Miracle Mondays: Dennis B.

The Social Weed works to bring the community together and bring along positive advocacy through education and shared experiences. We would like to use this Monday to honor a medical patient and veteran as he shares his story. This feature is brought to you by a community member and friend of The Social Weed, Dennis Bridges. Follow his miracle cannabis story below.

Dennis Bridges personal statements:

I know there are many many Soldiers out there that have much worse situations than my own.  I only write this to maybe help another veteran or any person in need really. Maybe cannabis can help you the way it did me.  There really is a light at the end of that dark tunnel if you’re brave enough to hold on a while longer. Find what works for you. Find your light.

My name is Dennis Bridges but, my friends and family address me by my middle name; Mike. I am 33 years old.  I have two children; 3 and 7. I was born and grew up in northern California. I joined the Army in June of 2004 and was honorably discharged in April of 2012. The date and the reason for this letter is June 28, 2008: the date my HMMWV was struck by a command detonated double-stacked anti-tank mine.

As I sit in the center of this explosion, I had no idea what is happening to my world around me. I did realize that the center of a bomb blast isn’t as loud as one might imagine. The next thought I had was why can’t I breathe and why does everything hurt. Those 2 seconds my vehicle was blown into the air were the longest and most confusing 2 seconds I have ever experienced. Directly after the blast, as soon as my senses came flooding back in a hazy painful rush,  the truck commander and I stumbled out of my destroyed HMMWV that lay in pieces on the ground and begin to assess our situation. When the smoke cleared from my vehicle, I could see the doors had been blown open. I’m sure you’re thinking that’s not unusual in a blast but, considering the size of these fully armored HMMWV doors[sic}. The glass alone was about 3 inches thick.

I was later told that the recovery team found one of my vehicle’s wheels 400 meters up the hill in the next village. My very own weapon (M-4 Carbine Riffle) broke over my face leaving a tooth embedded in the opposite side of my jaw and my lower lip/jaw split open. Later, a good amount of inner mouth tissue had to be removed because there was no chance of it healing. Some minor reconstruction on my mouth was necessary. I suffered other minor injuries but, the real injuries developed a little later. That being PTSD with anxiety disorder and panic attacks.

Don’t feel bad for me though; I was the lucky one in the vehicle. My gunner was ejected from the vehicle and his own M-2 .50 cal machine-gun (weighing in at 108 pounds) landed on his face. When I found him, his face was unrecognizable. He was literally drowning in his own blood, despite my best efforts to help. I heard gunshots so I drug my gunner, SPC Turner,  to the very hole that was recently made by the explosion. Think about that for a second. The very crater created to kill us and now I’m using it for protection. The medic arrived to relieve me and I began assisting my driver, SPC Poepple. He had broken both his right arm and right leg, not to mention the various holes in his legs created by shrapnel. Holes big enough to fit a fellow Soldier’s fingers in as he tried to administer aid. I helped him out of the vehicle and onto the ground so as to use the demolished vehicle for protection.

Reinforcements and medical helicopters finally arrived and flew the three of us to the nearest hospital. I sat in the helicopter with my two soldiers laying at my feet, strapped to their gurneys. These two men that I’m responsible for. Two men that had become my friends over the years of training and living together.  As SPC Turner struggles to breathe, SPC Poepple reaches over with his unbroken hand and held his hand, letting him know we were still there with him. A small gesture but, one that will last in my memory forever. Upon arrival to the hospital, we were quickly assessed. My two soldiers were again relocated to a better-equipped hospital in Germany. Me having no idea if they were ok;  alive or dead. For two weeks I sat at this small American base in this large foreign desert eating nothing but mashed potatoes and drinking frappuccinos due to the stitches in my face; waiting for my body to heal enough to go back to work. And though my injuries were minor, the mental effect it had on me changed me down to the core of who I was.

I went back to combat having no idea I had the option of going home after the blast. (Don’t ask, don’t tell applies to other areas of the military apparently) The remaining nine months of my tour in Afghanistan were -to say the least- a little more difficult after that. Having never experienced anxiety attacks and panic attacks, I simply had no idea what was going on inside me so I did my best to “Soldier on”. My unit finally made it home in March of 2009. I went on with my career in the Army for an additional 4 years. I moved to a different unit in California and my anxiety and panic attacks continued. Most days I could get through the day but, the anxiety started to become more and more a part of my everyday life.

Why the delay in symptoms you might ask? Well, I had been drinking quite a bit since my return from Afghanistan which I later learned was also called “self-medicating”. The alcohol was basically holding off the effects of PTSD symptoms for a while. As time went on, the effects of the alcohol had less and less of an impact on the symptoms. Anxiety was starting to get in the way of my work and my home life. I began reporting these symptoms to the medics. For some unknown and crazy reason, they started me out on a powerful sedative as an everyday mood stabilizer. Obviously, it was too strong; I spent the next couple years driving to all kinds of specialists; trying all kinds of different medications and therapy trying to find out what was wrong with me. Basically, it boiled down to PTSD with anxiety attacks. I’ve had to assist some of my soldiers through the medical discharge process and that was a process I didn’t want to go through as the overachiever I was. I finished my contract and was honorably discharged.

After leaving the Army one might think the lack of pressure might help relieve some of those symptoms. Well… I think the opposite occurs. The lack of pressure weighing in on our thoughts leaves plenty of time for one’s mind to reflect and relive whether one wants to or not. Anyone with PTSD might agree that silence can be deafening. The quieter our surroundings, the louder our thoughts become. I tried to find some easy part-time work but, as I’m sure you can guess, that didn’t last long before the anticipation of having to be at a certain place at a certain time was too much for me to handle. Then that day came where I ran out of medication and I coincidently quit drinking simultaneously. The withdrawal from both substances landed me in the mental hospital for 5 days. Upon arrival, I learned that the withdrawal from both of those substances, individually, could have killed me and I happened to stop both. Needless to say, a different medication was again tried for quite a while longer before I found something that could get me through an average day. Still, anxiety was very much a part of my everyday life.

Almost every thought I had was geared toward doing everything possible to avoid another attack. I stopped going out nearly altogether. I couldn’t be around too many people and the heat really set off my anxiety. Traveling to visit family with my little growing family was out of the question. Even the cries from my infant daughter would land me in bed for days at a time. Leaving my girlfriend, at the time, to deal with everything on her own. I take no credit away from her for dealing with it all as well as she did. I must look like some tough soldier all curled up in bed with the covers over my head, praying it will stop. I saw no light at the end of the tunnel. I thought I’d be stuck that way forever. I thought it would be easier to not live with these symptoms. “Not living” being the key words in that last sentence. I think the only reason I’m here now is simply because I couldn’t put that kind of pain on my children.  All this and much much much more continued to cripple me. My wife and I ended up divorcing and she took the kids. Soon after, I reconnected with a long time friend who gave me the courage to try cannabis again which leads me to the point of this letter.

Shortly after smoking cannabis on a daily basis, I began doing things I haven’t done in years. I was playing with the kids outside in the heat. I was walking around the swap meet with the family. I began making short trips to see that aforementioned friend on my own, which was impossible only a month sooner. I moved to Las Vegas and actually held a nice job for a while. I got my two kids back from my ex-wife and I raise them nearly on my own now. Cannabis has even helped some of my medical issues. I’ve lost 25 lbs and my pre-hypertension is completely reversed. I spend most of my time outside with my kids, playing and exploring and teaching them all the things I hoped I would.

For the first time in a really long time, I feel close to normal again. A feeling I never thought I’d feel again so long as I lived. I can picture myself as an old man with grandchildren -which wasn’t a possibility before. I have hopes for me and my family’s future again. 10 years of my life has been spent with my head buried beneath my covers, so to speak. 10 years I will never get back. However, 10 years have passed since I was struck by that bomb and here I sit. I never thought I’d be sitting here writing about that event and how it changed my life and how cannabis helped give me my life back.  With the support of my lifelong friend (Kristie Lair) and family and the medical advantages of cannabis, I’ve gotten my life back. I’m not completely healed but, now I have the courage to deal with an attack should one occur. I feel like I finally have control over my life again.

There’s hope again. An absolutely priceless feeling to achieve.