So there I was no shit right….. How many war stories have you heard come out like that. I tell one as a joke to my friends about evil bunnies and a vertically challenged stripper, kind of a way of thumbing my nose at myself. I am a storyteller, at least that’s what everybody tells me. I mean I know I tell stories, hell most of my dinner conversations about this one time, in some place, in a crazy or funny situation, but they say I am good at it. Problem is I have not had many adventures as of late to match the intensity, humor, or humanity that war provided as story fodder. As a result I have been sounding like a broken record for quite sometime. There has been a slight shift as of late focusing on more of the trauma stories stuff I have seen in the ER or in the hospitals… those are mostly funny and focus on natural selection but don’t provide the same kick and so I default back to those stories.
This compulsion to tell the stories has an interesting feedback loop on my PTSD. The way I tell these stories I wonder if they keep me in it, if they keep me reliving it or if they turn the volume down to a sustainable level. I don’t really know the answer to that. I don’t know if I tell them because they are the crowd pleasers or if I because I can’t have a good time if I don’t acknowledge the fact that I still don’t believe in my worthiness to be happy. My biggest worry is that by telling these stories they actually accentuate the trauma. They make it worse than it ever was, they put it up on a pedestal and make it into something it never was. In addition to that this same act of putting it on a pedestal somehow makes it the greatest accomplishment period, no matter how hard something was.
Perfect example I just graduated from college. It was all pop and no kick (thats when the a bullet goes bang but doesn’t fire). My dad said he was proud and I just shrugged my shoulders like it was inevitable. Then I took my licensing exam and freaked out for 2 days until I got the results back and when I did, instead of going nuts, it was just a matter of glad that’s over.
Now I know what many of you may be thinking, after war everything has the volume turned down. I just don’t think that’s necessarily absolute. Give you a good example. I was home on leave shortly after Iraq with Allison (look at this I just realized I am subconsciously storytelling in my post about storytelling, that’s some down the rabbit hole stuff, anyways) and we decided to go to six flags over Texas in San Antonio. I rode on all the rides they were fun but never scary, never got my adrenaline going. They had the volume just above mute. A couple years went by and we went to the rodeo and a silly little rodeo ride gave me a huge adrenaline jump. The volume was back up. My point is by reliving this crap by telling the stories is, am I keeping the volume of life down and the volume of PTSD at a static level?
I am certain my friends and family are so damn tired of them. My best friend can call up stories for me to tell random people by a significant point in the plot of said story…. he has them committed to memory better than I do in some situations.
I have lately been telling myself no war stories before I go out drinking or go hang out with friends… I haven’t been successful. First uncomfortable silence and bam there I go, “So there I was breaking my fist on a hardened glass window even though I was a black belt….” It has to me become a form of Obessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD. Most people conjure up images of someone washing their hands until they bleed or locking the doors multiple times. The actual definition is an obsession that drives a compulsion… sounds relevant to this need to spout stories the second things get too quiet or too happy.
It also leads to issues of me never being fully present, fully appreciative of the company I am with. I am always between two worlds kind of doing the Limbo in roller skates while straddling a purgatory. So how do I pick the needle up off the record? I am curious if by telling only hospital stories if that will somehow lessen the impact while I learn to not even tell them.
One of the other veterans I know commented on the fact that this Vietnam Veteran he knew was fixated on 1966 no matter what else he had done since then. He never got over his pinnacle and moved on to new moments. Is that where I am headed?
Declarative memory, such as autobiographical memory is the definition of self. Through a process called neuro-plasticity, I have by telling these stories over and over again turned faint memories into a declarative statement neuron that is a hulking monster compared to the other synapses in such a way that it drives my personality, my self. So in many ways I am still over there, I have by telling and retelling these stories kept myself over there, in the worst of the moments I can remember. I have created my own cell locked the door and threw away the key but I have been using a spork to tunnel out.
I am also concerned that just as I am keeping myself over there, I may be keeping myself from being here. Perhaps I just haven’t figured out how to fully be here, an inability to adapt to new surroundings and situations simply compounded by the fact that my measuring stick for normalcy is a place where killing a guy is a job well done.
Enough. I am going to enlist my friends and families help in this little experiment. I am going to ask them to say “blueberry pancakes” every time I start a war story, if I don’t stop right there, the guys may resort to physical violence and my wife can just start ticking off chores I will do when we get home or physical violence if she feels so inclined… somehow I think she might do both haha.
Look at yourself, are you like me. Are you keeping yourself over there by retelling it a thousand times over or are you keeping it buried and letting it burr a hole in your head and chest. Cut ties with it at all costs is my humble opinion.