In 1993, at 17, Jason Moon enlisted in the Army National Guard. He signed up to serve with the 724th Engineer Battalion in Eagle River, Wis. It was like coming home.
“My grandfather deployed out of the same building during WWII,” he said, “and my father served in the same place during the Vietnam War.”
After serving six years with the Guard and two with the Army Reserve, Moon got out, ready to resume civilian life. That was August 2001. The next month the events of Sept. 11 irrevocably altered those plans.
Moon deployed to Iraq in 2003. After 11 months of combat duty, he returned home, forever changed.
He found himself unable to sleep – unable to handle loud noises. His eyes scanned every room, looking for the exits. Inexplicable rage dogged him.
“I knew something was wrong,” he said. “But I didn’t think I could have PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). I was raised on Rambo and Arnold Schwarzenegger. I didn’t want to have it. I wanted to pick my life back up where I’d left it.”
He identified with the warrior mentality. “I thought mental illness was a weakness. In the military you can’t be weak.”
On Saturday, Moon, a singer-songwriter, will share his experience through song and story at a concert at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane. It’s a story he feels fortunate to be able to tell.
His dangerous behaviors had escalated, fueled by alcohol and drugs. “I started picking fights in bars, driving drunk, mixing alcohol and cocaine.”
The more he tried to self-medicate, the more his rage and desperation grew.
“When I got home from Iraq I felt dead inside,” Moon said. “I felt alive when I was in combat. I know now I was seeking that adrenaline rush.”
Despite his risky behavior, he met a woman who fell in love with him, and he and Sarah married in 2006. “She said she could see my heart. I don’t know how she could. I couldn’t.”
In 2008, Moon determined he was never going to get better. “I thought of it as a terminal illness. I was a danger to my family and the public. And I was taught to take out the threat.”
That spring he attempted suicide. “I woke up and saw the look on my wife’s face – the look on my parents’ faces. Thank God I failed.”
At the VA Hospital, Moon started listening to the doctors. He began to understand the illness was his brain’s natural response to trauma.
He attended a Soldier’s Heart retreat, an event for veterans aimed at acknowledging and healing the emotional and spiritual wounds of PTSD.
“I decided I would fully commit myself to healing. I went to everything the VA offered – grabbed at every tool.”
One of those tools was music. “I love writing songs and playing music,” Moon said.
His song “Trying to Find My Way Home” took on a life of its own after being featured in “On the Bridge,” a documentary about PTSD. In 2011, he released a CD with that song as the title track.
Veterans heard the song and contacted him by email, often saying, “I thought I was alone.” Moon took to the road, singing and sharing his story at VA hospitals and events across the country. The reaction was overwhelmingly positive, and in 2012, he launched Warrior Songs, a nonprofit focused on healing vets through the creative arts.
He offers his concerts, CDs and retreats to vets at no charge. “It’s my belief they’ve already paid – and paid too much.”
As for his own PTSD, he said, “It’s still rough. I consider healing a full-time job, but I know I’m not a bad soldier or weak, and I’m a lot better at dealing with the symptoms.”
His message to fellow sufferers is simple. “You are not alone. There’s help. You can get to a place where life is meaningful. It will never be like it was before, but it can be a lot better than it is right now.”