DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) — Meet Craig Cunningham: a Navy veteran in recovery.
September 10, 1977, marked the day Craig Cunningham followed the family tradition. As the son of a Korean war veteran and the brother of Vietnam vets, Craig set sail on his military journey in the Navy.
“That was a proud day,” Craig said. “I was the youngest one and wanted to follow in their footsteps.”
But soon, he was drowning in pain he didn’t dare speak about. Craig was assaulted and nearly died.
“They drug me down the steps, and kicked me in the groin,” Craig said. “They beat me within an inch of my life.”
Craig was the victim of this assault, yet he felt like it was his fault. With no help, he turned to an all-to-common vice.
“I drank. I drugged. I just shut everything down. I tried not to feel. I never talked about it,” Craig explained, “Never told nobody about it.”
Craig’s mental health began to spin out of control. Drugs and alcohol led to prison. With seemingly no help, and feeling he had no purpose, Craig saw no reason to live.
“I wanted to die,” he said. “I wanted to kill myself sometimes, so I tried to do it. I’d OD’d. I’d come back. I couldn’t do it. I failed at OD’ing.”
After around 30-trips to the psych ward, Craig says that he – out of nowhere – had the nerve to talk about it with a doctor.
“I started just reliving it. And I started crying and stuff, and it came back to me just like it was yesterday,” Craig said.
That courage to open that wound for help allowed the former sailor to set a course for healing.
That day was January 7, 2001 – his “clean date”. Nearly 21 and a half years later, Craig is still clean.
“One of the things the V.A has really done is put their money where their mouth is,” said Dr. Kristin Rodzinka, a programs manager at the Dayton V.A. trauma recovery clinic. “We have deployed large-scale, national, evidence-based psychotherapy initiatives, training, consultation, ensuring our providers know the best treatments possible, so we know veterans are getting the best treatment possible.”
Craig is part of that treatment plan, now helping other vets as peer support. He is also happy and happily married, which is a monumental victory given his journey.
“We made a good life for ourselves,” Craig said. “We are just living life to the fullest, you know. I’m living a dream.”
If not for the Veterans Affairs, Craig said he would not be here today, or if he was, he’d be a 63-year-old spending his life in prison.
The Veterans Affairs encourages anyone suffering from PTSD to go to their website here where they have the resources to help on your road to recovery.