by Tammy Blackmon
My name is Tammy Blackmon and I hope that by sharing my Husband’s story and my own might help someone somewhere out there. This could be pretty lengthy so I hope I can keep your attention to the end because the message is an important one. I’m going to begin with myself.
From the time I was a small child I exhibited signs of anxiety. Being a child I couldn’t understand what I was feeling but all I knew was that whatever it was I was feeling didn’t feel good. I come from your typical old school Hispanic household. My Mom held my brother’s up on a pedestal and my sister’s and I didn’t get the same treatment. My brothers could do no wrong in her eyes. My Dad was not a very vocal or confrontational man and my Mom ran the house with an iron fist. My Dad got the same treatment I did from her. My Mom was physically abusive to my Dad. My Dad, being the gentleman that he was, just took it. I was the last of 6 kids. Four girls and 2 boys. Being the last did not come with the typical perks of being the baby. My Mom really treated me like I was a burden to her. I definitely felt not wanted. I felt tolerated.
One of my oldest sisters, who is 17 years older than me, used to tell me all the time that I was a mistake and should have never been born. She would tell me that my parents never wanted me. After a while I started to believe that. I learned early on that I was pretty much on my own in my family. My Dad worked 2 and 3 jobs so he was never home but I never told him the things that were being said to me. I just took it. That’s what I’ve been taught to do. Stepping out of line or talking back would get me whipped pretty much with whatever she could grab first.
When I was 15 I lost one of my close friends to a car accident. This started the downward spiral for me. I remember looking at him in his casket thinking “this can’t be real”. He just turned 16. There’s no way this is possible. But it was possible. Shortly after I started skipping school. I didn’t know how to deal with my grief. I couldn’t face my friends. They were moving on and I didn’t know how to do that. I dropped out of high school with only 6 weeks left of my junior year. The day I went to check out I’m told by a friend that another one of my friends had just died. He committed suicide with a shotgun blast to the head. That was the first time suicide had ever entered my mind. I thought that could be the end to all of my sadness. I felt alone and unwanted by my family. Suicide -the thought really caught my interest.
I left the school and went to my room and foiled up all of my windows and went to sleep. I slept for what felt like weeks. My brother came to me and cried about what was happening to me. I was giving up on life at 17 years old. It really hurt me to see him crying over me of all things. I promised I would go to the community college and make up what I missed so I could start my senior year with my class and I did. I graduated, got married, got pregnant, and had my son just as I turned 20.
I knew nothing about being a wife much less a mother. I was so depressed when my son was born. For the first 6 months I wouldn’t have anything to do with him. For the next 11 years I would be divorced and remarried to a drug addict that would beat me like I was another man. He didn’t hold back. Punches, kicks, slapping, choked unconscious, cheated on, the whole 9 yards. While I was with him I actually tried to commit suicide and damn near succeeded. He told me I should just kill myself and I was like, “you know what, you’re right”. I went into my bathroom and took out 2 bottles of pills, Xanax and Ambien. I chewed up 27 Xanax and 17 Ambien. Of course he freaked and drove over to my parents house to tell them and then he disappeared. Before I know it, my Mom is standing over me pissed off at me. I told her if she didn’t want to watch me die then she better call 911. She said no because she said she was embarrassed and didn’t how she would explain to people what I had done to myself. She called my sister and she got me to the hospital just in time. They pumped my stomach and I woke up the next day with the worst headache I have ever had. I cried because I didn’t want to wake up and I did. My Mom was in the room when I woke up and I was quite pissed off about that because she was willing to let me die. Now she was upset? You were willing to let me die yesterday because you were embarrassed by me. I would carry that resentment for many, many years.
When I finally left that situation, I struggled with addiction for a little while. I realized I needed to change my life. My best friend lived close to Austin and said she wanted me to pack me and my son up and come live with her and I did just that. Now I’m in this situation where my son and I don’t really know each other. We were definitely strangers. After about 2 months I was getting real homesick. I was about to tell my friend I wanted to go back home but something very very weird happened. The name Phillip Blackmon popped into my head. I was telling her about how nice he was in school and that I remembered that he was very shy. He was the football star at our high school. Even then, Phillip was a very large muscular guy. It had been 13 years since we graduated from high school and he just popped into my head out of nowhere. I swear by God Almighty, the very next day I had a friend request from him on Facebook. I freaked. What did this mean? The Lord would reveal it all to me in his time.
I accepted and he immediately messaged me saying that he was living only 45 minutes away from me and asked if he could come see me the following day. I told him of course. It had been 13 years and I didn’t know what to expect. I had no idea what he had been doing since high school and he had no idea what I had been doing. He shows up the next day and I can’t believe what I see. He is HUGE! I mean muscle on top of muscle on top of more muscle. We go for drinks and he wants to know about me first so I lay it all out there. I’m thinking to myself if he doesn’t get up and leave then we might really become friends. He just sat and listened. Then I asked him what he had been up to the last 13 years. He said he’d been in the Army and that he was an EOD Tech. I had no idea what that meant. He said it was the bomb squad. He diffused bombs. I couldn’t believe he would do that on purpose. He explained that he had been deployed to Iraq twice and was injured both times and the Army was getting ready to medically retire him. He told me that due to Traumatic Brain Injury the Army had no more use for him. He was divorced twice, which made me feel not so bad about myself. After that, Phillip started to come see me a few times a week and then he was coming to see me everyday. Finally, I went to his house and this is where he dropped the boom on me.
Everything that he had been holding inside from his experience in Iraq just came pouring out of him. All I could do was sit there and listen. I thought to myself he must really need to get all of this off of him so I keep listening. I cry with him. I hold him. He shared pictures with me that I’ll never ever be able to forget. The thing that got me the most was when he told me about his suicide attempt while in Iraq. His wife at the time called him to tell him that she was pregnant and that it wasn’t his. When he hangs up he gets a call to respond to an IED. While trying to disarm it, a soldier dies from sniper fire trying to protect him. Phillip owned that. He wound up getting pretty drunk that night. He took out his 9mm and dropped the clip. He then placed just one round in the chamber, stuck the pistol in his mouth and pulled the trigger. It didn’t fire. He went outside and pulled the trigger again and the round fired. Phillip was not supposed to die that night and not in that horrible place. I told him that God spared him for a reason just as he had done for me. I think the reason was because even though we didn’t know it, we were on our way to finding each other. I was going to need him and he was going to need me.
Phillip had survivors guilt really bad. Many good men died protecting him and it was just too much to carry on his own. All of the sudden, everything that was bothering me seemed so small. I put all of my focus onto him. I was determined to change his thinking. This was no easy task but I was not going to let him live the rest of his life feeling this way. Phillip is a good man. War is ugly. War is nasty. It does things to a person. He really felt like his life was not worth saving. He had his mind made up that it was just the way it was. He felt like he didn’t deserve to be alive. Everyday I would tell him that I loved him and that one day it won’t hurt this bad. I would remind him that he saved me from myself. He had worth. He’s special. After a good long while he started to believe me. PTSD is a horrible demon to have on your back and it certainly did a number on his mind and soul. Once he realized that his mission wasn’t over he really got back on track.
He was retired from the Army December 27, 2010. By January 7 he is at Fort Bliss in El Paso. He is back in his element. Only this time he is a civilian teaching Airmen. He was the C-IED instructor there until July 2015. While he was there he felt important again. He felt needed. He had made huge improvements and then the unthinkable happened. October of 2014 my Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer. Phillip and I decided it would be best for me to go home and take care of him. That was my Dad’s wish anyway. He chose me to be the one. I went in blind and I didn’t know anything about caring for someone with cancer but I was determined that I was going to do it. I promised my Dad that I would be with him till the end. He only lasted 7 months. During that time I kept my emotions inside. I never let my Dad see me cry or upset. Honestly, I didn’t have time to do either because he needed me every single minute of the day. Radiation; Chemo; Hospital stays; Doctors visits -I was exhausted but I never let him see it. He cried a lot which was hard for me because until this happened, I had never seen my Dad cry. To me he was my Superman and it tore my heart out to watch the cancer eat away at him. It spread to his spinal cord, his skull, all of his bones, and then his brain.
The last few days of my Dad’s life we talked a lot. He talked a lot about his days in the Army. Those were the happiest times of his life. Finally, on May 2, 2015 he died. I felt relief for him but I was still heart broken. After the funeral, I went back to El Paso and I slept for 3 days straight. All of my exhaustion hit me at once. Phillip went back to work and my son went back to school and I was all alone. I couldn’t get everything I’d seen and everything I had to do out of my head. I had to silence the noise. I started to cope by using alcohol. I would start drinking as soon as Phillip and my son left in the mornings so that I could get drunk, vomit, pass out, and be up by the time they got home. It didn’t take long for Phillip to catch on to what I was doing. I would drink anything that was in the house. Beer, wine, hard liquor, moonshine, whatever. Nothing was off limits to me. Then this anger started coming out in me. My brothers and sisters dumped their guilt on me and I took it like I was taught to do. Instead of projecting my anger at them, I was giving it to Phillip with both barrels. Then eventually I gave it all to my siblings. I haven’t spoken to any of them with the exception of one sister since my Dad died. To top it all off, my Mom was struggling with Alzheimer’.
I drank everyday until April of 2019. Phillip finally gave me the ultimatum that I truly needed. Get help or I’m leaving you. I didn’t want to lose my best friend so I swallowed my pride and called a psychiatrist and a talk therapist. After trying several antidepressants I was told I was medication resistant. Who knew that was a thing? He said I would be a good candidate for Electro Convulsive Therapy, shock treatment. At first I rejected the idea. He talked me into just talking to the doctor who would be doing it and I agreed. I made the appointment. I get to this facility and I realize this is a mental hospital. All the doors are locked. All of the patients are locked in their rooms. I felt so sick. Finally, I make it to the office to meet the doctor. He explained to me how the procedure is done. Phillip and I talked for a moment and I reluctantly agreed. I had to commit to a 4 week program. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I show up to the hospital at 5 am. I get an I.V. and then they carry me to the back. The first time I was utterly terrified. I had to listen to 3 people receive treatment before they got to me. I wasn’t sure I could handle it but I said I would and dammit I’m going to do it. They put the blood pressure cuff on my ankle and aired it up as much as they could to keep the medication from going into my my foot. They give me a paralyzing medication and then Propofol to put me to sleep. Then they give me about 4 seconds of electricity through my brain and my seizure starts. They can only see it on the monitor and in my foot which starts to twitch. The seizure lasts between 30 seconds to a minute. I wake up about 20 minutes later and I felt like someone took a sledgehammer to my head. I’m confused about where I am. I can’t remember anything leading up to when they put me to sleep. The doctor explained that this would happen and it will probably happen after every treatment. I have a headache for a few days. The longest headache lasted 3 weeks. I accepted that the side effects are part of the deal. I had to or else I would never make 4 weeks of this. When it’s all said and done, my hands, wrists, and arms are so bruised up that I can only imagine what people must have thought about me when they saw them. After 30 days, I decided I wanted to continue with the maintenance program which is one treatment every 4 weeks.
To date, I have done 19 treatments. I’ll have my 20th in 2 weeks. I feel like a whole new person! I’m on the right antidepressant and bonus, I no longer have the urge to drink. I have been sober for 9 months now. Phillip has been by my side the whole time. There were so many times he would have been justified in leaving me but he didn’t. He stuck it out with me. In the end I’ve realized that Phillip and I found each other because the Lord knew that we were going to need each other to get through these times. Depression can be overcome, PTSD can be overcome, and the failed suicide attempts on both our parts were failures at the time but gifts in the end. We pulled each other up when the other couldn’t stand on their own. We have loved each other when it would have been easier to hate each other. Our journey is still being written. The destination is yet to be seen but we will make it and we will make it together. We will continue to support one another. We will never give up on ourselves or each other. Hope is always there to be had. Take care of yourselves friends. Thank you for taking the time to read our story.