Monthly Archives: March 2010

GIMME FUEL GIMME FIRE GIMME THAT WHICH I DESIRE!!

A common problem swept under the rug and a very common side effect with PTSD sufferers is adrenaline addiction. For a number of obvious reasons adrenaline has become a daily habit for many of us. We don’t shoot it up or smoke it but we go into some overtly dangerous pursuits in search of it. It starts almost as soon as the high of coming home hits rock bottom. Many of us get our first hit buying new toys: cars, trucks, motorcycles, handguns and any other big purchase we have been dreaming about. We get a kick just out of burning money. Then comes  the speeding. We burn down highways and blow through red lights, we drive like we did over there. Anything to get that heart rate above normal. Then we start going after the bigger thrills, skydiving is a common progression, that was awesome. Then the really dumb things start, ever been car surfing at 80mph? The ten foot tall and bullet proof ideal is emblazoned in our brains. But just as that Fort Hood car death toll clicker outside the gate rarely makes it over 7 days, we keep trying to find harder and longer ways to keep that adrenaline flowing.

Just like a junkie regular life, slows, it seems boring without danger and adrenaline. We push every limit and law we can find. Eventually illegal activity begins, drunk driving is common place in the ranks of the military, mix in the adrenaline junkie and drunk driving while speeding is prevalent as well. Soon there are dead, drunk, former adrenaline junkies, that are now a permanent fixture of the highway concrete barrier systems. 
I digress, simply to me this is just another symptom of PTSD that is unique to the military. We cure fear with more fear. We ram so much adrenaline down our veins in the hopes that the old fears won’t bother us any more or we won’t be around long enough to care. I am not saying to live life in bubble wrap, I am simply saying be aware of what you are doing and why you are doing it. Skydiving OK, car surfing not so much. There are healthy forms of adrenaline that can be found such as in sanctioned competitions and events, risk mitigated activites like sky diving and white water rafting, but again be aware of why you are doing it, for fun.


Finding your purpose

Finding your purpose and pursuits after the military or after combat is a challenging endeavor that we all face. While we were deployed our lives were filled with time tables and mental to do lists. We had a purpose in every hour that we were awake and even plotted out when we would sleep. All of these events were mission dictated and we knew that while we closed our eyes that night it would be back to the speed of sound as soon as we woke up the next morning. In the military there is still some of that to a degree. We were responsible for our troops and showing up to the right place right time. We had tasks to accomplish and counsellings to write. We were so busy, such a part of the big machine. Then the time came, our tour was over, our enlistment up and moved out and away.
Coming back from a combat tour, the first month, you don’t care you don’t even remember your name for the most part. You are too busy reminding yourself what it is to be alive and to smile without that graveyard humor in the room. Sooner or later though, it will settle on you and you will feel as though you have lost the focus and purpose that you once held in combat. You will feel like nothing you do has purpose or really matters, for example how am I helping anyone by doing inventory on a conn-ex for the 10th time. Its really easy to drop into a funk or drink it off at night. You start to dread the army and the chain of command. The chain of command under goes a change from what they were in combat back to being the source of stress rather than combat being the stress source and that just complicates things even more. Attention to detail slips and motivation falls and before you know it, a soldier can find themselves being a shit bag in a heart beat.
Getting out of the military all together has varying effects. Some guys, it is all they have lived for their entire enlistment and the belly flop out into the world and don’t even make a wake. Then there are guys like me, who would rather cover myself in honey and pour ants on top, than be a civilian. But for one reason or another it was time to go and now they find themselves, without a job, without a purpose, without support, without guidance. It is an incredibly scary and debilitating place. It is very easy to slip into a funk, you may find you lash out at people, your frustration will be worn on your sleeve and expressed through your knuckles. Its hard, you feel that life is in a way over. I often considered the rocking chair, I sized my life up by what I had accomplished in the army and decided that the rest of this was just filler until I kicked the bucket. I feared that sitting in my rocking chair years later I would look back and question why I left and wish I had done something else. So what do you do when the grass is greener actually turned out to be a grass fire… MOVE.
I have found it to be so critical to continue to move and to learn and strive for self set goals. One of the major issues that guys face when either returning from combat or getting out of the military is the loss of guidance. Its scary when you realize you are in charge. You will wallow, you will get bored, you will get angry, and then you find the funk. The cure is to get moving, start taking on challenges even if they are just with yourself. Push learning into your life, whether its college or skill, doesn’t matter as long as the brain is engaged. Create attainable and not so attainable goals for yourself. Leave yourself open for suggestion as well. I found that making a pseudo-bucket list helped, if you are not familiar with a bucket list its where you write down all the things you want to accomplish before you die. For my purposes it was what I will accomplish in the next five years, I have all sorts of things in there. Attainable goals- finish my degree, not so attainable- complete an iron man triathlon, pursuits- to save a life not in a combat zone, personal growth- to not fight when I normally would have. This is all a bunch of self-help junk, but if you actually apply your mind and your time you do some really incredible things. Just getting into the driver’s seat of your life is where your first goal should land. College is always a good thing because it gets the mind rolling and ready for more. I have found through my mental list of things I want to do, I am more busy than when I was in the army or a combat zone. I have more simultaneous pursuits than at any other point in my life, sometimes I feel stressed out but I remember what it felt like to be stagnant, and I just keep moving. This has really worked for me, I am sure there are as many ways to overcome this as there are people who are trying. So let us know…. KEEP MOVING.


Whats Been Helping Me Heal?… PT

    Thats right PT, physical training, exercising in civi speak. The idea is simple, PT is your time, its when you think. Not only is it the time you think buts its the time you can think about hard issues and just pound the pavement or knock out a few more reps to keep everything on an even keel. Now if your like me, you have enough rage bottled up in you that if they could find a way to turn it into electricity it could power a small city for 3 weeks. So one or two more reps ain’t gonna cut the mustard. So I have turned to endurance sports and strength training.
   The idea might seem a bit rudimentary in it of itself but there are more benefits than meet the eye here. First if you are a runner or a biker ( the kind that uses their legs to power their 2 wheels, not the ones that carry chains and have “mom” tattooed to their arms), you will get a natural high, this is the endorphins (spelling) pumping through your veins, your natural happy juice. That will help with depression all by itself. It will also get you addicted to running or exercising. Wouldn’t that be nice if the way you self medicated was with exercise. Where the real pay dirt is found is in the time left for you to think.
  When I run or bike or lift, I will sometimes think about the things that bother me the most from combat. As they start to take grip over me I will accelerate or lift faster, this allows me to maintain control while thinking about something incredibly difficult. It takes me out of the passenger seat of my worst fears and puts me in the driver’s seat. I am in control of the thought process, the emotional response, the physical output I can do what those drugs they tried to give me can not. I will work through the memories and then begin to lessen their impact on me. What I mean by impact is, have you ever had a memory that makes you flinch just by thinking about it? I have alot of those kind of memories and they make me a land mine field of PTSD responses for anyone who talks or lives with me.
   What I am doing in the reworking, is trying to rethink what happened. I don’t want to lock up what happened in the big dark tough box in the back of my head to show its ugly self one day. I try to get the dirty laundry and air it out so that its not such a ticking time bomb anymore. By looking at what happened and saying, I did what I could in the moment helps alleviate some of the burden I feel. I can go back and look at the rocket strikes and the fear I had and teach my body not to have the normal response to it anymore.The PT allows me to keep myself in check either by burning legs or by killing my muscles. Now one little run ain’t gonna do it, how much can you really consider in 2 miles. I have turned to longer distances and harder workouts because of the healing through PT. There is yet another added bonus to the PT though.
    You remember that you are alive. You realize you are not stagnate, you can rationally say the funk that I am in and have been in will not last forever. The sun in your face or the rain on your head while you run just brings the fact home, you are still alive. As much as some part of you died over there, there is still something very much alive and you need to use it. I recently did my first half-marathon (I am not a runner), I did it just to say I did it and it felt great, not too mention being surrounded in a huge crowd not panicking as usual was awesome too. I am training for a triathlon now, I will suck, probably half drowned, but I will finish and it will be a notch in my belt, something to remind me I am still alive, and who knows what demons I may face down along the way. But being on the couch isn’t going to help you, get out there take your time and remember you’re still alive and stand ready to kick at least some of your demons to the curb.


Soldier View # 5….. Left at a turning point

True words that had no business being in a comment to some of the stuff I write and deserved to be up here so others could more readily find it.


I served in the infantry with the First Cav.
My experience with PTSD goes something like this.
At war I had my share (and fill) of combat.
I know how a battle becomes just “me and the guys with me’, there is no world beyond that during combat, it is pure survival. I never failed in battles, never received any disciplinary actions, earned higher rank and received the medals that went along with our service at war.When the time came to return home,
I remember thinking so clearly how I would return to life as it was before war.I was excited to go back to my wife, my job, playing softball/shootin pool, having a few beers with old buddies and riding motorcycles in the beautiful country hills that I had dreamed of and missed while at war. I was also excited that I would be able to go to college with government help earned as a soldier, and I could really think for the first time of owning a house. I left war happy and excited for the future.
I was only home a few days when all those dreams started to disintegrate! I was unexpectedly overcome with anxiety that I didn’t understand. I felt disconnected from family and old friends by the experience and hauntings of war that they couldn’t understand and i couldn’t relate to them. My realty was different than theirs, I started withdrawing and isolating myself from them and former activities that I had enjoyed before war. Nightmares came every night, fourth of July firecrackers send me flying out of bed to take cover on the floor before I could control the reaction. Flight for Life Helicopters brought back memories, loud noises startled me uncontrollably and I seemed constantly on alert to dangers even though I was in a very safe suburban neighborhood.
I was given perscription sleeping bills by a doctor that had no affect on nightmares, I woke up right through them drenched in sweat. I began to fear I was loosing my mind. I tried a job and walked off it before the first lunch period and couldn’t stay on any others, some insane anxiety wouldn’t let me stay or focus on the work/job.
I tried college which had been such a dream while at war but couldn’t focus there either. It was a terrible disappointment to fail at school and added more to my sense of losing my mind.
All the students at the university seemed to exist in such happy, carefree lives that I could no longer identify with. I felt I was in a strange place with experiences that only had had witnessed. My marriage failed soon after because
I could no longer communicate with or participate in the marriage as the happy person I had once been. I had changed into a person who I no longer knew myself. I started running from myself in my mind and hiding myself and that mind from the world. The fear of insanity caused me to start drinking and then…….
There is much more but I don’t want to bore you guys. PTSD is so very, very real.



If anyone wants to check out PTSD.about.com
you find info on PTSD and can receive a free
weekly update. PTSD is not clearly known so any info must be regarded as how it applies to the individual.


First Tip

Nightmares, are a common thing. Especially when the wounds are still fresh. Here are the couple of ways I helped deal with them.


First off, is the pre-sleep ritual. No video games, no war movies, nothing super mentally engaging before attempting to go to sleep. Alcohol may knock you out fast but it contributes to nightmares because it prevents deep sleep. I try to wind down before crashing for the night. Best case scenario I will start an hour out, watch a little TV, then go through the night time stuff, brush my teeth then hit the sack and read a book. Then try to sleep.
     If your like me, as soon as you close your eyes and start to sleep, your mind will find its way back to the machine gun fire or being in the army in general. Force yourself awake a few deep breathes and focus on something entirely different, and attempt to sleep again.
    If you do have nightmares, keep a journal bedside. Wake up from it, jam it into the notebook while it is fresh then try to go back to sleep again. When you get up the next morning review the journal. Try to put your finger on what it is that is bugging you based on the running theme of the dream.
    Some get medication, some self-medicate, this is what I found works best for me. The same should probably go for you. If you have over come the nightmares post it up share your view. If you are still working on it, share the dreams. There are common themes in alot of vet nightmares…. Mine is zombies, my guys get killed they turn into zombies and come after me, reflects that, I feel guilty for what happened to them. What do you think yours mean?


Hatred = Ignorance

Hatred, do you feel it? I never noticed how much I stereo-typed until I got out of the army. Walking the campus now, the realization of what having a particular people from a particular country who followed a particular religion shoot at you for a couple of years will do to how you view people who kind of look like them, will do to your feelings about those look a likes.
   It makes me sick. It goes against everything I stand for and every reason I joined the military in the first place. This is the only country where you can practice any religion you like as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody and here I stand in the middle of a place of learning, feeling hate. Not just feeling it burns in my chest like somebody just put their torch out on me. Rage fills my veins when I hear Arabic or Farsi being spoken. I am so angry and mad and ready to fight and its a 5 foot tall AMERICAN girl that is the focus of my hate. How did I become this, how have I fallen so far as to hate the very differences I went over there to protect, what is the real answer?
    The simple truth, someone tries to kill you, anyone that looks like them is a target of anger. Supplemental reasons of why I feel this hate, demonification is nothing new. Demonification is the process of making your enemy sub-human or beyond evil, this makes killing the enemy easier in the mind and more justifiable. The process starts when you first join the military, the pop-up targets are called “Ivans” thats a throw back to the cold war era. When you make it to your first unit, inevitably one of the first questions asked, “You ready to kill some Hadji?” Not people, or the enemy, not another human being or just a bunch of assholes, no its a term that is said with such disgust and hatred, that the true meaning of the term is lost on most American GI’s that use it. This hatred is blared into your ear and is kind of funny at first, but then you go downrange. Boom, that first IED hits, buddies are down you’re bleeding, true hatred is instilled. When that first event got me, I was ready to kill every first born son of my enemy, I wanted to bathe in the blood of anyone not dressed like me, I was fueled by rage and led by hatred, why? because everything I had been told about “Hadji” was true.
    Now I stand back stateside in the middle of a crowded multicultural university. There are many who look like my old foe, and I must forcibly restrain the 1000 yard glares and the death beams that must shoot out of my eyes while they stand behind their “Get to know Islam booth”. Thats when it hits me, they aren’t the enemy, I am. They are trying to educate people about their religion and show that they are not like the assholes who blew me up or put holes in my friends. Who am I, to judge? I am a killer, a rough talker, a mean SOB, I like my beer, and I am not afraid to break a man’s jaw. The kid behind the booth telling of his religion knows nothing of the things I have done, who am I to say he is the enemy and I hate him. I have committed one of the most ignorant acts a human being can make, I read a book by its cover, I condemned a man to readily available death by my own hands for no reason other than he looks like a guy that shot at me, in a country about 8000 miles from here, a couple of years ago. Its official I am a moron.
     So how do I overcome this? Some of you might be thinking, WHY do I want to overcome this? We will start with a the second thing first, Hatred is the sign of a stupid person. Someone that doesn’t fully understand something is more apt to hate it, because his opinion is based on half truths and incorrect information. You are not a stupid person, if you are stop being said stupid person or I may have to boot you in the chest (I am working on how to do that through a computer screen). Back to the how of the matter, again if hatred is due to stupidity then perhaps educating yourself is the key. I have had several conversations now with these kids up on campus that try to educate people about Islam. Now I already know quite a bit about Islam, I liked to know what made my enemy tick so I could use it against them. What I educate myself about now, is the people involved in the religion. This kid telling me about this and that, he seems pretty normal. He isn’t spouting off about a jihad and he isn’t a threat. There isn’t an AK-47 slung to his shoulder and he is actually in one of my anatomy classes. If he were a threat, he isn’t much of one, I could snap him like a twig. So now I have found no reason to hate him, just by listening to him speak in the normal american way, he even had a slight Texas draw mixed in with the Arabic accent. I have to revalue my thought process for those I see with the long beards and their heads covered in respect to god. I have to revalue and rethink the way I feel when I hear someone speaking in Arabic, they are usually discussing MTV or last classes’ test not convoys and where to shoot an RPG. These kids are no different than the rest of the immigrant nation, everyone has their problem children. So I should not hate the majority for the minority’s actions. Is it easy? Hell no, I have to fight everyday but you have to realize that is not normal and is contributing to everything else you feel.


The Burden of Chevrons

     Boss Reed brought something to mind for me, the relationship between PTSD and being a leader. This is a very complicated thing. First off, as a leader you are not supposed to show that you are in fact having trouble, thats typically grounds for losing every responsibility. However, the on the ground leadership tends to be the most affected by the PTSD. Don’t see my logic?

    Myself as a leader always felt responsible for the mistakes made, which was appropriate. The problem was that I started to take responsibility for things that were vastly out of my control. This would lead to a strange form of survivor’s guilt or unscathed guilt. I almost felt as if I had been the one to set the bomb off because I missed it when I was scanning. I felt I had been the one that launched the rocket because I let them go to the gym on a day where the rocket attacks had been light. I have beat myself up day in and day out for every possible thing that could have been considered a mistake. The mass casualty outside the chow hall, had I gotten out there faster that kid wouldn’t have died on me. If I wouldn’t have missed that EFP, Soko and Ham wouldn’t have purple hearts and crazy ass scars. If I hadn’t made the request to kick it up to 40mph  Mo would still be dancing on both feet. If I had been faster to the gym when it got smoked in the IZ, maybe I could have saved those 2 or been there for Casper. If I could have got Hyunn out of bed faster he wouldn’t have had a pound of concrete embedded in him by that rocket. There is a million of them, and no matter how fool-hardy it may be I still feel responsible. Its something I carry with me, its one of the things that has motivated me to make this site.
    The strange form of guilt is brutal. I blame myself for a lot of the worst things that happened to us over there and that is one brutal pill to swallow. I worked myself over so bad in Iraq I started sleep walking because it was all that was ever in my mind “You Failed, You Failed, You Failed, You have got to try harder, be smarter, see it, YOU HAVE to SEE It”. I worked myself into such a fervor that my brain would never shut off and so I would sleep walk, loading guns or putting on body armor. The amount of pressure I put myself under was incredible, I was so mad at myself for the plethora of mistakes and failures I had worked out in my mind. I would sit on the roof of my truck before mission and force myself to visualize everyone in the convoy dead because I failed. I mentally beat myself into a fury before getting into the truck to roll out on mission… the idea I WILL NOT MISS IT AGAIN burnt into my brain. I started taking risks on my own to ensure others would be ok…. this was the dumbest set of things I did in any combat zone. I started following my gut to where there was trouble. I will leave those stories out.
    Have you ever heard of the term burning the candle at both ends, I had thrown the damn thing into a bonfire and called it a day. I can only imagine what impact that experience has had on my psyche now. The feeling of being scared for your life is pretty incredible. The feeling of being responsible for everyone else’s lives and the fact that their ability to go home to their families is a direct reflection of  your ability to keep them safe, thats not a roller coaster I want to ride again. Just something to chew on let me know what you think.