A HOUSE FULL OF PETS

 Living with the symptoms of PTSD and trauma is like living in a house full of pets.

Over the years we have accumulated a number of pets. At last count, we have 3-cats, 4-fish, 1-dog, and 1-bird. We never sat down and discussed how we wereIMG_0669 going to accumulate such an assortment of pets, it just sort of happened over time. Now you would think to have such a variety of pets would result in a house full of frenzy disarray and chaos. But somehow our pet population has found a way to get along. That is not to say there are no pet conflicts, but somehow it stays pretty peaceful.

Most of the conflict comes between the cats, as they tend to be pretty moody. Most of the time all three cats: Natasha, Bullwinkle, and Zika, the Angry Cat live in a precarious truce and co-exist in relative peace. Sometimes my dog will get a bit spirited and chase the cats around the house to demonstrate he is still the boss. Then we have the bird that belongs to my daughter, the bird is old and grouchy. If she does not like what is going on, she will squawk loudly, until someone pays attention to her. Then there are the fish, they are always quiet, don’t complain and pretty much swim in circles all day long.

Even though they get along pretty well, they are still animals with natural instincts. I’ve caught Natasha sitting on top of the fish tank looking through the opening of the tank lid. No doubt dreaming of the day when the fish will swim too close to the surface, and she will finIMG_0701ally get to enjoy a tasty fish snack. We have observed both Natasha and Zika the Angry Cat, crouching behind the couch in the best tradition of Sylvester the Cat, waiting for a chance to eat the bird. Then we have my service dog Delrin, who out of nowhere will jump up and chase the cats just for the fun of it. From time to time Gracie the bird will get upset at something and let everyone know very loudly that she is unhappy. Usually, she does this when she is out of food, being ignored or her ladder is disconnected from her climbing tower. Living with the symptoms of PTSD and trauma is like living in a house full of pets. The potential for conflict is always there, in the instance a peaceful moment can explode into a major battle.

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Ironhorse Fallen Heroes

IMG_0386Last 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.

Had to Take A Break To Watch Some Cruise Ships.

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.

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.

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Hiding From the Dragon

 

Once the door was closed I was in total darkness and I was unable to see out. However,  I could still hear the dragon coming

When I was a child I had a recurring dream that I was trapped in a large room in a castle. This room was long and wide. There was nothing in the room except an old metal lantern that sat in the middle of the floor. The room was sterile, the floor was cold gray granite and the walls were roughhewed rock. Lanterns were spaced evenly on the walls around the room. Unlike the lantern on the floor, the ones on the walls were dimly lit. The room was cold and silent and I was alone and the dimness reminded me just how alone I really was. I remember in my dream hearing in a distant hallway the sound of a very large dragon walking towards the room. I heard the giant tail of the dragon dragging on the floor. From time to time the dragon would breath heavy and I could hear him snort. I remember being afraid and looking around for a place to hid but not finding anywhere. As the dragon came closer to the room, I looked at the lantern sitting on the floor. So I made the decision to crawl inside the lantern. There was barely enough room for me to fit. Once inside I had to twist myself around so I could close the door of the lantern with just two fingers. Once the door was closed I was in total darkness and I was unable to see out. However, I could still hear the dragon coming.

I vividly remember this dream like it was yesterday, although in reality it’s been 40 years or more. I can nevertheless remember just how lost and afraid I was. The fear and loneliness I felt was not only experienced in my dream but also carried over to when I woke up. I remember the feelings of desperation, loneliness, and the fear of having no one to care for me or rescue me from the dragon. Looking back upon it now, I realize the dream had to do with the physical and emotional abuse I was suffering as a child. Yet 40 years later, I can still profoundly recall the feelings of loneliness that the dream brought.

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We Are Not Our Trauma

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 makecamptaji_fpo 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.

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A Moment In Time

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.

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