Welcome Home

His eyebrows sagged and his countenance fell. His lips tightened as he went into a blank stare. He wiped a tear from his eye. He was somewhere else in the world right then, a different place, a different time. He had come back from that place years ago, probably before I was born. He had to come back from it again during our conversation sitting at the bar. I wondered how many times he’s had to come back from there in the last 45 years or more.

During my last trip to Ft Jackson, I stayed for a week instead of the usual weekend. When I’m there for only my army reserve weekend, I have a routine I generally follow. I get to town on Friday, check into the hotel, then go to Sonic. And why not? They’ve gotten my order right 3 out of the last 5 times now, getting better. Saturday is usually blur, and Sunday afternoon I head back to Florida. But when I’m there for a week at a time, I usually go to a couple different restaurants instead of eating drive-thru food for a whole week.

One particular night I went to a place I’ve enjoyed a few times before. It’s a sports bar with a killer burger. Not only is it good, but it might kill you, too, at half a pound of beef. Hence, a killer burger. But I’ll take my chances. The beer is cold, there’s sports on the TVs, and the people are nice. That’s where I met Chuck.

The conversation at the bar had to the with the heat that day. Then Chuck started talking to me, saying something about a “dry heat” like in Arizona or something. I told him that only works until it gets to a certain point. I told him it was a dry heat where I was in Iraq, but once the temperature got over 110 degrees, it was just hot. Dry or not, it was hot. Side note. For the record, I took a picture of the thermometer outside our Preventive Medicine office at my base in Iraq. It was at 146 degrees. But it was a dry heat. LOL.

Then Chuck told me he had been to the two worst places in the world. The first place being Detroit during the riots in 1967. The second place was Saigon, 1968. He was a Vietnam Veteran. He told me how he went from Detroit to the jungle. Then he told me that off all the men on the plane that took him to Vietnam, only 4 came home. That’s when he retreated into his mind for a minute. I imagine he was taking a moment to remember each of them. I believe he could see them in his mind, maybe as they sat next to him on the plane or maybe as they drew their last breath, I didn’t ask. Either way, he needed a minute.

When he returned to reality, we changed the subject of our conversation to sports. But in only two minutes before that, I knew his pain. I had a sense of his war stories. I could tell where he had been in some respects. His face spoke it all very clearly. Sports brought a completely different face to Chuck. His sports stories were amazing and fascinating. The sports figures that he met over the years, the autographs he told me about, the memorabilia he said he has in his sports room. It all had me in awe. And he was happy talking sports. It’s his life now, and his job.

Everyone I went with to Iraq and Afghanistan came home. I personally knew a few people that died serving, but everyone I went with both times came home. I can’t imagine what goes through Chuck’s mind when he thinks about being only one of four surviving members of the group on the plane that took him to Vietnam. The only inkling I have of what he goes through is what I saw in his face while he revisited the fallen in his memories.

I have my moments where I get triggered to memories of war. On occasion I get jumpy because of unexpected noises. Being in traffic is hard for me. I battle anxiety and depression all the time. I’m still figuring out a lot of this since coming home from my last deployment. I don’t know his stories, but I can very much relate to how Chuck reacted when taken back to 1968. I also do that from time to time. And I wonder if years from now I’ll still have my moments like that. We’ll see.

I’ll say again what I told Chuck the other night. Thank you for leading the way with your service. And Welcome home. I’m glad you’re one of the four that came back.

Thank you all for stopping this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

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Walk It Off

I saw a meme on Facebook that said, “Telling someone with PTSD to get over it is like telling someone who is deaf to listen up.” I guess the same thing could be said that someone with a compound fracture of the leg should just walk it off. Or that someone with a stutter should speak clearly. Maybe we could tell a blind person to look closely. None of this works that easily. There is some truth to that meme. But there are also some things we can do to better ourselves.

I will never “get over” this thing called PTSD that I was diagnosed with in 2015. I will likely have to deal with the symptoms for the rest of my life. Just this week, I had a mild PTSD moment at work, for about a minute or so. And I happened to be working with the only other army veteran in my department at the time. Yeah, he gave me shit, but he was also understanding and helped me out. I have explained to most of my coworkers at my new job how sometimes I might need a minute to regroup in certain situations. In five weeks at my new job, that’s only happened the one time, for that one or two minutes. I’m nowhere near the bad place I was three years ago. I’m not as trapped in the darkness of my mind as I used to be. I feel better now than I have in years, many years. Some of it coincidence of fortunate events, some it is that I’m making decisions to be better.

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

I do, however, still have some issues. I slept on my couch three nights in a row last week because I didn’t feel like taking my sheets out of the dryer and making my bed. Funny thing is, there are two beds in the guest room, made and ready to go. I still have trouble occasionally with sleep and dreams, even with the medications from the VA. I’m also lacking motivation. Especially with my writing, as can be evidenced with the fact that I haven’t posted here in a month. Depression is an ongoing issue, although I deal with it much better now than I have in the past. I’m continuing to learn how to deal with all this. It’s a process.

It’s not easy->  https://storyofmylife.blog/2017/09/02/harder-than-it-looks/

I took a new job last month. If you follow Story of My Life, you may remember that I left working at the restaurant in the airport for a new restaurant job. After two months at that job, I made another change, to what I hope will be my last job change. Here’s the thing. This new job is something I’ve never done before. Years ago, I had the self-confidence to do almost anything. Not so much the last few years. But I decided to make a complete career change. I built up enough confidence to take a chance and go to an interview for a job I had applied for. And to be honest, at the time, I couldn’t remember for which job I applied when they called me for the interview. But I accepted the interview. I had applied for a number of jobs late last year when I knew things at the airport weren’t going to work out. I knew it was time for a change.

https://storyofmylife.blog/2017/03/04/back-to-work/

At the interview I was asked, “Have you done this kind of work before?” Um, nope. I think I said, “Not exactly. But if you’ll teach me, I’m a fast learner, I work hard, and I show up on time.” In the last year and a half, I can count on one finger how many times I was late for work (not including the time I was subpoenaed for deposition last-minute or the time the VA took an hour and half to do something that should have taken 5 minutes). I was late clocking in one time, by one minute. And for the few of you that personally know me, you know that still bothers me. But my response to his question, along with me already having a commercial drivers license, got me in the door. On a side note, I’m glad I renewed my CDL a couple years ago even though I wasn’t using it at the time.

My newfound confidence paid off. I got the job. I’ve been there five weeks now. This confidence is something I’ve been rebuilding for a while now. It’s taken a long time. It’s not that I was able to “get over” having PTSD, it’s that I worked at it. I take my medications as prescribed. I go to my appointments. I work on staying calm in stressful situations, which doesn’t always happen, but it certainly works a lot better than it did just a few years ago. And I am open with people about what’s going on in my head. Believe it or not, that helps tremendously.

So, like a deaf person can learn sign language to communicate and function in the world, I can learn to deal with and overcome my PTSD. Yes, “my PTSD,” I own that shit. It’s mine, for life. And while the symptoms will always be there, I will continue to find ways to survive and function. It’s not always easy, but it is worth it. Just don’t tell me to get over it. It doesn’t work that way.

Thanks for visiting Story of My Life this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

I’m Back

I’m back. Finally. I’ve missed y’all. It’s been three weeks since I’ve written or posted. I think that’s the longest break for me in at least the last two years. This month has been busy and it seems to be flying by. And while I feel pretty good about life lately, I’ve lacked the motivation to sit down and write. I keep some ideas in my head, but none of it seems to make it to the computer. There’s been a lot going on. Let me catch you up.

The inconsistent weather had me sick for a week. I think Mother Nature is drunk. Where I live in Florida it’s been pretty nice overall. But the occasional drastic drop in temperatures at night followed by days that require the air conditioner to be run had caused me to get sick. Not bad, mostly sinuses, allergies, and headaches. But my power bill has looked good the last couple months, only having to run the A/C or heat a few times. Dear Mother Nature, please get back on your meds, sincerely, all of us.

That week was followed by a week on orders at my army reserve unit. For those of you that serve or have served in the “One weekend a month, two weeks a year” reserves, you may have had to do that. Most units do the “two weeks” as a unit, usually a training mission designed to enhance and broaden the skills of the soldiers. I, however, am in an instructor unit. Each instructor does a separate training mission in support of a greater mission. Since I’m in the process of a Medical Evaluation Board, I don’t have any real missions. That would have been a perfect week for writing, sitting around the hotel each night bored out of my mind. Unfortunately, after sitting in front of a computer all day at the unit, I was disinclined to do so at the hotel in the evenings. But I did get to watch the Red Sox on TV beat the Yankees 2 out of 3 games. So, that was a good week.

Now to my current week. I feel good. My kids spent the night with me this week, on a school night. They don’t usually stay with me on school nights, so that was a treat. We went swimming, had hamburgers, and watched Big Bang Theory for two hours before bed. Nothing terribly exciting, but I had a wonderful day. I had a physical this week for a new job I will start on Monday. A little more money, better hours, benefits, and weekends off. Weekends off. I’ll get to see my kids more often. That makes me smile. I had to go to the VA for lab work and they didn’t piss me off. Actually, they took me in two hours early. I showed up hoping to get it out of the way and they accommodated me. Another good thing this week. I could get used this “good week” thing.

Ups and downs this month. But for right now I’m on a high note. And not because yesterday was 420, I don’t participate. LOL. I just feel good about things right now. And that feels good. I am tempering my excitement to an extent because I’m a realist. And because I’ve been here before. I know life will continue to go up and down and some of the downs can be pretty bad. I wonder if that’s why sometimes, some of us won’t let ourselves be as happy as we should be, because we know the high peaks won’t last. We know the rollercoaster called Life that we’re riding will go up and down, turning, looping, jarring from side to side, until it makes an abrupt stop. It may be a week, a month, or even tomorrow that something comes crashing down that forces me into a battle with depression. But for now, I’m enjoying this feeling of feeling of good. And I’m going to milk it for everything I can. Because it will be gone soon enough.

Find something good today and enjoy it while you can. Thanks for stopping by this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Dreaming on the Couch

I fell asleep on the couch with the windows open. The rain briefly woke me, but I rolled over, snuggled into the cushion, and propped my leg over the back of the couch. I tried to go back to the dream I was having about a girl that never met her grandmother. It was in black and white. The grandmother died during the war. The Greatest Generation was not able to save her and was forced to let her go. I don’t know the whole story, but my mind had been filling in the blanks as I slept. Before the dream was interrupted, the grandmother was visiting with the girl, telling her stories of when the girl’s dad was a small boy. Only the girl could see her grandmother. The dad played along with the girl’s imagination when she would tell him the stories from grandma but got chills when hearing some of the events of his childhood that the girl could not possible know. Then, the rain stormed in.

I was unable to return to that dream. Instead, I found myself in a mystery upon revisiting my slumber. I am unsure if I was the mystery or if I was trying to solve a mystery. The clues to this mystery were in a large, yellow house from a dream I used to have as a child. A house I’m not familiar with during consciousness but knew very well in recurring dreams from many years ago. There were hidden rooms, stained glass, and a fireplace on every floor. All the stained-glass windows were framed in yellow creating an ominous feel to the house as the sunlight shined in. I could never make it to the top floor no matter how many flights of stairs I climbed. The house apparently went up without end. I’ve never seen that house from the outside, I would have no idea how to get there, except to go to sleep.

My dreams are vivid, almost always in color, and feel very real. They aren’t even about war that much anymore, but the intensity and adrenaline feel the same, sometimes waking me in a fit of yelling or punching. Often times I can feel my heart pounding when I wake after one of those dreams. Sometimes the people I served with at war are in my dreams, just doing normal stuff, but the dreams are still intense to the point of waking up fearful or startled.

When I fall asleep, I see tiny flashes of light inside my eyelids. I think that’s a side effect of the medication. The medications work well for me overall, despite being jolted awake occasionally from seeing flashes when I’m half asleep. The original PTSD medication the psychiatrist put me on a few years ago made it all worse. But we found the right one, despite the slight side effects. Some nights I start dreaming during that time between consciousness and sleep, while I’m still aware of my surroundings. For some reason, that can cause me to wake up freaking out. That usually makes for a long, restless night. It becomes difficult sleep. I think my body or mind, or both, are trying to prevent me from sleep, for my own protection. Am I trying to protect me from myself? Interesting.

Sometimes I’ll spend a whole day trying to decipher a dream from the night before, wanting to figure out if it has some meaning to me. Most of them don’t. But some of the dreams become reality. I would tell you about them, but you wouldn’t believe me. Hell, if I wasn’t the one having the dream and then seeing it unfold in real life, I wouldn’t believe it either. But I’m not even surprised anymore when it happens. I like daydreaming. I can control those, most of the time. Unfortunately, none of those come true. Or fortunately, who knows?

I envy those who don’t remember their dreams or are not affected by them. But if I didn’t remember mine, I might miss something. Because they aren’t all bad. I have good dreams, too. I guess the occasional good dream is worth suffering through all the weird, bad, vivid, crazy dreams. Just like life. Sometimes there’s more crazy restlessness and worry than good, easy, peaceful times, so enjoy the good when it comes. Sleep well, my friends. See you in my dreams. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Check these out, too, for more on my writing on dreams:

https://storyofmylife.blog/2017/10/28/the-illusive-dreams/

https://storyofmylife.blog/2017/09/23/abstract/

 

The Hanging of Saddam Hussein

My deployment to Iraq (2008-09) was pretty boring for the most part. I was at a little base called Camp Bucca and my job was not very exciting, it kept me at a desk in the chapel most days. A few times a week, I would escort the chaplain to the TIF (theater internment facility) to visit our troops, medics, and command staff. Sometimes when the chaplain was counseling with a soldier, I would get to pull tower duty over one of the compounds while the chaplain and soldier walked around and chatted. A couple of times when visiting the SHU (special housing unit, where the worst of the worst were kept in solitary confinement), I was overwatch during a detainee being moved from his cell to the small fenced patio for his outside time. That was almost exciting. I held the taser for that job, just in case the detainee had the guts to do something stupid while being moved. They never did, they knew better. That was one cool thing about deploying with a Military Police battalion. I was trained on their non-lethal weapons, trained in combatives, self-defense, and other exciting things. I could have done without the required OC spray (pepper spray) followed by an obstacle course, but that was part of it.

Overall, it was a boring deployment. Nothing like my time in Afghanistan (2013-14) where I traveled all over the country escorting my chaplain. Camp Bucca, Iraq, at least while I was there, was not exciting. And in some ways, that’s a good thing. Very few times was our base threatened, and even if it was, it wasn’t anything like I saw in Afghanistan. I probably saw and heard more attacks in any particular week of travel in Afghanistan as I did my entire deployment in Iraq. Boring can be good in that case. But boring can also be tough on morale. My fellow chaplain assistants and I did what we could to make Bucca a little better for those of us stuck there.

Sometime in 2008, a bootleg video of Saddam Hussein’s hanging was circulated via email. It was a very different view from the official video footage released by the Iraqi government after Hussein’s hanging on December 30, 2006. That video stopped just short of his actual hanging. The unofficial video being circulated that I saw was of poor quality, obviously taken on a cell phone. Lights seemed to be flashing, but that was probably the cell phone camera not having enough light to take good video. And the picture was unstable, lots of movement. Obviously, whoever was filming the execution was moving with the action as it happened, while Saddam was being escorted to the gallows. I watched that cell phone footage of him being led to the noose. I couldn’t understand the Arabic being spoken. I watched that video as the rope was put snuggly around Saddam’s neck. He spoke defiantly, or perhaps he was praying, I don’t know, but it was no help to him. The floor dropped out from under him, and after a few seconds, he hung lifeless and still.

That was a morale boost for me. Does that make me a bad person? Nope. That’s why we were there. Do you have any idea how hard it was to be present during the times a soldier was notified of a death of a loved-one from far away, or to organize a memorial service for a fallen soldier, or to inform a spouse that her husband’s plane went down in Afghanistan and there were no survivors? Do you know how hard it was to read casualty reports on the secret-side email and see how those events unfolded? Do you know how hard it was to see those burned children? Honestly, I think it would have been easier to see corpses instead of those children in pain and suffering, crying, scared, with no chance of ever being bodily normal again. Sometimes I still see those three children when I lay down to sleep at night.

I’ve seen some horrible things and I’ve seen some wonderful things. And I can say that the only time I’ve ever witnessed a death (on video or in person) and smiled about it, was watching the hanging of Saddam Hussein. The unofficial video was a couple of years old when I saw it, but at the time, that bootleg video was new to us. To me, it put to rest any doubts. There had been talk for a while that Saddam wasn’t really dead, because the official video didn’t show his neck snapping like the bootleg video did. The official video stopped just before the floor fell out from under him. But the scratchy, unprofessional, dimly lit video from a cell phone that I, and others saw, was enough to make it a good day for me. Saddam’s neck snapped and all life left his body. I smiled. And I didn’t feel bad at all when watching Saddam die in that video. It made me happy, really happy. Once in a while, though, I do think about it and wonder if my feelings about watching that video were normal. That doesn’t usually last long. Maybe I’m demented, but I don’t feel bad about it. He got what he deserved.

I write about a lot of things here, some uplifting, some dark. When you visit Story of My Life, you agree to take the good with the bad. Thank you for stopping by this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave