Freefalling

Freeeeeeeeeee freefalling.

Feeling scary good.

Sometimes I just have to walk away. I’m not the biggest or baddest guy, but I can have a bit of a temper. I have lost a fight or two or three. Didn’t preclude four or five or six.

Over the years, I have realized there comes a point in angry disagreement where there’s nothing left to be said. At that point I look that man in the eye, and can usually tell if things are about to get violent.

Anyone who says violence doesn’t solve anything, has never split 12 beers between 5 infantrymen.

That being said it’s usually pretty avoidable. See the pissed off veteran who looks like he’s about to explode, leave him alone. Don’t come try to be the peanut topping on my turd sundae.

Everyone knows the golden rule. It’s a common theme across majority of the worlds religions. Simple. Respect. Treat others how you expect to be treated.

Say your pissed off and tryna curse out the grass. I’m not going to come up and talk about your vibes affecting the grass growth. You’d be in your rights to make the green grass grow.

I may be a bit of a xenophobe, but I treat people with respect. Even when my brain is screaming DUMBASS; knowing I have a temper I tend to assume I’m over reacting.

Hindsight says im only over reacting about half the time. Sometimes though I feel like I’m standing around handing out free passes all day. Eventually enough is enough.

I understand jobs aren’t fun and games. You gotta do tasks you don’t want to. If it was fun and games why would they pay you to do it.

What I’m not going to do is hide and not voice my concerns. After I’ve done that and see no acknowledging of those concerns I’m left with two options.

Fight or flight.

There is no turning that off. My instinct is to fight. A fight left unfinished today could hit you when you least expect it later.

That blood starts pumping. Every nerve in my body tingles ready to pounce. I can feel my ears turn red.

Abort abort!

My mind pushes through. The consequences flash in front of me. The thought of losing my freedom. That time with my family.

As satisfying as the three part plan to inflict maximum damage I’ve developed would have been.

I take a deep breath. Unlock the jaw. Open the wall of blocked thoughts.

Punch right out and count to four.

Got no main forgot the reserve too.

Look out ground I’m coming through.

Top 5 things I miss about the army.

Not gonna be too worried about structure with this one. Not that I ever am but here we go.

#5 Starting off with something you won’t hear to often, the pay. It’s a little ironic, because I started writing this after coming across a note I had wrote while in the Army. Reasons I won’t re-enlist\hate the army. Several of which related to my pay situation.

By the time I seperated though after some time in service and yo-yoing my way up the ranks. I was making decent money with amazing benefits.

#4 Shooting. I could still get to a range now and again. I’ll probably never have another chance on the .50 cal Machine gun or the MK19 Grenade Launcher. RPGs and AT-4s are literal blasts from the past now.

Than there was the above photoed beast. Who was fun when she got there, but a terrible traveling companion. I mostly just carried her accessories anyway.

#3 The Vacation. 30 days a year starting the day you sign up. Which is cool except you always gotta decide between going home, or actually taking a vacation. My job now does the vacation pay thing. That’s just code for I won’t be taking a vacation. So I wouldn’t mind making that decision again.

#2 The Leadership. This one is a little double edged. I had some leaders that weren’t too impressive, but for every 1 turd burglar of a leader, there was 2-4 guys who were high speed low drag. Every now and again though… you’d come across some truly inspirational guys. Some guys tried to fake it, others imitated, but a few of the guys I worked for drive you to want to be better. They had an aura, a stature that wasn’t about height or muscle. They led with a genuineness that made you buy their sand in the desert.

#1. The camaraderie. Damn I miss my brothers in the Infantry Blue. We were ,are, and always will be family. Earning your blue cord is something the rest of the army talks about, but never will quite understand.

Walking out of Ft. Benning with your cross rifles had a lot of us strutting like some peacocks. Getting there was hard. The term blood sweat and tears gets thrown around a lot these days, but it takes all that and a bucket full of intestinal fortitude to earn the right to wear Infantry Blue. That’s just the beginning though. That great sense of accomplishment is just the first step on a long road.

My Outlaw Brothers we got shit done that one human being doesnt have the right to ask another to do. With a smile and a roasting we carried ourselves up and through shit that I can’t explain to the average man.

My Crowkiller brothers we were some asshole reducing mamma jammas. Whether rolling through broken down neighborhoods or holding it down in the prison cells we were thirsty for a scrap.

Those bonds are indescribable to anyone who wasn’t there. Likewise indestructible.

Never be cool like we used to be

When I was 17, I was a badass infantryman, anxious to do what I was trained to do. To close with and destroy the enemy. To kick ass, take names, and notch belts.

Now I’m 32 and I shovel poo.

Door kicking isn’t just a title. It was my way of life. It’s what pulled me out of my spiral and gave me purpose.

Now my life is level… and it makes me crazy.

I lived for the excitement of a gun fight. The rush of not knowing what’s on the other side of a door. To an extent even the confusion after a blast.

Now I hide from the world. Worried what I might do if I lose control of the switch.

That switch my platoon sergeant used to talk about. Being able to be kind and courteous one moment, react to violence with overwhelming force, and than return to that kind courteous ambassador of our nation.

Now I have a weak grip on that switch. I feel it slip sometimes. I feel that rage I’d use to apply superior firepower, but I don’t have a target for it. Family becoming collateral damage is my biggest fear.

That or the the possibility I’ve irreparably damaged my sons. My struggles with rage are now theirs. Recognizing my failures I’m trying to turn the corner. Trying not to become complacent about my feelings.

Jedi mind tricks and what not. Staying mindful of my anger. Progress in this arena isn’t optional. It is slow though.

Walking amongst heroes.

Cheers to the dead. They’re the only ones whose war is truly over.

A big part of my reservation about making these blog posts is I want to be candid, but I don’t want to dishonor my comrades or their memories.

Exposing my wounds is my decision. I can live with whatever consequences may come. My experience isn’t just about me though.

30+ men made each trip with me. Not everyone came home from Afghanistan. Wounds happened on each trip. Some guys went on third and fourth tours. Some of us collected injuries and went home early. Each man’s story intertwined with the 30 comrades to their left and right.

We were grunts. The backbone of the army. The queen of battle.

Those were the bravest most honorable men I’ve ever had the privilege to work with. I had leaders that I would have followed to the gates of hell. I worked with men who went on to be those leaders. Some of them still serve today. I had the privilege and duty of leading men in combat. Three other men who’s lives were my direct responsibility.

As I wrote these posts I try to remind myself that there may be other guys going through issues. Guys who don’t get any sort of therapy reading their history through someone else’s lens.

I have found some encouragement that some guys are and will drive on as long as I feel it’s helping me at no one else’s expense. I’d write either way.

The Outlaw Crow Killer

Losing touch.

I am a pretty guarded person. It’s easy for me to keep everyone at arms reach. I’m not sure why.

Maybe I am. I don’t think I mean to do it. Maybe forgetting people is easier than missing them. Every now and then I realize how out of touch I am with everybody.

So I start trying to tell myself that I am going to message a few people. Catch up on a few conversations. I start with the people who fought the hardest against my wall building. My best freinds. Friend… I’ve let it come to this.

A day goes by than a week and a month. Than I’m wondering if it’d be weird now. If I’ve finally let too much time elapse. If I’m finally left inside these defensive walls I’ve built. If they’ve finally become my prison.

Than I make a phone call. Shoot a message. It’s never akward when I do get back in touch with people. Not in anyway I’d expect it to be. Only when I find out the milestones I’ve missed. The life opportunities the moments I didn’t share. It probably comes off that I’m indifferent, but that’s not the case.

Now it seems like old friends are dropping like flies. The reunions we keep putting off are getting smaller and smaller. I’m so caught up in the struggle I’m losing what I should be struggling for.

Between starting this and finishing I have started the contact cycle again. I am trying to sustain it here goes everything.

I’m not bitter

You might get the impression I regret my service. Not the case. I volunteered, I reenlisted, and I’d do it all again. If I didn’t have the physical issues I’d of probably kept things bottled and still be going. I even liked the deployments. No bigger rush than a gunfight or being the first man through a door.

I’d like to say I was a born patriot. Joined the army to defend my country. Reality is, I was running from problems.

In a lot of ways the army saved my life. I didn’t have a lot of positive things going in my life when I joined. I was on the death or jail route. At the time it was an escape and something to make my Mom proud. My rational was no matter how far off the rails I went. She could say at least he served.

Joining and seeing the 3rd world, seeing a country either 1st or 2nd world prior to shock and awe, and bringing that perspective back home made me appreciative. Appreciative of the lucky dice roll I had being born in North America.

That appreciation turns to guilt when I think about my issues. No matter the problems I have they could be worse. I know that first hand. Sometimes I have to step back and be appreciative. I’m grateful for many things.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to grow in life. To start my journey in one place and have the option to succeed or fail. I’m appreciative of the fact my children can grow up to be anything they want to be. When I was young I believed I could be anything I wanted to be. I would have to work hard, make the right decisions, and perhaps make some sacrifices; but I was free to make those decisions. That’s not the reality for a lot of people in the world.

I wasn’t exactly making the most of my opportunities. I was busy reveling in chaos. The military gave me some discipline. A little order to my chaos. I got the chance to work with some of the best men I’ve ever known. I’m a member of the infantry brotherhood. Saying I made some friends would be a shameful understatement. It gave me the opportunity to get an education without the debt. It gave me the opportunity to meet my wife, and start my family.

I can’t say where my life would have wound up. The universe has always tugged me along. I wouldn’t have been able to imagine this.

Opening old wounds.

So this is gonna hurt a little. No matter how hard you tug it’s not coming off fast. I been picking at these scabs awhile.

Every now again I’d get good and drunk and start walking down memory lane with someone. Enthusiastically recalling my glory days. By the end I’m half (maybe a lil more) crying about how I shouldn’t have come home. The enthusiastic civilian is a little jarred and probably walks away questioning my sanity. I go to sleep and shove all those little demons back into their cage. Rinse and repeat every few months or weeks depending on my drinking cycle.

The first time I reached out for help it was because I was being pushed to do so. It was after a compensation and pension appt. with Veterans Affairs. I can’t remember exactly what I said, but something along the lines of needing some mental health support. I ended up waiting several hours after my appt. to speak with a nice lady who may not have been prepared for what I had loaded up.

I told her about a gentleman in Ghazaliyah. He crosses my mind more often than I’d like. I think partially because I understand, as a father now, the calculated risk he took. I wasn’t a leader at the time, and during my deployments only led a fire team. So my knowledge of what was said is nil. Plus I’ve been blown up a few times so it can get a little fuzzy up there.

I know he had spoken to us at some point and we returned to speak with him again. When we got there his wife informed us he had been drug out into the street in middle of the night. He was doused in gasoline and set ablaze. It was our job to police up any bodies in our sector. We did so. When I finished telling this nice lady my story, with some of the finer details intact, I looked her in the eyes. The expression there, I’m not sure if it was disgust or horror, but I ended the session than and there. It was over 5 years before I’d reach out for help again.

In all honesty her being a mental health professional at a VAMC (veterans affairs medical clinic), I’m sure she has heard some horrible things. She very well may have been a vet herself. I wasn’t ready to tug at those wounds. Saying it out loud, sober, hurt me in a way I wasn’t expecting. I probably rationalized to myself she didn’t want to hear what I was saying. I knew I didn’t want to do this at that time. I was still trying to figure out life. I had a young family, and was trying to use my GI bill. I had to put the lid back on things, and keep myself together for my family.

I still felt like nothing bothered me than. Being hyper alert is something I don’t think I’ll ever let go of. To quote General Mattis “be kind, be courteous, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet.” Just in case they try to kill you, you can be ready. Knowing where the exits are isn’t a bad thing either. In case of fire. At that point in my life I didn’t feel I had too many issues. Underneath though were things that I hadn’t even put words to yet.

One of the issues I have to put behind me the most. One of the ones I know is less rational. Is this survivors guilt. I was fortuante in my tours. Only one soldier from the two platoons I was with didn’t come home. From the trips with me anyway.

He was my team leader before I deployed to Afghanistan. He picked me up as a soldier at a rocky time. A time when I had just gotten UCMJ and he could have wrote me off. He dusted me off along with my platoon sergeant and taught me to drive on.

When I got in country I moved over to the weapons squad. When the incident happened weapons squad was rotating with the squads on local patrols.

I’m going to digress. I was going to explain some of the ways it could have been me. I have sliced it up so many ways in my head. I’ve tried to think of ways I could have been there and he could have come home. None of them work. They just eat me up. Make me feel like nothing I’ll ever do will be good enough to justify the life I still have.

That fucking hurt to write. It’s a Thursday Monday it’ll be 4 weeks I vape not smoke. I could use one now. I try to honor him. The other soldiers we lost along the way. Rational me knows there was nothing I could have done. E-I owe you one, I was where I was told to be. Sorry to any of my Outlaw brothers reading this. I know we all have some version of this wound. Scar or scab. Hope I didn’t get yours. Wasn’t my target when I started.

Honestly when I started writing this I was just gonna talk about how when you start to address it, it’s gonna hurt. It might seem like it’s getting worse, but it has to come up before it comes out. I’m hoping that making this journey will be worth it. That I’ll be able to control my panic attacks and let go of my guilt.

They say insanity is doing the same thing repeadtedly while expecting different results. Bottling and repression just lead to explosion. So I guess I need to try something new.

Thank you to those of you who have taken the time to read. I hope your journey finds you well.

Cagey

Sometimes I feel like the walls are closing in

Like the air is made of cinnamon

The gravity that weighs upon me is like jupiter

Not room to do poop in here

If I don’t escape make a break what’s at stake is no less than my mental state pas procrastinate… I guess there’s time to wait

PTSD on the Smaller Scale

This is my second post, but it’s actually the first one I wrote. As I was writing I thought there might be more people feeling like I was. That’s what took this from me thinking I’d keep a journal to sharing it as a blog. I’ve been putting off writing this blog, blurb, or essay. Much the same way I put off acknowledging my PTSD, or how it was affecting my life. My wife was aware, depsite my mean poker face. Part of me knew something was wrong. I was content to act like nothing was , and hope that everything would work itself out. I was afraid of what might happen if I acknowledged it. One of my fears was somehow accepting that I was having issues would give those issues credence. In some ways it has. I felt if I continued to deny my mood swings, hyper vigilance, and panic attacks that I was maintaining some sort of power over them. A second issue that has kept me from confronting my issues was the incredibly complex beauracracy that is the Veterans Affairs. VA is difficult to navigate and even more so to get results. I convinced myself that bringing my issues up would somehow make it more difficult for fellow veterans to get the support they needed. The final concern I’d like to discuss is the stigma of being a veteran with PTSD. Many people assume every veteran has PTSD, and those preconceived notions added some hesitance to my desire to seek help.

A little introduction. I joined the U. S. Army Infantry at 17 in 2002. Oct. 2003 a month after turning 18 I deployed to Afghanistan. It was a physically demanding deployment. We lost a good man, and most of the squad I was in prior to deployment was injured during a local patrol right outside of our firebase. For some rational and irrational reasons I brought some survivors guilt home from Afghanistan.

In July of 2005 I deployed to Baghdad Iraq. While in Iraq we hit a lot of IEDs (improvised explosive devices). Close to a dozen struck vehicles I was riding in. Sometimes I was driving, and sometimes I was the gunner. Towards the end of the deployment I took over a fire team and had the pleasure of hitting a few IEDs as the truck commander (front passenger seat). During my year in Iraq there was an unhealthy amount of sectarian violence. I was prepared for war, but sometimes it felt like we were bystanders to the real war going on around us.

I included these blurbs about my deployments so my fellow grunts and soldiers understand where I’m coming from. I was not on the toughest, highest casualty deployments. Both the units I deployed with had good leadership who were focused on doing the job while bringing everyone home. When I think of crazy deployments the battle for Fallujah and the Korengal Valley come to my mind, and I have to tip my hat to those men. My grandfathers stories of Vietnam and Korea put my deployments into a certain perspective for me. That perspective made it difficult to see that the issues I am facing are still valid. I still needed to face these issues for the sake of my family. The reason I wanted to put this out there is to help somebody suffering in silence. If your using reasons like mine to justify not getting help, remember this, our mental state doesn’t just affect us. Our families suffer along with us. Whether they’re suffering vicariously or directly, getting help and improving our quality of life can have a butterfly effect throughout our circle.

A lot of things I thought I was internalizing were written all over my face. I thought I was sparing her. What I was actually doing was, putting her in the uncomfortable position of knowing something was wrong; but not knowing what if anything she could do.

The straw that broke the camel’s back for me was this incident: I was driving with my wife and 2 sons in the car. It was a normal clear day. I observed some innocuous piece of garbage in the grassy median. I was in the left lane with a bus to my right. For some reason I thought to myself “that’s not an IED.” I immediately after that thought began to have a panic attack. This was not the first time I have had a panic attack while driving. It was however the first time with my family, or anyone else for that matter, in the car. I thought I was controlling myself and playing it off. Meanwhile trying to catch my breath and not pass out. Feeling stiff, but trying to maintain control of the vehicle. My wife asked “babe are you ok”? I choked out a “yes” and continued on. We spoke later that night, and I realized I needed to confront it. I have made strides. Still much in need of growth and acceptance. Not an acceptance from others. An inner acceptance of what is, was, and still can be. Cue the meditation music.

I don’t know if anything here hasn’t already been said before. As much as I’d like to be inspiration or motivation for someone to seek and find help. I probably find organizing and getting these thoughts down on paper therapeutic in it’s own right. I will say this though. Step back and look at the reasons you use to justify not getting help. Acknowledge whether they’re valid or excuses. If they’re excuses move past them. We must do so, if not for ourselves, than for those sharing our lives.

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