Storyteller | Combat wounded veteran | Metalhead | Designer | Bleeding on a page just makes it more authentic: https://benjaminsledge.com

A former soldier explains the emotional vacancy of “the fatherless generation”

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Photo by Oliver Ragfelt | Unsplash

“Men are so quick to blame the gods: they say
that we devise their misery. But they
themselves — in their depravity — design
grief greater than the griefs that fate assigns.”

―Homer, The Odyssey

I don’t have the group picture from the day my dad visited my fraternity house at Oklahoma State University. It was awkward compared to the “Mom’s Day” photo we would snap a few months later. …


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My wife and I at the advanced screening of Cobra Kai Season II during SXSW in 2019. Of course we’re team Cobra…

One of my favorite shows is Cobra Kai. If you’re unfamiliar with the show, it’s a continuation of the Karate Kid saga from the 1980s, only this time the script is flipped. We discover the old bully — Johnny Lawrence — isn’t as bad as we once thought. His rough upbringing, unloving father, and brutal sensei, sent him down a destructive path. Now he’s trying to make amends, while still dealing with a rivalry from the old hero, Daniel LaRusso.

As a kid, I got beat up and picked on, so I resonated with the Karate Kid. With my long hair and love of metal and art, I attracted the bullies, so I was desperate to learn martial arts. The problem was that the town I grew up in was intensely fundamentalist, and the populace viewed metal and karate as evil. Even as a teenager, I’d hide my cassettes and CDs in my car, lest my parents find them. To throw them off the scent, I’d often tune the dial to some Christian radio station that always had “Spirit” or “Dove” in their branding. …


Whether child or adult, everyone wants a mission that matters.

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Photo by Alexander Jawfox on Unsplash

The paper in front of me carried the distinctive teal lines used in every classroom. I stared at the empty paper, wondering what I should write, but looked at the question scrawled across the green chalkboard once more. Glancing at my peer’s papers, I saw words and pictures scribbled with the oversized №2 pencils we each used. None of them held the answer I was looking for.

Before time was up, the muse of inspiration struck and I grinned ear to ear and began scribbling. The picture was one I’d drawn a thousand times, while often daydreaming about the day it would happen. …


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Photo posted on numerous social media platforms

Today, I began getting texts from friends and family.

“Have you seen this disaster?”
“What a ******* day.”
“I feel like crying watching the news right now.”

Stopping to see what everyone was talking about, I abandoned an article I had for you on joy and purpose (which I’ll send next week). Instead, most people’s attention is on the alarming season premiere of America: 2021 (that’s a joke. Perhaps a poorly timed one, but I mask pain with sarcasm if you haven’t caught on).

I suppose I should preface this email by telling you we never get political at HeartSupport. We’re about mental health. But there are world events that obviously exacerbate mental health issues (like pandemics). Around the world today, many people became fearful about the events happening in Washington DC when protesters stormed the United States capitol and all hell broke loose over election results. You’re not about to get a hot take on that from me. Instead, I want to address the underlying fear, worry, and anxiety many in our community have regarding these events. …


A look at Christmas traditions that dig at the roots we developed during a difficult year.

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Photo by Stéphane Juban on Unsplash

*This is week 3 of my year end/Christmas reflections. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

The question was fair, but I took a moment to answer.

I’d been fiddling with the fire, placing another log onto the coals. My house lights were dimmed so that the fire was the primary source of illumination giving it a cozy holiday feel, but the problem was that one log was too green and kept fizzling out. Adding more seasoned wood until the fire became a roar, I finally sat down and then responded to the question at hand.

“I would have embraced Old Norse mythology. I like the lore and it fits my personality.” …


When my friends and family staged an intervention, the revelation forced a painful change

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Photo by Darius Bashar on Unsplash

*This is week 2 of my year end/Christmas reflections. Read Part 1 here.

I was drunk and high on Percocet when I kicked in my girlfriend’s door.

Her roommates quickly grabbed their phones and began dialing 911. One of them had the sense of mind to call my roommate, who wrestled me to the ground, and took me home before the police showed.

When I awoke the next morning, my parents and three roommates were in the living room, and I knew I’d screwed up. The problem was I couldn’t remember much of what transpired, so they had to recount the tale. In an intervention, there’s always denial and resistance from the offender, and then finally, acceptance. …


On finding light amid dark circumstances

Most people know I’m a little obsessed with pumpkin spice. Just check out this apron I wore for Thanksgiving:

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We smoke turkeys in my household for Turkey Day!

However, my absolute favorite time of the year is Christmas. Years ago, my family asked why Christmas got me so amped, and I had to think. Several images flashed in my mind from childhood — a few White Christmases I’d had, the lights, cheer, toys, tradition, and family. But there were also images of really hard Christmases as well. Ones where I had a Charlie Brown tree stuffed with Pringles and PowerBars underneath drooping branches while fighting a war. As tough as those memories are, they now have a soft glow to them and I remember them with fondness. Songs like “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” always makes me choke up too, because I recall sitting in a room with a bunch of soldiers on Christmas Eve, silent, and letting the words wash over me while grasping reality. …


Old wounds often wreak havoc, and we unknowingly succumb to their power. Even when we don’t want to.

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Yup. That’s me with long hair.

One of my favorite movies is a little known flick, entitled Just Friends, starring Ryan Reynolds and Anna Faris. Technically, it’s kind of a Christmas film, but more aptly known as a romantic comedy. The premise revolves around Ryan Reynolds’s journey from an overweight dork in high school to a successful and attractive music industry mogul who’s friends with famous people. When he gets stuck in his hometown during Christmas, he reconnects with the most popular girl in school who was — at one point — his best friend. Their falling out happened years ago when he proclaimed his feelings for her in a letter that was then read to everyone at a senior class party. …


The history behind the movements that created politically infatuated (and fake) Christians.

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Original photo by Amaury Gutierrez on Unsplash with graphic additions made by author

The woman’s voice waivers.

She breathes deep, then rushes forward to detail how church pastors took part in the multiple years of sexual abuse when she was a child. Despite my anger and disgust, I probe more. Years of war prepared me for the dark underbelly of human nature, but — within in these interviews and confessions — my stomach lurches. I try to contain my temper, but punch the steering wheel as I drive home later in the day.

My investigative article will release a year after interviewing sources, survivors, and experts. Once published, I grow tired and cynical. Perhaps it’s more of a lament. So few Christians even cared that mega church pastors glossed over rampant sexual abuse and continued to protect their buddies. Some Christians even went to bat for the pastors in question. I ponder, for months, how it’s possible that the American church has strayed so far into cults of personality and politics, money and power, and a desire to be “blessed” more than following their founder’s teachings about worldly possessions. …


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This will make sense in a minute | Photo by Rodrigo Souza from Pexels

This weekend, an old Army friend shot me a text message with a video of a military humvee ramping a sand dune. Underneath the video, he wrote the caption “No balls.”

I laughed and was transported back to 2006 during the height of the Iraq War. Back then, my team made a habit of challenging each other by exclaiming “no balls” (I realize this expression is crude for some of you reading, but I always ensure I tell the stories just as they happen — good, bad, and ugly). The challenges often went like this: I dare you to eat 30 pieces of pizza at Cici’s Pizza buffet. Oh, you can’t? No balls. Eat as many Easter chick peeps as you can in two minutes. Not gonna do it? …

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