Memories and Afghanistan

My memory is horrible. It has been for a while. I missed my most recent appointment with my psychologist because I forgot what day it is. Forgetting what day it is happens to me frequently, but missing an appointment, or even being late, is absolutely not normal. It’s not just days, but also months and years. I sometimes have to confirm what year it is because I’m not sure. Not long ago I was at my kid’s school filling out a form for one of them. I filled it out, signed and dated it, and gave it back to the lady at the desk. She looked it over, handed it back, and asked that I correct the date before she put her notary stamp on it. I looked at the date I wrote and asked was it not the 21st? She said, “It’s the 21st. It’s just not September.” It was February. I had no idea why I thought it was September.

I’m not sure why, but I can remember things like numbers, movie lines, songs, years that something significant happened in history, baseball statistics, directions (most of the time), and a bunch of other trivial nonsense. I would make some money on the game show Jeopardy. But other things in my memories seem to escape my mental grasp. For some things it’s like a blank slate. It annoys me, but I’ve gotten used to it. It has become part of my new normal.

In the last meeting with my psychologist I remembered something that I had previously completely forgotten. The memory was triggered when we were discussing an event that happened between therapy sessions. An event that had me pissed off to the point that I almost got into a physical altercation with someone. I wanted to. I really wanted that guy to get out of his car and give me a real reason to get out of mine. I would have likely done permanent damage to the individual. I just needed him to start the physical aggression. He had already started the verbal attack. But I didn’t let myself get baited into it, even though I really wanted to. Short of the story was this guy was trying to exit a one lane, one-way, entrance only driveway to the school, as school was ending. Imagine the traffic piling up on the road behind me as I had no place to go. It was getting chaotic, especially in my head. Being trapped like that isn’t the best scenario for someone with PTSD.

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The memory that was brought on by this event was something that happened in Afghanistan. I was in Kabul, going from my base to one called Phoenix with the USFOR-A chaplain team (my unit eventually stopped letting me go on missions with them, but that’s a whole different story). I was in the front passenger seat of an up-armored NTV (non-tactical vehicle). It was only me and the driver in the lead vehicle and two others in the rear vehicle. The driver and I were having a normal conversation like we usually did. Probably talking about going to Green Beans or Pizza Hut. Our base didn’t have those kinds of things, so when we traveled we always talked about what we were going to treat ourselves to. Here’s how the conversation ended up going:

     Driver: “Shit, we took the wrong road.”

     Me: “Maybe this one comes back out where we can get back on the other one.”

     A few second go by as we come around a curve to a pickup truck in the road with 8-10 pissed-off-looking dudes in the back with AK-47s.

     Me: “Turn around, man. Turn the fuck around!”

     Driver: “I’m trying, there’s no spot.”

     Me: “Make one!”

     The men took notice of us, although they made no aggressive moves. We immediately made a place to turn around. They probably thought we looked stupid and laughed after we left the area.

     Driver: “I don’t think they’re going to bother us, they would already be coming after us by now.”

     Me: “You think they’ll give us directions?”

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I had completely forgotten about that event until my therapy session a couple weeks ago. I wonder what else is trapped in my head that I don’t remember. It was a weird feeling to have that memory come back like that. I clearly remember that day now, but for the last couple years it’s like it never existed. It’s not uncommon for most of the Afghans to have AK-47s. But to see a group of men in the back of a truck that looked like they were organizing for something and ready to go, on a road we weren’t supposed to be on was a bit unnerving at the time. It certainly can lend some explanation to me feeling uncomfortable in stand-still traffic. As long as we’re moving, I’m ok. But long stops with a lot of other vehicles around makes me nervous. That’s what happened with the jackass going the wrong way out the entrance, I felt trapped.

I have thoughts in my head that I’m not sure sometimes if they are part of a memory of an event or part of a dream I’ve had. Maybe both. But I know I miss my memory. Well, I think I do. I guess I don’t really know, do I? LOL. I make a lot of jokes about my memory not being so great anymore. I can’t remember shit sometimes, but at least I can laugh about it. I’ve rescheduled my appointment with the psychologist for next week. Don’t let me forget.

Thanks for reading. Good day, God bless.

Dave

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40 thoughts on “Memories and Afghanistan

  1. Although I don’t have PTSD, I have triggers of past trauma. Yelling and physical violence is a huge trigger. I told my psychologist about my bad memory- I mean really bad memory problems- she immediately said OCD although I think it’s wrong. I wish you the best with your triggers! Wonderful read by the way.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I cannot imagine what this is like. Mine flashbacks/reactions to triggers have always been horrible enough without the added layer of being in danger for your life; which means of course, you relive that as well. (gentle hug from here)

    Re the memory thing? My suggestion to a friend who has similar issues was to use another way to remember. If you were a verbal learner, then write down what you need to remember, so you’re using your kinesthetic sense, etc. Like this article talks about, you learn one way. When the path to retrieval the “normal” way is broken, I’ve found it helps to do another. I’m a verbal learner, writing things down or typing them out helps me a lot.

    Article: http://www.howtolearn.com/2011/07/learning-styles-different-ways-to-learn/

    If you’re already doing this, well, I apologize; it’s the only tip I’ve really got!
    J

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I hear you Dave. I have a hard time with triggers too. Especially the ones that sneak up on me like that because I’ve forgotten things. It’s pretty normal for PTSD I guess. Just one of the things we have to deal with. Hugs brother.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The notion that those of us with PTSD can “control” it after a while is one of the biggest hurdles I’ve found in dealing with the “mundanes.” Unless/until you have something which just changes your brain like this, it’s inconceivable that things like this would occur?

      Except that they happen to everyone, but not as severely. When you see a building and it reminds you of Uncle Sid, it’s the same type of mechanism. But get someone who doesn’t have PTSD to understand the similarities and the differences, well, that’s nigh impossible — or so I’ve found.

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  4. The mind has a way of compartmentalizing trauma, yet the subconscious remains aware. What a trip! The memories coming forward would seem to be a good thing. It means the mind is healing, letting go, and you are coping better than ever, even if you still have a little bit of drama in traffic now and then. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Dave…this is a normal part of PTSD, disjointed thoughts and memory and sometimes no memory, I go through the same thing and I often joke about it too. The latest was enjoying a relaxing Sunday afternoon on a Monday…lol

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  6. Feeling trapped is a horrible feeling for many people but what you have been through is immeasurable. When my personal space is encroached upon by someone yelling at me I get a trapped feeling. I have shared with you about my domestic violent past. Like yourself I write about it but not as personally as you do. Poems, short stories and even self published books with my experiences weaved within the story line like it happened to someone else. It is what helps me. Thank you for sharing Dave.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. That must be so disorienting. I don’t think I have PTSD, but I am naturally scatterbrained. So, I have to have one of two things: a prominent physical calendar that I see everyday that has important dates written on it & post it notes around the house reminding me of important things OR I excessively use my iPhone calendar with audible reminders of upcoming events, and timers to help when I’m aware that I’ll lose time.

    These will definitely help, once you’ve gotten the habit down.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I have never been to war, but I was a victim of severe domestic violence and I still have memories pop up. They say I had/have PTSD but it has been a long time and things get better but once in awhile I freak out because I feel trapped. God has been faithful to help me and heal me. Hang in there David it gets better. I’m praying for you!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Funny about those so called triggers. . . .seems the worst ones always aim for your heart and we all know the brains have never listened well to anything the heart has to say. Love and prayers.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I found this a very moving post. I suffer from PTSD, too. Just one of many ailments. I often say that without doctors’ appointments, I wouldn’t have any social life at all (LOL). There’s a medically approved approach to PTSD that’s different from talk therapy. It’s called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). EMDR is not hypnosis. It involves no drugs, and acts (when it works) relatively fast. You might want to ask your psychologist about it.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Wow, Dave. Expressing your experiences and feelings like that brought war to life like you don’t understand (like when you read the news). That moment must have been so scary. Thank you for serving us this way. It is the ultimate sacrifice. My brother doesn’t talk about Iraq and Afghanistan – I thought there was a code of silence or something. It is probably healthier if he’d open up like you.

    Liked by 1 person

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