Contributed photo – Ruben and the Undoubted Training crew.
By Diana Giraldo, Reporter
Living with post traumatic stress disorder is living between three masks for Ruben Rodriguez — one as a dad, another as a marine and one of who he really is.
“That’s what people expect you to be — normal,” Rodriguez said. “So how do you keep being normal and blend in with society without exposing yourself? You try so hard to be what others expect you to be so you aren’t labeled as that crazy person because a lot of times part of PTSD is that you get crazy thoughts all day.”
It wasn’t until PTSD cost Rodriguez his career in the marine corps, his marriage and, for a while, his relationship with his daughter that he realized he had issues and needed to get help.
“If I was able to not be so hard headed, be more open and if I would have gotten help sooner I think I could have prevented all that and probably been a better person,” Rodriguez said. “The longer you fight it the longer it will take for you to get better.”
Rodriguez came back to the states from his first deployment to Iraq in 2008. During that stage of his life Rodriguez was engaged and living by himself, which gave him plenty of time to destress and readjust to his life as a civilian.
Coming back in 2010 from his second deployment, this time in Afghanistan, he didn’t have such luxury. His ex-wife was due with his first born two weeks after he came back to the states, which gave him very little time to readapt.
“I guess I didn’t have the time to decompress and have my alone time and fall back into place and get used to being back in the states,” Rodriguez said. “My Afghanistan deployment was much more eventful. There was definitely a lot more that happened. I ended up losing two guys, a lot of them got wounded. We were in a really bad area.”
Looking for a way to destress, settle himself and keep his mind off of the events he had just experienced, Rodriguez took up drinking like many of his other buddies from the marines.
“I started developing a problem, but I didn’t notice it. Other people around me did,” Rodriguez said. I started becoming really short tempered and started experiencing a lot of symptoms that in my eyes didn’t think they were PTSD related. I just thought I was really stressed out and I would do some self medication with alcohol.”
He began by drinking a six pack and a few Jack and Cokes, which progressively become less beer and much more liquor.
“I loved the feeling of being numb and that calmness that I would get when I was drunk,” Rodriguez said. “From the treatment I received, what they told me was I was trying to replace the adrenaline rush I was missing in my life from my time overseas.”
But it wasn’t until he got in trouble for an alcohol-related incident in the marine corps which derailed his career that he was forced to go into rehab.
“I had never gotten in trouble in the marine corps. I was always the fast track marine and it forced me to open my eyes,” Rodriguez said. “It was like a blessing in disguise because it showed me that I wasn’t invisible and showed me that I actually did have a problem”
Rodriguez began to attend an outpatient facility. The 6 week program required him to check in each day — 6 weeks turned into 6 months for Rodriguez because he said he didn’t buy into it.
“I was just doing it as a check in the box, like this was something I just had to do,” Rodriguez said. “‘I don’t have a problem and as soon as I am done here I will go have a beer,’” he would think.
He was transferred to another facility where he was for about four months and he said this is when he received the most help. They taught him different tools on how to handle PTSD, which helped Rodriguez become more conscious of his symptoms and helped deal with them a little better.
In the first couple of months it wasn’t easy for Rodriguez to come to terms with knowing he had PTSD.
“It’s a never ending war in my head,” Rodriguez explained. “I just thought it wasn’t me. Every marine feels like their situation wasn’t as bad as the next guy, so why would I have it.”
Rodriguez questioned his diagnosis because he would think back to the friends he had that were amputees, who lost limbs while he was fully able, but yet the others didn’t have PTSD.
“PTSD, in general, is a very sensitive subject for a lot of people,” Rodriguez said. “Many people won’t admit to it and especially not marines. To marines and the military in general, PTSD is something that is frowned upon while you are in and that’s why people don’t like to get treatment for it or admit to it.”
Being diagnosed with PTSD has hindered Rodriguez from completing his childhood objective of becoming a CHP officer because he had to walk away from everything law enforcement and military related for him to get better.
“Part of my diagnosis they told me I could never deploy or never be a machine gun or infantry man any more because all it’s going to do is hurt and make my symptoms worse and will make it harder for me to be treated,” Rodriguez said.
In his battle, Rodriguez began looking for a productive activity to invest his time in and replaced his drinking habit with a healthier one. He turned to physical exercise, which matured into a vocation of personal training and coaching others in fitness.
“By me working out, it gives me an objective, it gives me a purpose of why I wake up everyday, it gives me a reason,” Rodriguez said. “I look forward to working out every day and it gives me my task and that is me replacing what I used to have overseas of having a mission.”
Although Rodriguez is still fighting the symptoms of PTSD on a daily basis, his fiancé, daughter and buddies who he trains and competes with are all part of his onward battle.
“I know I have to deal with it now,” Rodriguez said. “There is no sense of fighting it. I can move past it and better my life. If I don’t move past it I have to come to terms with it.”