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!
It's June 30th, the last day of National PTSD Awareness Month. It's also exactly one month out from the trauma anniversary that has, historically, been very challenging for me to cope with. It's with this in mind that I'm writing this blog post. I wanted to bring a little bit of tongue-in-cheek humor to a serious subject and help to inform loved ones of how pending anniversaries can impact the daily lives of our veterans. I also wanted to present how I cope with my PTSD anniversary in a way that would be immediately familiar and identifiable to anyone who has served in a combat zone. So, here goes...
Pre-Deployment Processing (PDP):
When soldiers are getting ready to deploy, they go through an exhaustive review of their readiness from physical fitness to ensuring all shots and vaccinations are updated to drawing weapons and equipment to updating their life-insurance beneficiaries and their wills. It is a focused and direct approach that ensures that each soldier is fully-equipped to confront the challenges they will face when deployed. When I am preparing for the emotional and physical buildup that stems from a pending anniversary, I take stock in much the same way - to ensure that I know the status of my resources and to shore up any weaknesses in my coping mechanism. I take stock of how well I've been sleeping. If I haven't been sleeping well recently, I make a point to go to bed earlier to try to compensate for this. If I haven't been active and exercising, I make a point of increasing my activity levels - it helps you sleep better and it has been proven that exercise improves your mood. I start paying particular attention to events that could potentially trigger my PTSD (the Fourth of July, for example) during the month leading up to and immediately following the anniversary. I do what I can to prepare my family for what could be a bumpy ride. Marshalling and evaluating the readiness of your resources is key to a 'successful deployment', whether into a combat zone or in preparation to confront and cope with your PTSD triggers. In the past, I have tried convincing myself that I don't have to do this and that believing that the anniversary won't impact me would see me through - Epic Fail. Don't fall victim to the Five P's (Piss Poor Proper Prior Planning).
Battle Damage Assessment (BDA):
After a battle, a unit goes through what is called a Battle Damage Assessment to evaluate the readiness of their troops and equipment. This is a critical process - after the BDA is complete, it allows the unit commander to redeploy his resources in the most effective way possible, given the readiness and condition of his assets. It is much the same after something has triggered your PTSD. It is vital that you evaluate how much of your emotional reserve has been depleted by coping with the trigger and fighting to regain control. It is also very important that you evaluate your physical condition. There is almost always a strong adrenalin response when I am triggered and it can disrupt my sleep and my physical energy reserves can become dangerously depleted. After I have re-stabilized, post-trigger, I perform a BDA so that I can redeploy my coping resources more effectively. Sometimes that means taking naps to catch up on lost sleep. Sometimes that means making sure I have time to decompress built into my day. Sometimes it just means staying in for a day to recover. I do whatever I have to do to ensure that my resources last as long as possible.
Make no mistake: Effectively coping with anniversaries is like fighting a campaign with each trigger event being an individual battle. Winning or losing an individual battle may not win or lose you the campaign, but without proper planning and resource allocation, you will lose out to attrition and loss of morale. Don't try to ignore the warning signs - you'll get blindsided. It would be like a convoy not sending out scout vehicles and being surprised when they get decimated by a near ambush with intersecting fields of fire...
Calling in Reinforcements:
Sometimes you will find yourself in a situation where you know you're about to be overrun. In the past, I have let my pride get in the way of asking for help and have paid dearly for it. Reinforcements are not unlimited so it is imperative that you know what reinforcements you have access to and how often.
After-Action Review (AAR):
After every campaign, commanding officers get their officers and their NCO cadres together to evaluate the performance of the unit over the course of the campaign, to better identify recurring weaknesses in strategy or to identify resources that were more rapidly depleted than planned and accounted for. This is a high level review that allows commander to respond and react to lessons learned and properly account for them in future deployments. It's important to do the same with PTSD after the anniversary has passed. Once things have returned to the status-quo, it's important to take a look at what you did right and where there's adjustments that need to be made. It's important to talk to your friends and family and get feedback, should it be necessary. If you don't incorporate lessons learned in preparation of the next anniversary, you're not doing yourself any favors. As a commander, if you knew that deploying your troops differently in response to a threat would save lives, you'd want to know it. Treat coping with your anniversary the same way.
So there you have it. I hope you find this helpful and humorous at the same time. If you have any questions or feedback, don't hesitate to comment on this!!
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.