Tag Archives: PTSD

“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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A Few Thoughts about Life on My 59th Birthday

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday was my 59th Birthday and I plan on sharing a few bits of wisdom among the events of the day. The great Roman Emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius wrote:

“Perfection of character is this: to live each day as if it were your last, without frenzy, without apathy, without pretence.”

I think that is a good birthday thought. I came across it last nigh before bed and I think that it describes the way that I want to live my life.

My day began with a visit to my doctor to see what is going on with my left hip. On Sunday night when in a deep sleep and not having any of my violent dreams my left hip exploded in pain. I had been previously diagnosed with osteoarthritis in both knees, but I had never been bothered by pain in the left hip. Yesterday I had an appointment scheduled with a doctor different than my primary care manager who called in sick, so I saw my own PCM today, got new x-rays to compare to the last ones, and some medications. They said it would take a couple of days for radiology to read the reports so I won’t know what is going on for a few days. I wonder if the osteoarthritis has gotten worse. It hurts like hell trying to get up and down and walking, stairs are a bitch, even laying down hurts. At least the pharmacy wasn’t crowded and not too stressful. For that I am thankful because usually that pharmacy is so crowed, cramped and slow that I leave with a severe anxiety attack, and yes this particular reaction goes back to a particular incident in Iraq.

Even with that today has been a good day. After the medical appointment I went out with Judy to breakfast, and then did a little shopping with her. Then we went home and hung out with out Papillon babies. I got a call from my mom and brother, those were both nice, and today, in spite of all the turmoil in the country and around the world my soul is at peace. Since being told by my Commanding Officer and Regional Chaplain to take care of all my medical issues and prepare for retirement my blood pressure has gone back down to my normal, 114/68, instead of spiking to 160/100 as was the case just a few weeks ago.

I have received hundreds of well wishes and greetings for my birthday on Facebook, and so far I have made a personal response to each one, though I know that I have more to answer. I’ve had them from the United States and Canada, the U.K., The Netherlands and Germany, Australia and South Korea. I have known some of the people for 50 years or more. Honestly, I think that is the only reason that I stay on Facebook. Every one of them means something to me that is special, and some of us cannot agree on anything anymore in the current political environment but I cannot help but to remember each one with love and appreciation. You see, I don’t have to agree with someone’s politics, ideology, or religious beliefs to still love and appreciate them. At times I haven’t done well in this, but honestly it is my baseline. Some of the most meaningful exchanges today were with friends who we have had it out and disagreed in a most uncourteous manner to each other. That is when you know you have a friend.

I guess that the late Bob Marley was right“The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.” Likewise when it comes to friendship I cannot help but to remember the quote of General William Tecumseh Sherman about Ulysses Grant. “Grant stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk, and now we stand by each other.” That’s my kind of friend.

Later in the evening we went out and did our usual things. Since Judy will be getting her left knee replaced on April 12th she went to her group of friends to work on her ceramic projects and she dropped me off at Gordon Biersch, where I continued to answer all the well wishes from friends, had some dinner, talked Baseball with the early crowed, soccer with a couple of young guys later, and then spent some time with an active duty service member from a local base who I have started getting to know over the past couple of weeks. He was in Iraq before me and was there during some of the worst of the action. He saw a lot worse than I did and both of us struggle with PTSD and sleep issues. Judy came and got me and we hung out until closing, talking with friends and each other.

It was a good day. We’ll find a time to actually celebrate my birthday in the next week or too, no rush.

But when you start pushing 60 years old memories of the past, worries about the future and visions of mortality begin to intrude on life, that is why I think that what I quoted from Marcus Aurelius is so spot on. The same is true of the German Lutheran theologian Jürgen Moltmann who observed:

“As time goes on we become old, the future contracts, the past expands…But by future we don’t just mean the years ahead; we always mean as well the plenitude of possibilities which challenge our creativity…In confrontation with the future we can become young if we accept the future’s challenges.”

We went to bed late, spent some good time with our three Papillons and then passed out. We spent most of the morning getting our cars serviced and the afternoon with her doing some artwork as I perused the news. We continue to work hard to prepare for her surgery and dealing with what the sports medicine doctor will recommend next week for my right knee. I am doing my best to keep up the physical therapy to at the minimum strengthen myself.

I found out this afternoon that one of my high school friends passed away last week. I just noticed the obituary. He was a good man, a father, pastor, and football coach. I had the opportunity to serve with one of his nephews on the USS HUE CITY. He made a difference in a lot of lives.

It kind of put a damper on the day but then I remembered a quote from the film Star Trek Generations, in which Captain Picard tells Commander Riker:

“Someone once told me that time was a predator that stalked us all our lives. But I rather believe than time is a companion who goes with us on the journey, and reminds us to cherish every moment because they’ll never come again. What we leave behind is not as important how we lived. After all, Number One, we’re only mortal.” 

Today is a new day and the future still awaits, By this time next year, Lord willing and the Creek don’t rise, I will be retired from the Navy and hopefully teaching college history, and humanities in the civilian world, hopefully I’ll be sporting the beard I practiced growing on our last Germany trip.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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A Walking Anachronism: thoughts on Approaching my 59th Birthday

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In two days I celebrate my 59th birthday amid a lot of physical issues regarding and concerns for the future of the country I am reminded that in today’s military I am an anachronism. I’m old, broken, and pretty much useless. I have so many medical and physical therapy appointments that my deputy and other staff pretty much handle everything, and I sign a few things, give them advice and support them.

In the mean time I try to collect the multitude of medical records from the different branches that hold them, and since I am still being treated every so often I have to request the latest bunch. I am sure that I have over 2000 pages of them. Today I organized them. I bought a bunch of those brown accordion file binders, the big ones, hold up to 5 1/2 inches of documents each. I have them dived up into the old handwritten records, the new records in a system called ALTA, which I have no idea what it stands for; of which there are so many that it requires two binders to hold them all; my mental health records, all of which have been occurred since I returned from Iraq in 2008, I have a full binder of those and am waiting on the records from the civilian psychiatrist the Navy sent me to at Camp LeJeune to complete that set as well as the records I continue to compile. I also have a binder of dental records in which I have also placed the CDs of my radiology studies. The whole collection must weigh 25 or 30 pounds, and I have a big bag to carry them around in, it was actually a bag sent back with Judy from the hospital after her first knee replacement surgery.

Last night was tough. I had a bunch of stuff going in my mind about the future of the country under Trump. I couldn’t be in the moment and Judy called me on it. I went to bed early but woke up with my left hip in screaming pain. Of course it was about 4 AM and the dogs decided that they needed to go outside. In agony I hobbled down the stairs and let them out, and after rewarding them I dragged myself up to bed. It still hurts like the devil so I have an early appointment to get it looked at, afterward I get to do physical therapy. The only good thing about it was that it made me forget the pain in my right and left knees and right hip. I am beginning to wonder with all the physical injuries piling up and needing treatment if I will have to have my official retirement date pushed back. Next week I go to the sports medicine doctor who has been working on my right knee, I presume that the next step is sending me to the bone and joint center. Since arthroscopic surgery has already been ruled out the next step will likely be be knee replacement, after which they might get around to my hips and shoulder.

I am a broken down anachronism. Of course once I get repaired I won’t be broken down, but I’ll still be an anachronism. In season five of the series The Blacklist, Raymond Reddington is asked a question by Agent Elizabeth Keane who has been revealed as his daughter:

Liz: How does it feel to be a walking anachronism?

Red: Righteous.

In a way it does, especially when someone asks you out of the blue to tell you your story because it was included in an article that was required reading for a class on Moral Injury at Yale Divinity School. At my point in life there is nothing to embellish, nothing to try to make me look heroic, just tell the truth, warts and all. It is as Reddington described, righteous.

So this anachronism will continue to live, do all I can to get my injuries fixed, and look forward to a future that has been as good or better than my past. Judy helped get that into my head this afternoon when confronting me on my attitude.

In spite of everything I can say I’ve had a great life, a wonderful wife, and over the course of our marriage 6 dogs, three of which live with us and are the light of our lives, and two of the others who make ghost appearances from time to time. The last is obviously too happy in heaven getting her belly rubbed with an infinite supply of puppy cookies.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve’s World at a Decade

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It’s hard to believe that I began this site as a blog, mainly to help myself speak out regarding my service in Iraq and subsequent PTSD. It was actually done at the suggestion of my first therapist, Dr. Elmer Maggard.

Most of the early posts were very personal of dealt with Baseball. I wrote about a lot of other things too, a lot of history, politics, and other commentary. As the site has evolved a lot of my historical posts have connected the past to the present day, and additionally given me inspiration to write and research other topics.

And yes, my PTSD, TBI, anxiety, physical ailments, and chronic insomnia still play a role, as do my relationships with my wife Judy, my Papillon dogs, and friends.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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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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The Crossing Of an American Rubicon: The Trumped Up National Emergency

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It has finally happened. President Trump finally declared his National Emergency because Congress did not give in to him, and because when he had solid House and Senate majorities he couldn’t garner a deal that would pass because of his own intransigence and stupidity ensured the inability to make a deal.

So here we are with a National Emergency that is based on his lies, and his inability to compromise the slightest to get a deal. After failing time and time again he shut down the Government for over a month, endangering the economy and national security in the process, even as the Mueller investigation indicted more of his close associates who appear to have quite extensive dealings with Russian agents, collaborators, and government officials. So in my view he is getting desperate, and more dangerous bit the minute.

I honestly expected that the President would use the cover of a major terrorist attack or war as cover to make his power grab. Right now al, he has done is offer a befuddled series of lies and excuses wrapped in a worthless, and plainly unconstitutional piece of paper as has ever been signed by an American President. Winston Churchill said of Russian intentions:  “It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.” For Trump one can say that his intentions are clear, selfish, and washed with an enema. The key is Trump’s personal interest.” The irony is that his interests are all backed by the Russians.

It is sickening to watch as the Acting Secretary Of Defense is attempting to find the money and manpower needed for Trump’s Wall from military construction, MILCON accounts which includes everything from training facilities to tarmacs, runways to railheads, shipyards to firing ranges, drydocks to aircraft hangers, and everything that make the bases which support the troops in the field operating. Military family housing, medical facilities, schools operated by DOD which service military kids, and base security designed to protect bases from of all things, actual terrorists. Then he’s going after the DOD part of our nation’s drug interdiction programs, which is ludicrous in light of his rational that the Trump Wall is to keep out illegal drugs.

I will not compare Trump to Hitler because that would be an insult to the genocidal criminal dictator that Hitler was, not because Hitler was a good human being or worthy of any praise, but because he was a far better politician than Trump could ever hope to be. Hitler took advance of his opponents missteps, be they the political opponents, those in his own party, and European governments. But unlike Hitler, Trump delivers unforced error after error and claims to be a brilliant leader even while he is being rolled by men like Kim Jun Un, Vlad Putin, and so many others.

His only salvation is that some 35% of the American electorate, including the vast bulk of Republican legislators, are what he calls the most loyal followers, who in his words would vote for him even if he shot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue. I guarantee that if he called on them to kill that thousands would heed the call to kill his opponents, just like his Stormtroopers would before his accession to power; and how his SS, acting in concert with the Army and Police would decapitate the leadership of the SA Stormtroopers, including some of his earliest friends and allies during the Night of the Long Knives. Like Hitler, Trump’s only loyalty is to himself, all others are fungible, even his family if need be.

Now is a dangerous time. Declarations of National Emergency give the President great powers above what Article II of the Constitution normally permit. Unlike any other point in our history we now have a President is prepared to use those powers for his political survival and personal gain, sadly his GOP majority in the Senate has all but surrendered their Article I powers to the imperial President.

I do not know what will happen next. The State Of California has already sued to block the effort, the Democrats in the House Of Representatives are planning legislative and possible legal moves against it. Likewise, Trump’s move has divided Republicans. So obviously this will not be enough to cement his power, it is a ploy to distract as the Mueller Eagle circles its prey.

An animal that acts purely on instinct is most dangerous when cornered. It has become apparent that Trump does not act or live within the confines of reason or legality. His business and personal life has always shown that he is a predator speaking his own engorgment, even at the expense of wives, business partners, contractors, customers, or employees. It is the world that he lives in. It is the world that he imbibed from his father Fred Trump.

So my friends, do not let your guard down. We are in completely untested waters for Americans. What will happen tomorrow we don’t know, and we would be fools to prognosticate about. Thus we have to look at history and how other human beings have behaved in similar situations.

Milton Mayer wrote in his book They Thought They Were Free about a German colleague during the 1950s that had lived through the Hitler years as an academic. The man tried to explain how changes were so gradual that people like him who should have known better did not take action, if they did at all until it was too late. The man asked Mayer:

“How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men? Frankly, I do not know. I do not see, even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice—‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider the end.’ But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings. One must foresee the end clearly and certainly and how is this to be done, by ordinary men or even by extraordinary men? Things might have. And everyone counts on that might.”

To forsee the end of the Trump gambit is not hard. We have the benefit of seeing tyrants of history, including Hitler, with today’s authoritarian leaders. Trump has already deployed Federal troops to the U.S. Mexican Border in what most people, including many Republicans viewed as a political stunt. In the aftermath of his declaration he again went to Twitter and attacked the media as enemy of the people” and demanded retribution against his opponents. How long will it be until one of his militarized and propaganda filled believers goes on the attack. One did last week in El Paso, but thankful they were not armed. What is to keep Right Wing Trump supporters who have concealed carry permits to walk into any place and kill someone they believe to be an enemy of the people? 

The fact is there is that there is nothing that will keep this from happening. This makes me glad that I served in Iraq and on Naval boarding teams in the Persian Gulf completely unarmed, and also in a certain way for the PTSD that I suffer, because one of the afflictions if it can be called that is being very hyper vigilant. I won’t be caught by surprise if I can help it, and even unarmed I know enough how to disrupt and confuse an attacker to at least equalize a situation. After having credible threats to my life in 2009 and 2010 from a neo-Nazi long before I became outspoken in my beliefs I always remain alert, sadly, even on base, because I do take notice of the rather violent political messages on the bumper stickers and window decals of many fellow sailors, marines, and soldiers, active and retired.

I don’t want to be considered a pessimist, but I do forsee the end, unless a sea change that I don’t think will happen occurs. I fully expect something else to happen that allows Trump to expand his powers, an event that even many opponents would find hard to oppose. A Reichstag Fire moment, maybe, but possibly worse.

So with all those happy thoughts in mind, have a good night.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

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A Last Drink before Surgery in the Morning

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As I lift this stein, an hour and a half before I can neither eat and drink before by arthroscopic knee surgery Thursday I wish you all the best. Sadly, in order to get to the hospital where the surgery will be done I will have to be up way before sunrise. As anyone with any sense knows, the darkness of the morning is God’s way of letting you know you should still be in bed.

I had a great day having lunch with a Navy Chaplain who I now call a friend who I threw a coffee cup at in between missions in Al Anbar Province in 2007. Yes I was already dealing with PTSD back then but didn’t know it. He’s a great guy, and my wife Judy loves his wife as a dear friend. Then this evening I dinner and a couple of beers with a fellow progressive Navy Chaplain of my age who suffers from many of my afflictions and others far worse.

Now, I have every bit of confidence in the surgery that will be conducted on my left knee Thursday, which is like a few hours from now, which is kind of like today if I lived in Germany. But by the time you read this dear reader it will be today, unless you ready it tomorrow or sometime after that, but I digress…

That being said, my right knee, which I had a Platelet Rich Plasma treatment on a week ago still hurts like a motherfucker. If that continues I will probably need a knee replacement which could throw my projected retirement date into doubt. Honestly, I don’t give a flying fuck so long as it gets fixed before I leave active duty and have to surrender valuable private sector work in order to wait on the VA to fix it. Call me selfish and entitled, but after nearly 38 years of throwing my body under the bus for the country I deserve getting it taken care of before I retire and am cast off into the abyss of veteran care.

So anyway. Whenever you read this, lift a pint and say a prayer for me, and those far worse off than me. There are a lot of them, and most are too intimidated by the system to throw the bullshit flag like I have been doing for the past decade. I owe much of this to my military and civilian therapists and psychiatrists who encouraged me as a Chaplain and senior officer to tell the truth and speak out. Sadly, quite a few of the senior officers and Chaplains I have known swallowed the pain and taken their lives, and there were times that I would have done the same if it wasn’t for Judy and our dogs, especially Molly who decided she wanted to live with me in North Carolina during the times I most wanted to die. I couldn’t kill myself because she was so devoted to me. Now I have Izzy, Pierre, and Minnie. Judy would love all of them, but Pierre and Izzy are devoted to me. Strange how things like that keep you alive when nothing else does.

Until tomorrow, have a great night.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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