Hello all. I'm so sorry to have been gone so long. It's been a very challenging past few months in some ways and a revelation in others. This is going to be a pretty long blog post, so hold onto your hats. I have a lot to talk about and it's been too long.
Why I Haven't Blogged in Such a Long Time
With everything going on with the divorce proceedings, I needed to disconnect. It was killing me not being able to blog about what I was going through. You see, the thing is, my blogging about my PTSD has always been about sharing what I've learned and what I'm struggling through. With the divorce proceedings, it wasn't about just me - it was about my ex and about my daughter. When going through a divorce, there's no possible way to separate the personal from the interpersonal and I had to seriously think about how what I might possibly write might unintentionally negatively impact the outcome of of the divorce.
More importantly, I was seriously concerned about my daughter. Some day she's going to read this and I don't ever want to write something that could confuse or hurt her. She loves her mother and she loves her father. Nothing should ever change that. Our daughter needs to know that, despite the divorce, she still loved just as much.
I think that the biggest thing is that this divorce was emotional hell. To be there for my daughter, my everything, I had to compartmentalize what I was feeling until the divorce was official. Now that the decree has been officially signed by the judge, I can talk about how this has impacted my life, and just mine. It's a complex mess of emotions and they're coming down on me like a ton of bricks right now.
Which, of course makes this the perfect time to talk about all of this.
So, here goes...
Where Things Stand Now, Personally
For those of you who know a little bit about my story, you know that July 30th is the anniversary of the friendly fire incident. Well, now it's also the anniversary of the official divorce decree - the ignominious end to my marriage. Well it's also the birthday of Caley's brand new cousin, born last Thursday, to Caley's aunt on the other side of the family. What does that mean for me? It means that I will never get to know him, love him. I will never get to see him grow up and I'll never have the opportunity to share in the joy that this baby has brought into the world.
Pardon my French but...talk about a mindfuck.
On top of all of this, I had compartmentalized the biggest emotional hurt in all of this - the fact that I am now going to miss out on half of my daughter's childhood is really screwing with me. The emotional devastation just the thought of that could cause is terrifying to me and, now that the divorce is final, the box surrounding that wonderful little tidbit of joy is spontaneously combusting.
To say that the next few days are going to be rough would be a bit on an understatement.
With all of this, I've still managed to make some positive changes. I've managed to make some friends, one of whom is a fellow combat vet. The other, his father. Both of them accepted me as I am, no judgement. It's a feeling I haven't had in a very long time. I've even reconnected with a friend I knew back in 2006 and lost contact with.
For the uninitiated, this is big stuff for me. I had somehow managed to alienate pretty much all friends I had due to my inability to put up with outside bullshit. My strained marriage was all I could take at the time. When the marriage effectively ended last August, I couldn't handle the prospect of losing even a distant friend and closed myself off from everyone except for my family.
And then there's my family. Oh, God, my family. If they weren't around to shower me with their love and support, I can't even imagine where I'd be right now. Since the separation, I've grown close with my parents in a way that I didn't think was possible. With everything going on, we were able to completely look past old hurts and 'circle the wagons', so to speak.
My parents have been amazing. Their only concerns in all of this were my welfare and the welfare of their granddaughter. This divorce could have emotionally devastated my daughter. Instead, she's well-adjusted and emotionally healthy. A part of that is due to the love my parents made sure to shower her with. That may sound weird but when all of this was new and confusing for Caley, my parents were there to give her all of the love and support possible to give. And they were there for me when I didn't have Caley and needed to just cry or vent my anger (the healthy, grief-related kind). Through everything I went through to get through this past year, good and bad, my parents were there - every step of the way.
And then, on top of all of this, my sister moved back to NYC from Syracuse. Caley and I have been able to spend more quality time with her in the past year than we have been able to in the past few. Again, more love and support from family, when we've needed it most.
The biggest positive change has been in how I see myself. I know I'm a good guy and a great father. I want to be even better in both of those categories and that's something I'll never, ever stop striving for again. For the longest time, I'd lost sight of who I was and what I'm capable of. Being able to feel deep hurt also means you're able to feel deep love and joy and I wouldn't have it any other way. Some people think showing emotion and feeling deep emotions is a liability and a weakness, but I think it's just the opposite. My ability to feel everything in my life, unflinchingly and without reservation, is where I derive my strength. If I wasn't in touch with what I feel, I shudder to think how difficult it would be to cope with my trauma. The faster you feel what you need to, the faster you confront your trauma, the faster you learn to cope with your trauma.
And. That. Is. COURAGE.
It's a kind of courage that few understand, most either don't or won't acknowledge. It's what gets me through the rough days and makes the good ones even better.
Where Things Stand Now, Professionally
After years and years of struggling with employment for a decade, I can honestly say I am now living the dream. I am Chief Business Development Officer of a veteran-owned Cybersecurity startup and I love every minute of my work. I've really thrived in this new environment and I now have very clear insight into why. Entrepreneurship is, counterintuitively, a perfect environment for veterans with PTSD. Here's why:
Needless to say, alleviating workplace stress has had a huge impact on my personal outlook and by ability to cope with my PTSD.
My Spiritual and Emotional Reclamation
After ten years, I have finally gotten to the point where I was ready to explore my emotional and spiritual health. For the longest time, the only place where I felt like I belonged was in the military. In the civilian world, I never felt like I had 'people', either before or after my time in the service. When I started thinking about what to do to re-engage spiritually, I started by looking at where I came from.
My dad's side of the family is ethnic Jewish, but I knew next to nothing about my Jewish cultural heritage. Well, I became curious to explore my heritage and reached out to a local rabbi. He told me about the different Jewish denominations and how they believe, without telling me what they were called and asked me which belief structure rang most true to me.
After sharing which denomination resonated with me the most, he referred me to another rabbi. Well, I met him and discovered that he was a retired Navy chaplain. My first time attending Shabbat services was Veterans Day last November. The experience was unbelievable. The entire service was dedicated to making sure everyone understood the depth and seriousness of the sacrifices made by our service members. It was surreal. I felt like I was home, that I belonged somewhere, that I had a people.
I've continued to attend on Fridays when I don't have my daughter and it's helped to make me feel more connected and engaged. I finally feel ready to reconnect and take the risk to make new friends and meet new people. How about that?
Post-Traumatic Growth: Why It's Not Mutually Exclusive from PTSD
I always hated the term. It's sounds so cliche and for a full decade seemed unobtainable. I think, on some level, I hated the idea of Post Traumatic Growth because I couldn't imagine that I'd ever experience it for myself.
Well I was wrong. I've been thriving and growing and becoming more and more comfortable in my own skin, asserting myself more and more.
I've been reticent to acknowledge the idea that I may be experiencing it because so many people equate it with, CONGRATS, you're HEALED!
Ummmm, No? That's not how this works. While I am experiencing a personal and professional renaissance, it doesn't mean I don't still have to content with my PTSD. I still get triggered and I still battle with hypervigilance, depression, insomnia, low self-esteem, and more.
It's confusing as hell. How can I be experiencing growth and still struggling with PTSD every day? When I figure it out, I'll let you know. I'm at a total loss right now.
So What Next?
I know this is a lot to absorb and I'm still working through all of this myself but there are a few things I do know for certain. I'm free to blog again and I won't be stopping again if I have any choice in the matter. I took a lot of time this past week to write this post and it's amazing how much this writing process has cleared up my head.
Thanks to everyone for sticking around. See you in the next blog post!
TRIGGER WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT
I have to work tomorrow. Tomorrow, of all days, is the last day I want to be around anyone. It's the 'anniversary' of the incident that changed everything for me. I don't normally write about the actual event that was a major contributing factor to my PTSD, but this anniversary is different.
It still feels like yesterday, but tomorrow makes ten years to the day that 1LT Leif Nott died in a friendly fire incident in Balad Ruz, Iraq. I still struggle with what happened every day. I remember the sounds, the smells, the feel, everything.
This is the first time that I have mentioned the incident specifically. I don't know why I feel compelled to share it now. I just couldn't let another year go by without honoring those that were injured and those that died that day.
I can't bring myself to recount all that happened, but you can read about that night and the cover up HERE.
I tried to 'suck it up' but I landed myself in the Combat Stress Control Clinic at Balad Air Field a week later. Everyone back at the unit I had been attached to was acting like nothing had happened. I felt compelled to make sure the truth was known - so I contact JAG and CID and reported the friendly fire incident and violations of the rules of engagement. I also reported my suspicion of attempts to sweep the whole thing under the rug.
A week later, I was released back to duty by the clinic. My reporting the incident should have remained confidential. Somehow, it made its way back to the commanding officer of the unit I was supporting and I instantly became persona non grata.
Things went downhill fast from there. I was denied R&R and mid-tour leave because I was a 'mission critical asset' - yet the rest of my team and all of the other attached special operations teams we worked with got to rotate home for two weeks. I isolated and shunned by all but my colleagues. The sectarian violence ratcheted up soon after and the trauma continued to build.
Six months later, I found myself being sent home, a danger to myself and others.
The greatest travesty: The unsung heroes that never received the recognition they deserved for jumping into action.
When it became clear that we had shot up our own, the direct support Psy-Ops team, two young medics and myself ran out to conduct triage. It became evident that we needed another vehicle so I ran back to the TOC and ordered some privates to clear out the Psy-ops turtleback so that we could use it as an ambulance. The next few minutes were a blur. I remember SGT Anderson being carried into the medic bay. Same with SPC Devers. I remember returning to the scene to continue to help and things become disturbingly clear in my mind.
I remember the old man, blood and bone chips flowing away from the mangled mess of his leg to pool in the dust on the side of the road. Somehow we managed to stabilize him. When the medevac birds arrived I positioned myself to lift the old man's upper half into the stretcher and discovered that he had a gaping wound on his back. I had put my arm, almost up to the elbow into his chest cavity. I cannot adequately describe the sensation of feeling someone's heart beating from inside their body. Those sensations and smells will stay with me until the day I die.
To this day, I still don't know if those two young medics or the Psy-Ops team were ever recognized for their actions. I know, like me, they ran out there in untied boots, brown t-shirts, no protective gear, and M-16's on their backs. We didn't think, we reacted. And it is with the utmost humility that I need to express my admiration for their actions that day.
I just wish, on tomorrow of all days, that I could remember the medics' names, Or the Psy-Ops teams' names. Maybe this blog will reach them somehow.
Most importantly, I need to express my most sincere condolences to the family of 1LT Leif Nott. Until this year, I couldn't muster up the courage to even do that. The memories were too much to handle. Honestly, they still are, but it's been ten years.
I couldn't be silent, reticent anymore.
Requiescat in pace, Lief. It is in honor of your service and sacrifice that I have finally mustered up the courage to share this. May you and your family find the comfort and peace you deserve.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.