Sometime I wish I had physical wounds I could look at and tell myself “Yea, you have PTSD all right, just look at the scars.”
When I was first diagnosed with PTSD, I was pretty critical about the diagnosis. I thought the diagnosis was just a convenient way for my treatment team to wash their hands of me. It seemed in my mind; by labeling me with PTSD, they could resolve themselves from the responsibility of actually helping me through my problems. I did not believe I had PTSD, I had not engaged in combat, I had not been “blown up” or received any type of physical injuries. I was a chaplain, a non-combatant; I did not even carry a weapon of any kind. There was no way I could have PTSD. What right do I have to claim such a diagnosis when so many others have a legitimate reason for having PTSD? For years I struggled with the question “Do I actually have PTSD or am I just making all this up?” To be honest, there are still times I wonder if I really have PTSD. I often feel guilty about being labeled with PTSD when there are others that truly suffer from PTSD. Sometimes, I wish I had physical wounds I could look at and tell myself “yea, you have PTSD all right, just look at the scars.” What I really wish for is some traumatic story of a horrific event that I survived, so I can look back and say, “This is the event that triggered my PTSD.” But my PTSD did not come from one event alone, it came over many events. For me, it is like I have to string together all these “little” events to somehow form a reasonable justification for having PTSD. I think some of the feelings come from Hollywood and the string of Iraq war movies that are coming out. Some films tackle the issue of PTSD. Pretty much all the movies are based on the Service Member going through a horrific battle or ambush where they survived while others died. The other scenario that seems to get a lot of attention in movies is a Humvee being blown-up by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). All this leads to a sense of guilt for me. I often feel as though I’m playing a game and one day the truth will come out that I never had PTSD. Then I will be exposed as a fraud, a dirtbag, and a lazy bum just trying to get one over on the government.
“Sometimes the Greatest Wound a Soldier Suffers from is the Wound No One Can See”
It is hard some days to deal with my PTSD. There are days when I want to wake up and say “It’s all a lie, I’ve been duped by all these doctors and counselors who just threw this label on me.” Sometimes, I want more than anything to tell myself “Get over it and stop acting like you have PTSD, start living your life like a normal person.” There are other days when I wake up, and I tell myself, “Its all over, I no longer have PTSD, I’m cured, and I have conquered it.” Then a memory creeps into my mind, I have disturbing thoughts and dreams, I hear a loud sound, I see something that reminds me of Iraq, a car speeds up behind me on the freeway, I get lost and end up on a narrow road that I don’t know where it goes. So I become hyper-vigilant, I get scared; I have the urge to defend myself or run away from danger, I’m overcome with an urge to hide and disassociate myself from the world around me. When I first went through treatment for PTSD, I heard people say “I would never wish PTSD on anyone.” To be honest, I thought they were melodramatic; they were simply seeking someone to feel sorry for them. I know better now, and I understand what it means to “not wish PTSD on anyone.” Yet despite my desires and wishes that my PTSD would just go away, I still wake up each day facing another day with PTSD. Some days I am very good at it, other days not so much.
The War Within is a wonderful documentary of two Vietnam War veterans who return to Vietnam for the first time since the war. It is a rich, emotional and at times a difficult journey. As they share their experiences from combat they also share how God has brought healing to their lives and to the lives of their families. You can stream the entire video from the Day of Discovery website. If you follow the link below it will take you to the video page. It is well worth the time to view this outstanding video.
The War Within: Finding Hope for Post-Traumatic Stress Thousands of courageous men and women risk their lives in combat. But few of us understand the private inner battle they bring home. For many, it is an ongoing personal struggle that continues long after the war is over. In The War Within: Finding Hope for Post-Traumatic Stress, you’ll find encouragement for veterans and their loved ones whose lives have been drastically changed by war.
Follow the link below to stream the video
The War Within
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride.
While not my favorite genre of movies I do enjoy a good natural disaster movie from time to time. I think the last one we watched was San Andreas and to be honest we basically went to see it because of the cruise ship scene. Being that we love to cruise, we were eager to watch a cruise ship get carried away by a giant wave and end up in downtown San Francisco. At least for me that was the best part of the whole movie.
Almost all of the natural disaster movies I’ve seen are basically the same. Someone has the inside scoop of an upcoming disaster and although they try to warn every one of the impending doom no one is willing to listen. As the impending disaster finally occurs it is left to the one who gave the warning to save all mankind or at least their family from the devastating tragedy that is accruing. The majority of these movies depict building crashing down, dams breaking, and massive fires rising from the ground. There are always people running everywhere only to have buildings fall on them or overtaken by a mile high wall of water or worse yet a rapid flow of hot scorching lava. The movies seem to always end with the one who gave the initial warning surviving with their family, while countless thousands of people perished in the midst of this unprecedented and unparalleled disaster.
Continue reading “God Our Refuge”
JUST EXISTING IS NOT LIVING LIFE, IT’S JUST PASSING TIME UNTIL ONE DIES
My 50th birthday is coming up in October. So I’m contemplating what the second part of my life is going look like. I have three different pictures of the direction of my life. The first one is to keep doing what I’m doing now and what I’ve done for the last three years, just staying home and existing. Existing as in not really doing anything important, significant or meaningful. The thought of doing that for another 20 or so years does not seem very appealing. Just existing is not living life, it’s just passing time until one dies.
I’ve thought about selling our house, all our stuff and heading out to the open road with our 5th wheel trailer. Stopping to flip a quarter at every major intersection to determine our direction. We have seriously considered doing this and were pretty close to actually making it happen. The excitement of traveling, going where we want to go and doing whatever we want to do seems very attractive. But eventually the traveling will get old and we would have to ask the question “what we were actually doing with our lives?” Do we really want to spend 20 years or so living in our 5th Wheel? Going place to place without any real purpose or direction? Establishing short-term relationships because we know we were only going to be around for a short period of time. Then head out again and show up somewhere different to start all over again. While on the surface it sounds great, it lacks purpose and significance and in essence is still a form of just existing.
Continue reading “GET A JOB”
Last Monday 01 May I drove to Killeen, Texas for some business. While I was there I made a stop at Ft. Hood, where I visited my old chapel the Ironhorse Brigade Chapel. From May 2005 to July 2008 I was the chaplain in charge of the chapel while serving as the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division Chaplain. Inside the fellowship hall is this memorial to the 49 Brigade Troopers who died in combat and the 4 Brigade non-combat deaths. We lost a total 53 lives between October 2006 and January 2008. While I was viewing the memorial, I though about our deployment, about our troopers who died, I thought about those of us who returned home. I thought about those who suffered the physical and non-physical wounds of war. I thought about our families and how this war in Iraq had forever changed our lives. I thought about my own journey as the Brigade Chaplain and my struggles with PTSD. I don’t have any insights to offer today, no profound thoughts or spiritual lessons. I just have my thoughts.
This week our church First Baptist Church of New Braunfels, Texas; suffered a tragedy as one of our church buses was involved in a fatal crash.
The bus carried 14 passengers who were returning from a senior citizen’s retreat. A pick-up truck crossed into the lane of the bus and crashed into it head on; of the 14 people aboard 13 were killed. There were only two survivors of this horrific crash the driver of the pick-up truck and the one person on the bus. I had seen news alerts throughout the day about this crash, but was unaware the church bus was from our church. Around 6:oo p.m. another news alert come over my phone and this time it mentioned the name of our church. My response was like so many from our church and throughout the community… one of shock.
Continue reading “Fighting My PTSD Symptoms”
When I started this blog in February, it was my intention to post a new post at least once a week if not twice a week. However, no matter how noble the intentions are, life gets in the way and in some cases the symptoms of PTSD get in the way. Last week I received a letter from the VA asking for a copy of my Physical Evaluation Board findings. They need the report to continue justifying one of the VA benefits I receive. This was no big deal, I had the form and it was no issue to drive to the VA hospital to drop it off. However, the emotional aspect of once again reading the report and seeing the phrase “unfit for continued military service” brought back a lot of uneasy feelings. I took the report with me to my Tuesday appointment with my therapist. We talked about it for a while and decided to continue the discussion during our next appointment. On the way home, I decided it would be a good topic to blog about. I started working on the blog post but found it was a bit harder than expected. While working on it, I came to the realization that it’s not going to be ready to post until next week. So I decided to write a short blog about one of our favorite activities. If you have read the get to know chaplain doll page, you will know that my family and I love to cruise
Taking our adult kids on a cruise May 20th, on the Carnival Valor.
Living in Texas, as we do, makes it easy to take cruises, as the port of Galveston is about three hours from where we live. Which makes it really convenient to cruise, as we don’t have the extra expense of air travel, hotel stays and transportation cost between the airport, hotel and the cruise terminal. Living close to Galveston saves us about $2000 per cruise. As a result, we take about one cruise a year. Sometimes it just Beth and I, which our adult children thinks is unfair. But hey, there should be some kind reward for us, for raising our kids successfully. Taking a cruise without them seems like just the right reward. But at last, they made us feel so bad last year that we have been cruising without them. That we booked a cruise for all of us for May 20th and gave it to them as a Christmas gift. So as of today, we have 57 days before our next family cruise, which by the way will be our first cruise where all of our children are adults. Which is scary in it self. Anyway, we are getting excited and the kids (adults) are also getting excited. We are going to Cozumel and to Yucatan, Mexico. We have booked a four-wheel ATV excursion in Cozumel, which should be lots of fun especially as we have never done an ATV excursion before. When we go to Yucatan, we are going to visit the beautiful Mayan City of Uxmal, (pronounced Ush-Mal) considered one of the most beautiful cities in the Mayan world. I figured we needed to do this because we are taking the kids. Everyone knows there has to be an educational moment when one takes the kids on vacation, even when they are adults. Sorry kids, but that is the price of going on a cruise with your parents.
Continue reading “Had to Take A Break To Watch Some Cruise Ships.”
I can once again declare with all certainty “That God’s love is never-ending, that He does not leave us in a state of hopelessness to wonder by ourselves in the midst of trouble.”
One of the symptoms of PTSD is the inability to remember details or facts about the traumatic event. Frequently when we are missing details about our traumatic events we experience unexplained fear, anger, resentment or even dazed confusion. Generally, this loss of memory can affect us for years. Instead of remembering the event itself or the details of the event, we are merely left with a big black cloud of nothing. Many times we wish we could remember what actually happened because staring into the dark abyss of lost memories is exhausting and wears upon one’s emotions.
A few weeks ago, I came across one of my Battalion Chaplains Dan Kersey on Facebook. He was the chaplain for the historic 1-7 Cavalry Battalion when I was the brigade chaplain during Iraqi Freedom 2006-2008. I have not talked with him since I left the brigade in the summer of 2008. 1-7 was the unit I referred to in my first blog post “A Moment in Time.” I wrote that the attack on 2-8 Cavalry Battalion in Taji Market happened during the memorial ceremony for 3 of the 1-7 Soldiers. I knew the attack against 2-8 happened in August of 2007 but I was unaware of the exact date. So I messaged Dan and asked if he remembered the date of the ceremony. He told me he would check his records. Roughly an hour later, he messaged me and said the only ceremony they had conducted for multiple soldiers was in December of 2007. I was surprised by this news, I was sure the attack took place during the 1-7 memorial ceremony. I began to doubt myself and wonder if the memories I had, really occurred. I spent the next few hours searching the web trying to match up these dates. During my search I found two websites. The first was a website that listed the names and dates of Texas service members who were killed in the Iraqi theater. The second website listed the suicide attacks that occurred during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Between these two websites my memory of that day become clearer.
Continue reading “Lost in Forgotten Memories”
We are not the sum of our trauma, Our trauma is simply a part of who we are now.
The attack on our Combat outpost Taji Market delivered a spiritual blow that shook the very foundation of my spiritual life. The following morning I woke up to the reality of the attack on our COP. I was faced once again with the duty of supervising another memorial ceremony, but this time I asked myself what difference does it make There is no way our Soldiers could sit through another ceremony and listen to our empty words of encouragement and hope. I could not bring myself to accept that what we offered to our Soldiers mattered and that our message of hope had any real impact upon anyone. How many times could we read the Psalms, pray for God’s comfort and healing, share our belief of God’s protection and yet watch as even more Soldiers die? I was convinced that our Soldiers must view us with contempt and view our message as senseless and offensive. It was a revelation that hunted me for many years, a revelation that brought me to the deepest spiritual struggle that I had ever faced in my life.
Continue reading “We Are Not Our Trauma”
The real question is not how you arrived, but how you will respond when you find yourself in your moment of time.
It was just a moment in time, one moment of many over my lifetime. A moment that in any other circumstance, I would have responded as I always did as an Army chaplain. It was a moment I had prepared for, a moment I had trained for, a moment I was ready to respond to. But as it turned out, it was not just another moment. It was more than the sum of what had just happened. It was a moment that brought together all the events of my life in a single snap shot, during a single moment of time. That one moment brought to light all of my fears. It raised questions and frustrations; it brought pain, a sense of hopelessness, weakness, doubt and desperation. It awaken a deep spiritual struggle within my faith, a questioning of my calling as a minister and as a chaplain, a questioning of what I was taught and what I believed to be true of God. That moment caused me to question my purpose as a Christian, a minister, a chaplain, a soldier, a husband, a father, and as a man. That single moment in August of 2007 left me standing in Iraq finding myself overwhelmed by a lifetime of struggle and a sense of hopelessness.
Continue reading “A Moment In Time”