A few days ago I wrote a little about PTSD and the VA and the animals in government too cowardly to serve but able to steal high enough offices to happily cause harm to the vets living every day in the darkness of PTSD. I received some good feedback from that through emails and Twitter and Facebook (but oddly no comments). One person even asked, in a very kind way, what my days were like living with memories that never go away. I lay awake for the longest time last night thinking about how to, or even if I should, answer that. I’ve decided that an attempt at explanation might, just might, offer some insight to those who haven’t the slightest idea what PTSD is and maybe a tiny solace to those who also live a life that is just day to day. I don’t look for your sympathy unless you express it by doing everything in your power to stop any other human being from experiencing these horrors or, at the very least, offer a hug and a hand to anyone you know or meet who sees the world through sights and sounds and tastes that no human being should ever live with. You’d be surprised what a small kindness means to us.
For over 40 years I have awakened every single morning with one constant thought, “Today would be as good a day as any to quit trying.” Every morning is a struggle just to get out of bed, to get showered and dressed, to maybe go to work if you have a job or to return to the streets if you don’t. You look at the people going about their lives and you wonder what it must be like to feel “normal” again.
As for me, drugs and alcohol were my saviors. For most, those are their ways out. The moment I returned to “The World” I discovered the ease with which I could acquire just about any drug I could imagine and quantities of alcohol on nearly every street corner. I took every combination of drugs and alcohol I could get my hands on but failed every time at sliding away from these chains.
I learned very, very quickly that I frightened people. Someone once told me I never looked at them, I looked through them and they were afraid of what I might be seeing. Those of us who survived gave that look a name, we called it the “Thousand Mile Stare”. When our eyes unfocused like that, we were many miles away and many lifetimes ago remembering things we were desperate to forget but that waited, just out of our line of sight, waiting for us to relax for one second so that the memory could erupt again into our consciousness and break our hearts one more time. So I took drugs to dull the mind and alcohol to black out completely for a few hours. Now they call those acts “self-medicating”. We called them the only times we felt human. I learned that people were more comfortable with me when I was stoned.
I also learned that no one, not my family, not my friends, not the VA, not the occasional girl I took to bed, wanted to hear anything about what I saw or what I did in Vietnam. Any time the memories became overwhelming and I started relating a story I could see the people around me moving away both physically and mentally. Those times I most needed someone to listen was always the times that everyone wanted to gain a distance from me.
So I learned to swallow those memories. Instead, I took to doing stupid, dangerous things. I would get falling down drunk and then start fights with anyone in any bar I could find, often two or more at a time. I was big, I was strong, I had killed with my hands but the point was to be beaten, the point was maybe one of those punches or chairs or bats would clear my memory and I could start fresh. They didn’t. They just hurt like hell for the next few days. Then the memories came back and I went in search of more bars. I hitchhiked all over the country trying to outrun the noises in my head. I spent a good amount of time in jail for everything from vagrancy to simple assault (jails and Sheriffs in the South were animals back then).
I eventually decided to try to get some order in my life. In my travels I ended up in Portland, Oregon where a social worker found me wandering the streets late at night and took me first to a soup kitchen for breakfast and then to the VA Hospital for mental health treatment. That “treatment” lasted less than ten minutes and consisted of me saying maybe five sentences and then him pushing back in his chair and telling me that the VA was not equipped to deal with people like me who “whined” so much and to just “get it together”, rose, opened the door and looked at me until I saw that it was time for me to leave.
So, I found another alcoholic as my girlfriend in Oregon, went to college and got an AA in Auto Technology, discovered I wasn’t nearly as retarded as my family had made me feel and moved to Hawaii to work as a mechanic. I found the greatest weed on the planet there and made constant use of it. I even found that I was pretty good as a mechanic and that, once my alcoholic girlfriend brought home one too many of her “male friends” from the bars, I discovered that there was many square miles where I could park my van and live and just go to town to work when I needed. The solitude was wonderful but everywhere I went I knew that I was seen as “different” because so many went out of their way to tell me that.
Once, a very kind hearted Korean War vet I met at a bar told me that there was one guy in town that acted as the VA’s mental health guy for the entire island and that I should go see him. I went there only to find this maybe 22 year old kid sitting in a small, barren office behind a desk that was older than both of us put together. He offered me a chair but I stayed standing and asked him what branch of the service he had served in. His reply” “Oh, I never had to serve. I kept getting deferments all through college and then quit college when they called off the draft. I just do this part-time while I pay of my student loans. But sit down. I’ve learned enough that I know exactly how you feel.” I reached across the desk, grabbed his scrawny neck in both hands, saw what I was doing and left.
That was about 1978. I was a very ancient 30 year old by then. Fast forward to today and we speed past four failed marriages, one successful, sweet and loving but very learning disabled son, 28 years working for the LADWPas a hydro power plant operator and I have spent every single day at least once wondering why I’m still here.
Now, I’m retired, which makes it all that much harder since I have every day alone within these walls and every night and every morning to try again and again to seek just one thing that can truly make me happy. I wake up very often, or at least it feels like I wake up, and I see the faces of the children that died directly because of me or, these days, glory be to the god of the military and politicians and the wealthy, the faces of those little brown children we so gleefully murder day after day after day as we steal their nation’s oil or pretend that murdering them will somehow prevent our government from either producing another wealth-backed attack on our citizens or to be in a position to drop our own WMDs onto Iran once FOX NEWS and the Republicans and the oil companies can get around to convincing the stunningly stupid American population that we need to attack Iran. Of course, the truth will be to steal their oil but the lies will be endless and repeated over and over by very, very stupid people who look good on camera but couldn’t find Iran on a map if their lives depended on it (and their lives won’t depend on it, naturally, because their owners will keep them safe and sound while your children are sent to die quickly or to want to die for decades). It has been pointed out by people vastly more intelligent than I am that, even if Osama bin Laden were guilty of any part of 9/11, he killed less than 3000 Americans. Americans have killed millions of Iraqis and Afghans and now Lybians and Somalians and the list will just keep growing as long as there is oil to steal and wealth to be made from the death of your children and the children of those the wealthy deem irrelevant.
I’m 62 so no matter what I do I’ll be dead soon. I don’t believe in heaven or hell or reincarnation or any of those childish constructs created to give the poor hope and the wealthy power. When I die I believe that the little synapses within my brain that produce those electrical impulses we call thoughts will simply stop and that is the end of all things that are me. But you and your children and their children will remain and you, and only YOU, will be responsible for your acts. Will you sit in front of the TV and drool and pretend that the lies that they tell you over and over are to be believed or will you get off your ass and go out and demand an end to war, an end to aggression, an end forever to PTSD? That’s your choice. I can’t make it for you. But if you decide that it is easier to believe lies than to uncover the truth for yourself then the hell with you. I only have pity for the broken, not the stupid.