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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

So Much to Write About and Too Wiped Out to Do It



Somehow I feel a bit like Danny the Donkey now. I am wiped out and I wouldn’t mind sitting around in my underwear drinking beer. sadly I am not a pretty sight in my tights whities, but then there are times when I think that I am ahead of my time. 

Today I had a day long series of tests to see how my brain is working at the Neuro-Psychology clinic at the local Naval Medical Center. If you ever have cause to go through such a series, please know, even if you don’t drink you will want to when complete them. Thankfully, this was the last battery of tests of this sort that I will need to do. On the 23rd I get my special sleep study  which in addition to checking for possible sleep apnea also studies all of my crazy dreams and night terrors. 

Last night I had a pretty bad night for sleep, lots of weird dreams and nightmares. I woke up exhausted and then went to my testing. So now I am even more wiped out. Thankfully tonight should be easy. Go home and spend time with Judy and the dogs. I think our new Papillon puppy, Izzy, is good for me. It looks like she is going to be daddy’s girl. I love playing with her and having her hang out with us. She is funny, smarter I think than any of our previous girls, and none of them were dumb dogs, very sweet, playful but totally laid back. It is like this little girl is an old soul. 

Like I said, there is a lot that I want to write about. One thing is the latest GOP outrage with their letter to Iran. As a career military officer and former Republican I could never imagine any group of American politicians doing something so stupid and ultimately undermining of of our country. Not only was a it a lame attempt to sabotage the discussions that we and our allies are involved with before any deal is finalized, in a sense they added to the legitimacy of the Iranian clerics. If the Democrats had written a letter like this to Saddam Hussein in 2002 they would have been rightfully condemned, but evidently Senator Tom Cotton and 46 others thought this was a good idea, simply because they hate all things Obama. Instead they seem to be pushing for new, unfunded wars against not only Iran, but Iran’s mortal enemy the Islamic State. Guess what, if they get there way, these new wars will end badly. But the people are less rational than the Iranian Mullahs, so what can we expect?

There is yet another shit storm brewing between the religious right and the Navy Chaplain Corps. I promise that as I sort through the facts I will give you the fairest and most comprehensive report you will see on it. But for now I will simply say that from what I am reading this appears to be another incident involving a chaplain who might have overstepped his bounds but who’s cause is now all over the conservative blogosphere. From what I read there appears to be much more to the story than what is being reported on the Daily Caller, World Net Daily, the Blaze, Fox News, tons of other Right Wing Christian “news” sites and blogs or the website of lawyers supporting the agrieved chaplain are saying. Give me some time and you will get as truthful report as you will see on this.

I do have a number of Gettysburg related articles in process. Expect one one the cavalry actions of July 3rd and one on the suprises that George Meade and Robert E Lee experienced on June 28th 1863 within the week. I have some other ideas floating around and have much more to do on my Gettysburg text, so there will be more. 

Finally there are a number of other subjects that I want to address, some dealing with history, some baseball, some military, and some current events and controversies. So my friends, please stay tuned and spread the word. 

Until tomorrow, 

Peace, love and beer,

Padre Steve+ 

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Miscellaneous Thoughts on a Friday

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Friends, I am tired. It has been a busy week and I am going to try to rest some over the weekend as well as spend some quality time with my wife Judy.

Part of the issue with my tiredness is that I haven’t been the same since my experience over the last month or so dealing with the military mental health system. I won’t bore you with details since I have already written a lot on it, including the fact that I got some resolution, but frankly I didn’t realize just how fragile that I was still was. I had no idea that trying to get help would be so emotionally punishing. Truthfully, I have not had a good night sleep since the initial conflict with the physician and the system. The nightmares, terrors and restlessness are all back. Hopefully in a few weeks or months things will settle out again.

On the positive side I was provided new hearing aids which are quite remarkable in their capabilities and are already helping me to understand speech better. For those that don’t know I hear noise just great. I have almost no loss of that ability. However, since Iraq I suffer unending tinnitus and my speech discrimination, a neurological function is in the third percentile, meaning that 97% of people understand speech better than me. So I am grateful for the hearing aids, as Judy, who was becoming ever more frustrated with me not understanding her or others. The ironic thing is that she has been severely hard of hearing her whole life and has a 77% hearing loss, but she usually understands speech better than me. a funny thing did happen yesterday. I was asked by a Charismatic Christian about praying from my hearing. While I appreciate that and I am touched by such sincere desires to help, it would be a shame if the government wasted over 5,000 on the hearing aids that are working so well.

Likewise, it looks like I have been invited to speak at the Military Officers Association of America conference in Washington DC in September on the topic of being a care giver to those suffering from PTSD while suffering from it myself. That should be interesting. In a way it is something that I hope to do on a regular basis once I retire from the military.

I have been writing a lot about Gettysburg and each thing that I write helps bring me a better understanding of the battle, but also the people, as well as the culture and philosophic ideas that had such an influence on those times. So you can expect that as I write new material and revise old material that I will share them with you here.

Finally as to current events. I am troubled by the events in Ferguson Missouri, especially many of the surprisingly racist reactions by “white America.” Since I wrote about that recently as well, I won’t go back into it.

The situation in Iraq with the rise of ISIS and its “Caliphate” has me greatly concerned. This is not a normal terrorist organization, it is Al Qaeda on steroids. The Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hegel, sounded a clear warning in the wake of the public execution of  American photo journalist James Foley and threats to bring their war to the United States and the west. I do not think that Secretary Hegel, a very circumspect man would make such an announcement if there was no real threat. The problem is that back in 2003 the Bush Administration sewed the wind in Iraq and left a very fragile and unstable state, whose leaders failed their people, and now we are reaping the whirlwind. We want peace, I know I think I speak for everyone, but the rise of ISIS with its apocalyptic vision, vast financial resources, international reach and success on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq is drawing radicalized Moslems to it’s black banner around the world. Because of this I expect that we are in for a long hard fight, and that our new opponent will cause us grave damage.

That being said, I fear for civil liberties in the wake of any attack, and I especially fear that, if something bad happens in the United States, that we will react not just against the culprits; but innocent, loyal and patriotic Americans of Moslem or Arab descent or because they look like the bad guys, or because they share the Islamic religion. Since I know a good number of such people I worry. We can be quite a xenophobic people when aroused, and our quite often “yellow journalism” and jingoistic politicians and preachers stir the cauldron of hatred to the point of paranoid insanity. Our history is colored by such xenophobia.

Finally, the news that the Russians may be attacking in the Ukraine is seriously bad news, which we all, Americans and Europeans need to wake up to.

So I close this Friday sharing my sense of foreboding even while I hope and pray for peace and justice.

Peace and have a wonderful weekend.

Padre Steve+

 

 

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“A Foreign World”: The High Cost of Coming Home from War

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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.” Erich Maria Remarque in All Quiet on the Western Front

Likewise, Guy Sager 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.” Guy Sager in The Forgotten Soldier

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.”

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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.”

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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 Congressional 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 the 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 their experience is not shared by the population at large. The picture painted of them in the media, even when it is sympathetic is often a caricature.  Their camaraderie with the friends that they served alongside is broken by distance and the frenetic pace of our society. 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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Ending the Stigma: PTSD, TBI and Moral Injury in Senior Leaders

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Yesterday I wrote about the death of my former Commodore at EOD Group Two, Captain Thomas Sitsch who committed suicide on Monday outside a New Hampshire Hospital. Captain Sitsch was another casualty of the longest wars this nation has engaged.

Many senior leaders in the military, officers and senior enlisted of every service have frequently deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan as well as other locations in the war on terror. Since the war has been going over 12 years many have spent over half of their careers preparing for, engaging in, or recovering from wartime deployments. Many have suffered physical injuries as well as the unseen injuries of war, PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury and Moral Injury. Unfortunately they are often the last people to seek help.

In the past few years I have personally known or know of a number of senior officers and senior enlisted personnel who have committed or attempted suicide or had their careers destroyed because of their actions. Some like Captain Sitsch were diagnosed with PTSD, others displayed some or all of the indicators but either refused help or put getting help aside in order to “stay in the fight.”

In the past couple of years the Commanding Officer of a deployed SEAL Team committed suicide in Afghanistan, two Marine Expeditionary Unit commanding officers were relieved after incidents that probably have their genus in PTSD, or Moral Injury. I would almost bet that some of the issues that some of our senior leaders have been relieved of their duties for are also the result of untreated PTSD, TBI, Combat Stress Injury or Moral Injury.

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Retired Canadian General Romeo Dallaire still suffers from PTSD following his command of the UN Rwanda force in the middle of that country’s genocide. He attempted suicide in 2000 and still suffers. Last month he was involved in a car accident on his way to work in the Canadian Senate when he fell asleep at the wheel of his car. He had not slept the previous night due to reliving the horrors of that experience. As someone who still suffers chronic insomnia related to my PTSD I understand how this can happen.

The PTSD of T. E. Lawrence’s experience of war in the Middle East in the First World War shows in the pages of his classic Seven Pillars of Wisdom and various letters. Lawrence, who could have risen to high rank in the military or the foreign service basically went underground under an assumed name to serve in the ranks of the Royal Air Force in the 1920s. He wrote to Eric Kennington in 1935 not long before his death in a motorcycle accident:

“You wonder what I am doing? Well, so do I, in truth. Days seem to dawn, suns to shine, evenings to follow, and then I sleep. What I have done, what I am doing, what I am going to do, puzzle and bewilder me. Have you ever been a leaf and fallen from your tree in autumn and been really puzzled about it? That’s the feeling.”  

That is a part of our military culture. Leaders are under a great deal of pressure to accomplish often impossible missions and to take care of their troops. Many have been exposed to repeated combat trauma and had to bury more than one of their troops, often after the person commits suicide. Many anguish over the deaths, blame themselves and heap guilt on top of grief on top of traumatic or moral injury.

As I said many do not seek help due to an overwhelming cultural stigma against getting help, or “going to the wizard.” Likewise they know that that the reality is that if they seek help them may never command or be assigned to sensitive career enhancing billets again. As one senior leader told me “its hard when they say if you have issues and they are known that you can still have a successful career, but you will never be promoted or selected to a critical position, again.” 

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A few senior leaders have admitted to suffering from the symptoms of Combat Stress Injury and sought treatment. The most senior was General Carter Ham who began to suffer symptoms following his deployment to Mosul Iraq in 2004. Major General Gary Patton has also sought help for PTSD. Lieutenant General Peter Chiarelli, now retired has taken up the cause to reduce the stigma seeking to have PTSD renamed Post Traumatic Stress Injury instead of “disorder” because it is an injury.

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I wish I had an answer. For me it took a complete crash to get help as well as the assistance of two fine EOD officers, Admiral Frank Morneau and Captain Sitsch. Even with that initial assistance I still feel a certain stigma. My experience is that senior leaders who admit to this and seek treatment often become radioactive. I feel this most often around other chaplains. I am sure that senior leaders probably feel the same way when they are around others who either do not have the experience or who are trying to bury theirs.

One thing that I do think would be helpful is that instead of promoting stigma would be to stand alongside each other. Relationships are key to this and while professional help is good the only thing that can take away the stigma is to get back to standing beside each other in crisis rather than abandoning those who struggle. We are the willing participants in a zero defect culture which sees struggle as weakness and a mark of failure. The sad thing is that under our current system many of the greatest military leaders in history would not be promoted. It is no wonder the leaders who we have invested so much in developing and have sacrificed so much of themselves do not seek help.

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I like the example of Ulysses Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman. Both had significant problems after they left the Army after the Mexican War and in the early days of the Civil War. Grant struggled with drinking and Sherman suffered terrible depression. Sherman said of their relationship: “Grant stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk, and now we stand by each other.”

The reality is that in today’s more corporate military culture that neither of these men would have ever been promoted to high command. They would have been shunted aside.

Something has to change if we are to end this terrible scourge. I hope that General Ham and General Chiarelli are working with mental health professionals are able to help change the culture, but then by themselves they cannot. That has to start as we say in the Navy “at the deck plates.” It is up to us to change our culture, to be warriors who look after our fellow warriors in their time of need and who by our actions take away the stigma that keeps our brothers and sisters from getting help.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Muddling Through PTSD Recovery: A Chaplain’s Story of Return from War

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“Captain, you do need time. You cannot achieve complete recovery so quickly. And it’s perfectly normal after what you’ve been through, to spend a great deal of time trying to find yourself again” Counselor Troi to Captain Picard in Star Trek the Next Generation after his encounter with the Borg.

Coming home from war can be harder than going. At least it was for me. I have always been a hard charger. When I was at war in Iraq I was at the top of my game but when I came back I was broken. I experienced things there that changed me forever and it has taken a long time to find myself again.

I came home with chronic, severe PTSD, anxiety and depression. I suffer severe Tinnitus and pathetic speech comprehension. The ringing in my ears is non-stop and in any kind of group setting or conference I struggle to understand what is going on even though my hearing loss measured in decibels is minimal. The loss is neurological and when tested I measured in the third percentile of people, meaning that 97% of people understand speech better than me.

I still suffer from chronic insomnia, vivid nightmares and night terrors. I still struggle with agoraphobia, hyper-vigilance and occasional road rage. Thankfully none of them are as bad as they used to be but they are ever present. I have had my ups and downs with prescription medications that were used by my doctors to manage my PTSD symptoms and sleep disorders.  For a while drank too much just to help me make it through the nights. I am told that this is common for many who return from war.

When I came home I felt abandoned, especially by church leaders and many chaplains, many who I had thought were my friends. That is understandable as I was radioactive.  My faith had collapsed and for two years I was an agnostic desperately hoping to find God. As such I have a certain bond with those that struggle with God or even those that do not believe. This makes a lot of religious people uncomfortable, especially ministers. I think the reason for this is that is scares the hell out of people to think that they too might have a crisis of faith because they too have doubts. 

The first person who asked me about how I was doing spiritually was not anyone from my church or a chaplain, but rather my first shrink, Elmer Maggard. When faith returned around Christmas 2009 it was different and so was I. I tried to express it and began to write about it. For my openness I got in trouble with my old denomination and asked to leave because I was “too liberal.” Thankfully a bishop from the Episcopal Church who knew me recommend that I seek out Bishop Diana Dale of the Apostolic Catholic Orthodox Church. Thanks to that I have a loving new denomination and since we do not have a local parish of the ACOC I have found  St James Episcopal Church in Portsmouth Virginia as a place of refuge. It is the historically African American parish in the area and I love the people there. They helped me when I was in my deepest times of struggle. 

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My struggle was really hard on my wife Judy. Before I deployed I was the strong one. Afterward my contribution to our marriage was minimal and I was often a complete ass. I was in survival mode and and barely making it. I couldn’t reach out to her, I was collapsing on myself and she felt it as rejection. Our marriage suffered terribly and both of us thought that it might not survive. But over the past 18 months or so it has been getting better. I can share with her again and she has become a source of added strength. We enjoy being together again and we recently celebrated our 30th anniversary with many of the friends who helped us make it through the hard times. 

In time I gathered a support network. There are some Chaplains that I can be absolutely honest with, as well as my Command Master Chief, Ed Moreno. Likewise I have friends outside the military, including people I have known for years who still, despite all my flaws care for me. I have found other places of refuge where I have relationships with people, one is Harbor Park, home of the Norfolk Tides Baseball team, another was Grainger Stadium, former home of the Kinston Indians. I have a couple of places as well that are like my real life version of the TV show Cheers

Baseball brings me a great deal of peace, especially when I can go to the ballpark. When I was in dire straits the management of the Tides allowed me to go wander Harbor Park during the off season, just to take it in.  Running on the beach is something that I have come to cherish here in North Carolina, I will miss the easy access that I have here when I return home to Virginia in two weeks. 

Writing on my blog has been good therapy. As an introvert I process information by taking things in. Being constantly around people wears me out. I am good at what I do but it takes a great deal of effort to do it. 

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My unflappable little dog Molly has been a life saver, she insisted on coming to stay with me about halfway through my tour. She helped me recover my humanity and her presence gave me something outside of me to care for and because of that I ended up seeking out people again instead of holing up in my apartment.

My spiritual life still has its ups and downs and I discovered that I am far from perfect, and I hate that sometimes. However, that being said I do feel more connected with God, people and at peace despite my ongoing struggles.

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Picard breaking down

It has not been an easy road, but it has been worth it. I find it interesting that the Star Trek the Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager series help me process many of my feelings, thoughts and emotions. I quoted part of a Next Generation episode at the beginning of this article, one where Captain Picard is recovering from the trauma of being abducted by the Borg. I find the episode compelling on many levels. Part of that episode deals with Picard trying to figure out his life again. After a tumultuous visit with his family he and his older brother engage in a fight, during which he breaks down. Picard’s brother realizing the importance of what was happening said to him “So – my brother is a human being after all. This is going to be with you a long time, Jean-Luc. A long time. You have to learn to live with it…”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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To Iraq and Back: Padre Steve’s War and Return

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“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.” ― T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph

It is hard to believe that six years ago I was almost ready to deploy to Iraq with my bodyguard and assistant Religious Program Specialist First Class Nelson Lebron. I had been in the military 26 years, 17 1/2 in the Army and at that time almost eight in the Navy. Our mission was to support the American advisors to the Iraq 1st and 7th Divisions, the 2nd Border Brigade, Port of Entry Police, Highway Patrol and Police forces in Al Anbar Province.

I was to be a life changing experience for both of us, no strangers to deployment or danger. In 2008 we returned to the United States changed by our experiences. It was also to test my marriage and even my career in the Navy. Both of which I thought might be lost within a year or two of my return.

To quote Charles Dickens “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” I came back diagnosed with a case of severe and chronic PTSD as well as chronic Tinnitus and and severely impaired ability to understand speech. Nightmares, and night terrors chronic insomnia, flashbacks, hyper vigilance, panic attacks and claustrophobia have all been part of my life since then.

The experience left me severely depressed, at times feeling the pain of despair and hopelessness, a loss of faith and it’s restoration.

Despite all of that I consider my time in Iraq to be the high point of my military career. It was a place that I was able to use every gift, talent and skill at my disposal to do a job that took me to places and allowed me to work with people that I could not have imagined. My tour in Iraq, though painful and life changing was also the best of times, it opened my eyes to things that I never thought possible, relationships unimagined and ministry unbound by the constraints of the terrible model of contemporary American Christianity.

Over the next six or seven months I am going to clean up and republish articles about our deployment and then add additional articles that back when I started to write back in 2009 was unable to do because the memories even then were still to fresh and painful to relive.

It is hard to believe just how vivid the memories still are. I found my notebook from my time there and hope that it as well as my memories don’t fail me. Of course I will take time to write about the post-Iraq experience as well.

Hopefully when they are complete I can get them published as a book. The goal, I hope is that others who have been through what I have been through, and those who have been through much worse will be able to know that what happened to them can happen to anyone that goes to war, including Chaplains and other care givers who are by nature of or calling and training supposed to be immune from such experiences.

I will place these articles under a new page tab at the top of the website called To Iraq and Back.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, iraq,afghanistan, middle east, Military, Tour in Iraq