It has taken nigh on 50 years, but I am finally sitting here documenting my National Service experience. It’s not going to easy but hopefully it will be therapeutic to some extent, so here goes.
The exact dates are not critical to me, but I was in the 2nd last intake of the National Service scheme, July 1972 and I was discharged early 1973 after the Labour Party won the election in late 1972 and disbanded National Service (nasho). I can honestly say that I have never been so relieved to see the end of this chapter of my life although without realising it I was now in for a long period of depression and anxiety. It is so weird I was so stuffed up, but I never fully put it down to my nasho experience. I had hit the alcohol and marijuana which effectively shut me down to some degree, in retrospect I feel I “erased” out a lot of the stuff that played hell with my psyche.
Prior to going into nasho, I had never fired a gun, a slug-gun yes, but never a weapon capable of killing like the SLR 7.62 we used, and I found the prospect of using such a powerful rifle daunting. I went through the training of learning the safety aspect and the familiarity exercises without too much of a hitch but once I was up on the mound with a loaded rifle which the sergeant gave us demonstration of its power by firing a few rounds at a clump of rock which was promptly reduced to dust. I can say I dumb struck at the guns capability. I was laying on the mound rifle in hand with a NCO standing over me. The order weas given to shoot by the sergeant but I froze, the NCO I was telling me to fire, but I got worse. I recall someone screaming that to picture Cong out there and blast them, well I was losing it. Well, the others on the mound with me had emptied their magazines and I had not fired a shot. The NCO started screaming at me, all sorts of expletives and questioning my sexuality, he then leaned over me and pulled the trigger to empty my magazine, screaming at me all the time. I got to my feet and thrust my rifle toward the NCO telling him what he could do with the rifle. We were as I recall virtually face to face, so the rifle did not have far to travel, and I promptly told that I was on a charge. I was a blubbering heap by this stage and replied that I did not give a rats bottom.
At this point things got blurry, the lieutenant spoke to me, the sergeant addressed in a totally belittling manner but for some reason no charge was laid. Like I said my recall gets a bit fuzzy, but I eventually fired the rifle after further training. I never really opened up to anyone about the incident, but I found myself withdrawing for my remaining days in nasho.
When I got out, I found myself still wandering but very bitter, unable to see why I was getting so bitter. I struggled till I got into my 40’s and I was seeing a psychologist, mainly for anger issues and anxiety/depression. I never mentioned nasho, I suppose that by this time I had really pushed the experience away. I was an angry, withdrawn and felt like shit. I continued to see the psychologist and still do till this day. I find it so hard to fully open up to him. I find it so hard to express myself, I feel that I am being judged in everything I do. I still hear the screams of worthlessness by the NCO’s. I suffered from the “teenage” blues to some degree but continually having my worth belittled just shattered me. I am so grateful that Vietnam had finished for Australian troops as I don’t know how I would have coped if I was sent to Vietnam to fight.
I feel the experience has affected me to this day, my self-worth is shot, confidence is thus shot and it showed in my anger and substance abuse. I am fortunate that in some ways I have improved in the last 10 to 15 years. I have given up all of substance problems and finally found work that makes me feel worthy. What has happened though is that now I have nothing to mask my feelings, drugs etc, and I am left trying to pick up the pieces.
Look I can feel grateful in many ways, I have a lovely wife of 47 years, two lovely children, two gorgeous grand kids and a lovely daughter in law. I own my home, food in the fridge, a few bucks in the bank BUT I cant sleep for the life of me. I lay at night going over and over the coulds, woulds and shoulds. Its now 5am and been awake since 1am. I finally have taken Geoff Parkes advice and sat down to write about my nasho experience. One day I am going to hit the sack and sleep uninterrupted for 8 hours, one day hopefully.
Now, there is one part of my story that I have been scant on the details, my post Nasho days. I used and abused drugs and alcohol in an effort to rid myself of the effects that Nasho had on me both during my service and predominately my post service days. I can barely remember a day when memories of the day on the rifle range did not haunt me and then the subsequent bullying and abuse mainly from the NCOs. I have lost count of the times I drank myself into oblivion or smoked so much dope I didn’t know if I was Arthur or Martha. The number of days I spent in the drunk-tank at the Frankston police station, it became a routine, the police would see me in the streets or in the pub and without any questions march straight off to the drunk-tank, invariably I was a mess, covered in vomit and reeking of alcohol. Then I discovered dope and boy did I run amok drinking and smoking, nobody wanted to associate with me, except for a couple of similar minded “friends”, we would buy a couple of Flagons of port and some hooch and sit on the foreshore and waste ourselves away only to wake in the wee hours and start again. I tried to make sense of it all, but my mind played tricks on me, “here we go again, don’t even think about it”, could not hold down a relationship, not even start one, I just wanted to get wasted.
OK, another time out, this is hurting, all this shit that I had thought that I Had “buried” has come flooding back, I tried having a kip, but my head was reeling with my past. Nobody knows me enough to know what I have “buried”, not my wife, my psychologist, nobody!!!!!!!!
I am sitting in front of this screen not sure of what will happen if I continue, I have not had any substance in over ten years now and I want it to stay that way, that is where this “digging up” the past has its perils, I am scared it could tip me into a dark abyss that I don’t want to have to climb out of AGAIN. My problem is that even a cigarette is enough to say, “well, what’s next, a joint, a cold frothy beer”, one drag on a fag is enough to get me “humming”, it’s crazy, all that I worked so for can be gone tomorrow. It’s definitely a sickness and I am living proof. Ask my wife, my kids, former employers, put a “substance” into me and I become nonsensical, unable to follow a simple routine and I get very angry about it. I am a very loud, angry soul, when I pushed into a corner. I cannot explain myself and only want to hide in a corner and get swallowed up by my ineptitude to follow even a simple instruction. “nobody” seems to understand, and I only feel judged by my “weakness”, feeling like a square peg in a round hole all the time. My low self-esteem has got to the point that I am constantly on tenterhooks, living on antidepressants, getting tested for everything to try and explain my headaches, my sleep deprivation, my mood swings, anxiety etc. I had, what I thought, “buried” much of my Nasho experience only for my psychologist to press my button and it came out in a flood. Now my psychologist is working directly on my Nasho thoughts and feelings. Its hard but its the first time I have been able to open to a medical professional about “me”.
Yeah, the thoughts of suicide have come and gone, mainly cos I love my family and I want them to be able to see the real me, its coming hopefully. I have tried every self-help group over the years, AA helped so much but again I could not open and reveal the inner me and so I moved onto the next “fix”. My latest venture is the realm of meditation, real good but I am still having a struggle but I live in hope.