“Trauma is not a moment. It is life from that moment on.” As part of our #GetTheWordOut campaign, we are using a three-part series to share the story of our Vice President, Trev, his battle with PTSD, his road to recovery, and how he works to reduce the stigma associated with medical cannabis and mental health. You can read the first part of this series, “Trev’s early life, military career, & the onset of his PTSD”, here.
Life unfolds before us in ways we could never, and sometimes would never want to, imagine. A traumatic moment, whether one is prepared for it or not, is an assault. The freezing of time. The disorientation of experiencing the incomprehensible. The simultaneous feeling of both a cold numbness and a hot adrenalin. Yet somehow, you continue to exist. Somehow your legs allow you to walk away and you’re drinking coffee, you’re tucking a child into bed. Making a grocery list. But the trauma has invaded. Like a genetic mutation it has seeped into the very cells of your being. You are forever altered and will never be the same person you were before. The trauma has become you and you it.
Trauma is not a moment. It is life from that moment on.
Trev Bungay grew up in in La Scie, Newfoundland – a community of barely over 1000 people. It was a safe and fun early life, full of hockey games, family and school. Hockey eventually steered Trev to the Junior Hockey League and college in Western Newfoundland. Yet his childhood interest in the military followed him into his adulthood and he “signed up” in 1997 when he was only 19 years old.
Trev joined the infantry. Realizing a life behind a desk was not for him, he experienced a military career spent at “the sharp end,” beginning with his first operational assignment, the Swiss Air disaster. Trev was only 20 when the plane went down off the coast of Nova Scotia with all souls lost. It was 1998 and, at an age when many teens are starting college or buying their first car, Trev was bused to the rocky shore with his fellow soldiers to pick up body parts and objects, including children’s shoes and toys. Afterwards, Trev experienced, for the first and last time in his 18-year military career, a moderated “debriefing” during which the infanteers were brought together to discuss their feelings and reactions regarding the operation. It did little to dispel the trauma experienced by the soldiers, but, as Trev asserts, “at least it was something.”
By the next year Trev was in Bosnia. Tours in Africa and Haiti followed. Place names only heard by most people on the news became make-shift homes to Trev and his fellow soldiers. War-torn areas grew as familiar to Trev as any other place in which he had lived. Only these were war zones, where the soldiers were inundated by the sights, sounds and smells only those who’ve experienced it could know. Yet, Trev thrived. His natural leadership abilities, good humour and skills in the field led to a command position. He became accustomed to living in a place where if people think there’s something not quite right about how you look, walk, talk or act – you can get killed. No questions asked. All of this, Trev soon learned, was a mere lesson in becoming a soldier. He and his fellow soldiers had witnessed great destruction and inhumanity, but it was nothing compared to what he was about to experience.
In 2007 Trev did his second tour in Afghanistan. The mission was one of full combat. Days began with firefights after breakfast and then they would break for lunch before returning to the fray. Being dropped off somewhere in the desert in the middle of the night, with 100 lbs of gear on his back, with people actively trying to kill him was just another day. And it was day after day. Kabul, Panjawai, Kandahar. And then back to Kabul. Four tours in seven years. Living a life of “kill or be killed” was normal – for a soldier. What started to become clear; however, was that there is nothing natural about it at all – and Trev’s life began to unravel.
During his time in and between tours in Afghanistan something changed for Trev. The battle-hardened, resilient, duty-driven soldier began to experience symptoms he couldn’t identify or understand. He was anxious and fidgety. Angry and drinking too much. The outgoing, social Newfoundlander began to lock himself away from his friends and family. He had nightmares, flashbacks and physical pain. Trev believed he was losing his mind. Thus began the cycle of anguish PTSD sufferers know so well — the silence that comes with the fear of telling anyone, which in turn intensifies the anxiety and depression. He wondered, privately, if he was the only guy coming home from these places feeling crazy.
The happy-go-lucky guy who loved playing hockey and spending time with friends and family was gone. He was in peak physical form, an athlete, an infantry soldier who could run kilometers with a pack on his back. The idea that something was wrong with him mentally threw him for a loop. He tried to fix it like he would a physical injury or disease – with drugs and a persistence to power through.
It was 2007. Nobody was talking about mental health back then. As a soldier, you suck it up and carry on. Trev remembers a few guys who talked about it early, but they went away and never came back. That was not an option. He was 30 years old in the prime of his career. He bottled up his pain, anxiety and anger and returned for yet another tour. All he knew was the military. He was a trained soldier. When he was asked to do his duty, he did it. And he was good at it.
In 2010, after his third tour in Afghanistan, Trev lost his wife and family because of the changes in his behavior and he grew dependent on drugs. Once he started taking OxyContin for his pain, there was no going back to what he knew. The proud infanteer found himself paying a guy $1000 to pee in a cup for him so he could pass for the next tour to Afghanistan. Then, he did it again before his next tour. By late 2012 things really fell off the rails. And not just for Trev.
In between 2012 and 2014 he lost 15 friends to suicide. Trev stopped sleeping. One night he found himself sitting at a table with a 40-ouncer and a shotgun, planning to get drunk enough to pull the trigger. He passed out before he did. The next day he checked himself into the hospital but left. He got in his car and drove as fast as he could on the highway intending to swerve into a transport truck or a light pole.
An image flashed into his mind of his deceased friend’s son crying on his casket at his funeral. Trev had a son of his own. He took a breath. The next morning, he went back to the hospital. He was given a huge paper bag full of pills. He was told to “go home and take some time off, someone will call you. He was taking 20 pills a day. A month later he swallowed an entire bottle of those pills and was rushed to the hospital. Again, he was sent home to wait for help. He took more pills and drank himself to sleep. One morning, his son told him he was scared because through the night he had to pee and “couldn’t wake daddy up.”
That’s when Trev knew he had to figure this out. Between his two suicide attempts, the suicides of so many of his friends, seeing his friend’s son crying on his casket…and then his own son telling him he couldn’t wake him up, he knew it was enough. If he stayed in the military he was going to kill himself. That was certain. So, he left his career – the only life he had known.
Learn how you can share your own story as part of our #GetTheWordOut initiative here.