You're in Iraq. Under a burning sun. Incessant mortar and rocket bombardments are raining down on you and your fellow soldiers - people who have become your closest friends. The firing is sporadic. Direct. Indirect. Precise. Scattershot. The noise is deafening or distant and foreboding. Suddenly everything stops. Silence. Hours and days pass with no fire but you still wonder when the next attack will come. You finally realise they've stopped firing because it's Ramadan. The silence unnerves you. You stay on guard. Just in case.
A month later, you're back at home. A few days pass, then a week or two, everything seems normal. Your behaviour slowly becomes more erratic. You feel like your body is going into reverse, as though you're dying. One by one, you begin to lose touch with your friends and family. They don't like your behaviour. That new job you started? Gone. Loud noises frighten you. The innocent test of a fire alarm. A door slamming in a draught. You hunker down. Shaking. Crying.
You end up in hospital thinking you've hit rock bottom. It can't get any worse. Or can it? Yes it can. Your wife leaves you. You lose your pad. The only way you know how to cope is drink. There's nowhere else to turn so you pack your bag and start living on the streets.
This is rock bottom.
A month later, you're on a park bench staring at a greasy slice of cheap pizza and swigging down a cheap bottle of red wine. You sit there and think "look at you, you're a f***ing tramp, you're going to be another one of those soldiers found dead in the woods."
This isn't fiction.
This was my life.
What happened to me will never leave me and I'm happy to say that I've managed to move on. It took time and effort though, like anything worthwhile but I didn't do it all on my own. I was lucky. Someone offered me a helping hand. I reached out and took it. What else did I have to lose? Enough was enough. I wanted to press play again on life. For me, that hand came from Lesley, Employment Mentor for Walking With The Wounded's Home Straight programme. She was my glimmer of hope, the chance of a fresh start and hopefully a new career. Since that day, I've never looked back.
Inspired by my memories of a police dog handling display when I was at school, she was able to help me retrain as a dog handler. Things began to turn around for me after that and were going quite well but I knew that to be really effective in that profession and have a successful career, I'd need a van. I'd already turned down several contracts because of the lack of a vehicle and started to give up hope, but then I got another call from Walking With The Wounded, this time from Polly saying they'd love to help.
With a vehicle, I was operating as a fully-trained dog handler and winning more contracts. I am a dog handler now in every sense of the word, doing explosive searches and drug search but without the help from Lesley and Polly I'm not sure I'd have been able to get back on my feet as quickly as I did.
My life has totally turned around.
Other soldiers aren't so lucky. Some stay on the streets. And with the bulk of our troops now back from Afghanistan, there is a very real risk that more of them might end up there. So this is the perfect chance to do more than just welcome them home with open arms.
We need to remember that some of our sons and daughters will come home with a wound, and it might not be one we can see. PTSD is a silent disorder that might not surface on day one or even day one hundred of their leave. And for soldiers leaving the service, like I did, we should remember their homecoming will take on an extra significance. They're not just leaving the frontline, their leaving behind their hard won status and proud role in life. Finding a new identity on Civvy Street can in its own way be just as much of a challenge as being on tour.
But none of that means they're destined to fail or that they'll face a never ending uphill struggle - far from it. If anything, I hope my story shows that no matter how hard life gets and how low we might fall, there is always hope. You can press play again.