April 21, 2013

Seconds Away From Suicide: Readily Will I Display...

On the 5th of April, I burned my wrist pretty badly while making some home-brew. My wife had the car at the time, but, before I would even call for help, I had to clean the wort off the floor (wort is beer before yeast is added). I saved all of the wort so I could finish that batch. The Ranger creed may seem like a silly mechanism to discuss suicide, but the Ranger creed is what saved my life when I had loaded gun in my hand. This example of me cleaning up my mess before even calling someone in order to go to the emergency room illustrates just how the sixth stanza of the Ranger is webbed into fabric of my being. It is what prevented me from taking my own life.

Readily will I display the intestinal fortitude required to fight on the the Ranger objective and complete my mission, though I be the lone survivor. Rangers lead the way.

After I came home from the Surge, I could no longer conceal the problems I had for years. In crowds, I got so overwhelmed that I would almost pass out. I had to stop driving because I almost ran off the road twice, when I thought there were IEDS. Panic attacks almost made me lose consciousness. The mTBI symptoms were worse then, limited spatial awareness and vertigo characterized my life. When my neurologist recommended an inpatient program, my battalion executive officer told the personnel officer that he did "not have time to deal with a Captain with PTSD and mTBI," while I sat outside his office. I was the most battle tested officer in that battalion, and I felt like Boxer from Animal Farm: once I was used up, my battalion was happy to ship me off to the glue factory. My doctor stuck to his guns and I went to an inpatient program in Richmond, Virginia, and then in Salisbury, North Carolina. During my hospitalization my ex-wife decided that her chemistry professor was a better choice.

Needless to say, life was not going well and I was leaving the Army just days after getting out of a hospital. I was packing up my home to put it on the market when I looked at a Beretta pistol. Why not end it all right now? The unit I fought in for years thought I was a piece of shit, my family had not even seen me after I came home, and my wife was shopping around for a replacement. I still had the hospital bracelet on and now I was about to be on the street alone. No pay, no purpose, no family, no support at all. Just alone in my thoughts. I cocked the gun, but before I could lift it up my Ranger brain took to action.

The flood of the, stress chemical, cortisol, was something I had become accustomed to using in combat. In most cases you use the surge of cortisol to fight or fly, but as an officer I employed it to think through outcomes. When I held that gun in my hand I thought through what would happen. The Army would do nothing... I would just be another number. Maybe friends might find out, and be more sensitive when they had soldiers struggling with PTSD.  Probably not though, they always had their soldiers' best interests at mind. My mother would be devastated, but my father would just write my suicide into his latest narrative of war making me a sinner, and turning me against God.

Serendipitously, my boots from Ranger school were in my eye-line and reminded me of what I was capable of handling. Sure I wanted all of that to end, but I felt that way in Ranger school too. I used to say to myself, "I don't want to quit, I just want this to end." When you're walking in the middle of a swamp no one is coming in with a jungle penetrator to take you home. I would just make it to the next rest halt. This was the same, but what was the point? What was my purpose anymore? I left the Army because I wanted to make a difference with my pen. All of my "disabilities" were going to make that nearly impossible. So you're saying there is a chance. I was never a smart Ranger anyway, I was always a tough one. Everyday I was at sick call getting something drained, taking crazy low distribution antibiotics, getting all the skin taken of the bottom of my foot, yet everyday I would smile while humming the Ranger school hymn, "I'll Fly Away."

I knew how to find my way in misery; without thought I dropped the magazine, removed all the rounds and threw them into the woods. At the time I had no idea of what my mission was, but I was damn sure going to fight onto that objective. The whole world seemed to have turned on me, but, so what, just hum that hymn, drive on and somewhere in the process I will figure out how to get better, or learn how to enjoy the suck. I kept one Ranger school boot on my desk and one on my dresser so I would always be able to remember what I was capable of overcoming.

I can't tell you why things got so bad for me, but what I do know is that I did nothing to cause it or deserve it. I certainly am not weaker than I was before. If anything I am tougher mentally than my body is physically, and I should take it easier when my body is giving me queues like "Hey stupid, your wrist has second degree burns on it... someone else can clean the floor later on."  More importantly, when you have stepped up to save your own life, every milestone gets a little sweeter. My relentless mission focus is, more often, an annoying characteristic that pushes me way too  hard, but it also brought me through the most difficult time in my life. A time when I had no support at all. Now when I hold my wife, play with my dog, drink with my friends, and work with my colleagues, I am so grateful for the man that pushed on when there was no indication that I could never make a positive impact on the lives of others again.

You can see my burn and Darby's awesomeness
When we were kids we never think that, "seconds away from suicide," would end up on our bucket list, but I am so happy that I had the courage to live on unashamed. I have been lucky enough to put more on my bucket list after that day than I would have had the courage to dream of as a child. I hated Ranger school, but, like in combat, its ideals have never let me down when the world becomes dangerous or chaotic. It is often said that the Army never trained us for coming home, and that is generally correct, but it did teach us values. Learning to translate core values into a life out of uniform saved my life, and I would be lost without things like the Army Values, Warrior Ethos, and the Ranger creed. The road home is not easy and it sucks more often than not, but that doesn't mean that its is not something you can't enjoy or find fulfilling. It certainly beats Ranger School.

12 comments:

  1. I'm glad you're here and whatever gets you through another day is a good thing. There are some things in the bible that should help with people who condemn warriors, Psalm 144:1 "praise be to the Lord my rock who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle". and Luke 22:36 "Take your purse and traveler's bag and if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one." and Ecclesiastes 3:8 "a time for love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace." Keep your head up soldier

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  2. Thanks for a thoughtful and thought-provoking essay. How good it is that in Life's most painful moments, something inside a man like you will plant the flag somewhere deep inside your soul and say (with a conviction that you might never have realized you had), "No way, nohow." I wish you well as you continue to make your life and the lives of those whom you love as meaningful and as dynamic as possible.

    Rod Deaton
    www.ptsdandcombat.com

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  3. I am so happy you all are so supportive and thanks for those Bible versus. Faith is important to me and it is sometimes hard for me because my family often categorize my PTSD as the result of a sinful life. It means a great deal to me to see someone using the Bible to encourage me and not condemn me. Thanks for the support KrippledWarrior, I really needed it.

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  4. You are a brave soul Joe...always bear in mind that the Lord loves Warriors; He is a Warrior Himself! Joshua is replete with verses of promise for you and others who enter into battle. One promise is found in Joshua 1:9..."I will be strong and courageous, I will not be discouraged. For the Lord my God is with me wherever I may go."

    Blessings to you and your family and friends on your life's journey...

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  5. It took a lot of courage to write what you did. Admitting one's frailty is difficult. But it's also the first step towards recovery, or at least, coming to terms with PTSD. PTSD is not the result of a sinful life...or we'd all have it!! We all fall short! PTSD is the result of living through some horrendous experience...something brave soldiers have gone through since the beginnings of war. Only now, we have a name for it and the powers that be see it as a realistic, genuine condition. There is hope! There are people willing to help as you walk through this valley. Utilize what ever resources you can. Your testimony will help others as their hearts are touched by your experience.
    My Pastor is a Marine vet and his favorite scripture is Isaiah 6:8
    Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying:
    “Whom shall I send,
    And who will go for Us?”
    Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.” Thank you for answering that call! Thank you for your service!

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  6. Thanks for all the support and prayers. This happened in 2008. I am really doing well now. I would say that I am thriving because of how war changed me, not despite of how war changed me. It took a long road to get here and I was clearly at rock bottom. If I told you that every set back, as minor forgetting what day of the week it is, or as major as having my MA Thesis rejected in committee (a resolved issue now)that I didn't go down the blame pit and think about taking my own life then I would be lying. The Army's resilience training says keep a good attitude and it will all go away. I think that is untrue. I have had to accept that set backs are just going to be harder for me now. Just because I feel like I want everything to end that doesn't have to effect my actions. Like in Ranger school I still find joy in the storm of my life.

    But these challenges exist in my life because I have survived something terrible. Accepting that there is purpose behind irrevocably horrible events in my life and reconnecting to my own faith are key steps on my path. I am so glad to see others encouraging me with scripture and not using it as an excuse for their own prejudice.

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  7. Inspirational! Thanks so much <3

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  8. Thank you for sharing. My son is a Ranger and I am always looking for ways to support him, even if he isn't showing any signs. Your courage to share your story is a blessing and I'm certain it will help others who are at the same place that you were! We are a faith filled family and I am so sorry to hear that those whom you love would use God's word to support their own ideas and beliefs instead of encourage you in such a time of need...I will take that example and be careful to point my son to Him first and attempt to use the love of Christ to support and heal if it comes to that. Bless you brother! Romans 5:2-5 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

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  9. Thanks Joe, your articles let me know I'm not alone on this mission

    Être prêt

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  10. Être prêt

    We are not along either and we are not the first group to deal with this. We can can be the generation that destroys the stigma that surrounds PTSD. Thanks for the support it is really difficult to process these issues publicly and every supportive comment goes a long way.

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  11. Thanks for your story. My son almost overdosed on ambien he has a lot of memory issues and gets lost between rooms. it was either accidental or un intentional I saw it as a wake up call- we have to monitor his meds as he is unable to do some simple things for himself he gets lost and repeats behaviors. but in some other areas he appears fine. I especially was touched by the statements that his unit was sending him off to the glue factory. That is how we feel. That is how my son thinks about the military. My son was used up and discarded. His battle buddies died and for what? He was sent out with no care plan. This kid was blown up 4 times, he saw and engaged the enemy on a daily basis, he held his dying screaming buddies, he tried to carry the dying and dead to med vac. He picked up body parts. He speaks of how in the movies people die right away, and how that is just stupid. He tells how he had to witness the slow death throws of other battle buddies and the enemy, and he says he had to burn a lot of uniforms as there was so much blood it never could wash out. Some of the gear he came home with still had a little caked blood on it. He watched as unspeakable things occurred. Followed direct orders to do the unthinkable. all this has destroyed his faith. He asks is he evil? and "god hates me" He thinks the brain injury is punishment for having to kill the enemy, Or not save his buddies. He feels guilty because his buddies died and he lived. He has real brain trauma on top of battle stress. His friends are all offing themselves. If he HAD NOT COME HOME HE WOULD BE DEAD. It is a real miracle he was able to drive across the country non stop and not crash. I believe he did it as a last ditch effort in an attempt to save his own life.
    Thus I made the command decision not call the 911 system as they have not been at all helpful in the past. I have a lot of medical training. I know that if I had I would have lost him forever. I would have broken trust I am building one tiny pebble at a time.I see that no healing will occur unless I fight and fight and fight for care. We need care now not in months and months the VA has to offer.
    I am all alone in my search to find real care for him. He wont talk to other veterans as the ones he has met go on and on about their war stories ( they only served on big FOBs) he has a great distaste for people who were not there but tell stories anyway. He needs other CONBAT veterans who actually saw combat ones that have found the way to live with all the memories. not the recently discharged ones. he is afraid he will become one those and quit trying to cope- he needs hope and a plan to live with this for the rest of his life. He asks me how to get rid of the memories that wont go away no matter how hard he tries.
    We are not stupid people. We are tired of disinterested medical persons who just want to go the drug route. He is just a number to them and they do the same thing over and over handing out drugs until the veteran is an addict. Addiction they know how to treat- just lock em up!.
    He is a whole person. He is an individual and he is worth investing in. However the system is broken. "Band-aids for broken limbs" approach just does nothing to fix the problem.
    Drugs are dangerous, the side effects do not out weigh the minimal benefits. What is needed is retraining. Physical pt and cognitive ot.

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