Navy Corpsman Gets New Start At Warriors Heart
By: Zackary Root
It had been over 10 years since Will Black, a Navy Corpsman, returned from Iraq. The last decade had been filled with anxiety, alcohol abuse, depression, and isolation. Black suffered from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and was abusing alcohol to help cope with the symptoms. He spent most of his time in his garage where he painted the windows black; avoiding family, friends and even his children. His life spiraled out of control and despite being able to put together stints of sobriety, Black needed help.
“I had to pretty much let everything get into its worse state before I thought about the possibility of getting help. I had quit drinking before, but I couldn’t seem to get out this time,” he said.
In August of 2016, he came to Warriors Heart, a private treatment facility for first responders, veterans, military, and law enforcement officers specializing in treating PTSD and Mild Traumatic Brain Injury with a co-occurring chemical dependency. It is here where he continues to work on his sobriety and gives back to Warriors in need through his experiences in the program.
Black joined the Army in 2003 mostly in response to the terrorist attacks that happened on Sept. 11, 2001. In 2005, he deployed to Iraq where he served as a Navy Corpsman, providing medical treatment to soldiers, civilians, and children.
“It was the best and worst times of my life. You join the service to do a job and the greatest days are when you can do it. Unfortunately, on the Corpsman side, it involves bodily injury or harm to your guys, civilians, or even kids. You almost hoped you didn’t have to do your job as time went on,” he said.
In 2006, he returned from Iraq. Almost immediately he began having symptoms of PTSD.
Despite not recognizing a difference in himself, his family started noticing changes in his personality.
“I didn’t notice. I felt like everything was normal. It just didn’t feel strange to me. But my sister and mom had some concerns,” he said.
Black began drinking alcohol, something he had not done the first 26 years of his life. He was drinking daily and his life began spiraling out of control. Despite having stints of sobriety, in 2016 he found himself in a fight he couldn’t win on his own. He decided he needed help and began reaching out to treatment centers by telephone, which proved more difficult than he expected.
“Calling around, it was unbelievably hard to get help. A lot of places just wanted to detox me, or they wouldn’t take me because I had PTSD. I don’t know how many places I called but I think it was at least 60 plus places before finding Warriors Heart,” he said.
In August 2016, Black made the decision to come to Warriors Heart where he began treatment for PTSD and substance abuse. Progress was slow at first. Many of his problems intertwined and he didn’t know which ones stemmed from PTSD and which ones stemmed from using alcohol.
“The PTSD and alcohol abuse was like a jumbled-up ball of yarn. I had to unravel the strings of alcoholism and PTSD to the point where I could see two clear problems, then I could work on them,” he said.
Black eventually started to make progress in his treatment guided by his counselors and therapists.
“As I went through the program I did start to see more clearly. At first, I would ask why am I doing this? Then it would kind of begin to fit. I learned that is was more about my behavior than using a substance. That was just an end result. The problem was me and my way of thinking,” he said.
Black eventually graduated the program and was hired. He spent the next year working with service dogs and giving back to clients, all while continuing his sobriety and recovery.
“It’s been almost a year of sobriety and I still learn about myself. I still am doing my trauma work. I am still doing things that I did in the program. I had to change my whole life and I was strangely okay with it,” he said.
Armed with tools to help remain sober and work through his PTSD, he looks forward to the next chapter of his life which will likely involve making up for lost time with his two children and helping Warriors like himself.
“Throughout my experience here, the one consistent thing is the nature of all the first responder jobs and the military jobs are that we take care of others and we are not that good at taking care of ourselves. It is not about weakness or anything else,” he said. “Most of these guys would rather go back into those firefights, burning houses or chasing bad guys rather than come through these gates. Coming to Warriors Heart was a hard decision to make, but it was a great one.”