

Aaron Woodall
Medical Specialist

TWLOHA partners with USA Cares to support their Warrior Treatment Today program, which pays essential household bills while the service member/veteran is attending residential treatment through Veteran Affairs. You can help by purchasing our USA Cares Title shirt here.

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Comments (5)

  1. Anonymous

    Wish there were more military medics like this.

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  2. Gwendolyn

    Although, I may be a fending people with my thoughts; I would still like to share. I am a true believer in GOD. I pray and ask GOD to take my depression away and to allow the Holy Spirit to enter my life and help me thru whatever is happening in my life. And it always seems to work. I also stay away from negative people; I refuse to allow anyone to steal my peace. Keep yourself busy or just take along walk and listen to music, the outside air is soothing and GOD will do the rest. Keep the faith because hell is allot worst then what you are carrying threw this life. My life is not perfect, I struggle day to day as everyone; but I know my peace is within. LOVE YOURSELF UNCONDITIONALLY and know that GOD is there and waiting for you to knock, ask, and receive. GOD bless everyone that is going threw this terrible disease never give up on life because there is something wonderful waiting to happen to you. Remember peace is not brought it is given, money is not an option nor is pills.Find your peace within, walk, read, sleep, clean, talk to a friend and yes if you have it spend money on yourself whatever it takes but find the GOD in you. Remember God is there no matter what your believe is. PRAY AND THEN PRAY SOME MORE, ask for peace its there I promise. And if I can pray with you or for you, I am just a click away.

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  3. Lydia B.

    There were so many valid points made with this story that I don’t even know where to begin. Perhaps with a quote from the blog:
    ” We just need to find them and grab on tight. Most importantly, when others cannot find something to hold onto—a reason to keep going, a reason to stop, a reason to put down the bottle—we can reach out and be their anchor in that moment.”

    These words spoke out to me. It’s almost exactly what TWLOHA is. TWLOHA is a group of strangers who are not only /willing/ to help those struggling, but more than anything they WANT to help. Complete strangers whose mission is to show you that you are loved, hope is real, and that help is real.

    Aaron Woodall’s words shows him to be a unique hero. He saves lives in more than one way. Healing both physically and mentally are primary traits we should all reach for when it comes to helping our fellow man. Having just lost a co-worker to suicide a little over 2 days ago, it aches me to think that maybe if someone just went a little out of their way to listen, talk, or even just a simple smile and “hello!”, maybe he’d still be here for his friends and family he left behind.

    Thank you for emphasizing the power of listening. Sometimes just getting something off of your chest can release some built up tension and pressure that would have driven us to more severe actions. I hope you continue helping people in the many ways you do now.

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  4. Heidi Todd

    I love your purpose. My ex-husband was deployed for 18 months to Iraq when we were married. You are right; it changes a person. And I do not believe that the proper tools are in place to help our returning soldiers. I hope this changes. Godspeed on your journey.

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    1. Anonymous

      I know what you mean. I think if there was more resources for military then maybe some of these issues would start to go away. It’s such a shame to see people who willingly fight for our country come home and not be taken care of mentally because they are told going to mental health is being weak. More should stand up for them and even everyone else.

      Reply  |  
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