So yeah. I was at work and unwrapping a piece of roast beef. What I didn't see was the pool of blood on the underside of the piece of beef. The blood ended up splashing all over my hands and my feet. Next thing I know, I have the smell of blood in my nose and the metallic taste in my mouth. It wouldn't go away. I took a break and took some extra anxiety medication and the memories just wouldn't go away. I hadn't had sensory recollection persist like that for hours at a time. Truly. Hours and the smell wouldn't go away. I tried eat something and all I could taste was blood. I just couldn't stay at work any longer. I ended up leaving work part of the way through my shift, distraught, and distracted.
I thought about it a lot for the rest of the day, worried that handling roast beef would cause more recollections. Fortunately, when I was at work the next day, nothing intruded.
It's left me a lot of anxiety and I haven't been dealing with it very well. Maybe it's more lack of sleep catching up with me. I know I had nightmares Friday into Saturday and Saturday into Sunday. I can always tell when I wake up after nightmares, even if I don't remember them - my muscles are sore like I was lifting weights all night. It makes it hard to lay down and go to sleep.
I need some time to think this through. More on this tomorrow...
On September 27th, my wife and I celebrated seven years of love and commitment to each other. I need to share with the world just how amazing that milestone is. It is a testament to my wife's love, commitment, patience, compassion, and intestinal fortitude. Let's recount the wonderful years of marriage that my wife has endured as my PTSD hijacked my life and our marriage:
THREE: The number of years I didn't take my meds because I was 'fine'.
TWO: The number of years that financial and employment instability undermined our financial well-being.
FIVE: The number of years that I wasn't getting quality therapy to help me learn to cope with my PTSD.
ONE: The number of years I completely withdrew from my wife and newborn daughter completely.
SEVEN: The number of years my wife stayed by my side and did what was necessary to get us through.
You do the math, there was substantial overlap on these 'blissful' years of marriage. I never stopped loving my wife. Ever. Now, more than ever, I don't take her or my daughter for granted. I have a lot to live up to in order honor my wife and the sacrifices she has made to stay by my side and to keep our family in one piece.
For me it starts by dedicating myself and my efforts to being an equal partner by helping around the house (I've been dedicated to this for about a month and it's been wonderful for our relationship). Also, getting myself trimmed down and healthy. No more half measures. Time to go all the way and tear it up.
It's going to take consistency to earn her trust back. I lost that and all of my credibility with her years ago.
There is nothing I want more is for her to be able to trust me and have faith in me again. I am not striving to be the man I was - the man she met. I am striving to be her partner, her equal. Whatever it takes.
So here's to seven years of commitment and love and compassion, given freely by an amazing woman I am lucky to have in my life.
Happy Anniversary, Baby. I love you will all of the pieces of my shattered soul.
I haven't had time to write a blog entry for almost two weeks. Now, regardless of anything else I have going on, I'm taking the time to write it now. My head feels fuzzy. My thoughts and feelings haven't felt this jumbled in a long time. It has led to feelings of dissatisfaction and disappointment.
Dissatisfaction with the progress I am making as a husband and father, dissatisfaction with the rate of progress I am making with the non-profit.
Disappointed with myself and my inability to successfully get myself back into shape and to better care for my physical health.
Never having enough time for all of the things I want to accomplish and getting frustrated when things don't play out the way I want them to. It seemed like everything was taking precedence over writing my blog posts. Considering how central to my ability to cope blogging has become, that was stressing me out big time. The longer I went without getting the thoughts out of my head and into my blog, the less I was able to effectively accomplish.
So, what to do? I work full-time to make the money my family needs to get by and then spending another 30-40 hours every week plugging away on the tasks that need to get done to convert my plans for my non-profit into actionable programs. Between those to things, it take all of my energy to ensure that I am not withdrawing from my family. I'm loving and caring for my wife and child. I don't want to be missing from their lives ever again.
By the time I attend to all of these things, the day's over and I am exhausted. I don't have time for anything else - and making blog posts were continually set on the back burner. I knew, with the formation of the non-profit that I would be overworked in the short-term. The problem is that it has become a long-term problem and one that I NEED to ensure the success of.
Then it hit me: maybe if I blog about this and continue to blog on a regular basis, I will be able to be concentrate on the current task. Maybe if I keep up my blogging, I will be more efficient because my head won't be cluttered with jumbled thoughts and ideas.
I need to figure this out and quick. I need to do everything in my power to get this all sorted out. It seems counter-intuitive, but I strongly believe that making the time to blog and keep my head clear will result in more efficient use of my time otherwise. Guess it's time to see.
It's been too long since I have had the energy to actually sit down and clear my head. Work has been taking every last ounce of energy I have, just to get through the days recently. The hardest part: working in a busy retail environment. Normally, it's busy but manageable. Since Labor Day Weekend, it's been a nightmare. There has been so much to do and not enough time to get everything done. Customers were four deep on the other side of the counter on many occasions. I felt surrounded, claustrophobic.
I'd come home spent, with just enough energy to keep my promise and make dinners most days, do the dishes. Other than that, ugh. I shudder to think of how I'd be right now if work hadn't made accommodations in my scheduling to help me get more regular sleep. Working in retail and having PTSD really was feeling like a match made in hell.
Then, two days ago, the flood waters receded. Things returned to some semblance of normal and I actually came home with something left in the tank. What did I do with the extra emotional energy?
And if felt wonderful.
I have used the past two nights after work to recharge the batteries. I have off the next two days. Today is mine to do with as I see fit. Tomorrow, I will actually have the energy to catch up on all of the work and correspondence that has been piling up. The last logo still needs to get finished and so do a lot of other tasks that have been put on the back burner over the past two weeks.
Gotta get this stuff done. I hate to think about what Thanksgiving and Christmas will bring this year...
This past Saturday, I waded into the deep end and attended my sister-in-law's engagement party - lots of people I don't know and lots of people I wasn't sure I would feel comfortable around. I've explained it before but I will explain it again. When I am around people I don't know the hyper-vigilance kicks in and it forces me to examine the actions of every person around me for threats.
Surprisingly, it went fairly well. I felt the compulsion to give in and watch everyone. Somehow, and I really don't know how, I was able to keep the hyper-vigilance at bay. Fighting the urge was exhausting, though. I fell asleep three times while I was at the party and it was out of sheer emotional exhaustion.
I thought about that as my wife was driving us home. Are these my two options? Giving in or exhausting myself fighting the urge? It really bothered me on Sunday and Monday when I was at work. I kept on thinking that there had to be another option - another way of dealing with the hyper-vigilance and anxiety.
Then something unexpected happened. I was waiting on an elderly couple at the store and the old man was very grateful for my help and proffered his hand. When I shook his hand, I saw the tattoo on the forearm of his other arm. Numbers. He was a Holocaust survivor.
I got goosebumps.
He saw me notice and he grew concerned at the look on my face. He asked if he was the first survivor I had ever met and I told him, to my knowledge he was. He nodded slowly. He was very astute. He asked me if I had been in war. I told him that I was in Iraq.
What he said next was a gut shot:
"You have the look of the American soldiers who freed us from Dachau. Your memories live with you every day. I can see it in your face."
I didn't know what to say. I just nodded my head.
"So do mine. I am comforted by my faith. In our faith, God cherishes those who are just and righteous. Only a righteous man is haunted by war."
With those simple words he patted me on the shoulder and walked back to his wife who was picking out bagels.
Talk about food for thought. Having the memories as bedfellows means I am a righteous man? Is this the price of righteousness? So where's the upside of being righteous?
This is what I have been struggling with since Monday. Needless to say, these are not the kinds of questions that don't have easy answers. So...I keep on looking for them.
Well, that was an unexpected turn. A few days after the horrible nightmare I had last week, I suddenly found myself motivated to examine how I had been living my life. It wasn't pretty. I wasn't doing everything I know I am able to be. I wasn't being a partner to my wife, I wasn't pulling my weight at home. I was anxiety eating myself into diabetic shock, slowly gaining weight, pound by pound.
It hit me that I now have a consistent work schedule where I am home for dinner almost every night. I could actually go to the gym regularly as well. I actually sat down and made a commitment to my wife to be a better man and husband. For the first time in a long time and I am feeling a little more like 'myself'.
It didn't hit me until a few days ago that I was feeling this motivation, this change in outlook because of that horrible nightmare. I'm not sure how or why this is true, I just know it is. It's like there's one less shackle weighing down my soul.
All of the things I accomplished this week just added intensity to the brightness of the light in my heart. The 501(c)3 formation documents are officially submitted to the IRS. One logo is done, one done soon, and one in the works. I was asked to be the keynote speaker at Veterans' Day events in my home town. I confirmed my speaking engagement at St. Francis University. Combat Vets' Google Plus Page was listed as one of the "99 Google Plus Accounts Military Service-Members Should Follow".
Despite all of this, I am deeply anxious that the other shoe is going to drop. It tempers my happiness and dulls my optimism. At least this time, it
It happened Sunday night into Monday morning. Since then, I have been struggling to describe how terrifying these last nightmares were. I am not going to rehash the details again - the nightmare was about the friendly fire incident. Combine that incident with nightmare groundhog day and you get the picture. I experienced that recollection over and over and over...
The truly terrifying part: I knew I was dreaming. After the first 'playthrough', I tried to wake myself up, but I couldn't. After a few more replays, I started to get scared. Why couldn't I wake up? I thought maybe I had to do something, change something. But I couldn't, I was only along for the ride. All I could do was spectate.
Screams and death moans.
The smell and taste of blood in the air.
I got to feel everything - especially the helplessness. On top of that I experienced the helplessness of not being able to wake up, even though I was lucid. It was like being trapped inside myself with no way out.
I started to scream in my head, screaming to be let out. I started to feel like I was losing myself.
The alarm jolted me awake. Terrified and disoriented, it took me a second to come back to the present. I was exhausted. All of my muscles ached like I had been clenching all of them. My heart was beating so hard it actually hurt.
And then came the relief. It was over. I didn't have to experience that scene again. I was back in control. I was still pretty messed up, though. I was only able to make it through half of my shift on Monday before my need to be alone and process what had just happened overwhelmed me and forced me to go home. I am still processing it. I don't think I have ever been so terrified in my whole life.
What the hell was the meaning of that nightmare? Was there a message in it? I don't know and I have a feeling I won't know for a long time. All I know is that somehow, my perspective on work and life has changed. The differences are subtle. Maybe one day I will figure out why.
My therapist proposed a change in venue for this week's meeting. I was circumspect at first but when I arrived at the entrance to the park and we started walking, I felt a sense of urgency and took off up the path, looking at everything around me. My mind let go and I was able to just focus on the trail and all of the intentionally undisturbed nature surrounding me. When we got to the boulder outcropping, I felt a desire to take pictures. It was beautiful out there and I very quickly grew angry at the pothead scum who had defaced the outcropping with their stoner messages. When I climbed to the top of the boulders, the anger melted away. The light was playing on the ground in the most calming and mesmerizing fashion. I just stood there for a while. On our way back, I stopped and took more photos of nature. It felt almost compulsive.
Something happened out there and it was a really good thing. I felt spiritually alive. I had forgotten how much nature heals. The life around me resonated with my shattered soul and finally felt at peace.
Needless to say, I will be going back there - often.
During this whole session, my therapist and I didn't talk about anything. I think she sensed that I needed this moment of peace undisturbed - especially after the ten year anniversary that just passed. Thank you Soldiers Project for finding such amazing volunteer therapists!
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.
It's strange for me. I am looking for spiritual fulfillment and I am still not able to find something that will work for me. When I sat down with my therapist to continue our discussion, I told her that I have had no success in finding anything that I think I can incorporate into my daily life that will provide me with the spiritual fulfillment that I need. I told her that I was talking to a buddy I served with in Iraq that had offered to take me scuba diving. I plan on taking him up on the offer. The problem is that I can't go scuba diving every day.
It's giving me fits.
So I am putting the call out there. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
I have been driving myself nuts looking on the internet for any type of spiritual practice that I think could help me find peace. I decided to back off the search for a while. I think that I have been looking too hard and people say that when you stop looking, you find what you are looking for. Time to sit back and relax and just enjoy the coming week.
It's all about focus. I am going to put my efforts into the non-profit and find some fulfillment there. It will help short-term AND it will put my plans for the non-profit into sharp focus. It's not like I don't have anything to do. Logos. Business plans. Newsletters. Board meeting. Business meetings. Continued tweaking of the websites. It's a lot to do but I love doing it.
My therapist expressed concern that I may be over-extending myself. I thought about it but I just can't see it. If running the non-profit is the only thing that gives you at least some semblance of spiritual peace, wouldn't you work on it a lot?
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.