Tommy Lowther was just 18 when he was deployed to Northern Ireland in 2000. He describes, in his own words, feeling like a boy in a man’s world. “I’d never experienced hostility like it in my life, the pure hatred directed at us just for being there”. Patrolling fierce riots became a regular part of his job. One moment still lives with him - the day he was hit by a petrol bomb.
“I remember being engulfed in flames and then kicked and punched. I was terrified.”
For Tommy, worse was to come. After Northern Ireland, he was sent on an exercise in Gibraltar where he was sexually assaulted. From that point, his life began to spiral.
“I felt ashamed. Everything I’d had hammered into me about being the best person and the hardest soldier I could be just went, and over the next few months I started fighting and drinking.”
In 2001 Tommy was sent home on compassionate leave. Then, without warning, he received a letter informing him he’d been medically discharged. Despite being stood down because of his evidently declining mental health, he was offered no ongoing support.
“I felt angry and betrayed. The thing I’d wanted to do my whole life was being taken away because of an act that wasn’t my fault. It hurt.”
In an instant, Tommy had lost not just his career but everything else that came with it – his accommodation, the colleagues who had become like family, his whole way of life. “There was no exit interview, no advice given about what I should do next - nothing. I didn’t have a clue what to do next.”
Meanwhile, his mental health continued to suffer. Unbeknown to Tommy at the time, he was living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). For the next 13 years, he tried not to think or speak about what had happened to him. But keeping his emotions locked inside took its toll. Struggling with his anger, by 2014 Tommy felt suicidal. Things came to a head when he was dismissed from the job he now had working for a pharmaceutical company.
“I remember going into work having had a fight that weekend. I went into work and my jeans and shirt were covered in mud and blood. They had to let me go.”
During his exit interview, Tommy was given our number and urged to get in touch for support.
“It sounds like a cliché, but that was the first day of the rest of my life. That was definitely the first step.”
Tommy visited our recovery centre in Catterick. “When I spoke to the counsellors they didn’t judge me at all, they said they understood. I spent a lot of time in tears, digging up the past and coming to terms with why I was being the way I was.”
It was during his counselling sessions that Tommy was introduced to our Pathfinder Experience course, which provides veterans with tools and support to help them navigate life as a civilian. It was whilst on the course that Tommy came up with an idea to start his own business helping other wounded veterans find work placements.
“I get a buzz from helping people now. To come from somewhere as low as I was to where I am now is possible.”
As well as the help he’s received, Tommy also credits his wife and family for helping him through the dark times. “I’m open with my wife and my children; if Dad’s feeling a certain way or has gone quiet, they recognise the signs straight away now.
“People sometimes don’t understand when I tell them that having my mental breakdown was probably one of the best things that ever happened to me. Now I talk about the sexual assault and I can carry the message to others to get out there and ask for help. There’s a lot more information and support out there now.
“Had I been able to get the support back then, I would have avoided many years of suffering.”
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