JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas --
After seeking treatment for alcohol dependence and devoting himself to resilience building, Technical Sergeant Joshua Williamson is a changed man, husband, father, and Airman.
“The Air Force Resilience course is not just for our career, it’s a life course. It has helped me so much in both my career and my personal life,” he says.
In 2013, a career change from Aircraft Maintenance (Avionics) to Pharmacy Technician, combined with other major life stressors, brought unexpected pressure and anxiety for TSgt Williamson. He thought his new anxiety was due to the stress of learning the new role, and it was just something he needed to ’deal’ with. He did not realize that this emotional strain, if left unaddressed, could develop into an invisible wound.
TSgt Williamson had taken several of the Air Force Resilience courses offered by the Community Service Coordinator’s (CSC) Resilience Team on base before, but they never clicked with him. Ill-equipped to cope with the stress of his new job and other life challenges, he turned to alcohol. His dysfunctional and heavy use of alcohol over the course of 3 years resulted in two enrollments with the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention Treatment Program (ADAPT), including two separate 28-day in-patient treatment programs at a local rehabilitation facility.
After TSgt Williamson’s second treatment stay in 2016, his supervisor encouraged him to build balanced and sustainable life practices. This was helpful and supportive to TSgt Williamson. When TSgt Williamson finished this treatment for alcohol dependence, he retook the Resilience refresher course--and it finally sunk in. Building resilience helps maintain recovery and possibly reduce the chance that a traumatic event or injury will lead to an invisible wound.
“I needed to experience my struggles first to realize the Resilience course was a critical component on the path to recovery. It was the ‘icing on the cake’ of my recovery and I knew with the resilience skills I was gaining that I wouldn’t let this happen to me again,” explains TSgt Williamson.
Hearing other Airmen’s stories in the Resilience course showed TSgt Williamson that everyone has challenges and that he was not alone. “It occurred to me then the importance of what the Air Force was offering. We are given all the tools we need to be resilient; we just need to learn how to apply them,” says TSgt Williamson. “It’s a different way of looking at things and dealing with problems.”
At this point, TSgt Williamson decided he wanted to become a Master Resilience Trainer (MRT) and use his recovery experience to teach resilience to others.
Since becoming a trainer in 2016, TSgt Williamson has taught the Resilience course at Squadron-requested sessions and other Air Force functions to hundreds of Airmen each year. Topics covered in the resilience course include gratitude, values-based goals, balancing thinking, celebrating good news, and physical resilience. “Resilience is such a hot topic in the military. MRT’s serve as a positive asset to the unit,” explains Williamson.
“My whole life led me to become an MRT and help others. I don’t hide. I’ll expose my challenges to anyone to help them. If someone needs support, they know they can come to me,” asserts TSgt Williamson. In fact, many Airmen have felt comfortable coming to TSgt Williamson directly for advice after his sessions.
Though he is not a medical professional, he has helped many Airmen through peer support, including Airmen with suicidal ideations. In these situations, “Time stops. My focus is on that one person. Nothing is more important than a human life,” explains TSgt Williamson. “It’s just being a good person.”
TSgt Williamson has enjoyed the opportunity to pay it forward, knowing just how far he has come. “To me, Resilience training showed me that everyone has hard times. In fact, I’ve helped everyone from lower ranking Airmen to Senior level leaders. Invisible wounds affect people of all ranks and [it] does not know social or economic boundaries.” He continues, “I want to let participants know I’m still here and I’ve been through it. It’s the same as using the oxygen mask on an airplane; put yours on before you help someone else.”
TSgt Williamson recently completed another cross-training opportunity at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi to become a Manpower Analyst, his third career path in the Air Force. He is scheduled to move to Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado in December and he is happy to report that this new career transition has not had a negative impact on his mental health. He feels this is the direct result of the resilience skills he learned to help him handle life’s challenges.
“I’ve been doing great this time! Interesting to think about the difference in how I handled switching careers again. It was actually easy this time. I’ve gained a lot of tools to manage stress and life in general. Facing adversity with the right skillset makes it a lot easier to manage,” says TSgt Williamson.
TSgt Williamson has come a long way to overcome his challenges and help others. “You can become resilient if you don’t let stigma surrounding mental health stop you,” he says. “It’s important to recognize that everyone has problems and that Resilience training is an existing program we can all use to provide the mental tools necessary to stay strong through whatever life throws you.”
Editor Note: Invisible wounds are as real and severe as physical wounds. If left untreated invisible wounds can have negative impacts on an Airman’s personal and professional life. It’s important for Airmen to recognize signs and symptoms of invisible wounds in themselves and in their peers, to ensure a mentally strong, resilient, and lethal Total Force. The Air Force is committed to supporting Airmen living with invisible wounds by providing a wide range of resources to support their recovery journey. To share your own stories of invisible wounds and/or learn about available resources visit www.ReadyAirmen.com.