Monthly Archives: August 2010

Aristotle would have been proud

Did you know that Socrates was a soldier?

Mike Orban is an interesting man, I have never met in person. He is a Vietnam Veteran and more over a PTSD Veteran and from what I have deduced a verified bad ass yet he would never admit to it. He is an Author and a Radio Show Host on the subject of Combat PTSD. Mike is the kind of guy that seems to have lived 10 more lives than you but even just one of his would still have more stories than yours. He dropped this nugget of Knowledge in my comments section, a place that is not fit for something of this clarity, simplicity, and overwhelming magnitude of  mind unraveling awesomeness, therefore its posted here. Read it fast, then read it again, try to connect the dots. Its a chunk of knowledge that Socrates would have dropped on some sophist punk on the steps of an Athenian Market.

I had to accept that American soldiers have gone to war (in principle) to keep the experiences of
war outside this country and away from it’s citizens. Yet, at the same time now, after being at war,
I wanted them to understand what true physical, psychological and spiritual committment war is for
the soldiers. I wanted patriotism to be real. However I saw I was caught in my own thinking. The only
way for others to understand our experiences at war was for them to have been to war and this is
precisely what we were successful at preventing (in principle). So, in our own success we had
created our own isolation. I accept this now as being a warrior and being a warrior for life, I don’t
want them to understand because I know what they’d have to go through to gain that understanding.
I don’t wish that on them and in this I take pride which helps calm my soul.

-Mike Orban

Author of ‘Souled Out, A Memoir of War and Inner Peace’

http://www.michaelorban.com

Host of Combat PTSD Exposed

Catch it Wednesday at 11AM/PM eastern time on

www.americaswebradio.com

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Waiting for the Turning Point

Go to war, see bad stuff, come home, trip out a bit…. then what? Life seems to be a series of phases. Sometimes these phases seem like independent lives where you were a completely different person. Things come and go, ebb an flow. So why is it that I am sitting here waiting for the turning point, waiting for this phase to end and the next to begin.

I am doing everything I can mentally and emotionally to force the turn. I am doing my part to make it happen now its on time to get to the right moment. I am sure it won’t be all at once, but I am done being the wounded one. Been done for a while. I just want to be able to move through life without all the extra baggage I carry. I want to be engaged again rather than viewing things from a far. I am tired of creeping my friends out when I space out. When I say want, thats an under-exaggeration I crave the time when I won’t be this anymore. I am not the type to fail at a goal like that. I will fight this tooth and nail until I get there, but part of me knows it will involve waiting.

If something was put in my mind by external forces, isn’t it true that external forces should be able to nullify it? Thats the theory I have beenGET SOMErunning on, by refusing PTSD and moving towards dealing with what happened. Working through my guilts and faults of combat and refusing to fall to the terminal diagnosis of PTSD, and just assuming thats my plight in life. To hell with that and the horse it rode in on. I will not fall to the wayside or submit to the brown paper bag of pills. I won’t let the adrenaline and the combat mentality run my life. I won’t let old fears and old guilts tell me when I am allowed to be happy. So I am armed and pissed off, ready to do some guerrilla warfare on this thing called life after combat. I am going to systematically tear its freaking heart out, like that bad guy in Indiana Jones. I think I am getting a little angry (hulk smash). Time to simmer down.

So while I wait for the turning point, I am obviously going to be making a hell of a racket in my mind where that trauma junk is stored. Gonna be like that doc lady that goes into people’s houses, where they have pizza boxes to the ceiling with a dead cat hidden in between the couch cushions, and cleans everything up. But I am gonna do it with a little more flare, like with a flame thrower or something. Hunting down bad memories and making them “teachable moments” P.S. next person to tell me something is a “teachable moment” is gonna get kicked in the teeth. So while I am all full of piss and vinegar, I might as well get cracking. Don’t just wait for the turning point in your life, do something about it, it still all comes down to time but at least you will look busy until the time being.


Long Way Home

Traveling to war, used to be a major part of the entire time spent away from home. It would take months to get to the battle field, as technology increased the speed picked up. By WWII it would take only 3 weeks to make it back from war, riding on transport ships. Fast forward to today, troopers can be boots in the dirt to boots in the house in under a day.

The travel time was once, decompression time. It gave troopers time to think and process, develop answers to questions, or decide best how to approach coming home. With the new ways of coming home, troopers lose that time. All of this is nothing new, but the perspective I have is a bit different.

So when they would travel home on those long treks, their physical body as well as their minds traveled on the same path. Now our physical body is rocketed home while all the trauma is left to wander its way back. It is not taken care of in the same way anymore. The minds of the troopers are left to fend for themselves they are not given that time and dedicated focus that it takes to start the healing process. Instead they are met with distractions and honeymoon situations and the wounds tend to fester.

The mind of the new trooper takes the long route home, winding through the dark forests and treading water in the ocean. It can take years for the troopers mind to actually find its way home. What I mean by that is, when you see a trooper “vacate” or do the “1000 yard stare”, they aren’t thinking about killing, they are just a thousand miles away where their memories and what was left of their humanity suddenly slam into each other. This train wreck leaves little if not any capability for other faculties. Its a product of the troopers mind having not made it home yet. I feel that troopers should be better trained in self-mental-aid. They should get armed with the tools to take on their own healing process. It should start in kuwait or kyrgzstan when they are waiting for a bird out. They should find ways to focus on the trauma and realize potential issues for later. I know this an ideal thought in a not so ideal system, but with the suicide rate and all that is going on with mental health, maintaining the status quo isn’t an option.

The feeling of not being solid or whole, its like waiting for your mind to catch up, for it come home. Its not where any trooper wants to be.


Rock and Man

I spent the last week out in the woods of South Dakota. At night we slept in the bar; during the day we humped through the black hills of of the national forest. The elevation wasn’t too bad we would go from 5000 to 6250, but sometimes it would do that ascent in a hurry straight up a big ass piece of granite. But with anything, going up was always easier than coming down. There were a couple of times I would be hanging on the ledge knowing that my toes were just inches from the next ledge but I couldn’t reach. I couldn’t go back up because that would only slow my progress down off my rock island. So left with only one choice, buck up. Letting go of a nice solid hand hold and sliding into the abyss is about as natural as exiting a perfectly good airplane with the knowledge a private packed your chute. Sliding down the rock, hands spread, feeling for balance, my toes catch my knees give enough to keep me from flying off and I continue the descent. For some reason that brings to mind the Indiana Jones the last crusade when he makes that leap of faith.

I am not a very spiritual person anymore. I believe in god and that there is a higher power and purpose, but no one religion can fit my beliefs anymore, mainly because most have been killed in the name of. I am all for standing for what you believe in but when we are killing each other over a bunch of fables and missing the point of those fables completely, I take a big step back and say to hell with it. All that said, there is something powerful about being in those hills. Something awesome and amazing about having a piece of country kick your ass and you just love every minute of it. Something about walking around in crazy horse’s old stomping grounds and Teddy’s little vacation spot. But the single most spiritual thing about that place is the silence you find at the top of one of those hills. It hurts its so quiet. The wind blows and you can hear the wood of the trees strain and stretch as they bend with the wind.

That silence was the most incredible thing, it forced my buddy and I to whisper because it justseemed wrong to talk at normal levels. Sitting there I remembered all the noise from combat. All the noise of trucks and jets and machine guns and bombs and mother’s cries and the damn noise. It took your breath away. Then to its opposite contrast of sitting in the woods, where your heart was the loudest drum and rustle of the leaves was so loud it could be deafening, it took your breath away. They were so different despite they both made it hard to breathe. The noise sucks the life out of you, sucks the passion, sucks the patience, sucks the brilliance. You have no desire to create anything because you are afraid to add to the noise. When you are in the silence though, you see the hope, the possibility, you are filled with that vitality, and the strange human desire to fill it with just a little bit of noise.

I am sure I am not the only combat vet, who has given up on major religion. Especially from my era. Seeing what a couple of pricks with some uneducated religious people can do, makes you question everything. What I found out in those hills though was just about as close as I have come to finding faith since I have been back. I found a place I could think, believe, and trust in. I found a place where the only thing I was watching my back from was a mountain lion. I found a place that understood what I was far better than I or any person in a city does. I found a place where I fit, a place that the only adrenaline rushes found were self-induced. And in this trek through the woods is when it dawned on me like a 500lb bomb up-side the head.

Urban-warfare, this is the majority of the place where we were in combat. We fought in the streets and from our trucks and in the buildings. We were always on edge everywhere we went because there were predators and observers. Our lives were a constant battle of shooting in 360 degrees. Now that we are back, what if the city is just a big PTSD trigger. What if driving through traffic and walking around huge buildings or being in crowded rooms and restaurants is just one big PTSD trigger, not individual ones as we have made them. Well ain’t that a crappy thought, lol.


Did that just happen?

Have you ever experienced a singular moment?   A moment that seems to suddenly stop time, where you achieve some awareness you didn’t have before?

My moment came amidst one of my worst experiences.   This specific moment is one that I will never forget.

As a leader, I was very fortunate.   I had an awesome group of Soldiers under me.   We had every battle drill rehearsed.   Every situation we encountered had an immediate reaction.  When someone went down, someone else immediately stepped up.

This type of training and rehearsal is automatic.   It reduces stress.   It removes the thought process and chances for error, you become a single collective machine accomplishing a programmed function.   This is a pretty honest description of how I felt sometimes.   Truck 1 gets hit, equals truck 2 and 3 move up….establish security, evaluate casualties, report to higher, and so on….

On this night we got hit pretty bad.   All of my reactions were so automatic that I do not remember some of them even now.    Alot of things happened that night and I am still working on trying to put them into words, but I remember this one moment sooooo clearly that as I think of it now my body will physically react to my thoughts.

I was outside of my vehicle with the injured Soldier.   My driver was in charge of my vehicle and had assumed my responsibility of sending reports to higher.   The gunner had been on mission with us before, but was not our usual gunner.   My driver was preparing a SITREP and MEDEVAC request, he looked back out of the open door to ask me about the injuries.   I automatically replied with the Soldier’s name and extent of injury (lower leg amputation, priority medevac.)

<BOOM, slow motion> Every one of my immediate reactions and pre-rehearsed drills stop.   It is only an instant, but it seems much longer.   I had no problem telling the driver, but I think… “Did that just happen?  Did the gunner hear me?  What will their reaction be?  What did I do?”

I knew that I was one of only a few Soldiers on the ground.   Everyone else in the squad was still pulling security for us, requesting support, or some other activity.   Up until the moment I made that statement, only those Soldiers on the ground knew how bad his injuries were.   The gunner was pretty close to the Soldier who lost his leg.   To be honest, he was a great guy all around.   No matter how serious I was, or how shitty of a day I was having…he ALWAYS made me laugh or smile.    He never said “No” or “I cant.”   He was great, but the gunner and injured Soldier were pretty close.

At that moment everything stopped becoming programmed for me.   “Did they hear me?  Do they know?  How are they going to take it? What are they thinking?”   Holy shit!!!   Now, there were suddenly not only actions and reactions, but now there was a third or fourth dimensional effect to an event.   I could understand how I felt(push aside, worry later) but how did the other Soldiers feel?   Could they function?   Did I have secondary emotional casualties?   It would all be my fault.  What the hell will I do now?

<BOOM, time rushes back to normal>   continue mission…WTF?


Post War Persona

Who are you?

This post is going to be about, defining yourself after a defining moment. Most times defining moments are viewed as a positive thing. They are the moments that forge leaders and thinkers. They are times when as humans we are tested and emerge victorious. Unfortunately, these defining moments can leave little else other than that definition for a person. This is particularly the case of combat vets. When we come home, we are combat vets, our every action, thought, and feeling are a product of our time at war or has at least been touched by our time at war. This definition, this identity makes it very difficult for us to differentiate between who we are and what we have done. This state of interconnectedness tends to propagate a lot of the symptoms of PTSD or feed the struggle of life after combat. It is critical that after we return home and when the time is right that we begin to establish a post war persona. Essentially and as weird as it may seem, we have to decide who, not what we want to be when we grow up.

Everything about our military life was dictated to us. Now we must decide who we are to be after that. Tastes, political views, demeanor, dress, sense of humor, speech,writing both written and typed, emotional expression, mannerisms of all sorts, eating habits, all change when you leave the combat life. There is a very specific way for all of this to be done in a combat zone, the way that presumably gives you the best chance of survival and tactical superiority. When you come home its a matter of preference, and as grunts we tend to not have any. We slept with our heads in the dirt or on an ammo can or in a palace, it made no difference to us. We ate what was in front of us, and talked like everyone else did. We lived in such tight quarters that we grew a communal mind, this was lethal on the battlefield, knowing what your best friend, your brother was going to do the instant he thought of it. Once severed from the hive, you find that you are stranded worker bee. Its an uncomfortable and unsettling situation to find yourself in and yet it is the most critical moment in your coping process, because it is when you decide who you are, who your post war persona will be. This post war persona, can be the victor, the victim, the leader, the thinker, the guy sitting at the VFW telling war stories, the one stuck in the past. When all you have to define yourself is trauma you are going to be traumatized. What complicates the situation more is that when we come back we tend to shut ourselves off from the world or at least emotionally detach ourselves. This doesn’t allow a lot of new experiences to come in, experiences that could help us define who we are post war. Essentially, we are blank slated when we leave the military. You have been through hell and back and yet it doesn’t apply in the slightest to regular civilian life. Its all associated, if you could do that then you can do this, not because you are this you can conquer the world. This is an earth rocking idea for veteran who has been told from the start of his military career that it will set you up for life. It opens all the doors to the world and you can walk into anywhere and get a job. All the military does is teach you how to breach and clear the room behind the locked door. It is up to you and I as the veterans to take the tools we earned in the military, the goals and aspirations of the future, and the desired persona, slam them together and make it happen.

When I left the army, I kind of struggled with that. Not because I had left the army and lost my identity but because I had left the job that covered the fact that I only knew one part of who I was. The stress from being over there, changed who I was, I was angry and felt like I was not in the driver’s seat all the time in regards to my mind. The first two months I was out before college started I kind of wallowed in self-pity and boredom. I didn’t know who I was and wasn’t really all that sure what I liked to do. I tried to hold onto the military routine for as long as I could. The fiancée was none to pleased with this whole time period. Then school started. There are so many things to define you in a college environment and yet everyone is searching for their identity. I kind of blended into this without a problem, because it was the one way I could relate to all the children I was in these classes with. Slowly over the course of the past year, as I have come out of my military cocoon and made friends, joined organizations, participated in events, helped others, I have found a persona, an identity besides the trauma. It has been critical to how much change and improvement I have undergone in such a short period of time. The best part about all this, I have chosen who I am. I am comfortable in my own skin because I have painstakingly redefined who I was and where I stood on many things. Ditching the common views that are beaten into you and replacing them with things and ideas that are truly important to you. Its a whole lot of inner peace kind of junk, when you start being you but also defining who it is you are to be. All of these things help you lay your trauma down or let the combat zone go, because as you begin to define who you are, you are able to define a location for the trauma, a healthy spot. Healthy spot? Yea like the spot where courage and motivation are found. For example, I lived through that, everything else won’t impress me much, so bring it on.

Take Home: Deciding who you are, is a process, not a singular moment. It requires careful introspection, you have to be honest and humble when you go about doing this otherwise you will find you are uncomfortable in your woven skin. This seems strange, but you do it automatically when you get out, it is so much more beneficial when you take an active role in the process. It can be the difference in being the victor or the victim. The final thing, is that by actively defining yourself, you can ensure you are defined as happy and confident or whatever the heck floats your boat. Give it some thought.


Red Book

Warning psychiatric history lesson ( my style): So there was this dudenamed jung, he hung out with Freud (weird guy that wanted to sleep with his mom). Obviously Jung got tired of his s@#$ and bailed. Then Jung went a little nuts, he had this psychotic episode. Feeling his mind slipping, he began to catalougue his crazy hallucinations and dreams. He wrote down every distrubing thought that he had. It was the famed Red Book, never published, later discovered by his family and published it. The book was actually basis for some of his most critical work. When I say crazy, I mean grade A whacko, he was envisioning the end of the world and stuff out of revelations. He drew whacked out pictures of all the disturbing crap he came up with and was just altogether losing it…… my kind of book. In the experience he just lets his imagination go, he envisions these figures that take on a life of their own, he later said that, “brought home to me the crucial insight that there are things in the psyche which I do not produce, but which produce themselves and have their own life.”  And so we circle back around to the point, that of which i am sure you have been searching for in this mass of words.

Things in your psyche which you do not make, but they make themselves and have their own life…… I would have to say that describes part of the struggle of life after combat. The things I experience, the struggles I face are not something that I conjured up but are sure as hell part of my psyche. They have ebbed and flowed on their own accord with no influence from me. These things, these habits were dictated not chosen. But really I am just scrathching the surface of how the red book applies to us as combat vets.

Jung’s book, was a personal diary his attempt to pull himself back from the brink of insanity by finding a place to put his crazy. He transcribed every crazy and disturbing thought to this book. He drew outlandish pictures in old school style of the dark age bibles. Imagine for a moment, if you as a combat vet, wrote down and drew out every disturbing thought. If I did it I bet my creation would make Quentin Tarrantino shy away from all the blood and senseless violence or make a weird movie out of it. Consider writing down what you wanted to do every time you got mad, every time you did assessments, every time you visualized the kill. On the flip side imagine how therapeutic that could be, to not have to carry, store and hide all your dark thoughts. That was the genius of Jung’s red book. He saved his mind with a private catalog of his dark thoughts. He did this until he felt he could control himself again. Jung used his red book writing to base most of his more important work on. He would later state that the unconscious self becomes more and more dangerous the more it is repressed and not expressed. So consider what a day of dark thoughts puts on you, what about a week, a year, a decade. You go from a live round, to a frag, to a time bomb, to a nuke, to a black hole.

I have decided to begin keeping a red book, not gonna share it with you, thats not the point. The point is to find a place for the darkest most shameful thoughts I have on a daily basis so that they can’t find a place in my psyche to fester and become a cancer. You should consider it too. Also look into the Red Book, its not cheap but there are e-book versions out there