Those who are new to what I write on this site may not know a lot about me, nor my struggles with PTSD, Moral Injury, depression and anxiety.
The past week I have been writing about my support of LBGT rights and planned on dealing with some other social issues leading up to the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday next week.
But that was before the attack on Charlie Hebdo. That attack triggered some very unpleasant memories from Iraq and before, and since that attack I have had very little sleep. I actually dread the night.
As a historian and chronicler of the Battle of Gettysburg ands the men who fought there I find many connections with those men and what they wrote. One of them, Major General Gouverneur Warren wrote his wife after the war was over:
“I wish I did not dream that much. They make me sometimes dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish to never experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.”
I feel that kind of angst, and those terrible feelings about the Iraq War, so well said by Warren, come back to the fore in January and February. For me these two months are normally the most difficult of the year as they mark my transition and return back to the United States from Iraq and since my new therapist is walking me through them again and I am in a sense reliving that trauma. It is like having the scar over a deep and unhealed wound ripped away.
January is also the anniversary of the suicide of Captain Tom Sitsch, my last Commodore at EOD Group Two. He was one of the first people to ask me where I as a chaplain would go to to get help for PTSD. Sadly, this man, a true hero died by his own hand just over a year ago suffering from so many after effects of PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury.
Ever since returning from Iraq in February 2008 I have had a terrible time coping during those months. The reality of PTSD, Moral Injury and possibly Traumatic Brain Injury, which I will be evaluated for in the coming weeks, make sleep nearly impossible. Nightmares, terrors and anxiety are the norm for me and I can completely understand what Guy Sager, who wrote the book The Forgotten Soldier wrote:
“Only happy people have nightmares, from overeating. For those who live a nightmare reality, sleep is a black hole, lost in time, like death.”
So when there is a trigger event like the Charlie Hebdo attack, things get that much worse.
This year was really no different than any since 2008, even before the attack on Charlie Hebdo, I was already struggling but all the thoughts, feelings and memories from Iraq have flooded and often overloaded my senses since the Charlie Hebdo attack. What I felt in Iraq came back full force last week as I read about the massacre of the cartoonists and writers of Charlie Hebdo. I have not had a good night sleep since that attack. I talked with this in depth with my therapist today and that discussion brought back other memories.
When I read about the slaughter of the Charlie Hebdo staff in their offices brought back strong memories of an encounter in a remote border post in Iraq in 2007 where I was the only unarmed person in a meeting where everyone had their finger on the trigger of their weapon and even the Iraqi commander did not know who was loyal. We all knew that things could go bad very quickly and the memories of that event are deeply etched in my memory. I have written about it before, but I might need to again.
Thinking of the men and women murdered in Paris my thoughts went to that room at Al Waleed in late August or early September 2007. What happened to them, to be gunned down in a place where there was no help and no escape reminded me of what well could have happened at Al Waleed in 2007.
Aftermath of the Frankfurt PX Bombing and Frankfurt Airport Bombing in 1985
The memories buried in my subconscious have connected with other memories, about narrowly avoiding terrorist attacks by the Red Brigades and Baader Meinhof Gang in Germany at the Frankfurt PX and Airport in 1985. I fear going through the gates of military installations and breathe a sigh of relief when I get through without a bomb, improvised explosive device or other terrorist attack. I feel terribly vulnerable and I am very scared about going to places that are soft targets, especially the Main Navy Exchange at Norfolk which is off base. In such places my head is constantly “on a swivel” as we say in the military. A am hyper-vigelent and pretty likely to stay that way so long as I do not feel safe.
So anyway, I need to stop for the night. I found out that former Negro League player, and member of the Negro League Hall of Fame, Carl Long who I knew well from my time in North Carolina passed away today. He was an amazing man and I will write about him tomorrow.
Likewise, I will write more about my struggle soon because I know there are other veterans who like me, dread the night.