Can you heal from abuse? What do I do after leaving my narcissist? What does a healthy relationship look like? These concerns cross the minds of over 20 people every minute; over 28,800 people every day. And the sad fact is, we still don’t talk about it enough. Healing from Emotional Abuse isn’t a bandaid situation. But it doesn’t have to take years either. Millions of other survivors around the worlds entire lives have been impacted by their narcissist. Yours doesn’t have to. To show you how to live a free, confident and peaceful life, your host and Founder of the Healing From Emotional Abuse Philosophy, Marissa F. Cohen.
Marissa: Welcome back to Healing From Emotional Abuse. Today I have on a very special friend of mine. Corinne McGrath-Preston is a veteran that served in the US Army and the Vermont Army National Guard for almost 10 years. She and I go way back to high school. And she’s the kindest and friendliest person that I know. I am honored to have her on the show today. And I’m so grateful that people like her serve our country, and are speaking out about their abuse. Thank you for coming on today, Corinne.
Corinne: Thank you for having me.
Marissa: Of course, I am. I’m sorry that these are the circumstances under which we talk. But I’m really, really grateful that you’re speaking out about what happened to you, and that you’re sharing your story so that other people know what actually happens to people in the military, and that this isn’t one isolated issue.
Corrine: Yeah, it’s hard, because a lot of people will pick it up. And it’s, the mainstream media will pick up a story here and there. But it would just be continual and nonstop, if they reported on every single instance. So, when something big like this happens (Vanessa Guillen), it definitely brings up a lot for a lot of people. I think what made it easier for me to start speaking about this was that I’m officially out now. And that’s a weird feeling unto itself. Because it’s, it’s a toxic relationship that you have with the service, especially, where you have a circumstance where you survive through… it’s just it’s shitty, it’s horrible. It sucks. And all at the same time. You fight so hard to keep it. And it’s just this weird, toxic cycle that you fall into, with the military. So, it’s just, it’s weird.
Marissa: That’s such a good way to phrase that it’s a toxic relationship. Because I mean, I’ve never served, the closest I got to serving was being a contractor working in mental health. And from an outside perspective, that was so evident to me that people were fighting to be promoted, they were fighting to gain rank, they were fighting for all of these goals. And it was like, just hitting a wall every time especially for people that sought out mental health help. You know, if you had mentioned that you were suicidal, you are no longer promotable. You’re not allowed to have a firearm, you’re not allowed to. you’re not combat ready, you’re not anything. So, you’re pretty much just sitting pretty until your contract ends. And that’s so unfortunate, because it degrades mental health, and it stops people from seeking out the help they need to be truly combat ready.
Corinne: It’s a love-hate relationship. Like I, only I made that Facebook post and I had said a lot of what I had experienced directly from my command and from my unit at the time. And I was brand new to my unit. I was assaulted by my team leader within two months of joining guard. And then I literally like I felt like I lost everything. Like I spent all of those months in training and finding out that this was something that I loved. And this is something I wanted to do. And then I had it ripped away from me. And then it started feeling like it was ripped away from me repeatedly. And it was just, I stayed in; you know what I mean? Like that was in 2012. And here it is 2020. And now I’m officially out but I kept myself in that scenario. Knowing already what it had done to me what it’s done to my family what they’ve had to put up with. It’s just there’s a lot there’s a lot to it. And it’s crazy how much of a fight it is to just be in garrison. To be promoted to be sent to schools. To be considered a decent soldier, in my case. It’s just there’s so much.
Marissa: Do you mind talking a little bit about what you went through, and then the aftermath of what it felt like to be stuck there?
Corinne: So, in the Guard, I didn’t report within the first month after the attack. I reported in July at Camp Johnson, it’s really the only kind of place other than camp Ethan Allen training site where there Offices other than the Armory. My First Sergeant at the time, had me drive from where I live to Camp Johnson, which was about an hour and a half drive, to have me sit in a tiny little office space and have her tell me like after I told her what had happened, she literally looked me in the eye and said, “You put yourself in that situation, so you deserve it.” Yep. And I had a lot of people make excuses for her I still definitely might my heart pounds when I see her or her brother, who was also in the guard. Because Vermont, like I said, Vermont’s a very small place. So, there’s always, always the possibility you’re going to run into someone you know, which is very true, especially in my small town. And so, every time I run into her, I’m just like I feel it all over again. And it wasn’t, that wasn’t the only instance where she made my life or friends of mine, who were also serving, a living hell. She would speak to me indirectly, in a formation, kind of airing out dirty laundry like, “Don’t, don’t spend the night in a hotel room with other service members. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you might be sexually assaulted.” Like a very victim blaming instance, she basically made it so that her lower enlisted friends would follow me around on drill weekends, and made sure I didn’t talk to anyone, or just I wasn’t even allowed to go anywhere on the armory by myself. I would constantly have someone following me. Usually it was a specialist or an E5. a Sergeant. And they would literally just follow me around, make sure I didn’t really talk to anyone. So being a survivor, and not really giving myself the ability to process for as many years as I did, I just kind of shoved it down. I feel like it really has affected my relationship with my children first and foremost, because I wasn’t in tune with myself, I couldn’t be myself. So, in the past two years, all of the work that I really tried to put in granted, yeah, I was active duty. But I did so much therapy, that my unit my unit hated me for that (active-duty side.) I was constantly going to therapy because of all of the things that had happened. I was just so angry all the time. And I went out with a couple of friends, I got drunk, we came home and I ended up getting into a verbal altercation, that escalated two pictures getting knocked off the wall, Jeremy and I bumping into the table and the table flipped over and the MP’s were called. And so, I became a problem soldier while I was active duty, and not just in the guard because I didn’t handle my shit. And it literally almost cost me my family. And so now since I’ve been out and since I’ve been home and since COVID, I’ve really had to come to terms with a lot of things. And notice a lot more about my life. Like that I definitely had postpartum when I had Elena. And I definitely shoved it down and didn’t focus on it because it brought up so much about the assault and about all of the different traumas that I just I categorized it in my brain and was like nope, not dealing with this. So, I’m realizing this as I’m trying to be a mom of three now, not just two, and I’m trying to be a better mother and I understand that I need to be my best self but the Army literally took that from me.
I will never spend a day not being affected by it.
Jeremy shuffles his feet to come up and down the stairs intentionally and like knocks on walls if he’s behind me walking up in the kitchen or he intentionally makes noise to make sure that I know he’s there. Because I’m always going to be jumpy. And my kids can’t jump out and surprise me. I freaked out even in the last couple of months, I freaked out because Cameron has jumped out from behind something decided surprise me and I’m still in the mindset where I need to be on guard and these are my children. This is my husband. It will never not be in every aspect in every corner of my life. And that’s really hard for me to come to terms with but this is where I’m at.
Marissa: Right, I’m really glad you said that and I’m so sorry for how much it’s impacted your life and just know you’re not alone. You know, we are people growing up. And then as soon as something like this happens to us, especially in adulthood like you and I are whole world is turned upside down and we just change like, we will never be that person again. I will always have self-doubt, because of the abuse I went through. I will always have certain reactions to different scenarios and situations because of what I went through. And same for you and it’s horrible. I don’t think people recognize how much sexual assault impacts your whole well-being and your whole life like you’re never the same person again, never. What was your rank when that happened to you?
Corinne: I was a PFC when I was assaulted and then I did not get promoted to specialist until 2017 because I struggled so much with my weight. I struggled so much with working out. Looking back, I couldn’t get over myself to push myself that far. I had ended up getting a hip injury and it just started to really slow me down after having Cameron and Elena I couldn’t do sit ups anymore. So, I went on a permanent profile. But then losing weight was my biggest issue. And weight is directly tied to mental health, especially for me, and the way that you eat and the way that you’re living your life. So, when I finally did get promoted to a specialist, that’s when I decided, “Oh, I’m going to go active duty, I’m going to do these things. I’m going to reset my career. I’m going to go and, and do all these great things and play ‘real army.’” And when I got there, after having a couple of triggering incidences, I wasn’t attacked again. I wasn’t assaulted. I just wasn’t handling my own self and my own triggers. And I ended up letting it affect every aspect because I didn’t know how to stop myself. I didn’t know how to reverse me catastrophizing, and I ended up getting demoted back down to PFC before getting out. So, I’m still PFC, McGrath Preston. But I made it a specialist before really just throwing in the towel and saying I was done.
Marissa: What kind of discharge did you did you have following all of this?
Corinne: Well, they did try to get me out on a couple of different things before I ultimately was pregnant with Jacob and decided that I was going to take the chapter for essentially for pregnancy, because I was like I can’t do this again. I need I needed a way out. And that was, that was the way that I took. So, I do have an honorable discharge, which is more than I can say for a lot of other people that I know of. The joke was with a couple of friends that I was going to swap urine samples with them to pretend to piss hot so I could get out of there faster. Because it took me months and months and months. I literally I started the process in August of 2019. And found out the day after Christmas, that my paperwork had gone through. Which in the grand scheme of the army, that’s pretty quick. But for my whole family and I being out in Colorado, it was a long time.
Marissa: Yeah, they’re definitely not quick, with their paperwork. The bureaucracy behind everything is ridiculous. And while working there, I learned that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, because to get permission to do anything in the mental health field would have taken longer than the span of my contract.
Corinne: It’s also a very climate driven thing as well. Because if you if you as a soldier want something done, and your leadership doesn’t really care, it’s going to take longer. If your leadership is hell bent on getting something done, things will move so much faster.
Marissa: What if you don’t mind me asking? What happened to the person who abused you? Do you know where they are now?
Corinne: So, I found out when they were trying to get him out of the army. I knew he was married. But I found out that he had two teenage daughters, which really, really fucked with me. And because he had assaulted me and I had reported him, after his deployment, he was given all of his benefits through the VA. And there was nothing I was told there was nothing that could be done about that, that he was going to keep those no matter what. And he was going to be given an Other Than Honorable Discharge because the Vermont Army National Guard did not have CID. We weren’t attached to 10th Mountain out of Fort Drum yet. Like it was still its own entity. He was an EMT, in the Washington DC area. And for all I know, he probably is still an EMT. He’s probably still in that position where he’s supposed to be taking care of people. And he’s more than likely still abusing that power. When he was getting pushed out, it’s kind of went back and forth a little bit where my advocate and my recorder, which is because there was a recorder for the Army with the best interest of the Army, who didn’t give a rat’s ass about me, which is fine. I understand that was his job. But my recorder, was there intentionally, like intentionally to be there with my best interest. And I cannot remember this man’s name, I’m sure it’s still in my email somewhere. But he and my victim advocate were like, “So this, your attacker wants to write you a letter to apologize.” And I was like, if he’s going to write me a letter, I want him to sit down with a therapist and actually work through his bullshit. Because you’re not going to just give me a blanket letter that says I’m sorry. And his representation came back and was like, well, we will we will do therapy if he stays in the army. And I was like, no, go fuck yourself. Like, instantly, like, there was no question. Take your fucking letter and send it somewhere else. Nope, not even going to happen. But I remember I was holding Cameron, who was a couple months old at the time. And I remember holding him and having this conversation with the Captain and being like, “Nope, I don’t want a single thing from this man. I don’t want an apology letter. I don’t want anything and especially, I don’t want him in boots. If it gets him out of boots faster, like he can just go pound sand elsewhere.” He had gotten an administrative move from the unit within a couple weeks of me reporting. It was around the same time. He also the weekends that he had attacked me, went to JAG and spoke to them and told them basically that, hypothetically, he had relations with someone that he felt was going to come forward and accuse him of sexual assault. So, the weekend he attacked me, he went to JAG and set up this whole story that I was just feeling bad about the fact that we had relations. And they believed him. They gave him a lawyer who was local in Burlington. So, he knew that this was all… He had a plan on how all this was going to go down. So, he then went back down to Washington, DC, and he got moved to North field out of Winooski. And, god, it’s so convoluted, there’s so much that goes on in this entire story. So, I go to JAG and I asked JAG for help. And JAG goes, “Well, we can’t give you any legal help”. So, I go to CUSI, which is the Chittenden Unit for Special Investigations and I filed a report with them. And then I filed for relief of abuse order. The Army gave me the No Contact order and flagged me so I couldn’t get promoted. I couldn’t go to schools. I couldn’t do anything. And then months down the line after my multiple different victim advocates that I had, because every time that I had a meeting with someone, I had a different victim advocate like I never, never kept the same advocate. So, I would tell the advocate my story before going into the meeting, and then I would tell the story again in the meeting, and then nothing would happen. And it just it got worse and worse. Until finally, my victim advocate Jason Cleveland, SSG Cleveland stuck with me and he drove me from Winooski down to Northfield to meet with a Sergeant Major and a Lieutenant Colonel. What they forgot to mention was that:
A. This was my attackers new unit; and
B. was his family day. So, he was in civilian clothes, and he wasn’t like in any mandated training. They didn’t know where he was.
So, they walked us upstairs into the second floor and put us in this tiny little office and basically told me that I wasn’t allowed to leave the office because he was there in the building. And I lost my mind. I was in this tiny little room. Well, it wasn’t even that tiny, but to me it was it was just small. And I was pacing and I was freaking out and Staff Sergeant Cleveland was just sitting there and he’s watching me and I remember there was a LT or Captain that came in to do my line of duty. So, it took from July when I reported until November to have this paperwork done. That said I had been assaulted and I had a medical, because the line of duty is for the VA essentially. And because at the time that I was assaulted on a drill weekend, I didn’t count for a VA rating, I still technically don’t count for a VA rating. I’m currently fighting that battle. And I wasn’t entitled to anything through the VA, for PTSD for victim services, because drill weekends didn’t count. It was just a continual shit show to be totally honest.
Marissa: Everything you said is valid, though. I mean, truly, if you want to dig deep, the military does not take care of their own, one of the things that I learned is, you’re more likely to be promoted in the military, for raping and abusing somebody than you are for being victimized. And doing all the right things and taking all the right steps to resolve the issue and to get yourself situated.
Corinne: The term is Failing Upwards. Because if they promote you, you move, and they don’t have to deal with you anymore.
Marissa: Exactly. And I not to make this about me But I recorded an episode that I talked about my story and about, I only worked for the military and I was being harassed by a guy that worked in HHC. I found out after I’d made a report that he had abused or harassed or stalked seven women before me. And then after I made a report, my contract mysteriously ended. And then he was promoted and moved again. Now he has I think, nine or 10 reports on him for abusive behavior. And he just keeps getting promoted. I’m pretty sure he’s a staff sergeant right now, which is disgusting, because that means he has a lot of people under him. And those people are vulnerable to him, because they’re, he’s their first line leader. And you know, what are they going to do if they speak out against him? What do you think from all of this that you’ve experienced, what do you think the military needs to change to make this more survivor friendly?
Corinne: I used to think that there were redeemable qualities about the Army. I mean, there’s a few NCOs that I can name on one hand that are amazing people and that’s, about it. I honestly think that it needs to be taken down to its core and rebuilt. I think that, like you show up for the first day, and people are like, Oh, I’m going to make these jokes that are going to make you uncomfortable. And I know they’re going to make you uncomfortable. But as soon as you say that you’re uncomfortable, It’s not me, it’s your problem. So, if someone makes a sexist comment about female soldiers, you’re just supposed to take it. You’re just supposed to absorb it, because that’s the culture ultimately is that it’s a man’s job. And you’re not going to ever be good enough. And the military itself is power and control. That is why we have a military is for power and control. And there are people that are drawn to that will utilize that mentality, and take advantage of other people, both male and female. And that’s what sexual assault ultimately is about. It’s about power and control. So, this environment is just fostering these people because it’s not genders specific. The only reason that it becomes gender specific is because there’s only 15% females in the United States Military and that’s where people are like, “Oh, it’s only it’s only males that are attackers.” But it’s not true there. There are female attackers, there are male victims. There is male and male violence, there’s so much to it, it’s just you can’t fix it. Because that is literally the environment. That is the Military. There is no fixing it. Like there, you can tear it all down and that very core of it being power and control. The only way you’re going to eat out these individuals is if you have like the most insane psychological testing, and even then, there’s always going to be someone that gets through.
Marissa: I think that beyond psyche evals, which are important, in my opinion just as like a personality measure, I think there needs to be a system (and something that I’m actually working on separately) is a third-party system to help survivors of military sexual abuse because I think that keeping it internal is dangerous. You went to all the right channels, but because he went to the JAG first to defend himself preemptively knowing what he did was wrong, then you were at a disadvantage. They didn’t believe you. They didn’t give you a lawyer. What kind of bullshit system is that?
Corinne: And it’s because all he literally had just gotten back from a deployment with the unit that I was attached to. Like they knew him is what they kept saying to me, “Oh, no, you’re lying because I know him. And he wouldn’t do that”. And my First Sergeant was a driving force behind that where she made it so that I was extremely ostracized and alienated. “Oh, don’t pull them McGrath.” was literally something that was said after I’d been moved from the unit in a safety brief. And she’s still a First Sergeant, she’s still in the army. She’s going to finish out. She’s going to have 20 years. And if she ever makes Sergeant Major, I think I’ll be sick. She probably because she’s protecting perpetrators. There was actually one point where I was doing my, my yearly physical, and I was talking to a Major, and he was asking me all these questions, and I was responding honestly, and 100% openly. And he actually left in the middle of my talking with the provider, because he was like, “I need to go find her, because she worked in the medical fields. She like she was a medic, and she worked in Med-Det. as a civilian as a technician, while simultaneously serving in the guard.” And literally, he went to go find her and confronted her about it and she wouldn’t come back to the room. She told him to tell me she was sorry. And this was years after the fact. There’s a lot in the military. There’s a lot like her. I was told when I went to Northfield to go talk to that Sergeant Major and that Lieutenant Colonel, on the way there, I was telling Jason Cleveland, my victim advocate, that all of these things had been happening. And then as soon as we got there and everything that happened, and they gave me my LOD, I finally was able to get in to talk to the Lieutenant Colonel. He’s like, why are we just getting this point, the Sergeant Major said, “Well, if you think about it, in drill weekends, we’re pretty on point like, it’s only been like X number of days.” And that’s literally when I knew that I didn’t matter. Like that was how the timeline was being perceived was in drill weekends, every two days. That’s how my life was being measured. It wasn’t being measured in the times that I would go home and I wasn’t sleeping at night, so I would drink so that I wouldn’t think about how my body felt. It was nothing. It was every time I was in boots, that was the only time that it mattered. Every time I was in the uniform, that was when I counted as a soldier, but not as a human being. And then I was told, because I asked if I could be moved to the air ambulance unit, I was told by that same Sergeant Major, “That was too much of a good thing. Because medics fight for that slot, and there would be too much. I would have to learn so much about the helicopters, and that would be too much for me.” So, I would have to stay either in Charlie Med or be moved to Med Det., which wasn’t that safe because her brother, my First Sergeant’s brother was a Staff Sergeant at Med Det. And I had already been through an instance, that previous summer in August, where I was ordered by my First Sergeant’s brother to sit on a cooler in a tiny kitchenette, the size of literally a closet, while they broke the Relief of Abuse Order and the No Contact Order, and brought my attacker through the back gate of Camp Johnson, and into the same hallway that I was in. And he told me, my First Sergeants brother told me that, “Well, he wouldn’t do anything because I deployed with him. And he wouldn’t do that.” So I wasn’t allowed to go outside of my unit, I was going to stay if I stayed in the medical field, I was going to be in one situation or another where everything was going to be absolutely controlled by them. Or I could lose my medic status and become a zero-zero-fox, which is essentially a placeholder MLS and be moved elsewhere, which is ultimately what happened. There was a meeting of Sergeant Majors, and my Sergeant Major stood up and said, “I will take her because he knew the guy I was dating at the time his father had mentioned to him what had been going on. And that was the only reason that this Sergeant Major was like she’s not a problem. Like she’s now my soldier.” And I was moved over into Garrison Support Command GSC and worked for Range Control at Camp Ethan Allen training site. And honestly, if it wasn’t for my Sergeant Major and if it wasn’t for my First Sergeant that I’d been moved to Thomas Combs I honestly don’t think I would have survived my first five years of being in the Army National Guard
Marissa: I’m so sorry. That’s so much bullshit and bureaucracy. I mean, the Military definitely misuses human beings. And, you know, it’s such an abuse of power. And it’s limitless. It’s a limitless abuse of power So what advice would you give to other military survivors to help them get through all of this?
Corinne: Something that has really helped me a lot. When I was in Fort Carson, I was I was going to a therapist, there at Behavioral Health Team 5, and I was sitting in the waiting room, and I found this last brochure about Equine therapy. I emailed the woman, because I was curious about it, because it talked about relearning how to trust yourself. And I was like, well, that’s a weird thing to say. And I ended up going, and there were multiple instances where I actually cried, because of the equine therapy. It’s really powerful, just going out into this herd of mares and figuring out which one you have sort of a connection with. And then you groom them for the first part of the therapy. And then you ultimately do an exercise. And the one that really helped me start to understand was, it’s essentially you put the lead on the ground, and you have the horse follow you through an obstacle course, essentially. My best friend’s mom, who I consider my mom, had actually come to visit me and she even mentioned after watching this therapy session. She was like, “I could see it from where I was the change that came over you.” And I, it still gives me chills because it was so, so powerful to remind me that I can not only trust myself, but I could, trust others around me, even if I can’t speak to them. And I 100% recommend Equine Therapy to MST survivor at any at any point. If you can get just near a horse. I know it’s terrifying to even begin to consider like, well, if I can’t trust myself, how am I supposed to trust an animal that’s a good 100 times my size in some cases. It’s worth it. It’s worth the risk. And absolutely incredible to have that kind of connection. And to remember that, that you can have that connection with someone or something.
Marissa: Thank you so much for sharing that. That’s amazing. I have heard great things about equine therapy. But its good talking is a good thing. And I’m really honored that you felt comfortable enough to talk to me about this and go through you went through. And you’re really doing such a huge service to people helping them explore what they went through and heal from it because you are so brave and I adore you. Military Sexual Trauma Movement
Corrine: Thanks for having me. And I’m glad we did finally get a chance to reconnect and to talk about this.
If you enjoyed this podcast, you have to check out www.MarissaFayeCohen.com/Private-Coaching. Marissa would love to develop a made-for-you healing plan to heal from emotional abuse. She does all the work, and you just show up. Stop feeling stuck, alone, and hurt, and live a free, confident, and peaceful life. Don’t forget to subscribe to the Healing From Emotional Abuse podcast, and follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/marissafcohen, and instagram @Marissa.Faye.Cohen. We’d love to see you there!
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