Always a Marine, Always a Survivor: A Veteran’s Recovery Story

Josephe Hickox
Photo by Benjamin Faust. The legs and boots of a veteran, standing next to a pair of boots, a camo backpack, and an American flag.

I am a United States Marine who has suffered from addiction most of my life.  I was active duty and part of the 3-5 out of Camp Lejeune when 9/11 happened. But if you are reading this to hear another war story, then please go ahead and stop.

When I came home from my first deployment, my old brother looked at me and said "I do not know you, where is my brother?" I stayed in active duty for several more years, and with each passing operation my drinking got worse. Eventually I was exposed to pain medicine due to injury. As a good Marine, I took my meds, drank my booze, and kept pushing on. I finally got injured badly enough to be medically retired, and was given a whole slew of meds. At this point I had decided I would go back to college—even though I was unable to sleep, drank all day, and was on sixteen different prescribed narcotics. I suffered in silence for many years.

In the end my wife had left me, my family wanted nothing to do with me, and the VA not only had to manage my pension and pay my bills, but also had to send a case worker by almost every day to check on me. I had completely stopped taking care of myself and would rarely even go outside. 

Life finally caught up to me on December 26, 2016, when I ended up at Grady Hospital in a coma as a John Doe for almost 10 days. Ironically, this is when my life actually began.

After waking up from my coma, I spent most of my first 30 days learning how to walk again for the third time in my life. The VA could not get me into any treatment facility, and I knew if I went home that I would have just ended up right back where I was. Since I was willing to lose everything just to stay sober, my older brother said I could stay with him until I could go to treatment. (A little back story: I have over 40 white chips, and during my last 4 years of active addiction I was hospitalized 5 times.) This time, because I was forced to stay still due to my injuries, I had my brother drop me off at Triangle Club where I did over 400 AA meetings in my first 90 days. I got a sponsor, and did all the steps in 45 days.

While in recovery I have went from sleeping under a bridge to having an amazing career. As a disabled vet, I have had to overcome many stigmas, but the most important one was the internal thought that since I was out of the Marines, I had no value. I had been told that I would never walk unassisted again, or even be able to hold down a full time job. But they were wrong. Where I am now: I have most of my family, childhood friends, and military brothers back in my life. I have the career of my dreams and am looking at buying my first house in the next year. I have accomplished all this by having faith, asking for help, and taking the advice from others. I am writing this for any of my brothers and sisters in arms, along with their families to say: We are survivors!

Josephe Hickox is a Shatterproof Ambassador.