Botts recovering after living through an IED attack in Iraq. (Photo Source: John Botts)

Botts recovering after living through an IED attack in Iraq. (Photo Source: John Botts)

I was born a fighter. Having come out of the womb at 31 weeks, my first year of life was a struggle. Little did I know how that mentality would bring me to one of my darkest places, but also help bring me out of it.

9/11 changed my world. I enlisted in the Army in 2002 as a Military Police officer and was deployed to Iraq in early 2003 to support Operation Iraqi Freedom. Once I entered the environment of war, I realized I loved every minute of it. I was addicted to the adrenaline that war provided and I simply couldn’t get enough.

It’s hard to explain my thirst for war. It was all-consuming. I got married in 2004 and tried to give my wife the attention she deserved, but I couldn’t because that would take away from my addiction for war. In mid 2005, though, all that started to change

About three months into a new assignment, I received word that a good friend of mine had been killed in action by an IED. The news hit me like a ton of bricks. It was that moment that I realized I was just as vulnerable. I could die at any moment.

It wrecked me

I believed with every inch of my being that I would die in that god-forsaken place. War was no longer a game to me and I realized I wanted to return to my wife.

Then came September 7, 2006.

It was a normal night, which sounds like a cliche but it is true in every sense of the phrase. The convoy I was traveling in was patrolling in Sadr City, west of Baghdad. At 10:30 p.m., everything changed.

I.

E.

D.


I remember the flash from the explosion, but I don’t remember the concussion from it. I felt like I was floating outside my body.


I remember the flash from the explosion, but I don’t remember the concussion from it. I felt like I was floating outside my body. When I came to, I realized the door of my vehicle had been blown open so I went to step outside. My right leg gave way. I had a fractured tibia. I fell to the ground instantly and remember looking up at the vehicle.

That’s when I saw my left leg hanging out of the doorway. It wasn’t attached to my body.

I could not physically get my remaining limbs to function. I knew that I had to apply a tourniquet to what was left of my left leg, but my hands were numb. I felt like my entire body was completely paralyzed.

My squad got me to the closest medical center and I was then flown to the air base in Balad, Iraq, to receive medical attention. I eventually lost consciousness and remember waking up in Germany. From there, it was another trip to Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C. All within 72 hours of being injured. My life had officially changed forever. And I was not even close to being prepared for it.

***

The recovery process was a nightmare.

I stayed at Walter Reed for about 45 days before being flown to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. I arrived full of anger. I didn’t want to work with the physical therapists and doctors that were trying to help put me back together. I lost count of how many surgeries I underwent. I was angry that God had allowed me to live and thought about how much easier it would have been had I just died in Iraq.

I couldn’t for the life of me learn how to walk on a prosthetic leg. I had a terrible gate and my remaining leg was still healing from the broken tibia. I was angry every minute of every day. I constantly defied my physical therapist and turned to alcohol to relieve both my physical and mental pain. While my wife was so much stronger than I for so long, she eventually succumbed to the alcohol, too. We were living recklessly and had no fear of consequences. I was medically retired from the Army in 2009 and by 2011 our lives had spiraled out of control. If an IED had started me down this path, another group of letters was keeping me there.

P.

T.

S.

D.

Drinking and painkillers became my every-day concoction. I dropped out of school and would rarely leave my house. By January 2012 I hit my low point.

The image is vivid in my mind. I was sitting in my closet with a loaded Glock .40 pistol. I put the barrel in my mouth, tasting the dark metal. I was willing myself to pull the trigger.

“Just do it,” I told myself in my mind.

But for some reason I physically couldn’t. I was so angry with myself. Ironically, I felt that my inability to pull the trigger was the cowardly act. I was hopeless. I felt I had nothing to live for. Why couldn’t I just end it?

It was at that moment I realized I had to change.


The image is vivid in my mind. I was sitting in my closet with a loaded Glock .40 pistol. I put the barrel in my mouth, tasting the dark metal. I was willing myself to pull the trigger.


***

The next day my wife and I toyed with the idea of going back to church. The following Sunday, we did it. We had been there before, but not in a while. I remember walking through the doors and seeing people who welcomed us back as though we had never left. The associate pastor really showed us an unusual amount of love.

“How could he love me this much given the amount of baggage that I carried in with me?” I thought.

Through that love and acceptance, I realized that my life of torment, anxiety, and aggression was lacking a purpose. It was lacking peace. It was lacking the one thing that it needed most: Jesus Christ. I instantly recommitted myself to living second and I remember being overtaken with a sense of peace that was absolutely amazing. I fought to become a different man. A better man. From that point, PTSD became something that no longer owned me.

***

PTSD is absolutely real. War is hell. And I’ve found the more I talk about it, the easier it gets. That’s not to say my journey searching for purpose has not been easy. It still isn’t easy. I still have times when my depression takes control of my thoughts and I look back on my life and think what could have been. But I now have a sense of peace because I know that I am not walking this journey alone.

I have told this story countless times to countless people and I don’t know whether or not people listen to it, but I know it gives me a comfort to continue to talk about my struggles. I hope you do the same.

Botts with his wife, Jennifer, and their twin girls. (Photo source: John Botts)

Botts with his wife, Jennifer, and their twin girls. (Photo source: John Botts)


Botts is an Army veteran with a Bachelor’s degree in social work. His family is relocating to Texas where he plans on working with wounded veterans.

For more on PTSD, watch Chad Robichaux’s gripping film below: