Healing. Poetry. Two words that Andrew R. Jones had never given much thought to before he was deployed to Iraq as a combat Marine. There, he experienced the trauma of war, not easily forgotten.
Returning to the United States, he fought as hard at home as he had fought overseas – though this time, the battles were more emotional than physical.
Now, after years of struggle with painful memories of a bloody war, Jones is finding peace. He’s exploring new paths that are as satisfying as they were unexpected. Finally, he’s on the road to healing. And – surprising everyone, including himself – it was poetry that paved the way.
The journey was difficult. Seven years in the Marine Corps infantry were followed by a stint in security. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) followed him through a couple of divorces, trouble with the law. Drinking failed to blunt the nightmares and emotional pain.
“It was getting overwhelming,” said Jones, recalling the period when bad memories and compulsions seemed to rule his life.“If I could get all those negative thoughts out of my head, put them on paper, it would be helpful,” he remembers thinking.
That was nearly two years ago, about the time he enrolled at GCC, intent on using his G.I. education benefits and aiming for a degree in business.
Now, he’s an English major at GCC, on track for transferring to Arizona State University in fall 2014. He hopes to enter the ASU Creative Writing program and eventually to pursue a master’s degree in fine art.
Jones acknowledges it was quite a leap for a guy who didn’t start writing until two years ago. At first, the writing was just for himself. Then other veterans started reading his work and found it therapeutic.
Now 32, Jones was born in San Diego and grew up in Las Vegas. He came to the Phoenix area in 2005.
Though he did well in high school English and enjoyed exploring Shakespeare and reading novels, he had never envisioned himself as a writer. He started writing short stories of his experiences in Iraq; the poetry came later. His initial motivation for writing was to work through things that were bothering him; memories of combat, painful experience. He quickly learned how therapeutic it could be.
“Whenever it gets too much to handle in my head, I sit down and write what’s on my mind,” he explained.
He credits writing for releasing his stress and easing his mind. In addition, he sought out counseling, attending one-on-one and group therapy at the Phoenix Vet Center, which he’s also found helpful in dealing with painful thoughts and memories. “Before all of this, my family knew me as a very angry person,” said Jones. He was on guard continually and his temper flared at the slightest provocation. Those around him were used to walking on eggshell.
Now that he’s more at peace, everyone is more comfortable being around him, and family relationships have improved.
Seeing his writing talents blossom has been a revelation. “My dad said, ‘I had no idea you could write like this,’” said Jones. “He had never seen this as a part of me; he had never known me this way before.” More importantly, his family has been amazed as his behavioral transformation. Along with healing came artistic validation. People started to take notice and appreciate his work.
Gradually, he has honed his talents through formal study. At GCC, he’s taken professor John Ventola’s Introduction to Poetry class and professor David Nelson’s Introduction to Fiction Writing.
He has learned how to format his work and hot to incorporate literary devices. He has become comfortable alluding to other authors’ poems and literature, and now references those he admires. One of those authors is Tim O’Brien, who over 20 years ago wrote “The Things They Carried,” a book of stories about his war, the Vietnam War. The book is now celebrated as one of the most important books about the experience of war.
O’Brien enumerated tangible things like clothing items, canteens and can openers, along with antipersonnel mines and grenades. But along with the weight of these necessities was an even greater burden: the weight of responsibility and guilt, ghosts that can linger for years after deployment ends.
Jones writes about this guilt, shame and emotional trauma that can accumulate from painful experiences. Resolving pent-up feelings through his writing has helped others as well as Jones. Even if they don’t write themselves, many vets relate to the subject matter and have told Jones they’re glad he’s representing their experiences in his work.
“I’m happy I can be a voice for them and speak on their behalf when they’re not at that point yet,” said Jones. He encourages other vets to explore expression through creative writing, photography and other arts as avenues to their own inner peace.
Along with helping others to begin their own journeys of healing, he’s busy pursuing publishing opportunities. Through Triumph Press, he’s recently produced an anthology of short stories and poems; over a dozen vets contributed. Called Healing the Warrior Heart: A Glimpse into the Hearts of Combat Veterans and their Supporting Loved Ones, it is available on Amazon, Nook, Kindle and www.healingthewarriorheart.org.
Jones recalled something Professor Nelson said in class: “Good writers will always have a usable past; it’s all about being able to go through the difficult struggles we endure in life, and being able to take those struggles and turn them into a piece of poetry.”
“That’s what makes the work strong,” noted Jones. “So I try to be as open as possible and let it all out.”
By using painful experiences as fodder for expression, seeking counseling and setting himself on a new academic trajectory, Jones has found comfort, harnessed his energy for good and renewed his spirit.
“I didn’t see this as a future at all,” he said. “It’s amazing how life takes you.”
One of Andrew’s recent poems, written to resonate with civilians and veterans alike:
Andrew R. Jones
I will no longer ride this wagon
This wagon of bitterness
This wagon of, “You don’t rate”
“You don’t know”
“You haven’t been there”
Pulling a chain increasing the gap
“Us” and “Them”
Warriors and Civilians
I will no longer ride this wagon
I have exited in motion
Tucked and rolled
Busted and bruised
I stand tall, brush the dirt
Fresh blood dripping
I stand tall and step
Fresh tears falling
Won’t follow what I don’t believe
Won’t follow those who cannot see
I will lead in a new direction
I will lead to Victory in my mission
Standing at the edge of the gap
In the distance they scream
Wanting to help, not knowing a way
Questions unanswered until now
How will they know if we don’t tell?
It’s up to us to show them our Hell
With love in my heart
I grasp my rope of faith
Cast it to the other side
I call out for The Lord’s strength:
Allow this rope to travel the divide
To be received with Your blessing
On the other side
Bring us together, Warrior and Civilians
For no matter the title, we are all Your children