Christian Gabriel

Served in: Marines, 2002-2008.

Deployed to: Iraq (2005).

The trauma: “I drove big rigs, taking tons of ammo, fuel and food from the main base to other bases. The insurgents learned from their mistakes. They started using IEDs [improvised explosive devices] around the time I was there. A trip that was only supposed to be a few hours could take 30, because we’d spend so much time waiting for the bomb squad. When we’d stop, you didn’t know what to expect—if the bomb was going to detonate. Sometimes, insurgents would fire mortar rounds while we were sitting there. It was horrible.”

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The aftermath: “You start with a couple of drinks, and a month later, you realize you’ve been drunk every night. At my worst, I was drinking a fifth a night. When I was sober, I hated being around crowds. I was jumpy all the time. I’d sleep on the floor by the front door, getting two to four hours of sleep a night.”

The treatment: “I had a great counselor at the VA, but the appointments were limited. When I’d want to talk to someone, they weren’t available. I tried meds, but they made me feel numb, so I decided not to take them. In 2007, I started staying up late at night and writing and drawing. Whatever was inside me went on the canvas. That’s good, but the bonus is, then I’d talk about it. I saw some of Danny Roberts’ work at a First Friday, and it really inspired me. He mentored me, taught me some tricks.”

Today: “I’m such a different person. I have an art show coming up at the Sunrise Library from Jan. 31-April 31, and early next year I’ll get my bachelor of science in animation. I also got married in April; my fiancée has been through a lot with me.”

Am I recovered? “No. It’s ongoing. Coping with the things in my head is a process. Art is a process.”

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