The Cost

I was reading something recently and it said that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Everything comes at a cost. This is true. But to go deeper, I would suggest that in our lives, Newton’s Third Law of Motion is more apt: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Not only is there no such thing as a free lunch, but everything we do has a response, not just in physics, but in life as well.

Everything I’ve done in my life has had an impact to my surroundings and or to myself, be it subtle or profound. This was a topic of discussion in my most recent session with my psychologist. I’ve been seeing a new psychologist for about four weeks now and I think it’s going well. He’s kind of a dick, but I like him. Here’s why:

     Doc: “What do you want to talk about today?”

     Me: “I don’t know, what do you want to know?”

     Doc: “That’s up to you, it’s whatever you want to talk about.”

     Me: “I don’t want to talk about anything. Why don’t you ask questions and I’ll answer them.”

     Doc: “Then why are you here?”

     Me: “Because I need to be.”

     Doc: “Ok. Then what do you want to talk about?”

Dick, right? No, quite the opposite. He’s making me think throughout the week of what I need to talk about instead of just seeing on my calendar that I have an appointment. This is an approach I had not experienced before. But I can see how it works. However, with this approach, there will be reactions. When I talk about something that happened, it causes me to think about it even after therapy. I spent time trying not to think about certain things, but there those things are again, rolling around in my head, bouncing off the walls of my mind. This is the reaction to this approach to therapy, I have to get it all out and deal with it and learn to put it back where it goes.

Same thing with my writing. I’ve shared a lot of stuff on my blog. Some of it good, some of it not so good. But some things will never be shared here. Each time I write about something, I experience the emotions again. The hardest one I’ve written was my post Battlefield (February 2016) where I walked you through my attempted suicide. It took six months after the attempt for me to be able to verbalize it like that. It was very rough. Re-living that time disrupted my sleep for days, changed my mood, and gave me a feeling of vulnerability. But on the other hand, it gave me an outlet. Writing has become my therapy. It may sometimes take me to bad places in my mind, but I’m getting it all out and learning how to put it back where it goes.

One of the most obvious reactions to any of my actions would be serving my country. I volunteered both times I deployed (once to Iraq, once to Afghanistan). The reactions for those actions are very profound. I traded my physical wellness and my sanity. I have problems with anger, relationships, crowds, driving, focusing, memory, anxiety, loud noises, and memory (ha ha, I put that in there twice because I still do have some of my sense of humor, though it’s probably darker than it’s ever been before). I can’t run anymore, I have problems breathing, and my body aches.

But the thing I miss the most is who I used to be. I used to always be able to find something good in most circumstances, make the best of any situation, and find something to enjoy in each day. I don’t see those things in me near as much anymore. I try. I fake it sometimes, but I’m far from the old me. I traded all of that that to go war. But I am still here and I know that some traded their whole lives to go war. I only traded part of mine. A lot of us that have traded part of our lives have had thoughts at one point or another that it would have been better to trade our whole life, instead of living with the pain and craziness of the reaction of our action. I was one of those people. I was one that tried to finish the job myself, like 22 other veterans a day do. I had a very hard time coming to grips with the fact that I was no longer the ‘me’ I used to be. I’m getting better with that now, but it has been a hard process to go through.

And I will continue to navigate this process. My life will continue to be subjected to Newton’s Third Law of Motion. I will continue to get things out and deal with them and learn how to put them back where they go. Thank you for taking the time to read the Story of My Life. I welcome your feedback.

Oh, and I have a lot of stuff to talk about during my next appointment with the doc.

Good day and God bless.

Dave

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The Fear in the Eyes

During my time in Afghanistan I went on almost thirty missions from my home base. Sometimes to other bases within Kabul, sometimes to the opposite end of the country. We traveled in a variety of ways, including up-armored, non-tactical vehicles (NTVs), helicopters, and airplanes. On one mission that was very close to our home base, we walked. That was a wonderful experience, despite almost being run over by a motorcycle. I recorded the whole walk my camera that I strapped to my body armor. I found out later that the unit I was part of was not authorized to walk outside the gates. That caused quite a stir, eventually brining on policies and memos that everyone in our unit was made aware of, which ultimately changed the procedure by which our unit traveled when leaving the base. Some people work on policy change, I actually caused it.

For almost every trip we went on there was always some cause for concern. Travel is dangerous enough in Afghanistan, not to mention some of the places we visited were more targeted by the enemy than my home base. My home base was actually fairly safe compared to most other places over there. Most trips that took us out of Kabul resulted in taking shelter in a bunker at some point, sometimes on multiple occasions each day. The most explosions I heard in any one attack were seven, at a base in the far western edge of Afghanistan, not far from the Iranian border. Trips to Bagram would often also include hearing small arms fire coming from somewhere off base, usually in the evenings.

Very few things I experienced over there bothered me at the time. There was something normal about it. We were there to do a job and the enemy would try to kill us, if that’s normal. To be honest, I miss that normal, it was easier than my new normal. But there was one event over where that it occurred to me that I might possibly not make it home in one piece. During one attack when I was at Kandahar Air Field, the explosions were getting close. The first one shook the building pretty good that I was in, but not the closest boom I had ever felt. Soon after, the second one came in, shaking things off the shelves making a mess on the floor. That one, at the time, might have been the closest boom I ever felt. I ran outside, still getting my gear on, headed for the bunker. The third explosion was close. Most definitely the closest explosion I have ever felt. The enemy was ‘walking them in.’ From the mountains, they would fire, watch where it landed, then fire again, getting closer with each munition launched. I remember thinking that if there were a fourth one coming in, it would be right on top of me.

Even in that experience, I was ok for the most part. I don’t think it bothered me until much later, after I had returned home. Yes, it was a little scary. But even that was not the worst fear I experienced in Afghanistan. Without giving classified details, my home base was second on the list of a very credible threat within Kabul. The top target on the list was across the street. If the threat ended up being manifested and carried out, our base would have been wiped out completely. It was just another day to most of us. There was always some threat from somewhere about something, and always aimed at us. It was the life we lived, we got used to it. It was our normal and this threat didn’t really bother me any more or less than any of the others.

What did bother me is how leadership reacted to the threat, one person in particular. I always resisted wearing my body armor when I could get away with it, unless I didn’t have a choice. I always felt more comfortable being able to move around if needed. I also didn’t wear my seatbelt in the convoys unless we were still on a base. There was just something calming to me about being able to move without restraint. One evening, during the colossal threat, I was walking back to my room, without my body armor on, of course. One of our leaders asked me why I wasn’t wearing my gear. I explained to him my desire to remain unencumbered. When he ordered me to wear my gear if I were to be outside I could see fear in his eyes. The man seemed to have no confidence. I could hear the distress in his voice. I had never seen him like that before and to be honest, I lost a little respect for him. He was a good man, had always had an air of confidence about him, and was a good leader. I liked him. But you cannot be a leader at that level and show that kind of fear. His anxiety about the threat was so obvious that it had a more negative effect on me than any of the other life threatening things that we encountered in Afghanistan. If he wasn’t confident, how could I be? It was psychological. Seeing his fear was more daunting to me than any physical harm that I might have faced. Being scared is normal. But when you lack any confidence and it shows to that extent, you have failed as leader.

Other people watch you and their emotions can be persuaded by how you handle a situation. It’s ok to be scared. It’s ok to admit when you’re scared. But when you let fear control you, you fail. Bravery does not mean you don’t get scared, it means you do what you have to do with confidence anyway. To me, it was a lot easier to manage my fears in Afghanistan than it was after I got home. I knew what to be fearful of there. At home my own mind had become my biggest fear. And I let my fear of my thoughts consume me and it almost cost me my life. I was scared of myself, for good reason. I now have a whole new set of fears that I never experienced before. But I’m getting my confidence back in myself and learning how to deal with it. It’s a bumpy road, but counseling is helping and writing has become my best therapy.  Don’t let fear destroy your life.

Thank you for reading Story of My Life. As I said, I write for my own therapy, I share in case it helps someone else. Feel free to share this. Follow this blog for weekly updates if you want.

Good day, God bless.

Dave

Passing the Torch

I have spent a lot time the past few years conducting suicide intervention training at the different army reserve units I have been assigned. One thing I’ve learned and believe to be true is that when a person is thinking about suicide and is willing to talk about it, you must take their reason seriously. No matter what the reason, it’s a valid reason. At least to the person contemplating taking their own life. I’ve also learned that no matter what the reason given, there are always underlying issues to go with it. Things build up to a breaking point until the person just can’t handle it anymore. The issue the person may be telling you about might only be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. As was the case with me when I attempted suicide last year.

I had a number of things that I let build up inside of my mind. I knew there were things wrong with me, both physically and mentally. I tried to deal with them alone and deny what was going on with me because I thought I could cope with it by myself. I didn’t want anyone to know how bad it had gotten for me, but of course everyone could see changes in me. One of the things that was hardest to come to terms with was that if I shared some of my issues, it would likely end my army career. I knew I wasn’t right in the head. I knew I had a number of physical issues. Any of the problems from either could be cause for me to have to leave the army. And I did not want to deal with that.

But now, in the last couple months, I have come to terms with the fact that it’s probably time for me to let the process run its course, which will include a Medical Evaluation Board that will end with me getting out of the military. I’ve been told it’s a long process. I will have plenty of time to think about things and reflect on my army career. My career was probably different than most that served. I did almost 4 years after high school, had a fourteen year break in service, then went back in in 2007. I served in a variety of units, met some awesome people, and traveled the world. I don’t want it to end, but it’s time. I’m satisfied that I did my part. And I’m proud to have served. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

It’s time to pass the torch to the younger generation, the ones who still believe they are invincible. Maybe that’s what happened to me, I realized I was no longer invincible. It’s time to pass the torch to the ones whose backs are still sturdy, knees are still strong, and minds are still unshakeable. It’s time to pass the torch to the ones who can still live up to their own cockiness. Every warrior goes through this at some point. They come to the sobering realization that they’ve become old and tired and might even feel somewhat worthless. Or at least I did. But I believe now that my worth is not based on what I will do from here, but that I have value in what I have done. Too often we confuse the two.

While in Afghanistan, I was being interviewed by phone for the local paper for an article that also got picked up by the Stars and Stripes. The interviewer asked me why I do what I do (join the army, go to war, etc.). I replied, “Hopefully we’re over here so our kids don’t ever have to be.” Only time will tell if that ends up being true.

Last year my oldest son enlisted and I could not be more proud of him for continuing the family tradition of serving in the United States Armed Forces. He joins grandfathers, my dad, a number of uncles, cousins, and a grandmother in military service. He is going to make a great Soldier. I can see that already in him. And while I hope he never has to go where I’ve been or see what I’ve seen, I know he will do a great job if he does. He may get called to go to battle one day. He may walk where I did in some far away land. And I know he will do well and serve with honor. So I pass the torch to him and his generation to pick up where I left off, to continue the legacy that I am glad to be a small part of.

My hope is that the army and the other services continue to improve in the area of behavioral and mental health issues so that fewer Soldiers in the future have the issues that some of us have now. They have made much progress in that area since I originally enlisted in 1989. Getting help is encouraged and has become less of a stigma than it used to be. Unfortunately, most of us are hard headed and resist getting help. That was me, and it almost cost me my life. I’m getting help now. I can’t stress enough for someone to get help before it’s too late. And that it’s ok to get help along the way to maintain a good level of mental health. Watch out for each other. Take it seriously if someone is experiencing suicidal thoughts. And remember, no matter the reason, it’s valid to that person. Lastly, when it’s time to pass the torch, don’t fight it to the point of death. It’s not worth it. Find another chapter in your life to start.  There will always be worthy warriors to pass the torch to. For me, that’s my oldest son. HOOAH!

Thank you for taking the time to read this, I welcome your feedback. Share this story for someone that might need to see this.

Good day, God bless.

Dave

With Force and With Grace

March is Women’s History Month. With that, I thought I’d share a poem I wrote a couple years ago in Afghanistan about women in the military. The military has changed quite a bit over the course it’s existence. One of those changes have been the role of women in the military. When my grandfather enlisted in the 40’s to serve in World War II, women’s roles in the military were largely limited to secretary, nurse, personnel, or some other jobs that might traditionally have been for women. When my dad enlisted in the late 60’s women’s roles had already started to expand. When I enlisted in 1989 women could do most any of the military jobs available, but were not supposed to go into combat, and there were still a number of roles that women couldn’t have. My son enlisted last year. Now, women can go to Ranger School, Combat Engineer School, and do a host of other military jobs that were traditionally left to men.

This poem is for all the women I’ve served with over the years and the ones that paved the way for the ones that serve today. Many women went into the inspiration of this piece. One in particular was Amy, that I served with in Afghanistan. She was on her sixth deployment in her army career. She was always professional, always sharp, knew her stuff, and took care of her Soldiers. Everything a Soldier should be, man or woman. There is a small handful of people that I have served with that I looked and knew I should model myself after, if I were to be a better Soldier. She is one of those.

I hope you enjoy the poem. Feel free to share it with a female Service Member in your life. Good day, and God bless.

Dave

With Force and With Grace

 

Hidden in her eyes are things we cannot see

Stories she won’t tell- not to you or me.

But to her fellow warriors, maybe it is told

Of how she served her country with the brave and the bold.

 

No more pretty dresses, or heels upon her feet

She dons a Soldier’s uniform, makes it nice and neat.

Her hair must now be tucked, underneath her hat

No more shiny earrings, or pretty stuff like that.

 

Been to war her share of times, the battles she did face

Got the job done every time, with Force and with Grace.

Rising up, in the ranks, to where she is today

Did not come without a cost, what price did she pay?

 

A Mother, Wife, Sister, Friend- but some don’t understand

How could she leave those things to fight on foreign land?

Many Titles she must carry, this is all too true

One that matters most in battle: “Soldier”, through and through.

 

She is a Female Warrior, fellow Soldier, and my Friend

Admiration and my loyalty, will likely never end.

Side by side we fought- the Enemy we did engage

As Soldiers, not a gender, putting rounds down range.

 

And she is a Soldier, tough and strong, yes, among the best

In every fight, in every challenge, she has passed the test.

Male or Female, boy or girl- should not be the theme

I have seen her in the battle, and want her on my team.