I am the definition of “a Jack of all trades, and a master of none.” While all the people around me seemingly fall into their perfect jobs, relationships, financial situations, or whatever it may be; I’m constantly running around like a chicken with it’s head cut off. Always doing damage control on the fires I start, in all areas of my life. Apparently, I’m careless about where I throw my used cigarette butts.
Sound familiar? Well, I am here to assure you that you no longer have to sit on the couch and drown your anxietes in two family sized bags of Salt and Vinegar chips wondering what everyone’s secret is. The reason being, you don’t need their secret! If you’re anything like me, I have learned that there is an equal amount of value in finding what you don’t want, as what you do want (potentially even more ladies and gents.)
In my short twenty-three years, I have dabbled as a vet technician, financial assistant, chocolate maker, barista, cashier, deli server, waitress, yoga teacher, elderly caregiver, energy worker, piercer, princess, massage therapist, and serving chai tea in an intentional spiritual community. Yet, one of those potential careers hasn’t stuck yet. The job that taught me the most about the pure magic of discovering what you don’t want in your life, was working as a musician in the Canadian Armed Forces.
At the age of seventeen, I was determined to become a professional musician. My plan was to complete a Bachelors Degree in Music Performance, specializing in French Horn. I was so driven to achieve my goal, that I did not take into consideration any other career choices. I barely passed my high school classes, spending up to 6 hours a day practicing music instead. I was following the advice of my mentors that, “If you have a Plan B, you won’t be a successful musician.”
As I neared graduating secondary school, just before I began applying to universities, I had a skiing accident that strained my face muscles. Long story short is, a tree jumped in my path unexpectedly. How rude. The damage was so severe that it greatly diminished my ability to play my instrument. I could still perform, but certainly not to the level needed to be accepted into a decent university. My muscles would heal over time, but I did not know how much time. I was devastated, as my whole identity had been ripped from me faster than I could blink.
I became much more diligent about my school work after the accident, suddenly realizing the importance in having a back up plan. I was sitting in class one day, when one of my musician buddies approached me with a stack of papers. Curious, I inquired what they were for. He explained that he was applying to the Canadian Armed Forces as a musician. My other buddies got wind of this, thought it was a marvelous idea, and before you knew it we were all applying to enlist in the Army. This job seemed like the answer to my prayers. I could play well enough to pass as a military musician, thus still enabling me to fulfill my long time dream. Unfortunately, it never occurred to me that I would have to do anything military related. I was just a musician after all.
I successfully completed the, what seemed to be, one-hundred-page application form. Along with, passing my medical, fitness, drug, and aptitude tests; but believe me, not without a little blood, sweat, and tears. I signed my soul to the army on September 11th, 2013 and I could not have been more excited; other than, none of my friends ended up enlisting with me.
There were many things that attracted me to the army, other than being a musician, I felt powerless and lost in my life. I was extremely unhappy and had been struggling with anxiety, depression, and low self esteem. The army often represents power in our society and I wanted to create that image for myself, even if I didn’t feel it was true. The root of my loss of power was the negative belief that “I wasn’t good enough,” I felt that, by joining the army then I would finally be able to prove to everyone else, including myself, that I was good enough. I mean, soldiers are incredibly well respected and idolized, for good reasons.
I was scheduled to attend weekend basic training mid October. The weekend training allowed me to keep my full time job in accounting, while I received my basic military qualifications. The first week of October I was out for a run, with my mother, training for my quickly approaching BMQ. It was a crisp sunny day and I could hear the clink of my heavy backpack against the full water bottles inside. I huffed up and down the stairs in a park nearby my house, wondering why I was torturing my body. The crisp Calgary air stung my lungs with every breath. These stairs have at least one hundred steps, with an epic incline, making them the perfect training spot. Although, my body never seemed to agree.
As I was running, I received a phone call from an unrecognizable number. “Hello?” I questioned warily. “Private Storwick, we are coming to pick you up in fifteen minutes,” the voice on the other end flatly stated. I realized that it must be the military calling. “Sorry Sir, pick me up for what?” I asked nervously. The voice barked, “For basic training, we will pick you up in twenty minutes in the RV park, just outside the city.” I instantly froze in shock. The effect only lasted long enough for the panic to set in, as I realized I needed to pack and wouldn’t make it in twenty minutes. I responded, “I didn’t know. I can be there in forty minutes.” There was a deafening silence as the officer cadet I was speaking with relayed my message to his superior. “Fine. Hurry,” he grumbled unsympathetically. I heard the click of the phone hang up and I started to run. My mother yelled after me, “Where are you going?” “To basic training!” I shouted over my shoulder.
I burst through the door of my house like a hurricane. “Dad!” I exclaimed. “I need to go to basic training now.” My father helped me as I threw my gear, in no particular order, into the large brown box the military had provided for me. Anything that didn’t fit, got stuffed into an olive green duffle bag with the previous owner’s name and service number scribbled across it. My mind drifted as I wondered what his or her story was. Where had they gone? Why did they no longer need their bag? The realization that I didn’t get a chance to break in my brand new combat boots snapped me back into reality.
I gave my father one last hug goodbye. My dad hadn’t seen me cry since I was a child, but I had no reservations in that moment. I sobbed as I collapsed in his arms, babbling on about how scared I was. I expected him to give some off handed comment about my weakness, but I received nothing other than genuine sympathy. He assured me all would be OK. In the end, I think he was just as scared as I was.
No words were spoken between my mother and I as we pulled up to the RV park and saw the big black van with tinted windows and military plates waiting for me. Like a deer in the headlights, bracing for its death, I started to haul my gear towards the vehicle. Two men got out of the van, both about average height and dressed in the standard camouflage combats. Their hair was cut to military standard and they both wore sunglasses, adding to their serious nature. I was not yet wearing my uniform, as I was informed there would be time when we reached the armory. They watched sadistically as I struggled to lift my heavy boxes and bags into the back of the van; not once offering to help me with the difficult task.
These men were stone cold, reminding me of the sorry victims of Medusa turned to statues for accidentally glancing in her eyes. There wasn’t much time for a proper goodbye with my mother. I gave her a quick squeeze, attempting not to reveal my terror. As I walked towards the van, I turned to look at my mother one last time. Her eyes said everything previously unspoken. The guilt, fear, and sympathy for leaving me with these strange men emanated from her face.
I occasionally made nervous small talk as we drove to our unknown destination. I felt like a kidnapping victim that had voluntarily gone with my captors. The question of where we were going pressed in my mind, but the panic stricken terror of what the answer might be kept me quiet. Finally, I gulped a deep breath in, gathered up my courage, and asked, “How long until we arrive?” “Another hour,” the officer cadet replied solemnly. Further questioning revealed that we were headed to Edmonton, a city just three hours outside of Calgary. “Great, Deadmonton,” I mumbled cynically.
Edmonton didn’t have the highest reputation and I understood why as we passed inside the city limits. Out my window I watched the lifeless buildings zip by, the grey sky looming over them threatening to snow. On first impression, the city seemed to resemble a ghost town. The howling ice cold Canadian wind kept people in their homes, leaving the streets unpopulated. “Eerie,” I whispered.
It was dark by the time we arrived at the armory. The old building reminded me of my elementary school gym, which had been a military hospital during the second world war. Just like the gymnasium, the heavily guarded concrete exterior and limited barred windows gave it an uninviting feel. Unfortunately, this was not elementary school gym, and no matter how much I wanted to skip class, there was no turning back.
My delay had caused us to arrive two hours late and we were hurried into the armoury immediately. Inside, the rest of our fellow soldiers were waiting for us. The others quickly gave me the help, that I didn't receive earlier, in unloading my gear and I was rushed off to the washroom to put on my uniform. There was only one other female among the twenty recruits in our course, so naturally, she was ordered to accompany me. This was the first time I realized the consequences that followed the standard military rule of “if you’re not fifteen minutes early, you’re late.”
I always imagined women in the Army to be very GI Jane. Picturing a rough looking, kickass, I can kill a guy with my bare manicured hands and not chip a nail, type woman; but to my surprise my fellow female was quite soft looking. She had long brown hair that was neatly tucked into a low bun, big brown eyes, and a welcoming radiant smile. We both expressed our gratitude for the others presence, each with a hesitant chuckle and a half crooked smile.
What happened next I am unable to relay. Going into the Army I suffered from childhood Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and between being triggered from the Sergeants yelling in my face, having things thrown at me, being asked to do ridiculous tasks, and literally shaking in my boots, my basic training experience was a blur. I learned that war doesn’t make sense, so neither should what happens to an individual in the military.
I do recall my first day back to my civilian job after my first weekend of Army training, however. I felt as I had always felt, numb. My disconnection made me the perfect candidate for the military, I couldn’t process my emotions regardless of what they said or did. I worked at a trucking company as a financial assistant in the Credit department. I had arrived back from Edmonton the previous evening, not thinking twice about jumping back into work the next morning. As I was driving to work I felt completely un-phased, but as I parked my car, gathered my belongings, and began walking through the truck lot; emotion hit me like a brick wall.
Grief, sadness, fear, and joy overcame me like a wave, crashing violently into the sand and dragging me into the under tow. All of a sudden, I realized what it felt like to truly feel. Our emotions are what make us human. They give us external information and let us experience the world we live in. I started to sob, unlike I ever had before. I managed to make it to the entrance of my building and I headed straight for the women’s washroom. I trembled as I shut and locked the door behind me. I crumpled into fetal position on the cold tiled floor, with no intention of standing ever again. Between gasps of air, all I could think was, “I’m just human and that’s alright.”
Eventually I managed to pull it together enough to stand. Using the white porcelain sink to hold myself up, I gathered enough of the rough paper towel to delicately wipe my mascara stained cheeks. I didn’t recognize the girl I saw in the mirror. She wasn’t the strong put together women that I worked so hard to portray. To my dismay, the mirror revealed a scared little girl. A young girl who didn’t allow herself to be afraid for the sake of others, because without her strength there was no surviving. I felt compassion towards this sweet little child and right then and there I promised her I wouldn’t leave her alone ever again.
I was sent home half way through my work day, due to the fact that I couldn’t go ten minutes without crying hysterically. Which isn’t received well, when you’re asking for over due payments from hostile truckers. They say your life can change in a moment and that moment continues to shape my ever present reality. I knew something had to change; I couldn’t continue moving forward with the mask I had so carefully created.
I was discharged from the Canadian Armed Forces at the age of twenty, never completing my basic military training due to an unforeseen illness that required an adequate amount of sleep, proper nutrition, regular check ups, and a low stress lifestyle. An illness that had my body shouting at me to allow myself to be human. I learned the hard way that army was not the life for me, but what I gained from the experience out weighed any challenges it presented.
I realized that what I didn’t want was to conform. I suddenly recognized the beauty in individuality, emotion, dreams, and all the things that make us human and make you uniquely you. The army showed me I did not want to live the rest of my life in the way that everyone else thought I should live it. I no longer wanted to meet society’s ideas of success, love, wealth, and beauty, because what the army taught me is that society is messed up.
Now hold up, we do need society and I am very grateful to live in Canada. As a disclaimer, I’m not some extreme radical that feels society is out to get us and am out to spend the rest of my life in the middle of the desert eating rocks and drinking my own urine. Been there done that. If living in the desert completely isolated is your cup of tea, by all means do it, I just am too adjusted to having running water and fresh food. What I mean is, that all the standards we strive to achieve are completely unrealistic and instead of pursuing happiness, we end up depressed, sick, and "crazy" without any idea of how we got there. We are just following what we were taught after all.
Since the day I came to terms with being human, I set out to create a life for myself that I wanted to live. I am the one who has to get up every day, look at the person in the mirror, and live my life after all. Nobody else gets to experience what it’s like to be you, no matter their judgments, opinions, and standards. So want what you don’t want, it means your one step closer to happiness. You may just have to think outside the box a bit.