Here on this little site, we tend to focus on the aftermath, dealing mainly in those that are already SOL or already dealing with PTS or PTSD or Life after combat whatever clever way we phrase it. But this time, I would like to try to impart my experience in falling into this. What lead to me being so colossally jacked up, and how perhaps one might be able to avoid it all or at least cushion the blow.
One of my best friends sent me a message a while back (he is currently in Afghanistan), in no uncertain terms he asked, what made me go crazy? He said he felt like he was having a hard time and just wanted to make sure he wasn’t on course to become that thing I was when I got home from the last one. I explained a couple of things and I figure they are worth sharing.
I bottled everything that happened, every emotion and stuffed way down deep in my mental ruck sack. I never processed anything. I was so good as this I actually believed I was dealing with it. I never allowed any of the emotions to surface but anger. I used the anger in the gym and occasionally on mission, but there was so much that I was barely scraping the surface. What I should have done was find an outlet to give my mind time to process the junk, lifting weights, playing video games doesn’t work. Needed to be something like drawing or writing or something to give me time to work over and through everything that happened. Instead I allowed the wound to fester and grow septic. With that I compartmentalized a lot of stuff. I ran on auto-pilot for most of the stuff we did. I really only was running 100% when we were doing the mission stuff. Its good to compartmentalize, allows you to do your job in combat….. oddly I was really bad at it when we were in mission, I would get so pissed when someone would get smoked, so mad at myself for making a mistake. Thats leads us to the next pitfall
I literally blamed myself for every bad thing that happened to our squad and then to my protection detail later on. I blamed myself for not protecting the ones I served with on the streets and the ones that were in my AO later on when I was near command. I blamed myself for missing the IED’s and EFP’s, I blamed myself for not training others better, I blamed myself for not being closer to them when they were hurt, I blamed myself for not being the one that got injured. I arm-chair general-ed my every action, I would find things that I could help but smack myself in the forehead for doing. I still do occasionally. I could list them out, but it will just piss me off and this entry will go down hill fast. I think the reason I blamed myself is that I had an unreal belief of what my abilities were. I am not god or whatever force that is that goes through the CZ deciding who gets their ass blown off. I am not a superhero, not bullet proof, or travel at the speed of sound. I should have had no expectation to do anything other than what I did. I still feel guilty. I feel guilty for the guys that lost their lives and I feel responsible for the guys that got wounded. I feel like I betrayed their trust. Avoid this by having a real understanding of war, its freaking chaos. The biggest game of russian roulette, you can be totally on point and ready to go and still get your ass blown off or you can roll through buttoned up listening to your ipod and they won’t even pop off a round. I am not advocating the second way just saying. You are just a pawn in a big game that nobody has much control over, do your job, train your troops, be ready in the chute when the shisse hits the fan and thats about all there is to it. Never blame yourself, never even think for a moment, “Was that my fault?” Thats been one of the most corrosive thoughts for me in the past couple of years. You did what you could and thats all there is to it.
Now for some returning issues. When I made back home, I went straight to drowning it all out. I drank like a fish and was being a real
dumbass. I never allowed myself to even start dealing with it, I figured I was back and it would all just go away. Here I sit 2 years later…. worked out real well huh? Avoid the alcohol when you first hit the US, have a beer or two, get a buzz, have a buddy watch your intake and feed you water. Trust me getting nasty drunk a couple of hours after making it home…… bad idea. The sooner you look at whats going on in your head and how to fix it the better off you will be. If you had a gunshot wound spurting blood, would you kill some beers and hang out with the guys before deciding what to do with the massive sucking chest wound? Thats strange because it is exactly what most of us do, and if you look around, the mental health stuff is killing about as many as the warfare. Pay attention, man or woman up to whats going on and deal with it accordingly.
Finally, I never changed my attitude. I came home with the combat mind-set. Always scanning always looking always on edge. If you decide how you are going to be, you can prevent a lot of the BS I went through. Decide on a ROE essentially. Decide that you can be relaxed and comfortable but still aware of your surroundings, decide on times when to tone it down and when to amp it up. For example, you can turn it down when you are sitting at your dad’s dining room table, no one is gonna kill you but you might need to defend your food. Walking through a dark parking garage, crank that bad boy up to kill mode. There is a time and place where the skills you learned in combat are useful and a time when they are hurtful. Learn when to employ and when to put away, it will save you a lot of heartache and trouble.
This is not something I went through. Never felt much of the urge to kill myself. But its real, it happens to many if not most. This is a permanent solution to a very temporary discomfort. I have a serious problem with service members who take their lives, here is why. Most of the time they do it I feel its because of the pain and sorrow of losing a buddy. How in the hell does killing yourself make any damn sense. So you think your buddies’ sacrifice is some how honored by you kissing your beretta. I don’t think so princess, I think you just throw mud on the tombstone when you do that. Would your buddy be happy that you gave up, or would he be pleased that he or she gave their life so you could waste yours. Negative. For those that are doing it for other reasons, there are about 4500 reasons you should never consider it. There are 4500 fathers, brothers, sisters, mothers, grand babies all around that can not live the life they wanted. You are responsible not just to live your life but to make it worth their freaking sacrifice. You have no excuse, no excuse whatsoever that you feel its necessary to kill yourself. It is an insult and truly sad mark on their sacrifice and frankly that just down right selfish. If you struggle, reach out, if that person drops the ball do it again and again until you find the help you need. Its temporary, and killing yourself is the easy way out for you not for your family and friends. It is a horrible way to end a honorable and proud life. 4500 so far, and more coming, don’t you dare ever consider for a moment that it is your life to take.
I got serious there, but its just the simple truth. These are the pitfalls I fell in, avoid them at all costs. Use good techniques to save your ass from them. Be smart about your mental health and for those still in the CZ be smart about the guys around you’s mental health. Take a no bullshit approach, seriously make them understand what to do and what not to do, make them talk it out with you when you get engaged. If you are a leader and you are not head-checking, you are so wrong. Ok I will put the four-finer knife hand away. Pay attention to yourself, check your buddy and don’t be stupid and not get help. If you have questions or anything like that, hit me up firstname.lastname@example.org .