October 5, 2010

First Person: Combat PTSD

My name is Rob Honzell, Sr. and I am a Marine Combat Veteran who served in the Vietnam War. I served two tours with 1st Recon eventually assigned to the Phoenix Program. I am the author of First Person: Combat PTSD. The offering was self-published, not by necessity, but by choice. The two publishers that bid on the book wished to turn my life’s journey into a novel. I did not reveal very intimate details of my live to have it turned into something that the average combat vet and his/her family could not relate to. The most gratifying emails and comments concerning the book are, "I read your book and realize that this is my husband", "I now know why my dad acts the way he does", and "My wife is a different person since she came back from Iraq, now I know why." This is why I chronicled my life and laid it out for public scrutiny and examination, and why I gave up so much in doing so. In a later contribution if I will explain the previous statement in greater detail.

I still have family members and ex-wives not talking to me over the book. It is what it is; a detailed account of my combat experiences in a special operations unit. An account of the trauma that precipitated the onset of the anxiety disorder labeled as Combat PTSD.
I hold a Bachelors’ and Masters’ Degree in Criminal Justice and have completed over a 100 graduate hours in General Psychology. In other words I am in the process of graduating with my PhD in General Psychology with my emphasis being in Combat PTSD. This being said, most of my contributions will be of a non-technical nature. Through my studies I have discovered that we, combat mentally ill veterans are looked at as statistics. We are not statistics. There are very few researchers that have actually served in combat; much less live with the disorder on a daily bases. Living with Combat PTSD on a daily bases, and how it affects not only the combat vet, but his/her family will be the focus of the majority of my contributions.

Rolling Thunder

Sleep as all of you know that live with Combat PTSD is a precious commodity to say the least. I live in Katy, Texas a suburb thirty miles west of Houston. The thunder storms we have here are not unlike the storms we had in "The Nam." We (Phoenix Program Marines) took care of business in storms such of these. When the rolling thunder that accompanies these storms makes their presence known, my wife moves to the other side of the bed to keep from getting hit when my flashbacks and/or hallucinations start. Please allow me explain.

Hidden deep in my subconscious are the memories of the details of my combat duties in Vietnam. Not the things that all of us share with friends and family; but the things we as combat vets never talk about. I am asleep when I actually feel someone standing beside my bed. A physiological sensation spurred by psychological phenomena. I am keenly aware before I open my eyes that standing there is one or more of the people that I took their lives over forty years ago in a very up close and personal manner. Previous episodes scared the hell out of me. But after a lot of practice in CBT and CPT, I have actually learned to wake myself up from one of these episodes. I see these entities, hallucinations, people caught between heaven and hell due to their lives being taken so violently, in the house routinely, if not on a daily bases, certainly in the course of a week. You that actively hallucinate and/or flashback to your combat experiences know what I am talking about. How do we explain this too our families? Then there is the depression and the dissociative symptoms of Combat PTSD that we will get into in another post.

The Family

My fifth wife and I have an eleven year old daughter. My wife refers to herself as the latest and the greatest. She was born in 1963 and I arrived in Vietnam in 1967. You can do the math. Anyway my wife Diane has made it a point to read, and educate herself about my mental illness. I am not ashamed to admit that I am mentally ill. I earned this distinction in the defense of my country (political correctness bull shit). As we, combat vets know we were too young to even know about the foreign policy of our country. We fought to protect our buddies and to get our rear ends back home. How many of you wish you could have gone ahead and physically died in Combat rather than die slowly with Combat PTSD? I have wished that on many occasions. Our family MUST play a part in our survival. You notice I did not say recovery. I am not convinced any combat vet can recover from Combat PTSD. The best that we can wish for is personal and social survival. We will never be that person that existed before we went into combat. Our innocence has been taken from us. But, if we can reclaim a portion of that pre-combat self, integrate it into what we have become, and possibly establish a person that we can be proud of and want to stay in this world with the ones who love us.

I will talk much more on the ups and mostly downs of living with Combat PTSD, but for now I wanted to introduce myself and let you know you are not alone; "Together Then - Together Now."

4 Comments:

I am very glad I stumbled upon this. Thank you for your service and being so open about your struggle with PTSD. I am currently in school in the hopes of getting my PHD in clinical psychology so that I can work with soldiers like yourself and I only hope I will be able to do enough for ya'll considering I have no military experience.

Welcome to our dysfunctional family Rob! Hahaha! I will have to check your book out! Glad to see you are talking and willing to share your experiences. Believe it not, often times those help me to understand my husband more than counseling or therapists. Look forward to your posts!

I appreciate all of your comments... My dissertation for my PhD was on Living With Combat PTSD on a Daily Bases... All of you can relate to this... I hope to have more; if I can only figure out how to post to this site. HELP!!!

Just dug deeper into your site after finding it some time ago. Served in Thailand 1969 USAF, aircraft maintenance and perimeter guard. Loved being on guard duty and responding to incursions by Pathet Lao, always night work. My position never involved in fire fight but was always amped up for it. Nearly commited friendly fire incident while other side of base was under fire except for supressing terror and issuing challenge into the pitch darkness at approaching footfalls. 35yrs later I was nearly mad with reliving those nights with increasing intensity for the previous 20yrs. It became almost impossible to be outside at night when the light had that glowing quality of flare-light with out ending up on the ground in a sobbing fetal position. Fought sleeplessness and all the rest most of those forty years. I had a hard time convincing myself I had PTSD symptoms but it was either therapy or the exhaust pipe into the truck cab. Cognative Therapy works!!
I always felt my meager experience didn't qualify me to join the ranks of GI's of your and my cousin's experience in the 'fellowship of terror'. I was wrong, it is only a matter of degree. My family still doesn't know. At least I can write about it somewhat dispassionately these days. Thank you. Thank you. 'All gave some. Some gave all.'

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