Category Archives: Tips and tricks

Help those that help themselves

I am not a religious kind of man, but I was once and one of the things that struck me was the idea of helping those that help themselves. I am very much in the business of helping people and a lot of them are veterans. Over the years now, I have heard a lot of noise about we have to help veterans. They are struggling with ptsd or combat stress or homelessness or unemployment. While this is all true, it has really painted a picture of woe is me to be a veteran. That does not sit well with me.

If you are struggling but working at it, I am more than happy to help.

For those of you though that may be reading this and are bargaining with yourself saying but he doesn’t know about my disability, my injury, my ptsd, my TBI, what I saw in combat…. just go ahead and stop you are just lying to yourself and pissing me off. You do not quit with the first or the second or the thousandth obstacle. We do not fail. So they said no they couldn’t hire you move to the next open position. Go back to school. Hustle. You hustled in the military if you didn’t I am sure there was an NCO applying his boot to your fourth point of contact. Well allow me to don my old NCO facade and unf#$% your malfunction before I have to go about the nasty business of plucking out eyeballs and violating the holes… you know the old line.

Get it together. If you can’t, ask someone else to put their boot on your shoulder and pull on your neck until your head pops completely out of your fourth point of contact. Figure out what your objective is, find a job, find a better job, finish college, quit drinking so much, stop feeling sorry for yourself… whatever it is figure it out and write it down. Then set a series of goals moving in the direction of accomplishing that objective. One to be done by the end of the day, one by the end of the week, month and year. Repeat the day and week goal set, daily and weekly until mission is complete. If you are going for an interview, rehearse. Have someone look at your resume and tear it to pieces  and then you revise it. If you go to an interview wearing a polo, I will find you and kill you and then bring you back just to kill you more slowly. This is common sense, would you have gone to a promotion board in your PT’s? The answer to that is not unless you wanted the Sergeant Major to get his wish and finally get to smoke one of his soldiers until they puke through their nose. Then why do you show up to an interview half assed, unprepared, and looking like a bum. They already think you are a liability thanks to the stigma of being a ptsd ridden baby killing vet and you just backed it up by showing them you are inept. We didn’t do anything in the military without planning, take that skill with you. Set a goal, think, plan, prepare, rehearse, execute, revise, repeat… none of that should be a shocker to any veteran; then why are we failing to follow what was beaten and drilled into us from day one.

Am I mad? No I am freaking livid. I haven’t been this mad since my first day as a team leader driving all the way from Houston back to Fort Hood on my down day because my soldiers had decided to go all freaking UFC in a strip club because they had been drinking when news flash most of them weren’t old enough to freaking drink. I was very very mad. Why am I mad? Because I see veterans squandering there talents and skills and starting to prescribe to the notion that they don’t need to try someone is going to do it for them. You are the best the military could produce, undercut yourself and undercut the memory of the fallen. Get it together, put your war paint on, and destroy the obstacles in your way. If you are your obstacle, make a new you. I have the greatest respect for the ones that have tried, failed, and then got back up again to do it all over again. We fight, we persevere, we overcome. You are not your labels, you are not disabled, you are not PTSD, you are not TBI, you are not a liability, you are not a failure. You are the all singing all dancing crap of the universe. You are a veteran, a warrior, an asset. Figure it out or I will smoke you until you puke through your nose.

So this has been another episode of come to jesus meetings with dan.

By the by I made the news, lol. http://www.myfoxhouston.com/video?clipId=7449636&autostart=true

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Tidal War

I have good days and bad ones. I lose sight of the target or the horizon. I slip, I fall, I stumble, I screw up, make an ass out of myself. I forget limitations and lose sight of my ability to break this thing’s back. I lose my pride, my strength and my ambition. I end up face down in the mud, with nothing left to do but start digging. And then my favorite part comes…. I stop digging look up and start climbing out. I know that just as soon as I make it to the top I am sure to fall again, but maybe it won’t be so far next time. But who gives a shit anyways… life is always about the ascent not standing at the top enjoying the view.

Face down in the mud, this is where I am most happy. Because it has stopped for now, I can go no further down and only up is left. There is peace and solace in one hand and a wildly unstable and ambitious burning determination in the other. Dig the toes in and push. This is not the last fight, not the last battle, this war will go on and I am built to last through it. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing but expecting different results, I am not insane because I do not expect something different. I know how this will end and begin again. I am not concerned about that. I would rather play the game knowing how it would end than ride the bleachers. And during my ascent I will live my life, find my center, and kick this thing in the friggin teeth and get some damn satisfaction from it. Face it, spit in its eye, and head bud it, then start climbing. You are not a bottom dweller just a frequent visitor, cause you like the view from the bottom, because it gives a you a place to go.
Suck it up, shut up, tighten your belt, cut the eye lid, and beg for the bell or the starting gun to release you to the next round the next race. Leave as if you would never come back to the bottom, but know in your heart that you will be here again because it is as much home as the top is. Screw it, climb, punch through the wall, kick in the door, hit the friggin afterburners. Like holding onto the rocket fins ascend until your neck hurts from looking up. Then get a ladder and climb a little higher, you haven’t swan-dived from this height before, why the hell not!
Inevitably it will ebb and flow and you and I will tumble. Find yourself in the bottom face down and smile with the mudd in your teeth because my friend, it starts again. You can begin your ascent anew.

Happy Climbing


Thing 1 or Thing 2

No its not another Dr. Seuss rhyme. One of the things that a lot of us struggle with coming back, beyond drinking ,having PTSD and mTBI. Is that we struggle with identity. I have talked about this before, the idea of, I was Sergeant Snuffy but, now I am student 13,453 sitting in the back of the class with a pissed off look on my face. So I forged out in my previous rant about this, that you have to sit down and solidify a new identity. You have break everything back down to core values and build yourself back from square one.

In a lot of ways this is also very therapeutic because it removes some of your internal labels. In this tear down process, you take away a lot of the bad labels, like broke, weak, PTSD, crazy, baby-killer, mercenary, and all the other fun things that someone called you in passing, that stuck to the wall and hung. Whats important is to hang onto the good labels, hard-ass, warrior, brother, hero, honorable, loyal, strong. Pack those things in the ruck, just like when you field strip an MRE, the napkin and salt can hit the back of the trash can, the Tabasco is definetely coming, stuff that funky bread and cheese in your cargo pocket and move out. Same concept, don’t need that, need this.

Whats more important is that once you have solidified those core values, you actually have to act on them. Thats the hard part. This is where the personality really starts to set in and the new Identity, the post-war post-military id becomes the only one. It can be a rough process, with some serious competing desires going on. This is where you dig in and fortify your position. Discipline and motivation are key. Delayed gratification is always better than giving in to the immediate. “You really want another drink huh, sorry your ID says you know how to handle yourself. No drink for you dummy now put it down and step away from the bar.” Want to play video games huh, that doesn’t fly with that whole “college grad” thing, back away from the controller. If you make it through the settling point things get easy for a while. You get more comfortable with the post-war persona. You start to see things in yourself you haven’t seen in your years, like discovering what food you actually like (unfortunately for Allison). But then a bomb drops on your little world of one simple identity.

The path splits. Typical, happens all the time in life. However you just settled in to this thing and now you are faced with two bigger splits. Part of you is looking back at where you just came from and all that has happened; part of you looks ahead at the fork in the road. Do you go left, right, sit down and make house where you stand, or head for the wood line and hope no one pops lume rounds?

The answers to these questions are based largely in who you are after coming home. For me I never choose outright. I recon running each path down a little bit to try and get a view and sometimes I try to take them both on at the same time by splitting them down the middle. Which brings me to the newest label in my little arsenal, pseudo-workaholic. You might be scratching your head on this one, what the heck is a pseudo-workaholic? Its where you like the idea of being as involved as possible but once hip deep hate how incredibly busy you have made yourself. The core values though, the foundation that the house is built on can never be betrayed, you do that and it goes from stone pillars to a house of cards. Make your decisions, make them well, carve your path.

Game on it is. To be or not to be is not the question, the question is when you are about to cease to be, do you believe you be-ed enough. Thing 1 or thing 2, I choose not, I’d rather be a little of that and dash of this, and definitely some of that. A little Robert Frost to end it.

The Road not Taken- Robert Frost

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 5
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same, 10
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back. 15
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. 20

POSITIVE THINKING

Every once in awhile I find myself in a funk.  Dragging my ass around.  Pissing and moaning.  Stuck to the couch.  Feeling sorry for myself.
Most of the time I don’t even know what has caused it or what I’m feeling sorry about.
I can’t stand to be like that.
I have to make a conscious physical and mental effort to climb back out of it.  One of the methods that I find that works for me is to try positive thinking.  Sound lame?  Generally I would agree, but there is a certain way that seems to work for me.
I’m not a little train engine that thinks to myself, “I think I can.”
I’m not some comedic Rob Schneider character thinking, “I can DO IT!”
I prefer a kick ass Governator attitude.  I say to myself, “I’m Back!”  I was good before and I am good again.
That’s Right!  Lookout Bastards!  I’m here and I’m back!
Start the ’80’s theme music.
I’m gonna get up early, I’m gonna knock this shit out!

You have to take it a step further than thinking “Im going to try.”

Some people find an activity that they enjoy.  For some of us it would seem that enjoyment is either lost or so far diluted it is dangerous.  For me, all I really need to do is focus on accomplishing things.  I need an objective, even if it is only a series of small objectives.  Wake up, go for a run, shower, start laundry, clean the house, grocery shopping, etc…  These tasks seem menial but there is a huge difference in viewing failing to complete them at all or viewing them as a successful accomplishment.  When overlooked and unaccomplished, failing to achieve these daily tasks can actually cause me to sink further into a hole.

This shit isn’t quick sand.  Stand up, put one foot in front of the other and move out.  If you fall off of the proverbial horse, you are no worse off than you were before but at least you were doing something.  Just start from scratch and move out again.

Find a picture or a quote that will keep you optimistic and motivated.  Place it on your bathroom mirror, refrigerator, front door, or someplace where you will see it everyday.  I took a picture of the MMA Tapout logo and scratched the word “Don’t” over the top left corner and placed it where I could see it from my desk at work.

Another important piece of this positive thinking TTP is to surround yourself with positive people.  Most humans are wired to feed off of and reflect the attitudes of those around them.  When you are surrounded by negativity you will only find yourself thinking negatively in turn.  Do you remember going to a bar or club and being surrounded by people who just relaxed and had a good time?  What about a time that you went out and were with that one guy who was just a buzz kill?  I avoid these people.  I actually get irritated and almost irate when I start listening to people start whining about shit and saying things like FML.  Look across some of the blogs and articles to see how many people talk about how much a supportive loved one, friend, or doctor has meant to them in their struggle.

In addition to self motivating, you may also start to work towards becoming self aware of your attitudes and indicators.

* Warning:  Skip the next paragraph if you aren’t interested in scientific mumbo jumbo.

The Mayo Clinic identifies different types of negative self-talk:
Filtering.
You magnify the negative aspects of a situation and filter out all of the positive ones. For example, say you had a great day at work. You completed your tasks ahead of time and were complimented for doing a speedy and thorough job. But you forgot one minor step. That evening, you focus only on your oversight and forget about the compliments you received.
Personalizing.
When something bad occurs, you automatically blame yourself. For example, you hear that an evening out with friends is canceled, and you assume that the change in plans is because no one wanted to be around you.
Catastrophizing.
You automatically anticipate the worst. You refuse to go out with friends for fear that you’ll make a fool of yourself. Or one change in your daily routine leads you to think the entire day will be a disaster.
Polarizing.
You see things only as either good or bad, black or white. There is no middle ground. You feel that you have to be perfect or that you’re a total failure.

Try to have a sense of humor for Christ’s sake.
I suppose I could do some more research, but have heard that laughter releases endorphins and decreases dopamine levels.  I have read that endorphins are chemicals that are 10 times more powerful than the pain killing drug morphine, and dopamine is involved in the “fight or flight response” and is associated with elevated blood pressure.

What works for me might not work for you, but I am putting it out there.  It really takes some effort and self awareness sometimes.  I wish it I had an easy answer, and if you have anything that works for you…I am open to some suggestions.


A year as a civi

Its not my ETS (end of time in service) anniversary. Its just a year since I really committed to figuring this life out and letting all the war stuff find a back burner. I have been walking down this path, some times stumbling, sometimes sprinting, sometimes low crawling through the mud, but now I keep walking. Its gotten easier, things have smoothed over or scabbed. I have found limitations in some areas and blown through other issues. The thing I find the most poignant and important through this journey is that everything changed when I changed my internal environment.

I am a hostile kind of guy. It was aimed at anyone and anything that got in my way, ground my gears, any process that ticked me off, I used the words hate, furious, and kill A LOT. Going from hostile to peaceful, I don’t think was really an option for me. So my only choice was to change the targets and to change how my internal environment worked.

When I was doing the whole competitive martial arts thing we did a lot of visualization. Visualize the knock out, visualize the soft target openings in the opponent, visualize the win. One of the other things we did was when we got nervous before a match we would visualize the calm spot. Green soft grass, blue sky, blowing wind rustling it, and lots of big trees, this is where my mind ran to.

Then in Iraq it changed, I didn’t visualize knock outs, I visualized a kill, visualized actions on contact, the place I went to, to get myself focused was visualizing my squad dead because of my actions. I developed this burning hell kind of place in my brain and I honed it to a perfect hell over 15 months as a way of ensuring my maximum performance. I took this same smoldering hades visualization home with me, to 610 rush hour traffic (its own version of hell) and then a beast was born. My blood boiled, I raged, I cussed every person out from behind the wheel. In school I thought about breaking the kids neck in the front row that wouldn’t stop answering questions. I thought about active shooters on campus and how I would take them out with my pocket knife! I was a freaking ticking time bomb of rage. The kid with the guitar on the quad, my buddy and I once joked about killing him with the e-string the same way you would tell a toddler a knock-knock joke. The stress chemicals running through my body were bad enough for me, I was half-marathoner and tri-athlete and still had high blood pressure not because I was out of shape but because I was so pissed off all the time. Then I remembered my green grass and swaying breeze.

I start to extinguish my mental hell about this time, last year. I realized I was fighting myself, keeping myself from being happy. I hated being out of the army, I had lost my purpose and my brothers. I was carrying around all those inglorious invisible scars and drowning it all with some beer and Jack. So I stopped fighting the tide I just took a deep breathe and went with it (not to mention Allison’s hand on the back of my head pushing it under water, lol). I limited being angry at people and instead focused all the rage on books and school work. I used the calming visualizations to keep me centered. I thought of graduating, being successful, working in an ER. I thought about helping others, I visualized what would be the best I could do as a civilian. So it emerged, be a good husband, good friend, solid student and eventually use what I learned to serve others. I want to be in an ER and I want to do Urban Search and Rescue. I wanted to pull the other vets, through the gap, that miserable burning hell I had just washed up in and had to make a dead sprint past the devil to make it home. I wanted to do all these things and to do that, hell had to freeze over.

I am plugging along on my little journey here. I am in nursing school, gonna be in an ER inside a year. I will be done with my reserve time shortly after I graduate and then I will apply for the SAR stuff. I work with veterans and they help me too with the Lone Star Veterans and when I was working with the guys at UH, I am now trying to set something up for veterans at UT Health in Houston.

So moral is: I don’t care if you have been out for 40 years or if you got out yesterday or if you never served at all. Change your outlook, changedanbaumbach.wordpress.com the internal environment and monologue. Get rid of the “have tos”, and “shoulds” and go with the “I want tos” and  “I ams”. Find your centering visualization and draw the resolve from there. Kill the mountain one rock at a time. I took the hell fire that was consuming me and used it to power my heart and will. Please, learn how to do the same. Not to shabby for only a year removed but then again, I have always been an overachiever lol


Background Noise

One of the most difficult things about life after combat is the background noise. Its those constant mental processes that make it nearly impossible to be fully present in the moment. It requires so much effort to keep all the back ground noise in the background that it distracts us from the current events, conversations, or work.

The white noise is responsible for many of the issues that combat veterans face, like irritability, memory problems, and occasionally the thousand yard stare. It is this incessant sapping of focus that leads to many other complications like drug and alcohol abuse and depression.

So what is the background noise. For me its all the little processes like scanning, looking for threats, and trying to remain in control of the adrenaline and  breathing. This however is not the greatest sap of my focus. The big drain is the blockade that runs on all of the memories from combat. It is a really bad blockade but it is there none the less. The memories tend to get the best of me when I am sitting idly. The 2 points in time that i find my mind traces back to those memories are when I am a passenger in a car or plane and right before I go to sleep. I figure thats because I am alert but not doing anything so my mind wonders and without me trying to block out the memories thats where my mind settles. You might say well thats dumb just don’t think about it. There is a very real biological reason why my brain would focus on those memories. Its the same reason as to why your adrenal responses are hard wired into your bad memory section. Its because the things that were usually bad memories were things that threatened your life or forced you to fight. So your brains keeps those memories on the forefront of your brain so that it can identify a possible threat that much faster. Good idea if something was always trying to kill me, but not necessarily the case.

To give a better example of why the background noise sucks, I will use an analogy. Take your computer for example. Open up a bunch of windows and minimize them and then open up another window and try to do something. Computer is going to lag or ding at you annoyingly. Its going to take twice as long to do a simple task and probably burn through your patience. This is essentially what is going on when I am talking about the background noise. Your brain is good at doing some pretty amazing stuff but when its distracted like that, you aren’t running on full steam and things suffer. I hate that feeling of not being present. I don’t like how I feel when I suddenly do become present and realize I have no idea what the person is talking about or where the lecture is. This whole autopilot thing is not  fun way to go through life.

How do you stop the background noise. I don’t know the answer to that one. But what I do know are a couple of tricks to make it less noticeable. Get yourself a little notebook and a little pen that can slide into it, keep it in the opposite back pocket of your wallet or in your purse. When you are told something or think about something you need to remember write it down. Good for two reasons one, it is a written record of the thing you need to remember and you can go back to it. Two, the act of writing something down requires your brain to process that information and hopefully store it in the long term memory. Another trick I have started recently is at the end of a conversation ask yourself a series of questions about what just happened. What was the individual’s name? Are there any tasks I incurred from that meeting? Is there another date for another meeting? What was something memorable from what they said? What were they wearing? Yea something as simple what were they wearing can actually be a difficult question. These are just some of the things I try to do to make it a little bit more bearable, until I don’t hear that background noise anymore.

The interesting thing is that the background noise is so incredibly distracting and yet if you do not look for it, you won’t know its there. You will just not be present in everyday life, you will struggle with your memory, and be irritable for an unknown reason. Recognize and acknowledge it and you can do something about it. So now that the background noise is brought to the front of your mind, do something about it.


Fortune Cookie

May you live in interesting times and May you find what you are looking for.

This is a quote that is often portrayed as some sort of ancient Chinese curse, but it actually first came into writing in the 1930’s or so, in the US. Its value still holds though as a curse. There is actually a third line that goes, may you come to the attention of powerful people.

At first read, you consider how this could possibly be a curse. Sounds like everything any ambitious person could ever desire. I was one of those, still am, sad how I haven’t learned my lesson yet. Luckily through my travels my memory is short now, which aids in my stupidity. I lived in interesting times when we were in the desert and the mountains.

That’s one heck of an understatement. For such a short time it is so completely packed with stories of every color and amplitude. It was something that defined me, something that aged me, something that has forever dated me. It was a difficult and hard time. It has forever changed me.

May you find what you were looking for. This is the real rough part of the curse. When I signed up for the military, it was a time a war. I was signing up for that adventure. I was signing up to prove myself. I was signing up for the war I thought I wanted to go to. Well, I found what I was looking for, too my amazement it was a whole hell of a lot more than I thought it was going to be. I found every bit of what I had been looking for and then the first week was over and I still had 51 more to go and then a 15 month tour later to make it through.  What the hell was I thinking, go to war it will be cool. Holy crap if I could teleport back I would kick myself in the head for joining for that reason. That said I would have still joined, just not for some damn adventure.

And so the made up Chinese curse goes. It’s interesting just how little I have learned. I am always looking for that adventure, that adrenaline, that challenge, and more often than not when I find what I am looking for it’s like sticking my tongue in a light socket.

Case in point a triathlon: I thought I wanted that challenge, about 200M into that open, choppy, salt water bay, I just wanted to be on the beach with a beer. Then there was that half-marathon, lol, mile 9 I seriously considered getting a cab. There is always some satisfaction at the end. Always some joy mixed in with the pain, I guess that why I never learn.  But I think it goes deeper into that messed up thing about being an adrenaline junky.

So what am I close to finding, marriage. I am about to get married in about half a year. I finally found that one for me. We live a really interesting life, filled with tons of stuff to do and responsibilities. We are starting to have a really good network of friends. That’s right we have filled out all 3 rites of the made up freaking curse or at least in progress to that last thing. And you know what, I couldn’t be happier about it, so to hell with it. I think it’s just something kind of funny. We as former military don’t really bother to heed warnings, and don’t panic when our make-shift raft capsizes in the middle of a hurricane. So this little Chinese curse is actually more of a set of instructions to live by. It’s like the adrenaline junkies manifesto. If by living on this it allows me to live my life to the fullest and find those little islands of fun and happiness in the ocean of junk, it sounds about right to me.

So I issue this Chinese curse(that Americans made up really turns out to be a blessing if you just stop dwelling on the hard side of it), may you live in interesting times, may you find what you are looking for, and may you come to the attention of those in power. Kick some ass and embrace the suck. You want egg-roll with that.