Finding Meaning at a Train Show

I had to find a way to overcome and gain freedom from my conceived threats.

There was a time when leaving my house was something I dreaded. I often found myself not leaving the house and realizing at the end of the week I had never stepped outside.   Those were dark times. My fear of the dangers that existed in the “real” world kept me safely confined to my house. I knew that staying in the house, I could avoid the potential threats that were present as soon as I walked outside. These were lonely times, times of anxiety and times of avoidance. Eventually, I came to the point where I knew I had to stop living this way and venture out into the “real” world. I had to find a way to overcome and gain freedom from these conceived threats. Over time I have made progress. Although, sometimes I still find myself staying in the house for days at a time. There are days when it seems safer to stay inside the house when my wife is at work. So I give in to my need to feel safe and stay in the house with my service dog, three cats, and four fish. However, it gets boring, and I become dissatisfied with not doing anything. Which leads down the road to depression and that is just a quick downhill progression to disaster.

                       I Have Always Enjoyed Trains.IMG_1311

I like to watch trains and listen to the sounds the trains make as they pass. I enjoy listening to the clanging of the crossing bells and watching the blinking lights on the barriers as they come down. I enjoy riding trains and feeling the movement of the cars as they cross over the tracts. I appreciate the rhythmic clicking that is made as the wheels of the train pass over the rail joiners. IMG_0955

I enjoy train history especially the golden era of railroading in the 1950’s when the railroads ran both steam and diesel locomotives. I enjoy collecting railroad documents, timetables, brochures and ads from the 1930s-1950s. My favorite things to collect are railroad dining menus. It is fun to see what people ate 60-80 years ago and of course to see how much they paid for a meal. I am able to look at a railroad menu and determine the age of the menu by merely looking at the pricing. I also like collecting employee’s service and safety awards along with all types of railroad memorabilia (a word I can’t pronounce).

The most exciting part of my train fascination is attending train and railroad shows and the thrill of searching for and finding a great treasure. The fascination with trains and railroads eventually led me to start selling railroad items on eBay, which at best is a hit or miss endeavor. So one day, I had the idea of instead of just attending a train show, I might actually see if I could sell items at a train show. So my wife and I decided to give it a shot and see if we could actually sell items. Our first attempt, while not exceptional, showed we had the potential of selling at train shows. So we set out to start building a train show business, we are doing pretty well so far. We are still learning, trying to figure out pricing and the whole profit margin game. But we have found a right mix of items to sell and are now working with four wholesalers. Our next big step is to start looking for better places to buy our railroad memorabilia and documents at a lower cost than we are doing now.

We just finished our latest train show last weekend, and we were delighted with the sales and the outcome. We now have a small clientele that looks for us at the train shows they attend, which is nice. We are now ready to take our small but growing business to the next level by increasing the number of shows we attend as vendors.

There is a better way to live your life, you do not need to be stuck hiding from the “real” world.

You may be asking yourself, “what does all this have to do with my first paragraph?” When I realized I was stuck in my house not doing or accomplishing anything, I realized I needed to change. So the first thing I did was to start this blog. The blog gives me satisfaction and helps fill the time I normally dedicated to doing nothing. But while the blog keeps me busy, it also serves as a good excuse to stay in the house and continue hiding from the “real” world. My fledgling train business allows me to connect with people, to focus on something I enjoy and am passionate about. It allows me to get up and spend some of my days looking for products to sell and finding wholesale distributors. Finding wholesale distributors who sell railroad items is vastly harder than learning Greek and Hebrew in seminary.

My thought for you today is if you find yourself stuck in the dark void of living with your symptoms of PTSD or trauma and using the coping skills of avoidance. There is a better despair-1436325-1920x1280way to live your life. You do not need to be stuck hiding from the “real” world, you can take small steps to overcome the fear of going out. For me, one of the steps was to start selling railroad memorabilia. I started with eBay, and we have now expanded to selling at train shows. So the question today is, “what is it you are passionate about?” How can you use your passion to begin living your life again?” We don’t need to be stuck in a world of fear, darkness, and avoidance. We can live a life that is meaningful and fulfilling. But it takes courage and a willingness to step out into the “real” world. So my encouragement today is that you go forth and begin to live your life again.

WAKING UP TO ANOTHER DAY WITH PTSD.

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.dejection 2 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.

“Unfit For Continued Military Service”

 

despair-1436325-1920x1280I took the words to heart and accepted them to mean I was unfit as a minister and I was unfit as a person.

“The Officer is unfit because this condition prevents him from being able to perform the required activities of his AOC (56A, Chaplain Officer).” The first time I read these words on my Physical Evaluation Board (PEB) report on 03 October 2014 just one day after my 47th birthday I was devastated. I had spent 21 years in the Army giving my all, doing everything I needed to do in order to be fit for service. In just one moment, someone I had never met, signed his name to the PEB and sealed my fate and future as a Chaplain in the United States Army. I was now officially deemed to be unfit to continue serving in the Army. My career had come to an unceremonious end, it was over and all the schooling, training, experience and work had come to a crashing halt. There would be no retirement ceremony, no retirement party, no gathering of friends and family congratulating me for a career well done. There would not be any wacky gifts or cards, no rocking chair to sit in to anticipate the reminder of my life. There would be no awarding of the Legion of Merit in appreciation for a full and successful military career. I will always be 3 ½ years short of twenty years on active duty, I will never be a retired officer, I will always be a medically retired officer who is unfit for continued military service.

This simple phrase “unfit for continued military service” has haunted me for years and will continue to haunt me for many years to come. I loved being in the Army, I loved being a chaplain, I loved the discipline, the structure of the Army, the camaraderie of being a part of a team that is larger than oneself, the pride that comes from wearing the uniform of the United States Army. Was the Army perfect? Not even close. Was everyday roses and unicorns? No, although some days were. Were there days that I came home declaring this is it I’m done with the Army? Yes, there were more than a few days. Was I tired of being deployed, missing birthdays, holidays and special days? Yes. But I still loved being in the Army. I miss the good days, the great days, the excitement and the pride of being a Soldier. I miss standing in formation, hearing a command and instantly responding to the command along with everyone else in the formation. I was not ready to stop being a part of the active Army; I was still looking forward to years of active service.

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