All in…

 

ArlingtonI am tired, Beloved, of chafing my heart against
The want of you;
Of squeezing it into little inkdrops,
And posting it.
And I scald alone, here, under the fire
Of the great moon. Amy LowellToday over 7,000 people attended the funeral of Chris Kyle the SEAL murdered while helping a troubled comrade cope with the wounds of war. Thousands more watched on television and others monitored social media and news channels as Chris was eulogized as a great father, an American hero and a compassionate friend.At about the same time, a news report surfaced about the SEAL who allegedly shot Bin Laden. Full of inconsistencies and troubling accusations I posted it on my Facebook wall and asked for input from friends I know to be in the Special Forces support community. I put the questions up prior to reading the accounts of Kyle’s memorial service. As a soldier and a career family member I should have known today was no day to interfere in what was surely a day of grieving for every “dependent” who has lost a husband, father, fiancé, brother, son or lover…

Chris Kyle’s widow said today: “I stand before you a broken woman. Chris Kyle was ‘all in’ no matter what he did in life.”

Family members are all in too:

It was my mother who endured 6 of 20 years of separation as my father was deployed or in training and often without the ability to communicate with him

It was my mother who pressed uniforms, made dinners, and was there to greet him after deployments with everything he needed to feel safe and at home.

It was my wife who had an emergency C-section alone in rural Texas while I was in training and unable to get leave to see her.

It was my mother who saved my father from disciplinary action afer he had too much to drink one night with other combat vets. It was my mother who impressed on his company commander how much our family would suffer if he lost even a little of his pay.

It was my wife and my mother who made new friends a dozen times and searched for work in unfamiliar surroundings to augment our meager salaries.

It was my wife and mother who found things to sell when our military salaries were not enough to get us through a month.

It was my mother who collected souvenirs and photos from every duty station only to see them taken out to sea in Hawaii by the biggest tidal wave in modern history.

It was my mother, nine months away from retirement and her dream of a stable life, who opened the telegram from the war department and learned of my father’s critical injuries in Vietnam.

It was my wife and mother who raised children alone while we were called away.

It was my mother who learned to shop at fire sales and who stood in welfare lines for cheese and butter while the VA was taking more than a year to award him benefits.

It was my mother who cared for a man she barely recognized after the war. She tended to his needs every day of his injured life.

It was my mother, all 4’11” of her, who dragged my father from room to room when he could no longer walk. It was my mother who told nobody of his illness to preserve his dignity and to keep the only constant she had ever known close to her.

It was my mother and I who stood alone in the funeral home mourning a man who left his friends on battlefields or deployments long past and had no one left to salute him or to comfort her.

It was my mother who left us all for the comfort of Alzheimer’s Disease where she had no loss, no pain she could remember.

It is me who goes, year after year, to the Vietnam Memorial still trying to make some sense of it all and still trying to reconcile my grief.

A friend today commented on my post and remarked that she was “only a [military] widow” and implied she didn’t have the authority to comment. She, like everyone in our huge extended military family has the right and the authority to claim appreciation for their service to our nation and to speak out on issues that affect those who fought and those who were there to care for them when they came home.

It is the military family member who is all in…

RIP Chris Kyle and may your family find peace….

 

 

My PTSD (Part I)

“What the mind doesn’t understand, it worships or fears.”
― Alice Walker

PTSD  has now become a part of our lexicon. PTSD hashtags appear on Twitter feeds in reference to everything from a chance encounter with a spider in a trash bin to more serious revelations by survivors of sexual abuse, combat, accidents or tragedies like the one today in Aurora, Colorado.

I began working with PTSD in the 70’s when I was a behavioral science instructor and field placement supervisor at the Army’s Academy of Health Sciences and later while assigned as a therapist in the outpatient psychiatry clinic for the Army’s 97th General Hospital in Frankfurt, Germany. The Vietnam war had officially ended in 1975, but soldiers of my generation, entrenched within themselves, rarely spoke of their time “in country” and still could not connect many confusing thoughts and actions to their battlefield experiences until their symptomatic storms raged so severe that they were ordered to see me. For them, the war was hardly over.

And after my discharge, in later years, I was a Certified Employee Assistance in charge of front line counseling for senior employees of the city of Raleigh and Wake County in North Carolina. It was there that I guided police officers, fire chiefs and health care workers through the guilt, shame and torment they experienced because anxiety debilitated them. Shootings, being surrounded or assaulted by a mob in a riot situation, having to performing triage (deciding who would be best left to die at an accident scene and who would be a survivor if transported first to the hospital), carrying screaming burn victims from burning homes, and former soldiers who just could not make nightmares stop were part and parcel of my day. And too, there were rape and molestation victims, intensive care nurses who simply couldn’t bear to see another patient die and their families who had become no less distressed. They stayed in difficult relationships hoping the person they once loved would reappear from the ashes of anguish and self-destruction.

Fiction writer Dean Koontz once wrote that, “Because God is never cruel, there is a reason for all things. We must know the pain of loss; because if we never knew it, we would have no compassion for others, and we would become monsters of self-regard, creatures of unalloyed self-interest. The terrible pain of loss teaches humility to our prideful kind, has the power to soften uncaring hearts, to make a better person of a good one.”  I am still learning those lessons. And in some ways I am a better person for enduring PTSD for decades. I will share the stressors with you in future posts, but suffice it to say, I have been abused, psychologically,medically and physically, and endured torture in ways only concentration camp survivor or POW might understand. I will share some of what I experience here in hopes you better understand issues surrounding PTSD:

Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms typically start within three months of a traumatic event. In a small number of cases, though, PTSD symptoms may not appear until years after the event and they may be triggered during other stressful periods in a person’s life.

Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms are generally grouped into three types: intrusive memories, avoidance and numbing, and increased anxiety or emotional hyper-arousal. I had many symptoms for years, but became totally overwhelmed in the middle of a meeting. My heart rate jumped to 140 and I couldn’t breathe. I thought I was going to die.

The hospital where I worked tested me for cardiac issues. I had none. I was having panic attacks. The doctors prescribed mild anti-anxiety medicine that had little or no effect. The panic attacks increased and soon I was having up to five a day and they would last between 5 and 40 minutes each. Imagine being on a balcony one day when when you experienced a sudden feeling like you might fall or even jump.Most of us have felt that at least once. Now, multiply the confusion and fear you had by a factor of two or three and you are close to feeling like I often did without warning or provocation.

At the time I was teaching college courses in Psychology, lecturing at national conferences across the country on wellness topics, I had just won a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship for my poetry, I was an international Tae Kwon Do Master Instructor and had begun feeling reasonably successful professionally in most areas of my life. I had managed my symptoms up to this point (hid them well) but, those days were clearly at an end.   All I wanted  to do was hide from any responsibility, anything that might cause stress. I prayed nightly that I would die in my sleep before having to endure, or putting friends and family, through another day of terror. I thought I would gladly give up an arm or leg if the anxiety would just stop. Suicide was never a distant option.

Then came the constant reliving of traumatic event for minutes or even days at a time. My sleeping habits were bad before, but horrifying dreams, and night terrors now dominated.  I became housebound. I tried to avoid thinking, talking or engaging in any activity that might trigger an attack or increase my anxiety. I was hopeless about the future. I couldn’t concentrate and I had trouble remembering events both near and far. All my relationships suffered as I worked diligently to hide how far I had fallen.

I was easily angered, though too weak and afraid to be much of threat to anyone unless cornered or assaulted. I was easily startled and often heard or saw things that simply were not there. I over indulged in anything that would distract me from my anxiety: Drinking, television, gambling….

I tried to return to work. I tried teaching, but was carried out of my classroom once by paramedics. I was lost for an answer. Finally a military psychiatrist proposed a long-lasting benzodiazepine. The panic attacks stopped, but my personality changed. I was depressed, irritable and devoid of creative thought. And worse, I was seriously addicted.

A recent pop psychology article was titled “What doesn’t kill you, makes you weaker. There is more than a little truth to that if you understand the classical conditioning paradigms and the heavy toll negative events can exact from mind, spirit and body. When anxiety generalizes it is hard to get a handle on how to stop it from flooding every corner of your consciousness. You cannot just will it away. Drugs are one way out of the trouble and the Army and the VA have used them in excess. The effect of benozos is to behave and think like someone who has just downed three or four glasses of wine, but the effect lasts twelve hours. I often wish I had dived headlong into alcoholism. It would have been easier to kick. I stayed lost in a drug haze for over a decade….

 

 

Postscript: My heart goes out to the victims and families of the Aurora Shooting today. I know the area well: My father was evacuated there after being critically wounded during a mortar attack in Vietnam. My sorrow is miniscule in comparison to the pain that must be felt today. I pray for the survivors and a speedy recovery from senseless physical and emotional wounds.