These are my thoughts on how important the Veterans Breakfast Club is to me.
Now let me get this straight, I am not a counsellor with professional qualifications or a certificate. However, having been a University lecturer for twenty years, it is a skill you develop, so what’s my point? Let me first give you a little information about me, 5 years 2 Para, serving four tours in NI, this included Internment and Motorman. Then 2 years in the RMP, serving 18 months in NI, Londonderry and then on the border. Finally I joined the RUC GC, serving for 5 years in B Division (West Belfast), this included the hunger strike (losing friends, colleagues along the way).
After recent posts of mine, I keep getting the same sort of comment, “I think I need to speak to someone.” The very fact that a person has said that indicates that they know they may have issues.
Now you can go down the formal route, go to a doctor, contact Combat Stress, the problem with this is it takes time, appointments made, travel arranged and maybe time taken off work. Then of course the whole diagnostic procedure that can turn people off and drive them away. Do not get me wrong, I admire the work they do. However, being a charitable organisation or part of the NHS they have to follow procedures, which to some degree depending on your attitude, you may view as dehumanising the process a smidgen.
Back in the eighties (87-88) I had a house in Wellingborough. I was body-guarding and security consulting here and there. My very good friend Alan Brown came to visit with his lovely wife Jan. Alan and I had served together in some of the nastiest stuff you will ever see. We were chatting away in my living room, talking about people we had known, those we had lost and the things we had done, when I burst into tears. I cried for what seemed to me to be a considerable amount of time and if I remember correctly Alan was crying as well. It was a very cathartic moment. I realised I had issues and Alan and I spent quite a while discussing the situation. Now I have always been a very happy go lucky kind of guy, upbeat and an optimist. This new insight into me gave me a perspective about myself I had not realised. The moment ended and I moved on.
Now I am constantly telling my students to reflect on their experiences, learn from them, not just the physical issues but the emotional ones as well. Now I have started to apply that to my life. Apart from my service in the military and RUC GC, there are very early issues in life that were never addressed. These to some degree have probably made me the disaster I am when it comes to relationships. I have come to realise the issues I have, not through going to counselling or seeing doctors, but by reaffirming my connection with my brothers in the military and the RUC GC.
Sorry for the extended load of gibberish but this is the only way I could put it into context. Apart from the formal veteran support networks such as combat stress. We all have a much larger and a much more ‘comfortable fit’ support network. It can be what you choose it to be, it can be yearly reunions (which do me good). It can be utilising social networks to talk to other veterans, it can be arranged social events and finally for me the most positive and life saving support network you can have is the veterans breakfast clubs. These are not clubs in the excepted meaning of the word, there are no joining fees, no real structure. You turn up, buy breakfast and talk rubbish for two hours or more. No one prys, no one asks what your issues are, you just chat. However, from my own experience of breakfast clubs, it is probably one of the nest support networks ever for veterans, if you have a problem, house move, car broke, stranded etc. Someone will be there to help. It is what we as brother and sister veterans do. So if you are not yet ready to look for a more formal approach to issues you may have. Find your nearest breakfast club. You will be welcomed with open arms, lots of banter, lots of grub and gallons of tea. Stay safe