Ashington soldier Adam Adamson reveals his struggle back on civvy street

Read one Ashington man's fight to come to terms with life outside of the Army - and how smallest thing can make him reach for the 'red button'

Ex soldier Adam Adamson from Ashington who suffers from combat stress
Ex soldier Adam Adamson from Ashington who suffers from combat stress

After tours of Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, Adam Adamson returned to his Ashington home only to be diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Here, in his own words, he reveals his heartbreaking struggle to return to a life beyond the war-zone.

Letters, there are twenty six in our alphabet, some of them can be strung together to denote disease, conditions, or just about any acronym we see fit to label people with.

So when I was given four of them, I wasn’t surprised really. Although the way they were handed over was a bit of a kick in the teeth.

Growing up on the streets of Ashington in the 80’s didn’t exactly reward itself with too much merit, so as soon as I could I fled the North East to see if it was any better in other places around this great country of ours.

Basically, there are no streets paved with gold and I found we all have to make our own way through life eventually.

At the tender age of 27 I left the comfort of civilian life and embarked on my wanderings around the world, wearing green and carrying a gun.

I was a little older than the average recruit; in fact I was the oldest there at that time. The fitness worried me a tad, being up against the teenagers who had been working hard to gain access to the military.

Basic training seemed to be entirely in the mind-set of the individual - although we were under the illusion that the Army wasn’t looking for individuals - sailing through the 12-week chaff sorting, I came out the other end with a clear idea of what was expected of me.

Fifteen years, three stripes and three war-zones later, I shrugged off the shackles of camouflage and dusted off the jeans and loud shirts. However, those 15 years left their scars.

Adam Adamson pictured during his time with the Army
Adam Adamson pictured during his time with the Army

It wasn’t until the end that they made their presence known to myself - they made themselves visible to everyone else much earlier.

My daughter, the first one to suffer the piercing blade of my wrath through an innocuous statement about training shoes.

I screamed in her direction that there were people around the world who would love to wear shoes, but they couldn’t as they had their legs blown away by Improvised Explosive Devices (IED’s).

My mood as black as my outlook on life at this time. Kosovo first, then Iraq then finally Afghanistan, all in the space of six years. Normally you should have a training year, then a deployment year, then a stand down year, so an extra deployment wasn’t considered any big deal within the structure.

The hidden cost of modern warfare are the soldiers that don’t show scars, the guys - and girls - who come home with all limbs intact, with no holes in them, with no outward signs of injury.

But unfortunately what they have seen, experienced and dealt with are etched into their brains just as any physical scars of an enemy action.

But you look at a young military person with a physical disability and you feel a bit proud that they have sacrificed something for their country, but you hear about a soldier that has beat up his spouse or ended up in jail because of a drunken night, and you think, ‘he deserves it the bastard’, what you don’t see is what’s in his - or her - head.

Inside mine is a blank, a missing part of my life that had been erased at source to save me from the terror at what had happened throughout my deployments.

Ex soldier Adam Adamson from Ashington who suffers from combat stress
Ex soldier Adam Adamson from Ashington who suffers from combat stress

2012 was my final year in green; the transition back to civilian life took, and is still taking, its time.

Job after job has come and gone with testing and re-adjusting at every angle. I first asked the system to help me gain employment in the education environment, but because I had spent my time as a mechanical engineer In the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) I was told that teaching wasn’t an option.

I was going to have to forge my own path to reach my goals... again.

The tenets instilled during my employment by the Army held fast into civilian life - tenets such as respect, integrity and loyalty to name but a few.

Unfortunately these seemed to be lacking in my chosen career outside the army, ANY chosen career. Fitting in was going to be difficult it seemed, but I was determined to bring a sense of camaraderie to whichever path I decided to walk.

My anger slowly bubbled under the surface as new “triggers” were found, triggers I wasn’t really aware of, in fact the whole point of my time under the Department of Community and Mental Health (DCMH) whilst still in the Army was supposed to have sorted me out. It hadn’t.

I wasn’t really aware of still needing help. So the fact I had no time for anyone didn’t raise any red flags to me or anyone else in control.

I moved back to the North East to be near my family then decided that a life abroad was the answer.

Cyprus was a place I could be myself, a place where no one knew me personally so I could be whom I wanted to be.

I could deviate from anything I was pigeon holed for. I cleaned pools, I built fences, I painted houses I became a diver. A whole new outlook took hold of me and I thought I had left that other guy behind.

Adam Adamson pictured during his time with the Army
Adam Adamson pictured during his time with the Army

Season over, I came back to the UK for the winter knowing I had a chance of a job the next season back in Pathos.

A few months later and I had flown back to Cyprus, the guys in charge had changed and the clamouring urge to self-destruct raised its head again. Severing ties with the island, I flew to Sinai for another bite at the apple. I didn’t want to come back to the UK at that time so I continued my diving and made a life out there.

By 2012/13, I had decided that the red button in my life had to be pressed again so I made my way to Hungary and a relationship that was built on eye contact under the waves of the Red Sea.

My mind wanted to start something new, something different, another blank slate upon which to scribble another chapter of Adam Adamson, this time another person had noticed the cracks.

It was with heavy heart I had to admit defeat. My life was disappearing up its own arse. If I kept on this course, who knows what would have happened? You hear many stories of young people, ex military, ending up either banged up, or worse.

I rang the number I had for the UK arm of Combat Stress and appointments were made with outreach officers to see me at my temporary address (I was sleeping on my sister’s couch).

Six weeks of intensive therapy in Scotland were prescribed - after the NHS decided that it could offer me nothing apart from a visit to the local mental institution - and I was released upon the civilised world again.

My drive back to Ashington was interrupted by a plea to stop the car so I could get out and howl my frustrations and trepidations at a fence along the A69.

Where I am now, from where I was at that moment is only possible with the help from new friends and people in the same situation themselves.

Trying to settle into a new flat with all the trappings of a “normal” life is still an on going process. Having to deal with trivial situations such as rubbish disposal, workmen wanting to fix things that have nothing to do with you, noisy neighbours, in fact everything that you aren’t taught how to deal with in the forces has to be self taught.

If I had a problem with my room, I would ring the Quarter Master and ask them to sort it out. You’re not taught how to deal with everyday life outside the security of the wire fence.

We are taken from a civilian background and worked / fettled into something resembling a soldier.

We are taken to the height of our tolerance and taught to react in an aggressive manner to any and all situations.

We are constantly at the limit of our ‘Red Button’. What isn’t done is allowing us to come down from that height, we aren’t told/ taught how to climb down from that constant state of readiness.

So any confrontational situation we find ourselves in, we all react with the same red mist as we would an enemy.

PTSD brings with it a watered down reaction to ANYTHING that could even slightly resemble a trigger situation.

I myself have had several encounters where, through no fault of their own, I have come close to throwing folk through plate glass windows because they have transgressed some imagined line in my sand.

I don’t look for trouble, I don’t look for excuses, I signed on the dotted lie to fight for Queen and Country, and I signed my life away for £15. I signed for what I thought was a 22-year enlistment with a pension and a lot of happy memories.

What I got was a bit different.

Not expecting to be living with a life of horror behind the façade of a smile. I hide the fact that I want to scream and shout and lash out at every opportunity I perceive danger to lurk in.

Throughout my time back in civilian life, I have kept an online diary, a diary I am able to get what I feel out into the open. It’s a cathartic pastime where I can see the ups and downs of my life in denim. I originally started it for my daughter Skye to see that her dad was alive and well, but it has become a sounding board for my inner emotions, the feelings of rage and anger that aren’t allowed in civilised life.

Life is taken for granted by your average everyday guy or girl.

Waking at a civilised time, getting ready to do a days work, entertaining in the evening, then bed.

Ask anyone who has seen things they shouldn’t have, ask anyone who has gone through hell and thought they were going to be fine with it all how they start their day.

The big things don’t matter - I’ve just lost my dad to stomach cancer - it’s the little things that set your flame to incandescent; someone not helping you when you know its in their power, someone stopping you from doing what you set out to do through ignorance, something not quite going to plan when you have instinctively prepared everything.

Life is intrinsically hard anyway, but the mess left inside a soldier’s head makes it virtually impossible, to some it IS impossible with only one outcome.

I have had those thoughts, and it has taken me several attempts to spell ‘THOSE”, but the struggle is on going.

I have many people to thank for where I am today, not all on the positive, but with the help I have only found myself, I will strive to achieve all I am able, and as I find other avenues I will inform others in my position of what is available for them.

Life is complicated enough as it is, why make it harder by releasing soldiers without the tools needed for peace, but with ALL the tools for war still raging in their heads.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
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