For the first time in years, veteran Rob Martin felt well enough to attend the national Remembrance Day ceremony in Ottawa on Wednesday.
Though Nov. 11 is mainly a day of sombre reflection, Martin said he also has "a lot of joy in my heart" thanks to several programs that helped him cope with post-traumatic stress.
"I feel alive," he said. "Life is beautiful, and I'm lucky. I'm lucky."
Martin served in the Canadian military for 34 years, including two tours in Afghanistan, in 2002 and from 2008 to 2009, when worked as an intelligence officer.
'I was pretty much a hollow shell, emotionally.' - Veteran Rob Martin
When he returned from Kandahar in 2009, he blamed himself for the deaths of 25 soldiers during the tour.
Martin said he lost weight and stopped playing with his three young children, aged six, three and one. But he continued to work in intelligence as a deputy commander.
"I was pretty much a hollow shell, emotionally," he said.
He was diagnosed with PTSD in December 2009, and was medically released from the military in September 2010.
Veterans Transition Network
For years, he felt like he was in a "very dark and ominous place," Martin said.
He took part in several programs to help heal, including the wilderness program Outward Bound and the fly fishing program Project Healing Waters.
Then last fall, he joined Veterans Transition Network to help him cope with the trauma. His program started in Ottawta on Oct. 23, 2014 — the day after Cpl. Nathan Cirillo was shot and killed at the National War Memorial.
"There was a lot of emotion just at the outset of the course," he said. "Once your emotions start to flow, you can't shut them off."
Martin recently got a companion dog, Thor, as part of a pilot project within the program. Thor accompanied him to Wednesday's Remembrance Day ceremony at the National War Memorial.
"Remembrance Day for me is thinking about my colleagues who are in that dark and ominous place, and as I do that I go and reflect back on the losses and the suffering and the families — just the pain of war," he said.