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Lunch is served with lived experiences

As a veteran who has walked the journey, Kevin Lomax, Soldier On – Pathways Officer in Singleton, has always connected with and found the best advice has come from others with shared or similar experiences who understood what it was that he was going through. 

“We all walk our own path, and this isn’t a competition about who’s done it tougher, but an exercise on how we can find the common ground or, more importantly, the common reactions to things that that have happened to us and how we dealt with them,” Kevin said as he introduced himself and guest speaker, Tom Pulleine, at a recent luncheon with the focus on ‘Lived Experiences’. 

As Kevin talked to his captive audience, he explained that when he was going through some of his toughest days, as a bloke he felt he had to keep his issues to himself and “suck it up” regardless of what was going on. He described the experience of finally speaking out as a great relief, and found he wasn’t alone. There are lots of people, blokes in particular, going through similar struggles. 

As a troubled youth coming from a broken home and periods of homelessness; alcoholism was a crutch as a teenager coping with despair and helplessness. Kevin found solace in the camaraderie the Army offered and loved the feeling of having a place to fit in. He served in the Infantry for just shy of 15 years and was medically discharged in 2015 for Physical and Emotional injuries. At this time, he felt completely broken but acknowledged that his body never going to heal as long as he was still serving. He had a significant back injury leaving him barely able to walk, ultimately leading to surgery.  

Kevin was diagnosed with ‘Complex PTSD’ which stemmed from multiple traumatic experiences throughout his life. That feeling of loss became apparent as he was now back on the “outside” of his of friendship groups. Kevin encouraged his audience, “It’s not weak to speak. Find a good mate who actually listens and cares, and be there for them when you can,” he said adding, “our past experiences don’t have to be what defines us. We can move forward and re-write our future story”.  

When Tom took to the stage, the audience was primed. He gave a bit of background on his recruitment process, from not really knowing what he wanted to do saying, “I originally went to join the Navy, but no Navy recruiter appeared! I then watched a video on the Army and thought “that looks good”, and I joined”.  

Tom went on to talk about his deployments and how his injuries began to impact his life. He remembers talking to his partner on the way to Sydney thinking, ‘I’m having a stroke’, as the right side of his body just started to go. Thankfully, it wasn’t a stroke. He had, however, collapsed his right disc and cut through a nerve on the right side of his body. 

On top of that he was diagnosed with Bell’s palsy, a form of facial paralysis. He was also diagnosed with PTSD, depression and anxiety. At that point, he knew it was time to patch out from his military career. 

Like many others, Tom felt very isolated when he discharged. He explained that having a clear goal is vital. “Having an idea of where you need to be, what you need to do to survive financially,” made his life a little bit better. “My advice to others out there in a similar position would be to plan everything that you intend to do. Set yourself some life goals one to two years into the future. Have a look at what you want to be like and set yourself those goals by mapping out the things you need to do to get there.” 

Jordan, a participant commented on the day, “the engagement with different people has been great. Hearing the two different stories, wow! It was really deep and brought the emotions to the fore – they were able to overcome so much”.   

The ‘Lived Experiences’ Lunch is a socially connected meal with specialists and educational keynote speakers presenting in a veteran-centric health space. This inclusive opportunity brings veterans together in safe social settings, breaking the barriers in reconnecting that can occur for some post-discharge, scaffolding an opportunity for wholistic wellbeing.  

Soldier On would like to thank the Singleton Diggers Club for funding the event. 

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