Although it may sound a little strange at first, these days Joe Duarte, Chamorro (Indigenous Peoples of the Mariana Islands) descent, finds serenity in combat, as a mixed martial arts fighter. “When I’m in the ring, I’m in complete control of my life,” he said. “It’s when I’m at my peace. It’s my sanctuary. Fighting is my meditation.”
Combat was a different experience for Joe in Iraq, though, where he spent two tours of duty and lost a close friend during a convoy patrol.
“My life was at risk all the time,” he recalled. “All of us guys in the Army experienced these horrible situations that nobody would ever experience. It changes your life completely. It changes human beings, period. The anger is so overwhelming that it becomes uncontrollable to the point where you end up doing things that you feel you blacked out.”
After he came home from Iraq, Joe’s anger would sometimes boil into rage. “Like, I’ve beat up people, I followed someone to their house, I’ve pulled a gun out,” he said. “I’ve chased somebody down on the main freeway, on the 805. I followed a guy that almost hit me into a stop light and kicked the side of his door in. I didn’t even stop to think. But I felt good hurting other people because I was hurting so bad inside that taking it out on somebody else actually made me feel good.”
When Joe’s anger started to threaten his marriage, he finally decided—reluctantly—that it was time to get help.
“With my wife, I’d get angry over really, really miniscule stuff,” he said. “And she would be, like, ‘This is why you need to go get help.’ And where I’m from, saying I need to go get help is like someone slapping you in the face, you know? I fought with her every single time. And I knew something was wrong with me, I just didn’t want to accept it.”
Joe was diagnosed with PTSD and finally went to VA for treatment. It turned his life around.
“When I go home now, it’s completely different from the way I used to be because I’m so much more free mentally,” he said. “I struggle sometimes, you know, get aggravated sometimes. I have the tools now to deal with those issues, and that’s the difference. And now, when I’m happy and I’m sitting at home with my family, it makes me grateful that I went to therapy because I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy those times, you know?
“And I think with me sucking my pride up and being able to get therapy really showed what kind of champion I am. Not the belt that I have around my waist, but that I was able to help myself so that I live the rest of my life as a happier man. And I’m still getting better, you know, that’s the great part about it, is that I can still get better.”
Watch the entire AboutFace video profile of Duarte below.
George Decker is the Public Affairs Officer for the VA National Center for PTSD and Vicky Bippart is the Producer/Director for the VA National Center for PTSD.