It waits.

If you are going to wait might as well do it with a big stick.

If you are going to wait might as well do it with a big stick.

It waits.

Just beneath your calm surface it lurks.

You have it handled, wrestled and restrained it, but it waits patiently for your grip to loosen. It has no mercy and will beat you to your knees and keep coming until it kills you. Its allies are stress, booze, and life in general. The things that distract you from keeping it contained. It will deprive you of sleep, make you mean, and even emotionally liable. It is dangerous. It waits. It has no power unless you give it power. Be merciless in your restraint and tactical in your approach. Use logic, reason, and strength to hold it at bay. Know when to reach out for an ally as it does. Call for help. Beat that bastard back into submission and keep coming until its left bloody on the floor. Face him. Don’t let him lurk beneath the surface drag the SOB out and have a wall to wall counseling session. You are in CONTROL. Know that your enemy is what you have seen, not who you are. Dig your heels in and swing for the fences.

You wait for it to slip up, ready to slit its throat at a moment’s notice.

You wait.  


So when did I become the expert

I was working a with a patient the other day. I can’t give you any specifics, but needless to say what he went through was horrific. He was having nightmares. The medical staff was just pushing it off as if there was nothing to be done. PTSD had been thrown around, but in my medical realm its all about the treatable. Its about the tangible things that we can fix not some murky aftermath of stuff you lived through. So not much attention was paid to this aspect. As my day progressed I observed him.

He was a tough guy. As I drew blood and took vitals I noticed a set of hands that didn’t remember a time before tools were its main focus. Calloused and worn ready to work. I saw a guy genuinely concerned for his friends, who were in the event, more so than himself. I saw a guy taking the pain and moving before it was expected of him. So I took a chance.

I walked into the room and said, I have PTSD, I served two tours and saw some messed up shit  and I have fought to deal with it every day since. How can I help you?

He was taken aback, but then tears instantly shrink wrapped his eyes. He knew he had found an ally.

What he said afterwards was all too familiar, nightmares and night sweats. Sleeping pills locking him into dreams. If he thought about it too long racing heart beats and shortness of breath.

I listened. I nodded and said been there done that, got the t-shirt, and the veteran liver to prove it.

Then I downloaded. I talked about sleeping rituals to ensure cleanly sleep, talked about avoiding pharmaceuticals for sleep, talked about getting help, talked about desensitization, and how talking to others who were there could relieve the stigma. An hour passed by quickly.

I could tell something else was bothering him. So I asked. He simply stated you are too young. The gentleman I spoke with was more than twice my age but he knew my words came from heavy hard earned wisdom. That’s when it hit me when did I become the expert.

 

I have grown through this process. I have grown more thoughtful. More quiet. Grown Stronger and more vulnerable all at the same time. Thank you for reading. Goodnight and charlie mike.


Never going to learn

When will evil men learn that if their goal is to terrify and divide us, they are doing it all wrong. We band together in times like these. We run towards the chaos and destruction to help even though in this day and age we know there may be a secondary waiting for the responders but we go anyways. These horrible acts these moments of the absolute low of humanity is always overpowered by the overwhelming strength of unity and compassion; the greatest aspirations of humanity. They will not divide us, we won’t cower in place while it clears. We will gather in groups and we will be in public. We will be scared but yet that’s the definition of courage, being scared and doing it anyways. We will refuse to let them achieve their goal. They have hurt our hearts by emboldened our spirit and the American spirit is a rebellious, angry, fighting spirit. News flash geniuses, the only terror that you will achieve is what you will see in your nightmares; we nicknamed those nightmares SEAL team 6, FBI HRT, and Delta CTU. Sleep tight ass hats.

The American Spirit only grows stronger in times of chaos and danger. We band together, circle the wagons, and prepare to serve lead salads to any and all takers. The best example I can give you were all the vests that were running to the chaos and that when the runners were told they could do nothing, many of them continued to run straight to Boston mass general to donate blood for the wounded.  If you watch the videos you see people clinging together. First-Responders running to the scene. Divided we fall, together we stand… thanks for reminding us of that you idiots. If you really want to destroy us run for congress they seem to be doing a great job. See you sooner than you think.

Good man.

http://www.nbcnews.com/video/nbc-news/51555409/#51555409


Understanding Resilience

I often find myself wondering why I faltered. What happened in my head that I just all of the sudden was rocking combat stress. Don’t misunderstand me there was plenty of lead up but while I was down range I never had a problem. I functioned in Afghan and Iraq without issue. I was stressed even sometime quite crazy but I was never reliving the moments I wasn’t overflowing with guilt I was ok.

The first noted aspect of PTSD I felt was after Afghanistan I slept for days, only getting up and shaving to go to morning formations and then going back and hiding my barracks room and sleeping. I was not suffering from PTSD persay I just missed the war….. Yea I know that’s special.
But the fog broke and I moved on. Afghan was not nearly as bad as Iraq for me, I think that because in Iraq I was in charge of more stuff and my decisions had more of an impact on my guys’ lives. Then mid way through the tour. Was separated for my men, and marooned in soldier hell near the flag pole. There I actually suffered more attacks than with my troopers and it had a more significant effect on me because I had no back up, no one to shake it off with, no one to look left or right to when the suffering got a bit more than I cared to handle at that time. Then when at the end of the tour I was returned to my men at the completion of that mission, they assumed it had been an easy ride and were actually resentful towards me. So I shut up and sucked it up, I saw the explosions and the deaths and the last gasping breaths every time I closed my eyes. But I sucked it up because they felt they had had it worse and it would not be fair for me to try to convince them of otherwise.

Then I came home. It hit like a ton of bricks as soon as we were in Kuwait. I did not even know how to deal with the guilt, the anger, and the fact I was on my own in my head. At home I was a mess, I was to myself. I made stupid mistakes and was living as if I thought I would die at any second. I was drinking so much to try to self medicate, just to take edge off. Driving too fast, starting fights, taking unnecessary risks just for a laugh. I would go from high as a kite to borderline suicidal at the drop of a hat. It was a dark time. Months passed and things mellowed. Then years went by and this blog started to help.

Now I have residuals, I still feel it occasionally or will have a strange dream they are not really nightmares anymore. If someone were to ask do you have PTSD, I would say sure but its the light beer version now instead of the 151 it was at first. So what caused the crumble and then the subsequent return to normalcy.

I think it all revolves around resilience and the components that make it tick. Resilience is what allows you to be a timex, take a licking and keep on ticking. There are some inherent components just something that is part of your personality. There are past life events that help influence your ability to take the suck and embrace it. There is your support network and your family, friends, military units, and other people with whom you can be in the suck with. There is however a breaking point. A moment when everything gives and that little hole in the dam becomes a raging river in a split second. But that hole has to exist first. For me I think it’s when I lost my squads support. That’s when I crumbled. Even when I still believed they were supporting me even though we were separated I was doing ok, but upon my return when I felt the sting of what they had assumed was the raw end of the deal that was horrible. Even though I had seen far more death and pain and fear than they had, I was assumed to have had the easy ride and thus my hole in the dam became a river.

But resilience is the thing that has contributed to me coming back to normalcy. I had weathered tough times in my childhood, it had taught me “this to shall pass”. As long as I could keep myself alive and relatively sane I would get through it to a point where it did not impede on my life. I had a solid support system of family and friends backing me up. I also had a new mission and purpose in life to get an education and make a life for my wife and me. That’s all fine and dandy until I am faced with a patient like yesterday who was a Vietnam veteran.

Here he is at least 35 years after his war and the mere mention of him being a veteran reduces him to tears. I am certain his trauma was more severe his fear was greater. But why am I hanging in there after only 3 years, having made it through college and started working, whereas he is homeless and has been for decades with no mental illness other than PTSD. What’s the separation? I don’t judge him, I judge myself. Why am I ok? What made it easier for me to bounce back? Is there some way to teach that. I was not born with that ability I had to have learned it somewhere. More importantly how did the guys that went over there embraced the suck and came home fine, do it? Can that be taught. The army tried something like that with resilience training but it ultimately seemed like another time when the good idea fairy struck an officer even though he had no clue how to follow through.

But now we are here. I am on the sunny side of the moon now just hanging out. I can not help but wonder how much combat stress has helped me. I know you probably had to re-read that last statement. Consider my point though, never have I been so emotionally, mentally, and psychologically tested as I have been over the past three years. Faced with the enormity of the obstacle that my guilt and fear was, not to mention the feelings of self-loathing for having not been strong enough to just handle them outright. And so I sit atop my pile of bodies, skeletons, and ghosts, with a big grin on my face. I am more prepared for what is to come, there will not be much that will be harder than what I have made it through all ready. I know myself, because I have had to rebuild myself piece by piece, that makes me an incredible enemy for any obstacle that stands in my way. Because I could not even stop myself from overcoming what was in front of me. This suffering has been a steeling process, I have come through it more mature, more aware, and honestly as hard as it may seem more humble. I did fall, I did stumble, I did struggle, and all this from a kid that did everything easily… I was reminded of what it means to have been tried.

So what to take away from this. Perhaps being maladjusted as we are is not such a bad thing, it has made us all resilient. It allows us to overcome obstacles, to have more empathy for others, to have more creative solutions than those regular well adjusted folks, and if it doesn’t break you it sure as hell makes you stronger. There is a big focus to reduce the stigma associated with combat stress. I want to push it past that, I want, to borrow a line from bill Shakespeare, to make others hold their manhoods cheap that they have not suffered as we have. I want it to be viewed as a badge of honor and courage just as our purple heart is viewed. We live with this everyday, We work through our fears, We process our guilt, We carry our dead with us and yet we are still outperforming you able bodied and minded individuals. I know I am a little maladjusted, maybe a little nuts… What’s your excuse? My disability has enabled me to kick your happy ass.

A First rate Madness by Nassir Ghaemi was the muse for this article. It is about how many of our greatest leaders of all time have suffered some form of mental illness and have overcome it to be incredible crisis leaders. Guys like Sherman, lincoln, FDR, Ghandi, king and Kennedy. Its a good read from a scientific perspective.

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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


Broken Record

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.


A conversation with the enemy

I have often wondered what a conversation with an enemy would play out like. Would it be a silent staring match in which each man attempted to make his visual onslaught of the other more intimidating, a verbal battle of ideals, or a more jovial but sinister conversation.  For me I feel it would be the last option, I would say latter but I never know how that damn expression works, but that’s besides the point. I think that a conversation with my once sworn but invisible enemy would be closer to a conversation with guys I served in combat with.

You know the convo’s I am talking about, the half adulation half insult stories that we throw up for others to marvel. You grab the stupid bastard that did the incredible deed and say, “this f@#$@^%^ guy decided it would be okay to dismount under fire and run into the building where these guys were and kill every last freaking one of them… even threw one out the window for good measure. I never would have expected it because he couldn’t get laid even if he was an egg much less kill a building full of hadgis.” I think that’s how a conversation with my long dead enemy would go.

“You dick, you almost killed me with that freaking 107mm man. I really almost crapped myself when it hit.” I’d say.

Then he’d say, ” Well hell I was minding my own business when you shot me in the freaking throat.”

I’d laugh and say, ” yeah but you made a really funny noise when you fell down.”

Then he would reply, ” You are the dick my friend, I mean seriously who takes a dead guy’s fingerprints, here I am waiting on my 72 virgins and here you come cussing at me because you can’t get a solid print on the freaking biometrics.”

“Yeah Yeah Yeah, those things suck. Did you at least get to say goodbye…. to your goat!”

” You are an ass you know, that goat was a very kind and loving animal. And for your information I always said bye to the family before I left, we never doubted how good you guys were.”

” The same goes for you brother, we were the baddest military on the planet and you had us wondering if we were gonna make it home that night.”

“War is old men talking and young men dying… seems I did the dying.”

” I regret that it was you…. but I am damn glad it wasn’t me… I mean look at me… I am way to good looking to be a corpse… you on the other hand looked like a zombie from the start.”

“f@#$ off, you know I could have gotten you just as easy.”

“Of course, we both left the house that day with our guns, we both were prepared to do the hard things that soldiers like us do, I just got the drop on you. The problem I find myself asking though, would the gentlemen that decided that we should kill each have lasted a freaking millisecond if we were hunting them? I mean seriously why did I have to kill you and not just drop them, you have a phd in philosophy or some shit right… make this make sense to me.”

“The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war. I believe that was your General Macarthur. We were simply men of war, doing that which men of war do.”

“Bulls@#, you had a pretty daughter and a smart looking son… you were more than the mark I dropped in the street.”

“And If I had killed you, what accolades would I have added to your name, none or many. I could have made you out as a dog, in which case I devalued my honorable killing of you, or I could have exalted your position and respected the fact that on that day I was fortunate to catch you sleeping… you silly f@#$.”

“Ass.. lol, Still is stupid that we were killing each other in the first place, but I will always be better at it than you.”

” Do you feel that’s a good thing?”

“Ehhh for me no, for everybody else on my side yes. Still sorry about f@#%ing your day up like that.”

“Don’t be I would have slit your throat given the chance.”

“Yea I would have preferred one on one, seems more fair.”

” That’s because you are sadistic my American friend.”

“Guilty, but still my apologies… should have found the big fish to kill not the puppet just like me.”

” Ehh, what are we if not good at what we did.”

I was taught early on to forever respect my enemy… more out of a fear that you would miss something  and they would kill you for it. Later though, I truly did begin to respect them. I mean you need to have some nuts to mess with us. Us being the largest and most technologically advanced military on the planet. The one where guys get shot in the chest and get back up with a broken rib and a strong desire to visit the shooter’s mother. We were wholly intimidating and yet these crazy bastards did the best they could to kill us. War never makes sense and this loss seems pointless and so we blame it on the enemy for the losses we suffered over nothing. But if you stopped in the middle and it made sense  then it would be okay, this just simply ain’t that kind of war. It leaves all who were or are in it with a “what the f@#$?” kind of taste in their mouth. Beyond all that though, I never worried about taking life. That was the easy part of the job, years later though I find myself wondering what kind of guy did I remove from this planet. Would  a logical person like Spok say that was the logical choice or was the guy I put down more beneficial than me? These are questions I can’t answer and I hope my tongue in cheek play of words falls on the right ears to hear it and that it hits the right chord in those I was looking to reach. The one of peace about what happened there not just with the killing but also with watching those close to us fall. Just one weird veteran’s perspective, take from it what you will.


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