Tag Archives: chronic pain

“They Remain Fresh and Open in the Heart” Moral Wounds, often Hidden but Never Healed

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Tombstone at the British Cemetery, Habbaniyah Iraq

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Stephen King wrote: “Nightmares exist outside of logic, and there’s little fun to be had in explanations; they’re antithetical to the poetry of fear.”

I prefer physical pain and physical injury to moral, emotional, and spiritual injury. I agree with Alexander Dumas who wrote in the Count of Monte Cristo“Moral wounds have this peculiarity – they may be hidden, but they never close; always painful, always ready to bleed when touched, they remain fresh and open in the heart.”

That is how I feel over ten years after returning from Iraq in 2008. No matter how well I am doing there are times when things going on in the present fill me with terror and evoke the ghosts of my past. As much as I want to put my war and other wars in the past I see American political leaders, propagandists, and religious leaders doing all they can to bring about new wars abroad and divide us at home.

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I find this deeply unsettling and it causes great anxiety, especially when I try to sleep. On Saturday night I had terrible nightmares of war with superiors trying to force me to commit war crimes. Four times Judy tried to wake me as I screamed and fought and I couldn’t pull myself out of the dreams. Thankfully I did not end up throwing myself out of bed and causing injury as I have done before. Likewise the Papillons, including our youngest boy, Pierre, now know to move to a different part of the bed when I am so unsettled.

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.”

In my dreams I remember everything about the war like it was yesterday. The images are vivid: wounded Marines, a wounded Iraqi boy with his father, a rocket flying just a few feet above my head, taking small arms fire in Ramadi on the ground and aboard an Army helicopter which returned fire as we took off from Ramadi, destroyed cities and villages, destitute and terrified people, and refugees.

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But those dreams and nightmares blend reality with unreality, real places with imaginary places, places that I’ve been to but are not the same as they are in the real world and they frequently show up. You think that I would be used to them; but no matter how often I have them I never get used to them, and I can’t really explain them, I only try to survive them.

Of course now I am dealing with constant physical pain with my knees, hip, and ankles. This is something relatively new for me, but even so, I can deal with physical pain better than emotional or spiritual pain, and the nightmares and night terrors.

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Ramadi, January 2008

One of my favorite actors, James Spader, plays a character named Raymond Reddington on the television show The Blacklist. During one episode he told another character something quite profound, something that if we actually embrace it can be somewhat comforting. “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.”

Anyway, I think that Reddington’s words are true. toward the end of next month I will be getting another sleep study, this one to try to figure out how to mitigate the physical violence in my dreams, even as I deal with constant physical pain. Who knows, maybe the physical pain will dull the emotional or spiritual pain that lies deep in my psyche and inhabits my dreams and nightmares?

But I guess that is just a rhetorical question.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under mental health, PTSD

Chronic Pain, Insomnia, Trumped Up National Emergencies and a brief Thought for the Night

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I had a very difficult time sleeping last night. Part, probably much was due to physical pain in my knees and especially my right hip. Then there was the pounding rain and wind that kept me awake, and finally the anxiety that I feel for our nation in the wake of President Trump’s “Trumped up” Declaration of National Emergency. I didn’t get to actual sleep until nearly 4 AM, in the military that’s 0400, if you work in the Trump White House Donald’s little hand is shoving a chicken leg down his gullet and and his big hand is on tweet. But I digress…

I’m tired despite having slept until almost 11:00 AM, since today was President’s Day I didn’t have physical therapy at our Navy clinic. I have an assessment on my shoulder at the physical therapy clinic for a nagging injury that has been afflicting me since my return from Iraq. I got treatment for it way back then but little has changed, it’s just gotten worse as I tried to get back some upper body strength doing pull-ups late this summer, and yes I’m still tired. I had a whole bunch of stuff that I started but just saved as drafts this evening.

So with that, especially the Trump National Emergency, I leave you with this thought:

Russian exile and Chess Grand Master Gary Kasparov who wrote:

“First of all, people here should understand that nothing is for granted. There were many warnings in the past, you know, but every time, Americans and Europeans—they believe that it’s like bad weather. It comes and goes. But the danger is real. I always want to quote Ronald Reagan, who said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” Now, probably, it’s not even one generation. Things can happen very quickly, because there’s so much power that comes in the hands of people who have very little affection for the values that make up the core of liberal democracy and the free world.” 

Because of that I believe that we must stand for principle and work for a new birth of freedom even as it seems that freedom itself is in danger due to the actions of the American President. We must stand or we will lose everything that generations of Americans as well as others have fought so hard to preserve, but it is difficult. As Max Boot wrote back in March of this year:

“Trump is sucking a substantial portion of America into his Orwellian universe. The rest of us have to struggle simply to remember that war isn’t peace, freedom isn’t slavery, ignorance isn’t strength.”

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Loose thoughts and musings, mental health, Military, News and current events, Political Commentary, PTSD

Rehab Assignments

There are times in life that many of us experience some kind of injury; physical, emotional or spiritual that puts us in the position that we cannot function at the level that we are accustomed to doing. For some people this might be the result of some kind of traumatic event, perhaps a serious illness or physical injury or even something that causes us to lose faith in God or in whatever higher power that we ascribe meaning in our life.

As any regular reader of this site will recognize I interpret or frame much of my life experience through baseball and baseball analogies. In my case I frequently frame that through pitchers or older ball players that have encountered injury or rough spots in their careers.  I think about pitchers a lot because the craft of pitching involves such a degree of connection between the physical and mental dimensions of the game.  There are many times when a pitcher suffers a physical injury that requires changes in his delivery or the kinds of pitches that he throws.  When this happens it also affects his mind as he may lose confidence or over think what he is doing as he tries to make adjustments, also while experiencing residual physical pain.  Some pitchers are able to make the adjustment, for others the adjustment is more difficult and they are not as effective as they were previously. Still others either cannot recover from the physical injury or never make the adjustments and end up out of the game.

Those that experience injury as they recover are sent back to the minor leagues, or if they are in the high minor leagues to a lower level league in order to get back to the level that they were before the injury.  Even when they get back to the majors or to triple-A the pitching coach and manager may still go easy on them in order to ensure they are 100% and do not re-injure themselves.  This is called a rehab assignment and it is part of the game.

In the military we seldom get that chance unless the injuries are so significant that we need to put on some kind of limited duty and a placed in a non-deployable status until they are considered fully fit for duty. I returned from Iraq in February 2008 with several nagging chronic physical injuries to my ankles, knees and shoulders and an elbow which coalesced to sideline me from much physical activity. Even worse I was dealing with PTSD which was not recognized or diagnosed until late June of 2008 when I was falling apart having flashbacks, night terrors, chronic anxiety, insomnia and moods that alternated from anger to despondency.  When I left EOD Group Two I for my assignment to Portsmouth Naval Medical Center I was still in denial of sorts, though I knew that I was in ragged shape I went into the assignment trying to act as if and perform as if I was uninjured.  I threw myself into the job pouring working on the average 65-75 hours a week for almost a year mostly on the ICU and PICU before my boss finally stopped me and put me on more administrative duties with minimal clinical duties and plenty of time to get back in physical, emotional and spiritual shape.  Not many senior officers would give a subordinate that kind of grace nor would they rate an officer under them with an eye on their potential versus what they were doing for them at the moment.  Mine did, I will be forever grateful to Chaplain Jessie Tate for giving me that grace.

Eventually his patience as well as my hard work and a lot of God’s grace were rewarded. Things started to turn around in December of 2009 in what I call my “Christmas miracle.”   Slowly my physical injuries healed and I can now say that I am in as good or better shape than when I went to Iraq. I had to make some adjustments to my physical training regimen as well as confidence to believe that I was not going to re-injure myself.  My mindset in my physical training went from timid to confident as I gained in strength, speed, dexterity and endurance.  This was coupled with the loss of 16 pounds and a body fat percentage that went from 32% (when I ballooned from 167 to 194 pounds between April and November of 2009) down to 22% as of last week.  Spiritually I began to believe again. Most of the time after Iraq I struggled with faith sometimes even doubting the existence of God or at best feeling alienated and rejected by him and many of his people.  My spirituality has changed as has the way I approach my faith being much less doctrinaire to relational focusing on the grace, love and mercy of God and to trying to show that to others as St Francis said “preach the Gospel at all times, use words when necessary.”  Psychologically I was able to come to grips with my PTSD and make the adjustments that I needed so that I might be able to function.  I am much more in touch with feelings and what is going on in me than I was before and my observation of other people has improved, I guess once a person has had everything fall apart that they become more sensitive even to the unspoken things when they are around others.

In a sense this assignment became a rehab assignment for me. I was able to come back and become not only functional but able to be in the game again.  When I was selected for promotion my boss had no hesitancy in nominating me for the supervisory Chaplain at Naval Hospital Camp LeJuene. I can see the future again and it is good.  My plan was for Portsmouth to be an “All-Star” game for me where my clinical and academic skills would enable me to be a water walker but it was different, it was a fight to remain in the game a fight to regain confidence, overcome injury and return to relatively normal life.  My rehab assignment is over and I am back in the game performing at a level that I expect.

For those that are in similar circumstances I hope that you have a boss with the grace to help you through the difficult times and not abandon you as “broken” or of little use to the organization. I know that happens in the military and outside of the military, even in churches.

Peace and blessings,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, christian life, faith, Pastoral Care, philosophy, PTSD, Tour in Iraq