Category Archives: PTSD

Articles dealing with my own struggle with PTSD and that of others

No Joy in Mudville: Our Mighty Minnie is Gone

 


Minnie and Me on a Mission from God

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

John Grogan wrote:

“Such short little lives our pets have to spend with us, and they spend most of it waiting for us to come home each day. It is amazing how much love and laughter they bring into our lives and even how much closer we become with each other because of them.“

I find it is amazing how true that is. We have been blessed by some of the most amazing dogs who have each occupied our lives in fascinating ways. They have been lovers, consolers, jokers, and defenders. All had or with our two remaining Papillons, Izzy Bella, and Pierre, have carved out distinct places in our canine-human pack. I live to come home and see them jumping up and down, barking and waging because I am home. In fact they start looking for me even before I get home because they know the routine.

We have been owned by six dogs in our marriage, each with a distinct personality and place in our pack, beginning with our German Wire Haired Dachshund and Dowager Queen Frieda. Frieda could be sweet, but she was cunning and had an attitude. We loved her but it was kind of like Stockholm Syndrome because while Frieda loved us, she was her own dog, and we were the bumbling help. If you have ever had a difficult and headstrong Dachshund, imagine that pup being a 28 pound German standard size one, bred as a hunting dog, with not an ounce of fat on her, big boned, lots of muscles, teeth like that of an Alsatian, and jaws that could lock down. She was incredibly smart and devious, and we referred to her as the Queen. That being said she was incredibly gentle to children and old ladies. Judy and Frieda had an almost psychic bond, it was like Frieda was always inside Judy’s head. We lost her in early 2001 at the age of 16 1/2 years, and three days. She shared Judy’s birthday. When Frieda died I was deployed to Okinawa, mainland Japan, and Korea. Judy did her best to keep her alive for my return but it didn’t work out. When she died, Judy recalled that it was like her mind was alone. However, Frieda never really left our lives, we both had paranormal encounters with her, and sometimes I catch out of the corner of my eye a Frieda sized shadow figure. Go figure.

We got our second pup, also a dachshund but a smooth hair red dachshund designed to American, not German specifications. We named her Greta, and she was sweet, but a thief and chow hound. She was mommy’s girl, completely codependent and attached to Judy. She was sweet, and when she saw little girls when we walked her she would roll over to get her belly rubbed. She was smart, sweet, but somewhat dour in personality, but she could be funny without meaning to be. When we got her Frieda retired from watch dog and patrol duties and handed them off the Greta. Frieda was like someone who retired from the military at 20 years and lived to be 120, collecting retirement and demanding her due. We lost Greta on June 22nd 2003 to cancer, 17 years to the day before we lost Minnie.

Six months after we lost Frieda, we got Molly. Molly was a rescue found of North Carolina Highway 24 in Carteret County. When found she was covered in tar as the highway was being widened and repaved. Judy met the lady and Molly at our vets office and since Judy thought Molly was a dachshund told the lady that we had a lot of experience with dachshunds and to call us if she needed advice. We it turned out that Molly, who was estimated by the vet to be about six months old was too much for this lady’s old dog which suffered from hip problems. She asked if we would consider taking her and I said why not. However, Molly wasn’t fully dachshund, she was a dachshund-papillon mix. She had the long dachshund body, slightly longer legs, the beautiful long fur coat of a long rich red hair.her body was that of a dachshund but her legs, ears and tail didn’t look at all like a dachshund. Being a mix she was fascinating, one day she could be the cheerful Papillon, and the next the “what the hell do you want Dachshund.” But she was smart, somewhat devious and mischievous, but always good for a long snuggle and kiss fest. She was a daddy’s girl, but Judy’s protector during a period where I was deployed or away from home more often than not. In late 2010 I was assigned to the Naval Hospital at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina and I rented an apartment under a beach house on Emerald Isle. While there Judy and Molly would occasionally visit, but in early 2012 Judy had to have an Achilles’ tendon resection surgery. Since our home in Virginia is nothing but stairs, we decided that she should do her first month of recuperating with me, because my apartment was ground level and had nary a step to be found. Molly came down and during that month, decided that regardless of what mommy was doing that she was going to stay. On Emerald Isle she could chase deer, squirrels, foxes, and go for walks on the beach. She also had a daddy who would take her for rides which usually ended up with her being rewarded with a Molly Burger from either Hardee’s of McDonald’s. However, not long before I was reassigned back to the Hampton Roads area in late 2013, Molly went blind from a  genetic disorder. One day she was snapping Dragonflies out of the air, and the next she was running into things. But, she adapted to blindness marvelously. We bought her a visor to protect her eyes and she used it like a blind man’s cane, tapping her way through the house without missing a beat. However in early 2014 she developed Kidney Disease and died in May 2015, just over the age of 14. It was a good thing that Molly came to live with me, because in those years I was so wracked with PTSD that had she not been waiting for me that I could have easily driven my car into a tree and ended my life. Molly saved my life more than once.

However, because we loved the Papillon side of her personality, and because if she stayed with me Judy would be alone, I decided to look for  Papillon puppy, and I found Minnie. When the breeder sent me the picture of a very tiny yet confident and cocky puppy, I knew that she was the one. Judy named her Minnie Scule because fro what she read she didn’t expect Minnie to get over 7-8 pounds. When we got Minnie she was just 2.4 pounds with tiny little legs and a somewhat oval body. Judy nicknamed her the piglet. However, Minnie took to sitting on Judy’s shoulders like a parrot would do with a Pirate. But Minnie kept growing and at one point she was all ears, legs, and tail, a gangly puppy. But then she started to fill out and for most of her life weighed between 13-15 pounds. She had a huge personality. She talked like Scooby Doo, and was demanding like a Frieda, but much sweeter about it and without Frieda’s armament. I encouraged her worst habits. She was a thief, could be defiant, and was not always obedient unless food was involved. But above all she was mommy’s girl, not that she didn’t like spending time with daddy who would walk her around the lake in our neighborhood and let her chase ducks and geese, and as any good spaniel would do, jumped into the lake in pursuit. But Judy was always first in her heart, she was her shadow and constant companion.

Monday, was sad day in our household, Judy and I lost our Minnie Scule to Kidney failure and probable sepsis this evening. Over the past few months she has been battling it, but over the past couple of weeks she would have good days and bad, some days she would eat and other times not, and and her weight went down from about 14 1/2 pounds to by today less than ten.

But it was last week when things started to get really bad. She stopped eating and no matter what we tried we couldn’t get her to eat. So we began to make daily visits to the vet where we would drop her off for tests, IVs, medication, and really everything the vet could try to attempt to reverse the course of the disease and to try to get her to rally. On Saturday it seemed like she might be rallying but Sunday morning she was worse. While at home we did everything the vet had us do and more, but even had she staged a rally, she might have just lived another couple of weeks or months.

Last night was weird. She usually sleeps next to Judy or between her legs. About 3 AM Judy got me up because Minnie wasn’t on the bed. We looked everywhere and couldn’t find her and she wouldn’t respond to us. I finally found her curled in some clothes in a pull out bin on my side of the bed. I have heard the stories of dogs who knew it was time to die by leaving home and going into the woods, but since she couldn’t get out and was really too week to go anywhere else in the house she went to that spot. I got her back in the bed, and we both petted her for a long time and told her how much that we loved her.

Today we took her in for a last ditch effort, but I could tell that her breathing was labored and heartbeat too fast, and she was pretty much skin, fur, and bones. Not long after I got out of my latest set of knee injections at the Naval Medical Center I got a call from the vet who has been seeing her since she was a 2.4 pound puppy. He was not hopeful at all but gave us some options which included taking her to a 24 hour emergency veterinary hospital where she could receive round the clock care, but I didn’t expect that to do anymore and asked if at the end of the day we could take her home and see how she did. He was agreeable to that and agreed to meet us in the morning as he had to leave early, leaving her in the care of another very good and experienced vet who we also really like. About 4 PM, the other doctor called and said that she had gotten significantly worse. So we made the decision that it was time. We got to be with her and the doctor who had been hers since the beginning came back to the office to be with us.

Minnie was on Judy’s lap, completely limp, With no energy at all, and her breathing worse than in the morning. She lay completely limp in Judy’s arms as we petted and talked to her, then mustering whatever strength she had left she shifted her body in order to be in a place where she could see both of us, and then collapsed again in Judy’s arms. She Expended her last ounce of strength to see us. She knew that it was time. She was so weak that the injection took just seconds to put her out of her suffering. She died in Judy’s arms with me beside her. Despite, that her face looked calm, and she never lost her beauty. It was hard to believe that she was gone.

We had dinner and Judy went to bed with Izzy going up to be with her while Pierre, the daddy’s boy that he is came downstairs with me as I tried to answer the hundreds of condolences and heartfelt messages that we received in less than a couple of hours. They were all heartfelt and genuine. I could just barely reply to a few because I was just trying to hold the tears back. So I went through my email I had a really kind message from Mikey Weinstein, head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. When I read it I burst out crying. It was one of the kindest, most considerate notes on a personal loss I have ever received from anyone. He found out through a mutual long time friend that Minnie had died, and his words had the depth our soul, character, and spirituality that are lacking in so many Christian churches and other religious organizations.

Mikey is a friend, and his organization defended me when one of my retired parishioners at my old chapel attempted to have me tried by Court Martial for a sermon that I preached, in which he made bold faced lies about what I said. But the command conducted an investigation and I lawyered up with the best, the MRFF. The attorney handled the investigation well, and the investigating officer interviewed over half of the congregation present that day. None corroborated the lies of my accuser and the investigation was dropped. What was interesting was that one of the questions asked was how each parishioner viewed me. Active duty personnel, a tiny minority in the congregation had no problems with what I preached on that day, and regardless of their race they defended me to a person. The retiree population was another matter. Blacks viewed me and my preaching favorably, one even saying that my words that day “sounded like the voice of God.” But the Whites, though not backing the accuser, all said that they thought that I “was too liberal to preach in a military setting.”

I found that perplexing because when I preach I use the texts from the lectionary and apply basic Catholic theology and social teaching to them and couple them to what is known as the Anglican triad, of Scripture, Church Tradition, and Reason. Then I preach a sermon firmly grounded in these. As well as history, since I also happen to be a historian, but I digress. The point is, that Mikey came to my aid when most Christians, including some members of the Chaplain Corps would have thrown me under the bus. I respect him, and I love him.

His note meant so much, not that the other expressions from so many others mean anything less, because I appreciated all of them, and as I said I was fighting back the tears when I read them.

Mikey noted something else in his reply to my reply on his first email. He noted how much his dogs were like family, and that they tended to be better friends and more loyal than most people. I have to agree with that. Others, going back to the Greek philosophers have said much the same thing.

Charles Darwin noted: “Man himself cannot express love and humility by external signs, so plainly as does a dog, when with drooping ears, hanging lips, flexuous body, and wagging tail, he meets his beloved master.“

When I think of Minnie, and our other pups, I think of that. She was a joy, I shall never forget her and I will always miss her. If I get to heaven, I know that she will be waiting for me, with Molly, and maybe Frieda and Greta, and providing that if I outlive them, certainly Izzy and Pierre.

Until whenever,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under dogs, faith, life, Loose thoughts and musings, papillons, PTSD

Sleep is a Unicorn: The Worst Thing is to Try to Sleep and Not To

Pearls Before Swine Comic Strip for August 07, 2017

Pearls Before Swine (c) Stephan Pastis

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote: “The worst thing in the world is to try to sleep and not to.” I have lived

Ever since I got back from Iraq in February 2008 the night has been a time of time of terror. Insomnia, nightmares, night terrors, and dreams that were so bad that I often found myself attacking imaginary images, and more than once threw myself out of bed in the middle of them, on more than one occasion had to go to the emergency room to treat physical injuries from these festivities of anxiety and terror. A lot of time I would avoid going to bed until I was falling asleep.  Back then I could agree with Dr. Seuss who wrote: “Sleep is like the unicorn – it is rumored to exist, but I doubt I will see any.” 

Being career officer and having spent time in the badlands of Iraq I have related to military veterans from previous wars who suffered from insomnia and nightmares. Guy Sajer wrote in his book The Forgotten Soldier, “Only happy people have nightmares, from overeating. For those who live a nightmare reality, sleep is a black hole, lost in time, like death.” United States Army General Gouverneur Warren, a hero of many Civil War battles including Gettysburg wrote to his wife after the war “I wish I did not dream so much. They make me sometimes to dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish never to experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.”

However, things did get a bit better once I was treated for sleep apnea and one of my sleep doctors began treating me for REM sleep disorder and nightmare syndrome. Medications were adjusted, but even so  good sleep was still at a premium but the nightmares and night terrors continued.

Judy who suffers from Childhood PTSD due to being beaten by an older sibling on a regular basis and also suffers. Nightmares and anxiety at night decided to try a weighted blanket, which are advertised to calm nighttime anxiety, and all the body to release serotonin to allow better and calmer sleep. She could not get over how it improved her sleep and let me try hers. I could not believe the difference, so she ordered a second one for me. I have now had about 5 nights of good sleep. My dreams are becoming less nightmarish, and I feel rested rather than exhausted when I get up in the morning. As W.C. Fields said: “Sleep! The most beautiful experience in life. Except drink.” 

Pearls Before Swine (c) Stephan Pastis 

I honestly don’t know who they work, but I don’t need to understand in order to know that for me, and Judy that sleep is getting better, and like Pig in Pearls Before Swine I now find bed to be a place of comparative safety.

So thanks to Judy who insisted that I, the consummate skeptic, try her weighted blanket, I am now sleeping better than I have for well over a decade. This doesn’t mean that I will not have nights where  my PTSD demons return, but I think they will become fewer, and hopefully less intense. As James Spader playing Raymond Reddington on the Blacklist told an agent going through a traumatic event:

“There is nothing that can take the pain away. But eventually, you will find a way to live with it. There will be nightmares. And every day when you wake up, it will be the first thing you think about. Until one day, it’s the second.”

I find that oddly comforting, and hopefully using this weighted blanket those nightmares and that pain will go away, until it is no longer at the first or even the second thing that comes to mind when I go to sleep and wake up. I am glad that Judy pushed me into trying it, I am also glad that I am finally beginning to really take her advice seriously.

So if you suffer similar sleep issues to us, you might want to think about trying one of these out.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

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Filed under iraq, life, mental health, PTSD, Sleep and Insomnia

“How Hollow is the Sound of Victory without Someone to Share it with? Honor Gives Little Comfort to a Man Alone in his Home… and in his heart.” Thoughts on Valentine’s Day from a Klingon Perspective

 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Well it is Valentine’s Day and I think that it completely appropriate to talk about love. Now I know that this particular day brings up a lot of good as well as bad memories. If someone is in the middle of a divorce, break up, or just simply is alone it can be a painful experience. On the other hand if you have discovered love, are in love, or even hopelessly infatuated by someone despite the reality that you might be rejected by them it can be a special, and maybe even an expensive day.

However, some of us get lucky and Cupid, the flying naked kid armed with a bow and arrow, shoots us in the ass one day and we discover that one true love. That happened to me in September of 1978 when I met Judy. I fell in love with her that night, but it took a while to develop. We are coming up on our 37th marriage anniversary this June, 6 days after my projected retirement ceremony, which is exactly 37 years after I was commissioned as an Army Second Lieutenant on June 19th 1983. My career in the military, in the Army and Navy has been difficult on her, especially after I came home from various deployments and combat deployments. Though I am now, and have been a chaplain since 1992, I have always been a warrior and soldier at heart, even when unarmed on combat deployments and getting shot at. Thus I find that I am very much attracted to the Klingons in Star Trek the Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, because it is in those series we discover just how complex Klingon culture, traditions, and religious beliefs are. Thankfully for me Judy shares my love of Star Trek, especially DS9. 

So I was thinking about what to do for her this Valentine’s Day as for much of my life I have been pretty lousy at giving her the attention and honor she is due, especially things like Valentine’s Day, birthdays and anniversaries. No doubt, though a faithful husband, I pretty much have been at the Mendoza Line when it comes to romance. Part of this is because of the fact that for close to half of our marriage I have been away from home, and came back pretty messed up from war.

When I was going through my Clinical Pastoral Education Residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas following Seminary, that my CPE Supervisor, Steve Ivy was able to connect my compartmentalization of my emotions with Lieutenant Worf, the Klingon Security Officer of the Enterprise in Star Trek the Next Generation played by Michael Dorn, who reprised the role in Star Trek Deep Space Nine. For me that was an eye opening experience. Though I was by that time an ordained minister, and two years later a Priest, I was always a warrior at heart, wanting, desiring, and volunteering time and time again for dangerous assignments. My first 17 1/2 years in the military were in the Army National Guard, active Duty Army, and Army Reserve, and even though I was mobilized to support Operation Joint Endeavor, the Bosnia Peace Enforcement mission, but in a purely support role. I was not until I entered the Navy, taking off my rank as a Major in the Army Reserve to return to active duty as a Navy Lieutenant in February 1999, and the attacks of 9/11/2001 that I got my chance for action at sea in 2002 in Operation Enduring Freedom and the UN Oil Embargo on Iraq in 2002, where I served as an “advisor” to a boarding team, numerous trips to Marine Security Forces in the Middle East from 2003 to 2006, and service in Iraq from 2007 to 2008 with the Advisors of the Iraq Assistance Group in Al Anbar Province, from the Syrian Border to Fallujah and about everywhere in between. It was an amazing combat tour, mostly outside the big bases, working with small teams of American advisors and Iraqi Army, Police, and Border forces. It was the best and most rewarding of tours of my career, but I came back changed. Since I have written about those experiences many times, I won’t go into details, but if I could have remained in Iraq supporting the advisors I would have stayed on indefinitely, and would have gone back given the chance. I left a lot of my soul in Iraq and I pray for the Iraqis, soldiers and civilians alike, who befriended me as the man they called the American Imam. But I digress…

But back to the Klingons, love, marriage, and Valentine’s Day. In one of the early Next Generation episodes Lieutenant Worf is asked by young Wesley Crusher what Klingon courtship is like. Worf replied:

I will sing Klingon love poems while she throws furniture. I duck a lot.

So today I posted a quote from DS9 on my Facebook timeline this morning while waiting at the Medical Center pharmacy. It was from an episode titled Looking for par’Mach in All the Wrong Places where the Ferengi Bartender, Quark ends up helping his Klingon ex-wife Grilka to deal with the financial situation of her House, which he helped her to gain following the death of her husband. Quark is forced to do battle with Grilka’s bodyguard who cannot abide a Ferengi being part of her house. The bodyguard issues a challenge which Quark could never match without help, which Worf and Jadzia Dax give him, but there is a technical glitch and to stall for time Quark issues a supposed Ferengi tradition, which he invented on the spot, The Right of Proclamation, a speech about his love for Grilka:

To this end my blade soars through the
aquarium of my soul seeking the
kelp of discontent which must be cut so that the
rocky bottom of love lies in waiting, with fertile
sand of the coming seed of Grilka’s
affection.
And yet, does this explain my need for her? No. It is like
oh, a giant cave of emptiness waiting for
the bats of love to hang by –

Judy responded by telling people that she would look at my medication list and look for side effects, and that people could direct message her. It was a perfect riposte.

But Quark’s words are those are the words of a Ferengi, not a Klingon, though Quark gave it his best. As Worf gets ready to marry Jadzia, she has to be approved by the matriarch of the House of Martok, and she makes Jadzia’s life hell.

But Martok encourages Worf, saying:

We are not accorded the luxury of choosing the women we fall in love with. Do you think Sirella is anything like the woman I thought that I’d marry? She is a prideful, arrogant, mercurial woman who shares my bed far too infrequently for my taste. And yet… I love her deeply. We Klingons often tout our prowess in battle, our desire for glory and honor above all else… but how hollow is the sound of victory without someone to share it with? Honor gives little comfort to a man alone in his home… and in his heart.” 

When Jadzia successfully passes the tests of Martok’s wife Sirella, the traditional Klingon wedding takes place in Quark’s bar on DS9. The traditional Klingon marriage includes the Klingon creation story, which is enacted by the bride and groom. It certainly is not a Christian understanding of creation, but it does encapsulate the depth of love between two people:

With fire and steel did the gods forge the Klingon heart. So fiercely did it beat, so loud was the sound, that the gods cried out, ‘On this day we have brought forth the strongest heart in all the heavens. None can stand before it without trembling at its strength.’ But then the Klingon heart weakened, its steady rhythm faltered and the gods said, ‘Why have you weakened so? We have made you the strongest in all of creation. And the heart said ‘I am alone.’ And the gods knew that they had erred. So they went back to their forge and brought forth another heart. But the second heart beat stronger than the first, and the first was jealous of its power. Fortunately, the second heart was tempered by wisdom. ‘ If we join together, no force can stop us.’ And when the two hearts began to beat together, they filled the heavens with a terrible sound. For the first time, the gods knew fear. They tried to flee, but it was too late. The Klingon hearts destroyed the gods who created them and turned the heavens to ashes. To this very day, no one can oppose the beating of two Klingon hearts… 
After either courting each other or being married for over forty years I think that Judy and I are a lot like Klingons. I am the proud, yet damaged warrior, she is the proud and faithful wife, and after all these years our hearts beat together.

This may not make a lot of sense to some readers, unless you are true Star Trek nerds, not that there is anything wrong with that.

The thing is that for all its commercialization, and despite the pain that often accompanies love, that Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love between two people, when their hearts beat together. One of my office mates lost his wife of 38 years two and a half years ago. If someone had not told me that he was a widower, it would be hard to guess it. When we talk about life, music, television, life, and family, he speaks of her in such a way that I know that his love for her did not die when she did. Their hearts still beat as one, and I love that, I wish I had actually met her. But, he has his son and other relatives in the local area and still lives a rich life, he is happy, and is still in love with her.

I hope and pray that everyone gets to experience that kind of undying love.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under iraq, life, marriage and relationships, Military, PTSD, star trek, televsion, Tour in Iraq, us army, US Navy, War on Terrorism

A Veteran’s Day Postscript: Belonging to a Different World

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I wrote about Armistice Day and Veteran’s Day but I decided to write a postscript to it today. I write this specifically as a combat veteran who more than a decade after my return still deal with the effects of war, PTSD, TBI, sleep disorders, nightmares and night terrors, bad knees, ankles, shoulders, tinnitus, inability to understand speech, and a bunch of other stuff. I know many more who deal with what I do and worse. At least I am no longer suicidal, though I do experience periodic bouts of depression, panic attacks, and anxiety.

For me it began in February 2008 when on the way back from Iraq the military charter aircraft bringing us home stopped in Ramstein Germany. After a few hour layover we re-boarded the aircraft but we were no longer alone, the rest of the aircraft had been filled with the families of soldiers and airmen stationed in Germany. Just days before most of us had been in Iraq or Afghanistan. The cries of children and the intrusion of these people, not bad people by any means on our return flight was shocking, it was like returning to a world that I no longer knew.

I think that coming home from war, especially for those damaged in some way, in mind, body or spirit is harder than being at war.

In that thought I am not alone. Erich Maria Remarque in his classic novel All Quiet on the Western Front wrote:

“I imagined leave would be different from this. Indeed, it was different a year ago. It is I of course that have changed in the interval. There lies a gulf between that time and today. At that time I still knew nothing about the war, we had been only in quiet sectors. But now I see that I have been crushed without knowing it. I find I do not belong here any more, it is a foreign world.”

Likewise, Guy Sajer a French-German from the Alsace and veteran of the Grossdeutschland Division on the Eastern Front in World War II noted at the end of his book The Forgotten Soldier: 

“In the train, rolling through the sunny French countryside, my head knocked against the wooden back of the seat. Other people, who seemed to belong to a different world, were laughing. I couldn’t laugh and couldn’t forget.”

I have been reminded of this several times in the past week. It began walking through a crowded Navy commissary on Saturday, in the few minutes in the store my anxiety level went up significantly. On Tuesday I learned of the death of Captain Tom Sitsch my last Commodore at EOD Group Two, who died by his own hand. His life had come apart. After a number of deployments to Iraq as the Commander EOD Mobile Unit 3 and of Task Force Troy he was afflicted with PTSD. Between June of 2008 and the end of 2009 he went from commanding an EOD Group to being forced to retire.  Today I had a long talk with a fairly young friend agonizing over continued medical treatments for terminal conditions he contracted in two tours in Iraq where he was awarded the Bronze Star twice.

I have a terrible insomnia, nightmares and night terrors due to PTSD. My memories of Iraq are still strong, and this week these conditions have been much worse. Sager 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.”

Nearly 20 years after returning from war, a survivor of the 1st Battalion 308th Infantry, the “Lost Battalion” of World War One, summed up the experience of so many men who come back from war:

“We just do not have the control we should have. I went through without a visible wound, but have spent many months in hospitals and dollars for medical treatment as a result of those terrible experiences.”

butler-medals1

Two time Medal of Honor winner Major General Smedley Butler toured Veterans hospitals following his retirement from the Marine Corps. He observed the soldiers who had been locked away. In his book War is a Racket:

“But the soldier pays the biggest part of this bill. If you don’t believe this, visit the American cemeteries on the battlefields abroad. Or visit  any of the veterans’ hospitals in the United States….I have visited eighteen government hospitals for veterans. In them are about 50,000 destroyed men- men who were the pick of the nation eighteen years ago. The very able chief surgeon at the government hospital in Milwaukee, where there are 3,800 of the living dead, told me that mortality among veterans is three times as great as among those who stayed home.”

Similarly Remarque wrote in All Quiet on the Western Front:

“A man cannot realize that above such shattered bodies there are still human faces in which life goes its daily round. And this is only one hospital, a single station; there are hundreds of thousands in Germany, hundreds of thousands in France, hundreds of thousands in Russia. How senseless is everything that can ever be written, done, or thought, when such things are possible. It must be all lies and of no account when the culture of a thousand years could not prevent this stream of blood being poured out, these torture chambers in their hundreds of thousands. A hospital alone shows what war is.”

Lt.ColonelCharlesWhiteWhittlesey

Lieutenant Colonel Charles Whittlesey

Sometimes even those who have been awarded our Nation’s highest award for valor succumb to the demons of war that they cannot shake, and never completely adjust to life at “home” which is no longer home. For them it is a different, a foreign world to use the words of Sager and Remarque. Lieutenant Colonel Charles Whittlesey won the Medal Medal of Honor as Commander of 1st Battalion 308th Infantry, the “Lost Battalion” in France. After the war he was different. He gave up his civilian law practice and served as head of the Red Cross in New York. In that role, and as the Colonel for his reserve unit, he spent his time visiting the wounded who were still suffering in hospitals. He also made the effort to attend the funerals of veterans who had died. The continued reminders of the war that he could not come home from left him a different man. He committed suicide on November 21st 1921not long after serving as a pallbearer for the Unknown Soldier when that man was interred at Arlington National Cemetery.

In his eulogy, Judge Charles L. Hibbard noted:

“He is sitting on the piazza of a cottage by the sea on a glorious late September day but a few weeks ago. . . He is looking straight out to sea, with naught but sea between him and that land where lie so many of his boys. The beating surf is but an echo, the warm, bright sunshine, the blue sky, the dancing waves, all combine to charm. But a single look at his face and one knows he is unconscious of this glory of Nature. Somewhere far down in the depths of his being or in imagination far off across the waters he lives again the days that are past. That unconscious look has all the marks of deep sorrow, brooding tragedy, unbearable memories. Weeks pass. The mainspring of life is wound tighter and tighter and then comes the burial of the Unknown Soldier. This draws the last measure of reserve and with it the realization that life had little now to offer. This quiet, reserved personality drew away as it were from its habitation of flesh, thought out the future, measured the coming years and came to a mature decision. You say, ‘He had so much to live for – family, friends, and all that makes life sweet.’ No, my friends, life’s span for him was measured those days in that distant forest. He had plumbed the depth of tragic suffering; he had heard the world’s applause; he had seen and touched the great realities of life; and what remained was of little consequence. He craved rest, peace and sweet forgetfulness. He thought it out quietly, serenely, confidently, minutely. He came to a decision not lightly or unadvisedly, and in the end did what he thought was best, and in the comfort of that thought we too must rest. ‘Wounded in action,’ aye, sorely wounded in heart and soul and now most truly ‘missing in action.’”

Psychologist and professor Dr. Ari Solomon analyzed the case of Colonel Whittlesey and noted:

“If I could interview Whittlesey as a psychologist today, I’d especially have in mind … the sharp discrepancy between the public role he was playing and his hidden agony, his constant re-exposure to reminders of the battle, his possible lack of intimate relations, and his felt need to hide his pain even from family and dearest friends.”

I wish I had the answer. I have some ideas that date back to antiquity in the ways that tribes, clans and city states brought their warriors home. The warriors were recognized, there were public rituals, sometimes religious but other times not. But the difference is that the warriors were welcomed home by a community and re-integrated into it. They were allowed to share their stories, many of which were preserved through oral traditions so long that they eventually were written down, even in a mythologized state.

But we do not do that. Our society is disconnected, distant and often cold. Likewise it is polarized in ways that it has not been since the years before our terrible Civil War. Our warriors return from war, often alone, coming home to families, friends and communities that they no longer know. They are misunderstood because the population at large does not share their experience. The picture painted of them in the media, even when it is sympathetic is often a caricature; distance and the frenetic pace of our society break the camaraderie with the friends that they served alongside. Remarque wrote, “We were all at once terribly alone; and alone we must see it through.”

If we wonder about the suicide epidemic among veterans we have to ask hard questions. Questions like why do so many combat veterans have substance abuse problems and why is it that approximately one in ten prisoners serving time are veterans? It cannot be simply that they are all bad eggs. Many were and are smart, talented, compassionate and brave, tested and tried in ways that our civilian society has no understanding for or clue about. In fact to get in the military most had to be a cut above their peers. We have to ask if we are bringing our veterans home from war in a way that works. Maybe even more importantly we have to ask ourselves if as a culture if we have forgotten how to care about each other. How do we care for the men and women who bear the burden of war, even while the vast majority of the population basks in the freedom and security provided by the soldier without the ability to empathize because they have never shared that experience.

For every Tom Sitsch, Charles Whittlesey or people like my friend, there are countless others suffering in silence as a result of war. We really have to ask hard questions and then decide to do something as individuals, communities and government to do something about it. If we don’t a generation will suffer in silence.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, iraq,afghanistan, leadership, Military, ministry, PTSD, remembering friends, shipmates and veterans, suicide, Tour in Iraq, us army, US Marine Corps, US Navy, world war one

Waiting for First Light at Slaughterhouse Five: PTSD and a Coda to te end of a Military Career


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am checking out of my current command to finish my career attached to Norfolk Naval Shipyard, in Portsmouth Virginia. I am struggling. Not feeling appreciated and feeling like a cast off. This isn’t new, shortly after I was promoted to Commander, the newly appointed Deputy Chief of Chaplains treated me like a potted plant while making her rounds of the Generals and Major Commands. As Kurt Vonnegut noted in Slaughterhouse Five “and so it goes.”  My Problems in the Navy Chaplain Corps began when I went public with my struggles with PTSD. Somehow it seems that Chaplains can care for the wounded and those traumatized by war but if we admit that we are wounded we are expendable.

I read General Romeo Dallaire’s latest book, Waiting for First Light: My Ongoing Struggle with PTSD a couple of years ago. General Dallaire had been the commander of the UN Peacekeepers in Rwanda, men and women who were prevented from stopping genocide, and people who have been forever haunted by what they witnessed.

General Dallaire recounts a story of horror that never ended for him, and he details how difficult and traumatic coming home that neither appreciate nor understood what he had been through, including people in the military. I found so much in his story that was analogous to my own and in light of that I am going to begin writing my PTSD memoir.

It will be hard because I will have to write about things that are deeply traumatic and upsetting, especially how I was received and continue to be received by most of my fellow chaplains. Because I came and publicly discussed my issues with PTSD, the shattering of my faith in so many things, my wilderness experience of being an agnostic for two years, and the change in my faith since then, I experienced the rejection of my former church and many of my peers.

To many of my peers and Chaplain Corps superiors I am simply a broken Chaplain; and broken chaplains or for that matter broken ministers have no place and very few people who they can talk with. I remember my old Commodore at EOD Group Two, the late Captain Tom Sitsch ask me bluntly “Where does a chaplain go for help?”My answer to him was “not to other chaplains.” Sadly, he too was going through his own personal PTSD hell and with his life falling apart he committed suicide in January 2014.

General Dallaire recounts a similar experience, as like Chaplains, Generals and other senior leaders have no place to go, they like us are not supposed to break. General Dallaire wrote: “I received little support from my colleagues and peers; I received only a few messages from my sixty or so fellow generals – a couple of phone calls, and an e-mail from one old friend. The others appeared to be in two camps: those who were too busy to get in touch, and those who didn’t know what to say.” But I would also add, that there are those that do not want to know and others who actually turn their backs on men and women whose injury lies inside their brain, as well as some chaplains and ministers who seem to take a certain perverse joy in inflicting pain.

I still struggle with nightmares, night terrors, insomnia, and hyper-vigilance. After more than a decade I cannot imagine life without them. Like General Dallaire, I still wait for first light.

So pray for me if you do that, if not send some positive thoughts my direction.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under iraq, mental health, Pastoral Care, PTSD, Tour in Iraq, US Navy

Back in the USA

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

We are back in the USA after our two week pilgrimage to Germany. It was good for us, especially for me when I intentionally disconnected from media for several of the days there except to skim the headlines. Today was much like that. We drove from Karlsruhe to Munich, caught our late flight back which was delayed due to weather in Munich and having to go further north to avoid the effects of Hurricane Lorenzo. We got into Washington about 40 minutes late. Our friend David picked us up at the airport and we are resting.

We will head back home to our Papillons tomorrow and begin the process of readjusting to insanity of Trump’s America, preparing to transfer my duties to a new Chaplain as I really enter the preparation to retire from the military and prepare for life as a civilian in the spring.

I will write some of my observations of Germany, Europe and our trip in the coming days. There are problems there too, different but similar in some ways to what we are going through. And I think as I ruminate on them over the next few days I will jot them down here. As I have said before, I believe that we are in one of those epochs of history where the old order is giving way and we go from crisis to crisis, some of which could be disastrous for humanity in general, but especially those who resist totalitarian systems of government. I was looking at my Twitter feed for about 10 minutes before I had to get off it it.

I have now been up over 28 hours, driven about 200 miles and had a ten hour ride in a Lufthansa Airbus 350-900. Before I go to bed I will read my daily comics and another chapter or two of the book That Was Dachau, 1933-1945. 

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Munich Update

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday was our first full day in Munich. We got up relatively early, had breakfast and went to the opening parade and tapping of the Bier at the Oktoberfest. Following that we did some shopping and since Judy had walked and stood three to four times as long as at any time since her first knee replacement surgery we took her back to the hotel.

I then went down to the hotel bar to watch the second half of the Bayern München game against Koln, Bayern won 4-0. Then I went to the Lidl grocery and picked up a few things before going back to the hotel and picking Judy up for dinner at our favorite local Bavarian restaurant, Zum Brunstein, which is always like a visit to home away from home. After a wonderful dinner we went for a nightcap at the hotel bar.

When we went back to our room I thought I was going to watch a German crime drama and post a blog, but jet lag hit and we crashed. We slept late, I had a light breakfast of fruit and coffee, Judy is resting while I make pilgrimage to Dachau and the Concentration Camp Memorial.

I am writing on my iPhone while riding the S-Bahn to Dachau.

When I finish this trip and return to the hotel, our plans are to go back to Theresienwiesn where the Fest is held for beer and a wonderful Bavarian Rotisserie Chicken dinner, before heading back to the hotel. Tomorrow we’ll probably do some shopping and I might make a trip to the Dachau labor sub-camp memorial or the Sophie Scholl museum. I do plan on making those trips, but we are pacing ourselves.

So until the next time, from Munich,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Loose thoughts and musings, travel

Emotional and Physical Recovery from a Traumatic Event

Pearls Before Swine Comic Strip for August 07, 2017

Comic, Pearls Before Swine, (c) 2017 by Stephan Pastis

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

On Thursday afternoon my car was run off the road by an inattentive driver with a very loud exhaust system.

I honestly thought I would be better the next day, but late in the afternoon when Judy took me to get the car, I got in the driver seat and I felt sick to my stomach and was trembling. I got the car home and she drove us to Gordon Biersch where we had a nice night.

I didn’t sleep well, lots of nightmares and I didn’t leave bed, except to let the dogs out until about 1 PM. I knew I had to get a few groceries at Kroger and Wegmans so I made the trip. Until I got to the Kroger parking lot the trip went well. Then it seemed that every old lady was trying to crash by cutting me off or taking up most of a lane. I was doing into panic mode, but took a deep breath, regathered myself and instead of going directly to Wegmans I stopped by Gordon Biersch for a one and done to calm the nerves. Since I no longer take a specific anti anxiety medication, I stopped taking the minimal PRN dosage of Xanax a few years back because I was experiencing less anxiety.

The crash has re-triggered that anxiety, something I will talk to with my shrink on Tuesday and my psychiatric medicine manager Wednesday. But yesterday I needed to calm down. I texted Judy and posted my situation on Facebook. A good friend came over and spent some time with me at the bar. I then did a take out order since Judy told me that. Wegmans could wait.

Judy reminded me of the chemical chain reaction that trauma sends through the body, and how it takes time for that to play out. I am lucky to have her.

This morning we planned to go out to breakfast, but since neither of us were hungry we stayed in bed with the dogs. They have been very comforting, especially my girl Izzy. Judy is about to drive us to Biersch for dinner so we can get out of the house.

Tomorrow I am up really early for fat boy PT, then I have to drive to the Naval Medical Center for aquatic physical therapy and to get my antidepressant refilled  since I have gone without it 5 days and don’t want to crash and get suicidal. Then I will go in to work.

About the cartoon. That is how I have felt all weekend. The cartoon is Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis. This particular cartoon ran in August of 2017. His comics can be accessed at GoComics.com, I hope that since I didn’t ask permission to run it that you will flood his site with hits and buy his books.

So until tomorrow, and hopefully better times,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

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Filed under Loose thoughts and musings, mental health, Military, PTSD

PTSD: Anxiety, Fear, and Things That Lurk on the Road

Friends Of Padre Steve’s World,

Back in August of 1978 when I met and fell hopelessly head over heals in love with my wife Judy, I had no idea how badly she had been damaged by the actions of her parents, siblings, and one particular grandmother. Between physical, emotional violence, neglect, and abuse that continued long after we were married in 1983, she showed herself to be a rock for me over the past couple of days.

On Thursday night I wrote about it thinking that by Friday I would be doing better. I got the car back late Friday afternoon. Judy took me to get it and take it home before driving me out to dinner. This morning I didn’t want to get out of bed. I have had trouble sleeping, but bed feels safe.

That being said I had to go to a grocery store to pick up a few things and see if I could get a refill on my antidepressant. I couldn’t get the refill today because they had to transfer it from the Naval Medical Center. Since I have to go there on Monday anyway, I go without. But I planned on going to another grocery store, a Wegmans, for the very best strawberries, cantaloupe, dark chocolate almond bark, and Paulaner Beer from Munich. But as I was trying to leave Kroger it seamed that every insane old woman in the parking lot was trying to crash into my car. No kidding, there were at least three times in the parking lot that old ladies locked eyes with me and tried to force me into crashes with parked cars by purposely restricting my ability to maneuver. To avoid each, I stopped and yielded.

On the way to Wegmans I stopped by Gordon Biersch for a one and done beer to calm my nerves. I posted my situation on Facebook and let Judy know. A friend came by to check on me. Judy told me to take the time to regather my nerves. I then brought us take out from there on my way home.

I think that it’s important to have someone who understands your anxieties, fears, and weaknesses. I haven’t felt this vulnerable, fearful, and anxious, since my last Commodore at EOD Group Two In 2008, took his life in January 2014. Tomorrow, I plan to take Judy out to breakfast and make the trip to Wegmans I had planned for today. Monday, it is back to fat boy PT at the base, followed by aquatic physical therapy at the Naval Medical Center, after which I will try to get my antidepressant refilled. I’ll see my shrink on Tuesday, and my psych drug doctor Wednesday. The rest of the week will between split between work, physical therapy, and medical appointments.

For the moment I am not okay. I am so frightened, anxious, and fearful that I don’t want to go out or get in my car. I love doing both, and for most of my life driving, and traveling has been relaxing. I don’t know when or if it will be so again, most of that is residue from convoys in Iraq. However, over a decade after I came home all it took to throw me back into that emotional morass, was an incident precipitated by someone who probably never noticed what happened on Thursday.

Pray for me a sinner,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under mental health, Military, PTSD, Tour in Iraq

The PTSD Startle Response: Never far from the Surface

Friends Of Padre Steve’s World,

PTSD is an unwanted gift that keeps giving. One of its many manifestations is a startle response. My wife Judy can tell you about them, and it took me many years to understand how inadvertent and programmed they are, she’s had them for decades, me just since returning from Iraq in 2008. Until I started dealing with my shit, I failed to understand hers and many times when she would startle and I wasn’t very sympathetic. She has dealt with childhood PTSD for a lot longer than I have combat PTSD, and even after I came back from Iraq I didn’t understand how deep the trauma she experienced still affected her.

I remain hyper vigilant, have terrible nightmares and night terrors, when I go out somewhere I always stay aware of my circumstances, but it has been a few years since I had something happen like today. I was on my way home from work at the beginning of rush hour and and was about a mile or so off base when a large pickup truck with one of those noice enhanced exhaust systems roared up close alongside on the right lane. The noise caused me to look over my shoulder and I caught the vision of the truck, just big and dark, speeding past me. I went into my automatic response, I swerved to avoid a possible collision, entered the edge of the grass on the median and then hit a curb in a turn lane. The impact blew out the tires on the left side of my car. I didn’t try to keep driving and slowly pulled into the grass of the median and turned on my emergency flashers.

The interesting thing was that hundreds of cars passed me with none stopping to offer assistance until a female Virginia Beach Police officer coming from the opposite direction stopped to help. She got me a tow truck and the car will be in the shop until tomorrow afternoon. I am going to let my insurance company, USAA, know what happened in the morning.

Of course I have no positive identification of the pickup truck and he probably meant no harm, just gunning his engine to get home quicker. The fact that the loudness of his exhaust system and noise enhanced muffler startled me is irrelevant. That’s not a crime. But what surprised me is that nobody but a police officer offered to help. I couldn’t do that. I paid for the tow to a tire store that I do business with and walked to meet Judy at a restaurant where I had here waiting in case I needed a ride.

I have nothing but praise for the Virginia Beach Police officer and the tow service. I also thank all of my friends who have contacted me on social media, and for Judy who stayed in touch with me until she was sure that I was safe. I just knew that the location of the incident wasn’t conducive to her traveling to retrieve me.

Whatever happens next I am glad that I am okay and that apart from some money that it won’t cost us anything. I am safe and have a new appreciation for Judy’s startle reflex.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under mental health, Military, PTSD, Tour in Iraq