My 9/11 Three Years Ago

There will be no shortage this week of reflections about 9/11. People will share where they were when it happened, what they were doing, who they were with, and how they felt. On September, 11 2001, America changed. The world changed. I changed. The events of 9/11 brought me back in to military service, as it did for many who had previously served. There were also many young bucks that signed up to do their patriotic duty as well. Many of us that answered the call were in uniform, sometimes far from home, during 9/11 remembrances that would follow in the years after the original attacks on that date. I think I have been away from home 4 or 5 times on a 9/11, twice serving out of the country.

Below is a post that I originally wrote and shared three years ago while in Kabul, Afghanistan. It was an amazing sight to behold. I have some video of that night, of the tracers flying across the sky overhead, the commotion in the streets just outside the barrier walls of our compound, the noises, the lights, and the people around me at the time. I won’t share those videos here. But in one video of all the crazy commotion, you can hear me and another Soldier talking calmly the whole time, debating why leadership was going to move our smoking area from where it was to somewhere else. We were having a normal conversation while bullets flew over our heads across the night sky. Neither one of us were very concerned about our surroundings. All the chaos that Afghanistan had to offer became normal for there, at that time, in that place. It wasn’t until later, when it was time to transition to a new normal, that didn’t include war, that I found a challenge like nothing else I had ever faced. I’m still dealing with that challenge. I miss the chaos. And still don’t know what my new normal is.

Enjoy the post that I originally wrote and posted on 9/11/2013. Good day. God bless.

Dave

 

9/11 in Kabul

for original post: https://davidegeorge.wordpress.com/2013/09/11/911-in-kabul-afghanistan/

Twelve years ago today America changed. We weren’t looking to change, we didn’t necessarily want to change, but it’s a change we were forced to go through. We will never be the same again. I’ve followed all the posts today on Facebook in my news feed about all the remembrances, the pictures, the support for both the victims of the attack and the Service Members still fighting a war that’s supposed to be winding down.

As 9/11 approached, we double checked ourselves, made sure everything was good, and stayed vigilant. No worries. We’ve been doing this for a long time. But I think what happened today caught everyone off guard. No one saw this coming.

As I came out the door of the building to throw a box in the dumpster I could hear the commotion on the streets outside the walls of our compound. It was after dark. I could hear people yelling, horns blowing, and noises that sounded an awful lot like gunfire. I could see flashes of light in the air. I noticed that everyone outside was calm. Looking to the sky, but calm. Why wasn’t anyone taking cover? We are in a war zone after all and I know for sure that is gunfire I hear. After my trip to the dumpster, I walked to the gazebos where the daily gossip and b.s. stories could be heard for the day. That’s where I found out what was happening.

The Afghanistan soccer team beat India to win its first ever international trophy in soccer. The people were celebrating. Since I don’t follow soccer, I’m not sure, but I think this puts them in the competition for the World Cup. The Afghans have something to cheer about. And they were cheering. Fireworks and real gunfire. Hollering in the streets, horns honking. I could only picture it from where I was. I sat at the gazebos for about an hour listening to the people on the other side of the walls. I watch tracers fly over the camp and could hear the rat-a-tat-tat of the machine guns. Don’t these guys know those rounds have to come down somewhere? I saw one of the Afghanistan interpreters sitting out there. She was smiling, taking it all in. I could see the APPF (Afghan People’s Protection Force) guards at the gate. They were happy, shaking hands with some of the Afghan workers from our compound that walked by on their way to their quarters for the night.

Afghanistan is a nation that has been torn apart for the better part of 34 years by war and government unrest, Soviet occupation, Taliban choke hold, corrupt politics, and more. And for many years before that this country has dealt with tribal and ethnic divisions as well as religious unrest. The Afghanistan soccer team has brought some unity and happiness to this otherwise dismal place to be. The people here have a reason to stick their chest out, something to be proud of. I am truly happy for them. I hope they win again. Maybe with less gunfire next time, though.

I heard a sports announcer say one time, “Winning changes everything.” I don’t believe that to be true in the broad perspective of life. Tomorrow will be the same as yesterday, only today was different. But I do know that here, for today, winning a soccer game meant the world to a nation. And I’m glad I was here for it.

Good day and God bless.

Dave

Suicide Intervention

It was during my first deployment that I had my first real-life introduction to suicide intervention. I was deployed as a Chaplain Assistant with my unit to Camp Bucca, Iraq (08-09). At that time I had only the minimal training in suicide intervention. I did not understand why someone would want to take their own life and, I am ashamed to say, I sometimes wondered if the person was faking it. It was an easy way to get to leave the desert early for people who didn’t want to be there. I had yet to experience a point that low in my life and I just didn’t understand when someone said they wanted to kill themselves.

During that deployment I took control of three weapons of Service Member’s that showed signs of suicidal ideations. Two of them were preventative measures before they went to the chaplain for counseling. But one was considerably more serious than that. It was real. I still thought in the back of my mind this guy was just trying to get out of work. But I knew him, we had become good friends. And I knew he wasn’t ‘right’, that something was going on. He was changing and I didn’t understand why. I took it seriously, but his logic that he would be better off dead escaped me.

I talked him into turning in his weapon to the base arms room for a little while. I walked with him and his commander in silence. He and I had made a deal that he himself would be the one to give up his weapon, that no one would take it from him. It was important to him that he felt in control of relinquishing his assigned firearm. His commander signed some papers and my friend forfeited his gun. My friend walked away without saying a word to me. I spoke to his commander for a few minutes, assuring him that I would keep an eye on him.

The next day my friend had his weapon. I asked him about it. The paperwork had apparently been filled out wrong and since he was the one that turned it in, he was allowed to get the weapon back himself. I asked if he had felt better about life. He said that he did not. I told him to give me his weapon to which he replied, “You’ll have to take it from me.” I took two steps towards him in the office to come face to face with him and placed my hand on his weapon. He did not resist and I took it from him. I escorted him back to the arms room and turned it in properly. That would insure that he could not get his firearm back without his commander’s approval. I went back to my office alone, closed the door, and shed a few tears. The reality of these things that I could not understand were overwhelming.

My friend didn’t speak to me much the rest of the deployment. I felt like I had traded our friendship to possibly save his life. That is a fair trade. I don’t know for sure if he would have gone through with killing himself, but I also knew, even in my limited experience, that it had to be taken seriously. I hated that he felt like I took something from him that he considered important, that helped define him as a warrior, his weapon. And he hated me for it for a while, too, I guess. On a side note, for those of you in the military that think a chaplain assistant has a cushy job, there’s a lot more to it than you think. It can be an emotionally draing job which many people do not see the whole spectrum of what we do.

Since that time I have received specialized training in suicide intervention. I have taken part in more than a few interventions. I have also experienced that darkness first hand in my own mind. I fully understand now what my friend was going through. I may not relate to his particular circumstances, whatever those were at the time, but for the hopeless feelings that comes with wanting to die, I completely relate. I wish I didn’t. But I think it makes me better at helping people when needed.

I understand that each of us respond differently to various situations. What destroys me might be normal to you. I understand that in many cases the ‘reason’ for wanting to die is simply the straw that broke the camel’s back. I understand that no matter what I think, suicidal ideations must be treated as a real threat. I understand that there is no quick fix. I hate that part the most. I just want to be better again. But I know I will never be the person I was before I attempted suicide, it will just never happen. Maybe that’s the part I hate the most because I know I sure do miss the old me.

It was at least a year after returning from Iraq that I got a Facebook message from my friend saying thanks for what I did to help him. We still keep in touch from time to time. It turns out that I didn’t have to trade his friendship for taking his weapon. And now I understand why he reacted the way he did. Because I also lived it, and still do. Different circumstances, different setting, and different consequences. But I completely understand the feelings he experienced, during the deployment and the period that followed. I understand about pushing people away or shutting them out, I do it, too. I’m working on that, trying to do better. Or at least I want to do better.

For those that have been following the horrible life-rut I’ve been in lately, I can’t say that it’s getting any better right now. But I can say that I’ve stopped going in reverse with my thoughts and am ready to start moving forward again when it’s time. I had at least four conversations going the other evening on text or messaging when I was feeling pretty crappy about life, a low point. I don’t know if I were in danger of myself, but I do know my thoughts were not good. I don’t know how many of the people I was talking with had real suicide training, but I know the conversations helped. Point is, you don’t have to be a specialist in suicide prevention to help someone that is having those feelings. Just be there. That’s the first and most important step in an intervention.

Thanks for reading this week. I hope you get something from this. Good day, God bless.

Dave

A few pictures from Camp Bucca, Iraq, 2008-2009.

Recovery, It’s Not That Easy.

I received a lot of feedback from last week’s post. A lot of it came in private messaging and email asking how I was doing. Last week was rough and I openly shared about how bad it was for me and of the things going on in my mind at the time. It was not pretty. But I’m ok. I promise. I think I will have those kinds of thoughts once in a while, from time to time, perhaps for the rest of my life.

Let’s see if this analogy makes sense. I think I will battle suicidal thoughts the same way a recovering alcoholic battles his demons. This friend of mine that I’ve known for half my life now is a recovering alcoholic. I asked him one day how long it took for his urge to drink to go away. He had already been sober for 10 years at the time of that conversation. He said, “Never.” He told me that every day he thought about and missed drinking, but most days the thoughts were just in passing and barely noticeable. But every once in a while, he said, it was hard.

I think I’m in that boat with my mental illnesses and suicidal ideations. Honestly, most days are pretty good. But I will always know in the back of my mind that I tried to kill myself. I will forever know what it felt like to be that low and the possibilities of what could happen if I get that low again. I will always be at risk. I know that. I accept that and I do what I can to make sure I protect myself.

Most days are normal, whatever ‘normal’ is. Most days I look at my past in a way that I cheated death, a battle in which I won. Well, I haven’t really won yet, it’s an ongoing fight. Because every once in a while life becomes so completely overwhelming that I slip into the dangerous darkness of my mind. Even though the thoughts of a couple weeks ago were horrible, I ended up not doing anything to harm myself. I just needed some time for the process to run its course in my head.

One question that stands out from some of the responses last week is, “How are you able to share things so personal and put it out there for the world?” That’s a good question. It wasn’t easy at first to be able to put all the words together in a way that would make sense to more than just myself. Even in my own mind I had great difficulty trying to figure out what the hell I was saying and thinking. But once it started flowing I became very comfortable with it. I decided that I would write about my life because it is great therapy for me and I would share to the world in case it helps someone else.

I fully understand that not everyone can do that. I get it. There are a million things going on in my life that I don’t share here. There are some things I will never share here. But some of it I need to, I have to. I have to get it out and try to make sense of it. When I post to my blog every Saturday it helps me, whether people read it or not. I get considerable satisfaction in being able to put my thoughts in order to be able to share stories of my PTSD, attempted suicide, the occasional dangerous mindset, highs and lows, depression and anxiety, the good, the bad, and the ugly. All the things that are The Story of My Life. Many things that others can relate to, but can’t share themselves.

Two very stressful weeks are behind me, but I wouldn’t say that life is all that great right now. And to be honest, I don’t see it getting any better any time soon. As a matter of fact, I can guarantee that it will get worse before it does gets better. You think I would be used to it all by now, but I’m not. I hate it. I hate the situations that I’m in. I hate that I’m not capable of doing the things I used to do. I hate that I have little motivation, low energy, and almost no desire to interact with the outside world. I don’t even want to write much anymore.

Even though I know it can’t happen again, I miss being deployed. I miss being in Afghanistan. For many of us, that is a normal feeling after coming home from war. We miss the camaraderie. We miss the feeling of knowing that someone always has our back. I know for me, I miss the chaos, the danger, and the excitement of being there. There is a weird high from being surrounded by the unknown that each day offered over there. Maybe I’m crazy, but I miss it. And I know that I’m not alone. I keep up with many of my friends I deployed with and many of them feel the same way. There was a strange level of comfort that I just don’t have anymore.

I’m sure all of that contributes to what is going on in my brain right now, this feeling like I don’t belong here, that I can’t adapt, that I can’t find a normal that I’m at ease with. I know my past experiences do not cause the bad or uncomfortable things in my life today, but I certainly do not deal with said things like I used to be able to. Not coping well is simply compounding everything. One thing after another, each making life worse than the one before. Or at least the feeling of life being worse. And I hate it. At some point it has to get better.

Until then, I’ll keep doing what I’m doing. Thanks for reading this week. Hopefully, next week’s post will be more positive. But no promises. Good day, God bless.

Dave

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Update and Excerpt

If you saw my post from last week, here’s an update: It hasn’t gotten any better. Basically, if it can go wrong, it has. On the flip side, a lot of things have also fallen into place. Don’t patronize me with, “Oh, good, look at the positive.” The only things that are falling into place are a direct result of things that have gone wrong. I’m not making any forward progress, actually, going in reverse lately. It is not exactly balancing out. The bad is outweighing the good to me this week. The low point was last Friday. It was the lowest I’ve been since my failed suicide attempt last year and many of the same thoughts about death ran through my head. I spent about 10 minutes on the side of the interstate with my broke down pickup truck debating life and death before I called for a tow truck.

I blew a tire. At 75 miles per hour. Front driver’s side tire. It messed up the wheel well, the bumper, the hard-plastic mud flap behind the tire. And surely messed up the front end alignment, as one tire was facing straight and the other tire was off at an angle. Somewhere around Tuesday I realized how lucky I was that I maintained control of my vehicle at that speed and didn’t get myself killed. It sounded like an explosion and felt like I had run over something. The weird thing is, it was just the steel belts that flew off. The tire still held air, but the truck was not drivable. The tow truck driver said he had never seen a tire do that before and still hold air.

Whatever. I’m alive. Moving on to other things. Last week I mentioned that I might do an excerpt from the book I’m writing. I think I’ll do that since I don’t much feel like writing more about my week. Let me set it up for you. First, this is fiction. Yes, I use my life experiences and those of others, but the characters are fiction, this is not an autobiography. The main character, James, is a young war vet trying to figure out life after he failed to kill himself. The story I am writing will take you through the process and days that follow his attempted suicide and him coming to terms with the fact that he is indeed still alive. This excerpt is from Chapter 3.


James laid down in his bed and stared at the ceiling. He was restless and rolled to his side. He saw the dresser and remembered thinking about what reason they would want him out of his room earlier. He jumped up and opened the top drawer. It was still empty. He proceeded to check the rest of the drawers. Nothing. He was still paranoid. He looked under his bed, around the sink, peeked inside the shower room. He looked around the other side of the room where a roommate would be if he had one. He found nothing to confirm his paranoia but also found nothing that would put him at rest. He laid back down and tried to figure out the dream from last night. Perhaps he was dreaming within his dream and all this was just still a dream. But he knew this was real. And he knew he was really losing his mind.

James went back to the bed and laid down. In his head, he recounted the story he told to Dr. Andersen. Every detail. Every word. Every moment from last night that he could remember, he told the doctor. He hated that he survived, that he was still alive. He wondered what he did wrong, it should have worked. Or at least he thought it should have. He was becoming upset that the doctor didn’t fix anything for him. All that talking James did and Dr. Andersen didn’t fix a thing. He pondered the motives of Dr. Andersen. Was her plan to get him to talk, tell his story, and admit that he wanted to die, just so they have a reason to keep him longer? He realized that he got suckered into talking. How could he not see that coming? It was a scam and he fell for it.  James was angry with the doctor, the cops that brought him in, the paramedic that checked him out, and everyone he encountered since his incarceration to the psych ward. But most of all, James was angry with and hated himself. All James wanted to do was die. He couldn’t even do that right. And since his best effort had failed, he was now stuck in the psych ward.

James did not trust anyone in the psych ward, except maybe Nurse Angie. But even his trust in her was conditional and almost nil. He was paranoid of everyone and their motives. To make matters worse, he was now becoming paranoid of his own mind and thoughts. He wasn’t sure he could trust what his own mind was thinking or if it was even real. The dream he had was all too real. What if he did in fact venture to some other hidden place in the mind and that’s where his truth was hidden. What if he had become immortal and could not kill himself? Just thinking about these things, James felt crazy. He felt he had no control over his thoughts. And he certainly wasn’t free to have control of leaving where he was. He was trapped in his mind and in the hospital.

A nurse he hadn’t seen before showed up in the doorway to his room. She scanned the clipboard she was holding. “Hello,” she said, looking up “you must be James. How are you feeling?”

“I feel like I want to get the hell out of here,” he said in a dry monotone.   “Where’s the other nurse that was here earlier? From when I woke up?”

The new nurse looked down at her clipboard for a moment then asked, “Was it Angie? If that’s who it was, she’s checking on some patients in the other ward. But we’re all here if you need something and we’ll all be checking on you.”

“Great,” James said, showing no interest.

“Did you get shown around? Did you see the daily schedule? Were you shown how to use the phones when they’re on between group sessions?”

“I’m not going to group sessions,” James said. “I already told the other one. Ok? I really don’t want to be around anyone, thanks.”

“Well,” she started, “going to group sessions will be a way to show that you can function around other people so that you can get out of here. I highly recommend going. The better you do in groups and the more you go to, the quicker you get out. Why don’t you go down the hall and at least be around the other patients and get comfortable. There’s a group session starting in 10 minutes. You can make a good start on the road to getting better and out of here by going to it. It’s not as bad as you think. Let me know if you need anything, I’m Sue. I’ll be here until y’all go to dinner.” Sue smiled at him and left the room to continue her rounds that required all patients be check on every 10 minutes.

James laid there thinking about life and about how much easier it would be had he succeeded in his suicide attempt. He had no desire whatsoever to go to a group session. He also had no desire to be stuck in the hospital. He had no desire to be alive. How did he get in this situation? Could he find a way to escape or would he have to wait until they decided to release him? And how long would that be? He was frustrated and hated his life. He tried hard to figure out how he went from being a warrior to the sorry excuse for a man he was now. He didn’t even recognize himself anymore. He was a Soldier, or at least used to be. And he was good at it. He never feared anything and now he was scared of himself. “Who am I anymore?” he asked out loud as if someone or something could magically give him the answer he wanted.


It’s a work in progress. I know it needs some work, but it’s coming along. Thanks for reading. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Depressed

I’ve been battling my depression the last couple weeks. That sounds funny to me, “my depression.” Like I have any control over it or can say when it comes and goes. Do I own it? If I still have the receipt, can I return it? Can I trade it in for something more fun? When I say “my truck,” “my kids,” “my house,” “my recliner,” it sounds normal. Tangible things. Things I can recognize with my senses. I can’t see my depression with my eyes. Or taste it, smell it, hear it. I can feel it, but not in the traditional sense of feel. If I could feel it, I imagine it would feel something like a sticker burr in my foot or a splinter in my hand. Or it could possibly feel like a tank tied to my waist and tossed into the ocean. Lately, it’s felt much more like being tied to a tank.

I have no motivation. No energy. No desire to do anything. I recognize this and have been doing some self-reflection to see if I can figure out why the last few weeks have been seemingly hard for me. I know life is up and down. I just don’t know why this down time is longer and harder right now. I don’t like this. I don’t like how it feels.

But here’s what I know. In the last month or so, the kids have gotten out of school for the summer, the lot behind my house is being built on, there is construction on my street, and I got a dog. Getting a dog was a good thing. More on “Gumbo” later, but he is a perfect addition here and a great dog. But the other things I mentioned, and some things I haven’t, seem to be having a negative influence on me.

I had no idea the old house behind mine was even going to be demolished until one morning my house shook from the slamming of a backhoe into the old house. That was a rude awakening. It was two days of demolition and noise. And with that house gone, I felt exposed to the world. My safe, confined area on the back porch now felt wide open. I could see down the street that runs behind my house. That means I could be seen from down the street. Eventually, a new foundation was poured and construction on the new house began. More noise, equipment, and strange people practically in my back yard for weeks now. I guess the upside is that my property value will go up with a brand new house right next to mine.

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The kids getting out of school for the summer is a good thing, but it changed the schedule I had been on, that I had become used to. I’m staying up later now and sleeping in longer. My sleep schedule is messed up and that’s causing me to not sleep as well at night, even when I take my medications. This might be why I lack energy, have become more irritable lately, and just don’t seem to want to do anything anymore except watch Netflix and play stupid games on Facebook. I’m in a rut. A deep and wide one.

The construction on my street, actually in the whole neighborhood, is annoying. It’s loud. They’ve closed the road a few times which bothers me. What if I need to escape? I know, that’s not likely, but it did cross my mind. It’s a local government doing the work so it’s taking longer than it should and half the workers stand around and do nothing. I’m sure it’s also costing twice as much as it should as well. I haven’t done yard work in three weeks since all the noise and commotion started.

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On a more positive note, I got a dog last month. A great dog, a Golden Doodle. His name is Gumbo and the kids love him. He gets so excited in the mornings when it’s time to wake up the kids. He loves playing fetch with the Frisbee and chasing squirrels. He doesn’t like the nail gun that’s being used to roof the house behind mine. He doesn’t like thunder. One night he jumped up in bed with one of my kids during an exceptionally rough storm. He hates fireworks and jets flying overhead. But he is so gentle and friendly and smart.

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Also, I’ve started working on my novel again. It has been a work in progress for few months now. I’m almost half way through writing it, over 40,000 words so far. I’m going for somewhere between ninety and a hundred thousand words. I might take an excerpt from it for next weekend’s blog to see what everyone thinks. Maybe it will never get published, but I’m going to keep writing it anyway. But who knows, maybe it will get picked up by a publisher. And become a best-seller. And turned into a motion picture. And, and, and. Not likely, but it is a fun thought. And I’m enjoying writing it.

So for now I’m depressed. I have anxiety. I’m not dealing with my PTSD triggers very well. The VA is annoying and slow. Physically I hurt. I’m running out of shows on Netflix that I find interesting. But I know it could always be worse. I know I have been worse before but I’m not there now. I’m still moving forward and getting better, this is just part of it. Sometimes things just suck, this is one of those times.

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

Dave