Voices: The Story of Lee and Belle: A Boy and His Dog Discover Life

The following was written by Lee, a Combat Marine and Purple Heart recipient.

August of 2009 was the day of my retirement from the Marine Corps. After spending the better part of my youth following orders, I was looking forward to doing what I chose without having to ask for approval or permission. I began to celebrate by drinking every day. Anything alcoholic, anything to calm my nerves, hoping to silence the demons in my head. A by- product of my time in the grunts. As odd as it may sound, I never found it productive to engage in the use of illicit drugs. However, I chain smoked, I was in toxic relationships, I had terrible eating habits. I self-sabotaged in every aspect of my life. Like many service members, I come from a broken childhood. Unhealthy relationships are familiar to me.

Time goes by. My drinking increases and with it more thoughts of suicide. I increased my visits to the VA. Group therapy. Individual sessions. I even quit drinking. Anything to try and fix my mind. Nothing worked. I had multiple visits to the state hospital. Numerous psych evaluations. Many suicide attempts, everything from taking pills, to hanging, to butchering my wrists.

Throughout this time I decided to get a dog. As much as I had heard about dogs helping people get through tough times, I decided to get my own. After weeks of searching and looking, the right dog finally found me. Slowly my life came back to purpose. I woke up each day to take the dog out. I exercised the dog. I fed the dog.

As happy as I was to be out of the military, my life still needed that task and purpose. After many attempts to find that, by applying for jobs where I got the good old American token, "Thank you for your service, we'll call you," I finally found my purpose.

That purpose came with responsibility. This dog depended on me for food, for exercise, for adventure, for her health. She required me to get up and do things that I otherwise couldn't make myself do. In retrospect we depended on each other. I slowly began to lose weight. I began to challenge myself. The motivation began by having to do it for the dog, but then it transformed into doing it for myself. I began to run. I got more active. I made it back to the Lee that I once was. When the thoughts became too much, she knew. She would come up to me and she would sit in front of me. She would lift her paw and grab at my hands to get me to pet her. Almost as if she were saying, "There, there, touch my silky soft fur. It will be alright."

Years have gone by; the struggles have come and gone. Belle has become more than just my pet dog. She has become a companion that I don't want to be without. Belle has shown me that I deserve better, I can be better, I will be better. I got back into personal training. Belle was my mascot. She would go with me on runs with clients. We would spend so much time outside. Belle allowed people to see the human side of me. She loved dog parks. I would let her run free, but she would always look back to make sure I was right behind her. I was running and climbing trees. I was finally living the childhood I had not been allowed to have.

A dog park is where I met my beautiful wife. I was climbing a tree when I heard someone say "What a beautiful doggie." As I looked around to see who was saying that, the branch I was on snapped. I fell. At the last minute I managed to grab a branch and look like I was "gracefully swinging down from the sky." Her words. As time goes by we form a relationship, eventually we marry. I finally felt confident in myself and I knew I deserved a good relationship. We actually got married at the dog park under the exact tree I fell from.

Still battling those hidden wounds, I overcome on a daily basis with the help of Angie and Belle. More time passes; we have a beautiful little girl, Honiahaka Lena. Belle takes her into the family. Seeing them play and grow was one of the best things I could have asked for. This dream was short-lived; Honi passes away in her sleep.

This is where my story ends, for now. Having endured many things, many trials and tribulations, nothing could have prepared me for this. I still have Belle. I still have Angie. I try to maintain my health and fitness. Depression is always a breath away. Suicide is a prominent thought. I hope that by writing this I can encourage someone in some way. Sometimes the absolute best support system doesn't understand what you're saying, but they understand how you're feeling. And they may not have arms to wrap around you, but they have soft fur, four legs and a tail.

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