Yesterday I attended my second Cognitive Processing Therapy group session. I think I am really going to like this group a lot. Two positive experiences in a row. The doc started by letting those of us who didn't know each other introduce ourselves. We then talked about what had transpired since the last meeting. One of the items that came up was how relating my experiences last meeting had reminded one of the other members so much of himself that he had a lot of issues with his PTSD for the two weeks between sessions. Needless to say, this made me feel really guilty that I had unintentionally caused another veteran distress. I didn't say anything about it at this point, though.
There was a new guy there I hadn't met before and he described how he and his unit had received intel that sent him into a situation that put him and his unit in the blast radius of an IED. This was a new facet I hadn't considered much until yesterday, mostly because it is incredibly painful to think about - intel I provided probably sent guys just like him into similar situations. I know in my heart that some of our boys died as a direct result of intel sent in by me and others like me. Again, I felt really guilty.
It was in this context that we talked about what we all had in common - confrontation with death. An intimate knowledge of death. We discussed the concept of moral injury as a result of this. I know a lot of people don't like this term, but it is really appropriate. We have all been confronted by things that fundamentally violate our moral code. My response to this was to adhere strictly to my morality, getting angry with anyone who did not adhere to my morality. Obviously this caused a lot of problems with other service members over in Iraq. This moral injury is a constant companion and my morality is still just as black and white.
The doc asked to stop the session there and I asked to say one more thing. I wanted to express my guilt to the other two for having caused the one veteran difficulties and for having sent guys just like the other veteran into harm's way. They both jumped on me immediately to let me know I was being an idiot. The one veteran said he was concerned that I may take his regression over the past two weeks as being my fault. He assured me that it was his PTSD that caused the problems. Not me. The other veteran told me that he wished that he would have been sent into a situation backed up by quality intelligence. Then, at least, he wouldn't be going in blind. By the time he was serving in Iraq, intelligence collection efforts were hamstrung so severely that we constantly sent our guys into situations without really knowing what awaited them. He said I was the kind of guy who saved lives with my intelligence. He said I can't hold myself responsible for combat arms guys going into a situation and doing their job. Death in combat is one of the risks that they assume is par for the course. Good intelligence meant less guys got injured or killed.
That was how we ended the session. Whew. What a day. More to follow in the coming weeks.
Every so often, you just need some down time. I have been busy with the family and with medical issues and everything else for a while now. Today is just for me. Dani is taking a day for herself as well. She is taking Caley down to her parents' and is spending time down there quilting with her mother. As for me, well...
I haven't decided what I am doing today. I just know it won't involve actually doing much of anything. I am looking forward to sitting out on the porch for a little bit here and there, reading. Spending some quality time with my Xbox 360 may also be in order. I am not sure yet. I just know that today is a day to unwind and reflect on all that has happened over the last few weeks and months. I went back and read a lot of the posts from when I first started blogging again. They were pretty desperate and dark. I feel like I am in a better place now and not only for myself and my family.
There is going to be a lot happening in the ensuing months. I am getting more heavily involved in local veteran affairs and advocacy. I am excited about where that could lead, but I don't want to get my hopes up unrealistically. There are a lot of opportunities to improve the lives of veterans in my area (as I am sure there are everywhere) and I have some plans in the works to take advantage of those opportunities. I will probably spend a portion of the day mulling over my ideas and setting them down on paper, writing up a business model to envelope the ideas bouncing around in my head.
Regardless, I stay aware of where I have come from and what I need to continue to do to manage my PTSD. Some days are better than others and today's a good one. It's what I do on the days where things aren't so hot that will narrate my story in the coming years. I am tired of feeling angry and depressed and am working hard to fight the survivor's guilt. As the uncertainty of the future weighs more heavily on my shoulders, I look at my daughter to keep my focus. In the meantime, I will revel in doing whatever I please for a day.
Just when you think all of the doctor visits are coming to an end...I went for an allergist mandated consultation with an ENT. The doctor deemed it medically necessary to fix my deviated septum and improve airflow in my nose. As a result, I will be going in for outpatient surgery in two weeks, with two weeks of recovery after. I am really hoping that this is the final piece of the equation.
It is hard not to think that my body is betraying me, a day at a time. I feel like everything is breaking down. I know that's the catastrophic thinking at work, but it doesn't make everything that I have gone through any less scary. I find that I am a whole lot more anxious on a daily basis about my health than I have ever been. I think about how debilitating the PTSD and anxiety have been for me over the past few weeks and I feel guilty. I made it home. What right do I have to complain? I think about the guys I knew who didn't make it back and I feel like the world's biggest failure.
Alright. Enough of the pity party. This is not who I am. I am better than this and tougher than this. Focus on what it going right. Focus on the local advocacy efforts that are coming together very rapidly. Focus on your family and your amazing daughter who is days away from telling you all about her days in English. Focus on the beautiful weather. Anything.
I guess we'll see how things turn out. It is what it is. I am done pushing back against the things I cannot change. Time to accept what life throws at me as best I can.
One of my readers, Josie F., wrote some questions in the comments to A Loving Call For Help From A Reader. The questions were pointed and earnest and I felt I needed to address her questions as soon as I could. Here's what she wrote:
I've reread this a few times Max; you tell a lot here about the psyche of a returning soldier - perhaps you say it all. What about getting through this? Are you through it; have you addressed your guilt and if so, do you feel in a better place.. are you easier on yourself or for others to live with? Or, does the power of the guilt drag you back no matter how good your life, your support system? When you are in your cave, do you lose track of time? What turns this around for you, ie, does something happen to start to bring you out? Do you forgive those who may have unknowingly triggered you into the darker thoughts, or hold them hostage... make them pay some penance too, thereby alleviating some of yours? I hope these questions aren't too harsh to ask but would shed a lot of light onto the behavior of other vets, such as mine. Thank you.
Getting through it? No. Learning to live with? Yes. I have confronted the guilt I feel for having survived and know that I will still feel guilty for the rest of my life. It's whether you let that guilt motivate you that is the question. I remind myself that I would be dishonoring their memories if I refused to live my life to the fullest. It doesn't mean I don't have my bad days and weeks. Anniversaries are particularly hard. It rends the heart because you are forced to remember. I tried ignoring anniversaries in the past - that backfired...BIG TIME.
Hiding in the Cave: When I am in 'cave mode' I definitely lose sense of time. This past time was particularly bad. It wasn't only the passing of time that was skewed, but events from the past year's place in the timeline were screwy in my head. As for what brought me out of it? My love for my family and fear of losing everything in my life that has redeeming value.
Forgiveness: I never got mad at others for triggering memories or my sense of survivor's guilt. I have always been my own worst enemy and never blamed others for putting me in my current situation. That may be due to my introspective nature. I am not sure. I know some vets, when they are feeling this way are feeling emotions so toxic that they lash out and 'blame' others, but it's less blaming than trying to push a person away. It's as I said in the comments of the earlier post. Sometimes the toxic nature of the emotions a vet is feeling are so diametrically opposed to the love you are showing them that they feel compelled to drive you away - they can't handle the intensity. If you feel like you are being held hostage for unwittingly triggering this behavior, that's not healthy. I would never make someone else 'pay penance' for me. That penance is mine to serve.I hope this answers the questions you asked Josie. I can only tell you the answers from my personal experience - every vet is different, yet the same. Ultimately, you are the only one who can ascertain whether your relationship with your vet is something he wants to salvage/maintain.Thank you for your questions and never be afraid to ask the difficult questions. Sometimes people ask questions I have to answer for myself too!
Yours in Health,
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.