The 4th of July

Happy Birthday America! This week we celebrated 241 years of Independence. A lot has changed in America since we told the British to bugger off and leave us alone. The Founding Fathers of this great nation had the courage to stand up and fight for the freedoms we still enjoy today. I for one am grateful. I’m not sure I could pull off the British accent, so it’s a good thing that 241 years ago we became our own sovereign nation. LOL.

With the celebration of our Independence comes many festivities, including fireworks. And with that comes social media posts about veterans dealing with PTSD and the yard signs that some put in their yards asking people not to do fireworks around their home. That seems to be a topic of debate from what I saw on a couple of Facebook posts. I have PTSD. I served in Iraq, then later in Afghanistan. I avoid being outside during fireworks, it only for my own sanity. I don’t have flashbacks or lose my mind, but my anxiety skyrockets and some of the memories of the fear I experienced resurfaces. So, I simply stay indoors.

Here’s the debate, as far as I can tell. The post I saw states that some veterans are milking the benefits of being labeled with PTSD, which in turn is stigmatizing all veterans, also that they are looking for attention and disability ratings with the VA, and that many who post the signs never heard a shot fired at war and that the rocket impacts they heard were miles away. I think there is some validity to some of those arguments. Many years ago, I thought most people claiming PTSD were overreacting. But I don’t speculate on that anymore. It’s not for me to judge. I can’t speak for any other veteran, but I can tell you what I have experienced.

One thing I experienced were rockets landing on a base I was at. Multiple times, multiple locations throughout Afghanistan. Building-shaking, loud booms. While I handled it well at the time, I never took the time to process it all until I got home. By then it was overwhelming. I was trying to process everything all at once while trying to adjust to being home. And I wasn’t doing it properly. I wasn’t talking to anyone about my mental problems or getting the counseling that I knew I needed. I was trying to avoid the stigma that I had created in my mind of being labeled with PTSD. And I desperately wanted to avoid that label. In 2011, I talked the VA out of diagnosing me with PTSD more than a year after I got back from Iraq. I toughed it out and Soldiered on, which in retrospect was a bad idea. In 2015, there was no way to avoid it. I had reached rock bottom and was forced to get help.

During one rocket attack, I remember feeling the building shake from the first explosion. Then the second blast- it was much closer, shaking the building in a way I had not experienced before, all while grabbing my gear and getting to cover. As I sat alone in the bunker, the third blast felt like it was almost on top of me. It was loud, it was close, it was the only real time I thought I might die over there. On only two instances do I remember having that kind of fear while in Afghanistan, that attack was the worst one of them. I could hear each boom getting closer and closer to the bunker where I was taking cover. In my mind at the time, if there had been a fourth one, it would have been right on top of me, based on how each blast was clearly closer than the last. Fireworks elicit those feelings and memories in me.

Even so, I don’t want anyone to not celebrate with fireworks. This is America and that’s how we celebrate, we blow up stuff. I can stay inside and be just fine, for the most part. The noise and booms will still get to me a little, especially when there is a long pause followed by a firework that is obviously too large to be discharged in a neighborhood. As I write this, neighbors are firing off an impressive amount of pyrotechnics at almost 11pm on July 4. My anxiety is through the roof. But I don’t want them to stop. Keep celebrating. It is America’s birthday after all. I can handle it.

During each of my two deployments, I never had to fire any of my weapons. But for the more than two dozen missions I went on in Afghanistan, I was locked and loaded, ready to go every time. And on the handful of missions that I needed both my rifle and my pistol, they were both locked and loaded. For those of you unfamiliar with that term, ‘locked and loaded’ means there is a magazine in the weapon, and a round (bullet) in the chamber. I would only need to flip the switch from safe mode and pull the trigger. I was always ready. And I wonder if being ‘ready’ that many times and never getting to use my skills and training had some kind of adverse effect on me.

I’ve wondered for a while if sitting in a bunker through all those rocket attacks and never actually engaging the enemy contributed to some of the symptoms of my PTSD. Maybe because of all the adrenaline spikes without being able to release that energy right then and there. I don’t know. I’m sure there’s a study on that somewhere, I’ll just have to do some research and find it. How, or would, I be different today if I had in fact fired my weapon and directly engaged the enemy? Would I have handled post-deployment better? I don’t know what the answers are, but I do know and accept that I have PTSD. But I can’t let that stop me anymore. I work. I live. I function. But there are moments where I can’t deny that it has some power over me, but not as much as it used to.

With all that I shared here, none of it even comes close to my most traumatic memory of war. Tune in next week when I will share a story that I rarely talk about. It’s a memory that resurfaced uninvited recently and maybe writing about it in detail will help.  Thanks for reading this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Related posts:

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/04/23/ptsd-is-contagious/

https://storyofmylife.blog/2017/03/18/ptsd-moments/

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/08/20/the-storm/

 

2016, The Rollercoaster

As the rollercoaster ride known as 2016 comes to an end, many of us will reflect on the past year, make resolutions, recap major news or life events. I won’t do much of that here except to say that I’m glad 2016 is coming to an end and I know 2017 will be better. There is a wonderful adventure awaiting me with the New Year and I can’t wait to get to it.

Most of my highlights, and low-lights, for the year can be found here in my blog. And I don’t do resolutions. So, what I’ll do for my final post of 2016 is share my top three posts, according to number of views. And I’ll share what my three favorite posts were that didn’t make the top three in views.

For 2016, I made 42 posts on Story of My Life, almost the one a week I had planned. I had over 5,000 visitors with almost 10,000 views. My viewers covered 55 different countries. Amazing. This was truly more than I imagined when I resumed writing again to my blog. I only started again for my own therapy, to sort out my thoughts, to be vocal about PTSD and surviving a suicide attempt. I’m glad I could offer something that seems many people out there can relate to and understand. Thank you all for the support, the encouragement, and the kind words.

The rollercoaster ride of 2017 is coming. Please keep your hands and feet inside the ride all times and remain seated until it comes to a complete stop. Or…. Go out and conquer the world, chase your dreams, be happy, and discover life. I think I’ll go out and conquer the world while chasing my dreams. Enjoy the ride. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Top 3 posts (by number of views)

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/02/06/battlefield/

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/04/16/the-pysch-ward/

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/02/13/the-irony-of-life/

 

My 3 favorites (it was hard to pick just 3)

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/02/20/the-mirror/

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/08/20/the-storm/

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/03/12/passing-the-torch/

Road Trip

I’m on a road trip. When I post this, I’ll be somewhere on I-20, probably in Louisiana. While I have covered several topics on my blog during its existence, I usually focus on PTSD, serving in the Army at war, and surviving suicide. And occasionally I bash the VA because they suck. For example, Friday morning I waited an hour at the VA to be told they couldn’t give me a print out of a recent evaluation I had. Today’s post will be a little different from the more recent ones.

There are certain things about my home life that I have tried to keep off the blog. In a few posts I have mentioned some of the marital problems at home. There are no more problems. I have moved out. And now I’m on a road trip, heading to my sister’s house in Louisiana. I will most likely stay there until the new year sorting through my thoughts, decompressing, writing, and relaxing. I don’t get back to my old stomping grounds very often, so this will be nice.

I moved out because she wouldn’t. I had hoped she would move out and I could stay with the kids, but that’s not a fight I want to take on and make things worse than they should be for the kids. In retrospect, I should have filed for divorce when she moved out in March instead of waiting. Then there wouldn’t be anything to argue about. But I chose to pay the bills instead of hiring an attorney. That’s life. And I expect some negative feedback from our mutual friends. Be careful if you don’t know the whole story.

I left the house around 6 p.m. local time. I made it Jackson, Mississippi, before I needed to stop and get a hotel room, where I am composing this. I’ll get up in the morning and finish my trip to northwest Louisiana. I have no set plans and am not on any schedule. I hope to find the motivation to diligently work on my book. I have neglected it for too long now. I’m sure I’ll see some old friends and catch up on all the years gone by. I’ll spend some time with my dad. I’ll get some rest. I’ll miss my kids.

I talked with them earlier in the week and explained that I would be moving out this weekend. They knew it was coming since last month they were told that I had in fact filed for divorce. But that conversation was still hard. Thankfully, they are all very well-grounded and are old enough to have some understanding of what is going on. I feel like a complete schmuck that I didn’t call my two grown children that are out in the world making great lives for themselves. This whole thing happened a little quicker than originally planned and I was focused on getting my stuff together and making sure the school aged children were okay and getting a grasp of all that was going on. My children know that I love them with all my heart.

There’s a lot in my life that I’m not happy about currently. However, in my life as a whole, I am happy. I believe things are going in the right direction for me. I am not happy that I won’t see my kids for a few weeks. I am not happy that I will be going through a divorce. But I am happy to be starting the next chapter in my life. There was a time not long ago that my mind would have put me through some horrible, dark thoughts concerning the prospect of being away from children under these circumstances. Not now. Yes, my kids are my life. But if I can’t be in good mental health for them, things will get bad, like they were before. So, I guess it’s better to be away and in good mental health than to be in a bad marriage and lose my mind.

I have no idea what all this road trip entails, but I am looking forward to it. I’m in a good place in my mind. I am looking forward to the future. I don’t have all the answers and I have no idea where I’ll end up after this little sabbatical. But I am confident in myself, in ways I haven’t been for at least a couple years. The past is the past. And my future looks good from where I’m sitting. Thanks for reading my dribble drabble this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

The Holidays at War

As the holidays approach, we look forward to Thanksgiving turkey, football, parades on TV and family time. Eventually Christmas will be here with presents, more food, more family, and Santa. Right after that, the new year, but without Dick Clark like we had when I was growing up. I’m pretty sure 2017 will be better than the last few years.

Occasionally, I’m asked to write a short article for a non-profit organization called Project Sanctuary. You can find them at www.projectsanctuary.us. You can also find them on Facebook. This month I was asked to write about war veterans and the holidays. Not to give away what I’ll write for them, it did inspire me to do a piece this week on being deployed during this time of year.

I know I’ve missed every holiday and birthday at home at one time or another. I don’t think I’ve ever missed them all in the same calendar year, though. But we do miss a lot. And while we are away from home, we become family with our fellow Service Members. We celebrate the holidays together. But one thing to keep in mind is that War doesn’t look at the calendar. When we come home from war, we might look at the holidays differently depending on what was going at the time. For more on that, you’ll have to find my article later this month I’m writing for Project Sanctuary.

In this week’s post, I thought I’d show how even at war, we can make the best of it. How we pick each other up. How we get through the tough times and a manage to smile. How we become a family in the absence of our families back home. So much of the support during the holiday season came from back home, from our families and organizations dedicated to taking care of the troops while deployed. Enjoy the pictures, they tell the story. And if you want to support an organization that’s dedicated to helping war veterans, I would suggest you look at Project Sanctuary. Tell ‘em Dave sent ya. Lol. Good day, God bless.

In each of these pictures, a One Star General is serving Thanksgiving dinner to the troops.

 

Service with a smile from our 1SG and our favorite Colonel.  Troops enjoying the meal.

 

I will be as silly as I’m allowed to be.  And, yes, I wore that tie in uniform when at my desk everyday.

 

Troops receiving stockings and cookies from family and organizations back home.

 

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One organization sent over 200 boxes of stuff for the troops.  Captain Rachel’s family was to thank.

 

We found a tree that needed decorating.  And the food was always better during the holidays. Yummy.

 

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This is what family looks like while at war.

Rest In Peace, Laptop

Well, I went a couple weeks again without posting. I’ve received a few messages asking about it, checking on me. Thank you to those that noticed and reached out. I’m doing well for the most part. Much of life is falling into place, or at least I feel good about life lately. It’s been a while since I could say that. It’s all a process, and I’m accepting that it all takes time. I have made progress in some areas and still have a ways to go in other areas. But I’m getting there.

 

I have no excuse for two weeks ago, but the reason I didn’t post last week was because my laptop died. Not just died, but DIED, all caps died. Services to be held at a later date, I’ll keep you posted. I took it to a local computer shop and the look on the guy’s face told me that my laptop had already crossed over to the hard drive in the sky and there was nothing to do to save it. He couldn’t promise that the data could be retrieved and saved, but that he would try. It took a while, but he saved most of my data. Thank you to The Tech Center on Eglin Parkway in Fort Walton Beach, you did a great job.

 

About a dozen pictures from the laptop were not salvageable, but here’s some of what I could have lost. The first five chapters of the book I’m writing. 4,000 or so pictures I took in Afghanistan. My writing, my poetry, everything I’ve ever written for my blog. Years and years worth documents I’ve been collecting from my army reserve career. All my medical stuff I had on the laptop for the VA. The only things completely irreplaceable, were the pictures. I have all the paper documents somewhere. I can rewrite the book, though I think it would be lacking since it was written with such passion when I started. I think I’ll start backing everything up on my next laptop. Currently, I have hijacked my kid’s desktop to get this done.

 

My laptop served me well. It was a gift sent to me while at Fort Hood by my parents after my laptop I had at the time died, very similar to the way the current one went, quietly, in it’s sleep. And where I was, on North Fort Hood in the summer of 2013, I was not able to just go shopping for a new one. For those of you who might have been to North Fort Hood, you know it’s a wasteland of Hell with very little in amenities. And it’s possibly home to the worst chow hall in the army.

 

My laptop was a low-end Toshiba that didn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, but was perfect for taking to Afghanistan. It did everything I needed and allowed me to stay in touch with the outside world. Every time I escorted the chaplain on a multi-day mission, I took it with me. I kept a journal of our trips on that laptop. I would log were we went, with whom, what we did, where we ate, how many times we heard the thunderous booms of the incoming enemy rockets. The most booms we heard were at Bagram, but the ones that got closest to us were in Kandahar. I logged every helicopter, plane, and convoy ride. I even noted the one or two times we walked from our base to another.

 

For being a low-end laptop, I would say it held up very well considering it went to war, traveled to and was used in six different countries, was dropped more than once, and exposed to extreme weather conditions. The casing is broken, some of the plastic is cracked. The actual laptop will never be what it once was, but it didn’t lose the important information I had on it. It needed some help from a computer expert, but the data was still retrievable. I have access to it again and can continue with the things I was working on. This ordeal was actually a wake up call for me to get my butt in gear to work more on my book and other writings.

 

In the last couple months, despite some things just not going well, I think I’m doing pretty good, or at least better than I have in a long while. I came to the conclusion recently that I should not be content to be miserable in life. If given the choice between happy or not, choose happy. I choose Happy. I can see a huge difference in my relationship with my children. I can see some improvement in my attitude and reactions while driving. I have become more patient in general with most things. I still have many PTSD issues, but I’m making progress. My sleep doesn’t always go as planned, my dreams are actually getting worse and more vivid. I still have too many days where I am unmotivated and lack energy and don’t do anything. I’m still very hyper vigilant to my surroundings. But overall, I see progress.

 

I think in some ways I’m similar to my laptop. There’s nothing hugely special about me, I’m kind of low-end, but I did the job required of me and then some. I served my purpose, I served my country. I’m broken and falling apart and I will never be what I was before, but I still have most of the information in my head. I can still access so many things I have learned in my life. The data in my brain doesn’t flow like it used to and often times gets out of order. I get confused sometimes and frustrated with how my brain works. But I have my weekly visit to my psychologist at the Vet Center, I have my medications, and I have a friend that keeps me smiling everyday and helped me realize that I do not have to be miserable in life. I’ll be ok, sooner rather than later, I think.  I know.

 

I do plan on going back to posting weekly, every Saturday. But if I miss a week here or there, I’m ok, I promise. As important to me as my writing is, I think I’ve moved past it being a necessity for my own personal therapy. I think I’m working through life’s situations better than when I started writing here again back in February. I’m certainly doing better than I was a couple months ago. I will keep doing what I’m doing, keep moving towards that light at the end of the tunnel, keep hoping for the best and believing it will happen.

 

Thanks for reading. Choose Happy! Good day, God bless.

 

Dave