Employee Spotlight: Michael's Story
Michael Holton is a Navy Veteran and a Certified Peer Support Specialist for the SERV (Suicide Engagement & Referral for Veterans) program at Volunteers of America Michigan. Each day he uses his experiences, trauma, and personal crisis to help fellow veterans in the midst of a mental health crisis in his role at VOAMI.
Michael served in the Navy Gang Task Force traveling the world on missions to Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Australia. His unit existed to rescue service members captured and held hostage by gangs, and to ensure the safety of their peers by scouting out locations before the troops arrived. These missions led to significant trauma for Michael, as he had to follow orders and do what it took to complete the rescue missions. As he reflects on these missions, he remembers, “We did a lot of things we weren’t proud of, but it was what we were supposed to do.”
Michael finished nine missions before he was shot in the shoulder in the Philippines. This injury resulted in reconstructive surgery; it was an injury that would end his role with the Gang Task Force. Michael was disappointed to learn he would not return to his buddies and best friends, but he was able to remain in the Navy in another role new role, Michael would go on to teach firefighting and hand-to-hand combat as well as provide security for an Admiral. He never grew close to his peers at the base, and he missed his buddies and best friends from the Gang Task Force.
After serving his country, Michael developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from the trauma endured during his time of service. The orders he followed haunted him. He recalls, “I had PTSD and didn’t know it. I knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t talk to anyone.” Michael went 10-15 years not speaking with anyone about his trauma from his service. He lost contact with his family and made himself disappear. Michael then lost himself to alcohol and narcotics. He explains, “When I got out of the military, I actually shut down; I didn’t talk to anyone. I was drinking a fifth of Jack and taking prescription Vicodin…I was popping those things like they were candy.” He soon developed a strong addiction to pain pills and alcohol. Michael goes on to say, “I was trying my best to be a good dad, but inside of me was a battle going on that I didn’t even realize because I didn’t know anything about mental health.”
The world was crashing down around Michael after he lost his job for getting into a fight at work. As a result, his girlfriend broke up with him and his brother and sister-in-law moved out of his house to distance themselves. Soon after, his electricity was shut off and he almost lost his house. Everything was piling up.
Michael tried to commit suicide a couple times but always stopped because his kids or family were around. One day, Michael made his mind up. He recalls, “So, I decided I was going to end my life. I sent my kids away…all three of them were gone.” After drinking heavily, Michael grabbed his full bottle of Vicodin and dumped them all in his hand and planned to swallow them all. But he stopped. “Only God’s Grace is what saved me. My oldest daughter walked in with my youngest daughter because she had felt something was wrong.” He continues, “They walked into the kitchen as I was about to put them (the pills) into my mouth, and I couldn’t do it. I fell to my knees and started crying.”
The following day Michael’s daughter took him to her church. He says, “I’ve never been a church goer, then she took me. They laid hands on me and prayed for me. For the first time in my life, I felt this weight start to leave.” He was overwhelmed by the hope and impact of the congregation’s prayers. Days later, he received great news that he had received a job at a local hospital. “It was like God just shined on me all of a sudden. He turned my life around and I started going to church.”
Michael found community and hope at church, and they soon helped him identify that he was struggling with PTSD and encouraged him to seek help for his mental health through the VA. “Most my life I never cried…I stuffed everything down and kept moving,” Michael says. His counselors encouraged him to talk about his feelings and what he had been through. They told him, “The more you say it, the less it will hurt.” Michael explains, “It has helped me; I know I am not the only one.”
Michael enrolled in VOAMI’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families program, and it was there he learned about the SERV program. He now draws from his past experiences in his role as a Certified Peer Support Specialist for Volunteers of America Michigan. He says, “This job was presented to me, and I jumped on it.” He credits his role at VOAMI with his continued recovery. He describes his role as fulfilling, “We get to try and help them (veterans) through their rough spot. To me, that is worth more than any paycheck.”
Michael thinks it is important he can relate to his clients, “You have to be able to connect. If you cannot connect to a military person, you will not get anywhere…We get to show people what it (life) could be like...There are a lot of people out there who may think their issues are so big - understandably so - but you explain to them that it is just temporary. I always ask, what is that going to mean to you in a week? Is it going to tear you apart or are you going to try to figure it out and move forward?” He says he tries to change their mindset and often shares his story and testimony saying, “God challenged me, but he was always there. There are times when I still get down. Just when I think I should throw in the towel, that is when He appears.”
Michael wants his fellow Veterans to know, “You are not alone. You have never been alone. There are people like me who have been through it. A little bit of hope can go a long way and God is always there. He forgives for everything.”
If you are struggling or know a veteran that is struggling the Veterans Crisis Line is available to help. Dial 988 then Press 1. For non-emergency assistance contact Volunteers of America Michigan by calling 877-509-VETS