By Mik Hyldebrandt
Photo: Tyler Ogden
It wasn’t just the stress of being deployed in Afghanistan and the constant threat of attack that threw Mark David Gibson into the throes of PTSD. The fact that he served under the military’s discriminatory Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy forced him to remain a closeted, gay man unable to live his authentic life. His memoir, Served in Silence: The Struggle to Live Authentically, recounts his personal struggle and powerful journey to live a true life beyond discrimination and filled with authenticity and love.
It was during his second deployment to Afghanistan that the basis of Mark David Gibson’s memoir started. Mark found that writing his thoughts and his stories down gave him a much-needed release from the emotional trauma he was experiencing being in a high-risk war zone with a constant threat of being attacked. The act of writing struck a chord with the captain who worked as a communications officer for the U.S. Air Force and helped him deal with the challenging conditions of his deployment to a war zone.
But for Mark, there was an even more profound layer to his writing. A deeper struggle that equaled and even surpassed his most intense battles while being a service member abroad. His realization of being a gay man who served under the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy was taking an emotional toll on him. The internal battle over the fact that he was willing to sacrifice his own life to ensure the liberty and freedoms of others, while he was far from enjoying those same personal freedoms were starting to fester in him and even question his identity. In fact, he called an emergency session with a senior officer to change his will, so that, given the possibility that he would get killed in service, he wouldn’t be buried in American soil, in a country that he felt didn’t accept him as an equal citizen.
His struggle and immense inner debate found at least partial release in writing, which started out as musings about his childhood, daydreaming, and reminiscing about his early years. Writing became a way for Mark to deal with the dehumanizing policy that effectively kept Mark in the closet for the entirety of his 20-year military career and beyond.
When he returned home, he was still profoundly marred by what he refers to as living in the shadows, and he struggled genuinely with the social structures that surrounded the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. His painful reality coupled with the onset of PTSD symptoms had Mark heavily medicated on prescription anti-depressants while his alcohol consumption started to reach dangerous levels despite seeming fully functional and capable to his surroundings.
So, when a doctor told him that he was rapidly killing himself with his alarming alcoholism, Mark realized that something drastic had to be done. And he also realized that writing was one of the vessels with which he could make profound changes in himself and the people around him.
After decades of shaming, hating, and loathing himself for what he was, Mark has learned to tell himself three words: I love you. The process of self-love was very much aided by his ability to write and express his feelings through words.
Upon returning from his second deployment as a highly decorated officer, Captain Gibson retired from active duty. Shortly after, Mark moved to Costa Rica where he underwent a dramatic transformation, which is unfolded with brutal honesty in his memoir.
First of all, Mark is five years sober, which has given him renewed focus and a resolve to make a positive difference every day. He has discovered the joy of life, love, and living which translates into him being an accomplished triathlete, working to help small LGBT businesses thrive, and giving motivational speeches across the country. And he has found meaningful love and partnership with his boyfriend, Aaron, whom he lovingly and often refers to as ‘Mr. Wonderful.’
Secondly, his writing has gone from reminiscing about his childhood to being a powerful narrative about his monumental struggle to live his life authentically. The book – Served in Silence: The Struggle to Live Authentically – recounts four phases of Mark David Gibson’s journey that starts in the early years, then moves onto the learning years and wonder years to end up in the living years finally.
And thirdly, as compelling a read this book is about pulling yourself out of the shadows, it brings the message of Served in Silence even further by donating portions of the proceeds to the Atlanta nonprofit Lost-n-Found Youth which is dedicated to ending homelessness for LGBTQ youth in Georgia.
Mark hopes that Served in Silence will not only enlighten and help others in their journey to live their own life more authentically by learning from his experiences, but also that it will help pull others out of the shadows in a much more literal way. Because his journey has shown him, that although there may be struggle, there is also an authentic life waiting for you, no matter who you are.
Learn more at markdavidgibson.com
Served in Silence: The Struggle to Live Authentically is available now on MarkonAmazon.com.