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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The Frustration of Stress

Stress is the difference between expectations and my view of reality.” ~Chuck Waryk.

That resonated with me when Chuck put those words in that order on the phone a couple of weeks ago. I think I knew that already, but I don’t think I fully understood what that could mean until I heard it phrased that way. He and I served in Afghanistan together. He and I both know the stresses of serving in a war zone, where we were most certainly under stress. But when I think back to that time, I don’t remember being overly stressed with the situations in which I found myself. Here’s why. I didn’t find it as stressful as life now because in Afghanistan I anticipated the enemy to launch and fire at us. It was reality. It was expected. And every time I traveled from my home base to somewhere else, there was at least one attack per trip. Often more than once a day, and occasionally for consecutive days.  https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/03/19/the-fear-in-the-eyes/

I think the first part of stress after war is expecting everything to go back to normal after returning home. I know that’s not possible, maybe it was more wishful thinking on my part, but I think I expected it to be so. I expect the VA to take care of the mental and physical injuries I sustained over there. I expect my Army Reserve Unit to do the things they need to do to either find a way to keep me in or put me out. I expect my body and mind to function as it did before I deployed.

I have a lot of expectation. Or, I should say, I HAD a lot of expectations. The reality of some of the above-mentioned issues make it painfully obvious that my expectations were lofty and unrealistic. Or, at the very least that my time-frame for those expectations are out of sync with reality. Things are moving forward with the VA and the Army Reserves for me, but much slower than I want it to. But it doesn’t stress me like it used to, because I have a new view of what the reality of those issues are. Although, the VA giving me a 30-day supply of medication, but making my next appointment almost 50 days away is stressful. Just so everyone knows, I’ll only be on my medications every other day until the end of the month so as not to run out and have to miss a longer, consecutive block of time taking them.

The thing that bothers me the most is that my mind and body will never be what they once were. That leads to frustration. Stress is the result of external circumstances that can have mental and physical effects. Frustration comes from the inability to change or achieve something. I can’t change it and that frustrates me. But I don’t feel the stress of it like I used to. I have accepted that I cannot change certain things. At my civilian job, I have told everyone I work with that my mind doesn’t work like it used to and to bear with me if my words don’t always make sense or if I have to stop and think for a moment to finish a task. And especially if I forget what you just told me because I’m actively engaged in a task and I have trouble concentrating on multiple things. I have found that being open and honest with my mental issues has greatly reduced my frustration with myself.  https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/06/04/memories-and-afghanistan/

While I’m doing better with accepting that the VA is a mess, that the Army Reserves is slow and sometimes incapable of taking care of Soldiers, and that my mind and body are well-worn, I still have work to do in other areas. People still get on my nerves. Lazy people who don’t do their jobs, people who don’t put the shopping cart back and just leave it next to their car, or people in the next hotel room over who are keeping me awake at 4 in the morning because they’re arguing and threatening to kill each other. I have no use for any of these people in my life. Their laziness and lack of respect for other human beings is frustrating to me. Yes, I just equated leaving the shopping cart in the parking lot to the drunken rage of a guy threatening to kill someone causing me to lose already illusive sleep. But that’s my life and view on things. I’m being open and honest. And it feels good.

All in all, I’m continuing to find ways to cope with stress, which in turn reduces my level of frustration. And I think taking a realistic view of reality is a huge help. Thank you, Chuck, for the wise, inspiring words. It made me think about how I view the world around me and adjust fire.  https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/05/21/im-ok-i-promise/

Thank you all for reading Story of My Life this week. Feel free to leave feedback and let me know you were here. Good day, God bless.

Dave