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/

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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

2230 Hours, Kabul, Afghanistan

2230 hours (10:30 P.M.), Kabul, Afghanistan, about five or six weeks into deployment. My two roommates and I had already turned out the lights and called it a day. I was half asleep when the loud knock on the door startled the three of us from our bunks. Who the hell was banging on our door so forcefully at that hour? One of us may have even yelled to the person at the door using some colorful language. Oops. To our surprise, it was one of our Master Sergeants. He informed us that Bagram was “getting lit up” and that intel reports were suggesting we were next. He told us to stay put, but be ready. Then he was off to the next room, banging on that door.

Really? “Stay put, but be ready”? Needless to say, I didn’t fall asleep until 3 or 4 A.M. I got online and messaged my friend that was stationed at Bagram and asked if he was doing alright. He told me there was some excitement going on up there, but he was well so far. There was not an attack that night at my base. Where I was stationed, at New Kabul Compound (NKC), there were very few attacks like those at other bases outside of Kabul. My base was across from the U.S. Embassy and ISAF (International Security Assistance Forces). Because of those places, we were fortunate to have greater security.

During my deployment to Afghanistan, I spent a good deal of time traveling. I used to call Bagram my second home because I was there so much. I became very familiar with the rocket attacks that would come in from the mountains there. Same thing at Kandahar and Shindand when I visited there on missions. Loud, unexpected noises still startle me, bother me, and get my adrenaline pumping for a moment. But our threats in Kabul were different. Usually they involved attacking a convoy in the city with an explosive device that could be slapped on to a vehicle stuck in the slow-moving Kabul traffic. Other threats were vehicles loaded with explosives that might try to penetrate the gates of one of the bases or detonate next to a convoy. Small arms fire was always a threat everywhere over there. Then there was the one big threat that was hush-hush, secret.

Whether these threats got carried out or the bad guys were disabled, the threats were real. Dealing with those threats in our minds was very real. We had to be ready no matter what. And having to deal with them over and over without anything happening most of the time took a weird toll on me. I am still having to learn what is a real threat and what is not. I imagine police officers go through that at their job daily. To me, when I’m driving to the store or to pick the kids up at school, I’m looking for threats. I seriously doubt there are any real threats on the roads here where I live, but I’m looking. When I see a car change lanes hastily without a turn signal, I see a threat. When people walk through traffic without using the crosswalk, I see a threat. When someone is driving the wrong way in a parking lot or trying to exit at an entrance only, I see a threat. I’m conditioned to see a threat even though in my rational mind I know it’s not.

At the end of one mission to ISAF we were waiting for the drive team to retrieve us. The two vehicles were separated before they could both enter the base and the second vehicle didn’t get in. A truck supposedly packed with explosives was trying to get in the base and traffic was halted. It was a mess. We were advised to move to the opposite side of the base until the threat was taken care of. The one vehicle that made it into the base met us in the rear. We exited the back gate and eventually met back up with the other vehicle and returned to our base without further incident.

For local missions, we traveled by convoy. Before each trip, we were always given safety and situational briefs by the convoy commander. This covered the route to be taken, who does what in the event of an attack, and current threats in the area. During one brief, we were advised that intel indicated that we should be on the lookout for a white Toyota that was carrying a trunk full of explosions. That information narrowed down our potential threat to about half the vehicles in Kabul. Maybe not quite half, but there were more white Toyotas than any other vehicle on the roads it seemed.

For out of town missions we traveled by helicopter and airplane. One trip coming back from Bagram, a short helicopter ride from Kabul, we were delayed for a day or two because of a threat somewhere in the mountains that we had to fly over. Finally, a pilot decided to make a flight back to Kabul. We got on the bird to head “home”. We took a different route back than we usually would. When you travel as much as I did, you get used to the terrain and route. Needless to say, the change of route was a little uncomfortable to me. We flew around the “bowl” and found our way in and made it safely to our base.

All of the threats were real, some came to fruition, and others never did. But either way, the threats were real in that every one of them had to be treated as such. Every threat brought a sense of self-preservation and wondering about our own mortality. Every threat had an element of reality that any of us could be going home in box draped with an American Flag. I’m still working on what’s real and what’s not in my life now as far as threats go. I’m getting better, but I still can’t help it when I have a flash of feeling threatened during certain situations and events. Some things just trigger that in me. Maybe it will go away one day. Maybe not. We’ll see in time.

Thanks for reading this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Other posts related to this one:

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/03/19/the-fear-in-the-eyes/

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/06/04/memories-and-afghanistan/

 

Suicidal Anonymous

What if there were a meeting to go to for those of us that have attempted suicide, or been stopped just in time? If I went to that meeting would I stand up and say, “Hi, I’m Dave. It’s been 4 months since my last debilitating bout with suicidal thoughts.”? Would I have to go into what brought me to that point? Would I have to disclose all the stuff about my PTSD and depression and fears and general weirdness that I deal with in my head every day? Would anyone go to such a meeting and share their innermost thoughts? I have compared recovering from suicide to alcoholism more than once. I think both are a lifelong recovery process. Both need a support group of some sort. And both require the person to be completely honest with himself. Suicidal Anonymous? We might need a better name for our group.

A few weeks ago, I was on the phone with a fellow Soldier talking about things in life. Like many other fellow Soldiers I talk to and share my story with, she was intrigued that I was so open with something so personal. Many of the people I talk to one-on-one have gone through a situation similar to mine, or have other behavioral health issues that I can relate to, not just suicidal thoughts. The most asked question of me during a conversation about my story is, “Aren’t you afraid people will look at you differently if you share that stuff?” Actually, there was a time I did fear that.

In the military, there has always been a stigma placed on those who sought help for mental health issues. Granted, it is more accepted now to seek help than when I came in in 1989, even encouraged now. The Army has come a long way in the last couple decades in dealing with the matters of mental health concerning Soldiers. But it’s that first step a person has to take to get help that is by far the hardest. Asking for help or sharing the deepest secrets of your mind can be very uncomfortable. And you can’t make someone get help until they’re on the verge of it being too late, especially if that person doesn’t want help. Or at least, that’s my personal experience.

Back to the question, “Aren’t you afraid people will look at you differently?” I have accepted that I need people to look at me differently than they used to. I am different now. I see myself differently. My brain doesn’t always process things rationally anymore, although I am making progress. But I still cannot be expected to perform on the level I did before my brain changed and I got diagnosed with PTSD and other things. Therefore, I need people to understand my situation and see me for who I am now. And I need to share my experiences because it keeps me in check with myself and allows others to keep me accountable to continuing my recovery.

We don’t have a Suicidal Anonymous group for those of us recovering from our own dark thoughts and actions. Even though I went to group therapy after my hospital stay last year, in the beginning of my recovery, it felt like each one of us was our own solitary group, an island, alone in the waves somewhere. I intend to change that, and I have for myself. I tell my story. I read some of the blogs posted by others on the topic of their experiences with suicide, some posted anonymously, some with a name. I make myself available to those that need to talk about it. And I connect with all those people as if they are in a group with me, going to our anonymous meetings, whether they know it or not.

I imagine I will be in recovery for the rest of my life. Just the fact of how close I came to dying, I know it will always be somewhere in my mind. I know there are experiences that will trigger my PTSD and drive me to being severely depressed or having anger issues. But I am choosing to not be anonymous about it. I am choosing to share my story even if people look at me differently. I am choosing to be better. Not because it’s easy to choose to be better, it’s actually very difficult. But because I want to be better, choosing to be better is now a viable option.

I’m bringing this meeting to order. Hi, I’m Dave, it’s been four months since I last seriously thought about suicide, 15 months since my last attempt. I’m glad I’m here. I’m glad you’re here, too. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Other posts of mine related to this one:

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/05/21/im-ok-i-promise/

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

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

 

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.