Tag Archives: PTSD

“What We Leave Behind is Not as Important as How We Lived: Reflecting on My 2019

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

T. S. Elliott wrote:

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.”

It is the eve of New Year’s Eve and I have been reflecting on the year past and thinking about the future, and trying to put the past year into words. The good thing is that I write a decent amount about my experiences as they occur on this site, so in addition to it being a wealth of historical, biographical, religious, and political thinking, it also serves as kind of a public diary.

The past year has been full of difficulties, surprises, sometimes good and sometimes not so good. But for the most part we are ending the year on a high note. Judy is now pretty much recovered from both of her knee replacement surgeries as well as hernia surgery which was necessary due to the hysterectomy associated with endometrial cancer surgery in 2015. My knees as well as sleep disorders and PTSD continue to be problematic.

The knee issue kept me from retiring as planned on September 1st of this year. I had a failed surgery on the meniscus of my left knee, and failed cortisone, platelet rich plasma, and gel injections in my right knee. My pain level was a constant 7 to 10 on the pain scale. Eventually my physical therapy doctor referred me to aquatic physical therapy, and my former Executive Officer at the Camp LeJeune Naval Hospital got me an appointment with the Orthopedic department head at the Naval Medical Center who ordered new MRIs, determined that I was not a candidate for knee replacement therapy and proscribed a new series of gel injections done by a different provider. Normally it takes a couple of weeks before one experiences pain relief, I certain did not experience that the first time. However, I experienced almost immediate relief following the first set of injections. The pain levels went down, the aquatic physical therapy helped and soon I no longer needed crutches or a cane to assist me walking, and I lost 28 pounds between June and October. I continue to get the gel injection treatments, and my pain level seldom goes beyond a 4 or 5, most of the time it is under three. I should get another series beginning in February, but again I digress…

With my knees so screwed up and my retirement request being voluntary, the Navy moved the date to what they had calculated to be my statuary retirement date based on years of commissioned service to April 1st 2020, and then when it came time to issue my retirement orders they realized they had made a mistake and counted four months of active National Guard enlisted service as part of the 28 years commissioned service, so they pushed my retirement date to August 1st 2020. That was unexpected, and involved a lot of consternation and work, to move all of my books and memorabilia to my home and storage space and create a room for my library, all while trying to transfer, which on short notice is complicated enough.

On another subject, we were once again able to make our pilgrimage to Germany, in September and October, see old friends and decompress for a while. Judy was able to visit another five or six towns from where her family emigrated, first to Russia and then to the United States. As usual I made pilgrimages to various Holocaust and German resistance movements. However, I was most happy to get Judy to those places. Hopefully we can do more this year, but I digress…

The change in my retirement dates led to some consternation and stress as the local command and region tried to figure out what to do with my as my relief was already in place and I was excess, but it turned out well. So they worked out a deal for me to serve at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, since the shipyard has not had a chaplain since 2009. The chapels , a historic building is condemned due to serious structural issues, black mold, asbestos, and a major termite infestation. I don’t have an assistant, a budget, and I work out of the administration department offices. But the command welcomed me with open arms and the ministry there plays to my strengths, getting out with people and being there for them, regardless of their status as active duty, Navy civilian employees, or contractors.

I like walking about the shipyard and visiting people where they work. I go to where they take their smoke breaks, their office or other work spaces, and let them know that I am there for them. I did a holiday greeting letter and got a huge response of people wanting me to visit, as well as people wanting to talk. I think I will start doing a “thought of the day” to send out as well as a monthly letter on topics that could encompass secular and religious holidays.

I am happier at work than I have been for over two and a half years, and people can tell the difference. So I expect to end my Navy and military career on a high note. I have been up, and down, and now I’m not just trying, but I have that feeling again, I feel renewed. Though the year did not go the way that I planned or imagined, I have been blessed.

The coming year will have its own stressors as I get ready to retire, process my VA claim, get through all of the Navy wickets I need to check off, then arrange my retirement ceremony and prepare for life as a civilian, which includes preparing our townhome to sell or rent so we can get a one floor ranch style house. There are some employment possibilities that may make the transition fairly smooth. So you can pray for me on that.

There are other challenges that we face, which I shall not mention here but we do  appreciate your thoughts, kind words, encouragement and prayers. For those who read this blog regularly, thank you, because many of my articles do take some time to read and are quite serious in nature.

But I leave you with this final thought.

In the movie Star Trek: Generations, Captain Jean Luc Picard tells Commander William 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.” 

So as I close out the old year I wish you all the best, although I’m only mortal, and that’s probably a good thing.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under life, Loose thoughts and musings

Joyeux Noel: the Christmas Truce of 1914, and the Personal Reflections of an Old Chaplain

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

As a veteran who served in the badlands of Al Anbar Province during Christmas of 2007 I can relate to Father Palmer, the British priest and chaplain in the film Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas) when he makes the comment “I belong with those who are in pain, and who have lost their faith, I belong here.”

I again watched that film tonight. The film is the story of the amazing and exceptional Christmas Truce of 1914. It is a film that each time I see it that I discover something new, more powerful than the last time I viewed it. It reminds me of serving in Iraq, at Christmas from my perspective as a Chaplain, and thereby giving voice to those who serve now, as well as those who served God’s people in hellish places before me. It reminds me of how much I hate war, and how much I often hate the clergy who are all too often, bloodthirsty

As a Chaplain I am drawn to the actions of the British Padre in the film, who during the truce conducts a Mass for all the soldiers, British, French and German in no-man’s land, who goes about caring for the soldiers both the living and the dead. His actions are contrasted with his Bishop who comes to relieve him of his duties and to urge on the replacement soldiers to better kill the Germans.

As the Chaplain begins to provide the last Rites to a dying soldier the Bishop walks in, in full purple cassock frock coat and hat and the chaplain looks up and kisses his ring.

As the chaplain looks at his clerical superior there is a silence and the Bishop looks sternly at the priest and addresses him:

“You’re being sent back to your parish in Scotland. I’ve brought you your marching orders.”

Stunned the Priest replies: “I belong with those who are in pain, and who have lost their faith, I belong here.”

The Bishop then sternly lectures the Priest: “I am very disappointed you know. When you requested permission to accompany the recruits from your parish I personally vouched for you. But then when I heard what happened I prayed for you.”

The Priest humbly and respectfully yet with conviction responds to his superior: “I sincerely believe that our Lord Jesus Christ guided me in what was the most important Mass of my life. I tried to be true to his trust and carry his message to all, whoever they may be.”

The Bishop seems a bit taken aback but then blames the Chaplain for what will next happen to the Soldiers that he has served with in the trenches: “Those men who listened to you on Christmas Eve will very soon bitterly regret it; because in a few days time their regiment is to be disbanded by the order of His Majesty the King. Where will those poor boys end up on the front line now? And what will their families think?”

They are interrupted when a soldier walks in to let the Bishop know that the new soldiers are ready for his sermon. After acknowledging the messenger the Bishop continues: “They’re waiting for me to preach a sermon to those who are replacing those who went astray with you.” He gets ready to depart and continues: “May our Lord Jesus Christ guide your steps back to the straight and narrow path.”

The Priest looks at him and asks: “Is that truly the path of our Lord?”

The Bishop looks at the Priest and asks what I think is the most troubling question: “You’re not asking the right question. Think on this: are you really suitable to remain with us in the house of Our Lord?”

With that the Bishop leaves and goes on to preach. The words of the sermon are from a 1915 sermon preached by an Anglican Bishop in Westminster Abbey. They reflect the poisonous aspects of many religious leaders on all sides of the Great War, but also many religious leaders of various faiths even today, sadly I have to say Christian leaders are among the worst when it comes to inciting violence against those that they perceive as enemies of the Church, their nation or in some cases their political faction within this country.

I was reminded of that last night and today as the now Impeached President called upon and received the fealty and obedience of his Imperial Court Clergy, and the ever faithful cult of conservative and Evangelical Christians while pledging to destroy his enemies. In such a time I cannot

The Bishop who relieved Father Palmer went on to preach a sermon to newly arrived troops.

“Christ our Lord said, “Think not that I come to bring peace on earth. I come not to bring peace, but a sword.” The Gospel according to St. Matthew. Well, my brethren, the sword of the Lord is in your hands. You are the very defenders of civilization itself. The forces of good against the forces of evil. For this war is indeed a crusade! A holy war to save the freedom of the world. In truth I tell you: the Germans do not act like us, neither do they think like us, for they are not, like us, children of God. Are those who shell cities populated only by civilians the children of God? Are those who advanced armed hiding behind women and children the children of God? With God’s help, you must kill the Germans, good or bad, young or old. Kill every one of them so that it won’t have to be done again.”

The sermon is chilling and had it not been edited by the director would have contained the remark actually said by the real Bishop that the Germans “crucified babies on Christmas.” Of course that was typical of the propaganda of the time and similar to things that religious leaders of all faiths use to demonize their opponents and stir up violence in the name of their God.

When the Bishop leaves the Priest finishes his ministration to the wounded while listening to the words of the Bishop who is preaching not far away in the trenches. He meditates upon his simple cross, takes it off, kisses it hand hangs it upon a tripod where a container of water hangs.

The scene is chilling for a number of reasons. First is the obvious, the actions of a religious leader to denigrate the efforts of some to bring the Gospel of Peace into the abyss of Hell of earth and then to incite others to violence dehumanizing the enemy forces. The second and possibly even more troubling is to suggest that those who do not support dehumanizing and exterminating the enemy are not suitable to remain in the house of the Lord. Since I have had people, some in person and others on social media say similar things to what the Bishop asks Palmer the scene hits close to home.

When I left Iraq in February 2008 I felt that I was abandoning those committed to my spiritual care, but my time was up. Because of it I missed going with some of my advisors to Basra with the 1st Iraqi Division to retake that city from insurgents. It was only a bit over a month after I had celebrated what I consider to be my most important Masses of my life at COP South and COP North on December 23rd as well as Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. In fact until very recently they were really the last masses that I felt the mystery and awe of the love of God that I used to so much feel.

When I left Iraq the new incoming senior Chaplain refused to take my replacement leaving our advisers without dedicated support. He then slandered me behind my back because what I was doing was not how he would do things and because I and my relief were under someone else’s operational control. It is funny how word gets back to you when people talk behind your back. Thankfully he is now retired from the Navy and I feel for any ministers of his denomination under his “spiritual” care. So I cannot forget those days and every time I think about them, especially around Christmas I am somewhat melancholy and why I can relate so much to Father Palmer in the movie. While I cannot prove it I do believe, and have heard from others who used to work at the Chief of Chaplains office that I have been shunned and punished by past and present leaders of the Chaplain Corps because of my witness in being open about my struggles with faith and PTSD. A can recount a number of incidents that would be of circumstantial evidence, but I digress. That being said I am much better off for that experience than I would be had it not occurred.

It has been twelve years since those Christmas Masses and they still feel like yesterday. In the intervening years my life has been different. Just a year later I was walking home from church where my wife was to sing in the choir during the Christmas vigil mass. I couldn’t handle the crowds, the noise, and I felt so far away from God. That night I walked home in the dark looking up into the sky asking God if he still was there. If there had been a bar on the way home I would have stopped by and poured myself in.

Since Iraq I have dealt with severe and chronic PTSD, depression, anxiety and insomnia were coupled with a two year period where due to my struggles I lost faith, was for all practical purposes an agnostic. I felt abandoned by God, but even more so and maybe more importantly by my former church and most other Chaplains. It was like being radioactive, there was and is a stigma for Chaplains that admits to PTSD and go through a faith crisis, especially from other Chaplains and Clergy. It was just before Christmas in late 2009 that faith began to return in what I call my Christmas Miracle. But be sure, let no one tell you differently, no Soldier, Sailor, Marine or Airman who has suffered the trauma of war and admitted to PTSD does not feel the stigma that goes with it, and sadly, despite the best efforts of many there is a stigma.

Now that faith is different and I have become much more skeptical of the motivations of religious leaders, especially those that demonize and dehumanize those that do not believe like them or fully support their cause or agenda. Unfortunately there are far too many men and women who will use religion to do that, far too many. Unlike a few years ago they now occupy the seat of political power as sycophants of the President, offering no prophetic voice but speaking the words of death covered in the veneer of the Christian faith.

As for me I had the floor kicked from out from under me in the summer of 2014 and it has been a hard fight and while I am beginning to get back to some sense of normal it is a day to day thing. I still suffer the effects of the PTSD, especially the insomnia, nightmares and the nightmares which came back with a vengeance that summer. I also still have the anxiety in crowded places and bad traffic, but working with my new therapist I am coming up with some effective coping mechanisms. As for faith, I do believe again, more often than not, though at the same time I doubt. Though I believe I think I still consider myself to be a Christian Agnostic who echoes the cry of the man who cried out to Jesus, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief!” I believe and yet, I don’t and I don’t think that is a bad thing, I think it helps me understand those who no longer believe, those that struggle, and those who raised as Christians have left the faith.

Like the Priest in Joyeux Noel I know that my place is with those who are “in pain, and who have lost their faith.” For me this may no longer be on the battlefield as I will retire from the Navy in a few years, unless as I expect a major war breaks out with North Korea, and maybe China, and Iran too.

However, that being said I will strive to be there for those that struggle with faith and believe, especially those who struggle because of what they saw and experienced during war and when they returned home. Two years ago I hosted the NATO contingent at my former chapel, and had the honor of preaching an Advent message in German.

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I expect that in the final months of my service before I retire in August of 2020, I will do my best to speak truth to those in power and those whose faithfulness is more a product of their comfort with the God that they create in their own mind rather than the Crucified God wise death on the Cross s a scandal. For many Christians the scandal of the cross is too easy to avoid by surrounding ourselves with pet theologies that appeal to our pride, prejudice and power. The kind of malevolent power represented by the bishop in Joyeux Noel as well as the leaders of the so called “Conservative Evangelicals” who support a President who says “Merry Christmas” even as he defecates on all who believe in the God who became incarnate as a helpless babe in a manger and who died on a cross.  In fact I saw a mocking meme of Trump saying “Merry Christmas” as he holds a bigger than life Bible to his chest from a very conservative evangelical friend on Facebook, it was blasphemous. Those people remind me of the hate filled nationalist British Bishop.

The French mystic Simone Weil said “He who has not God in himself cannot feel His absence.” I think that sums up the President and his ardent Evangelical supporters. I don’t think they would recognize Christ if he walked among them and would have been among those shouting “Crucify him!” but of course I could be wrong in some individual cases.

So, this Christmas, like the theologian Paul Tillich I have come to believe  that “Sometimes I think it is my mission to bring faith to the faithless, and doubt to the faithful.”  In other words I am going to be faithful to the Crucified Christ and remain a complete pain in the ass to them until the day that I die. Likewise I will do what I can to be a vessel of God’s love to all that I serve, many of whom have not seen a chaplain of any kind in their work areas for over a decade.

I am watching that film again tonight, and praying for the peace that it hopes will become real. It is hard to stop the tears as I watch it.

So until tomorrow,

Praying for Peace this Christmas,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith, film, History, Military, Political Commentary, spirituality, Tour in Iraq, world war one

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.”

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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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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

Thoughts on An Anniversary of 38 Years of Military Service

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Sorry I haven’t posted for the last couple of days but I have been both tired and busy. However, I needed the break. We had major damage to a 60-70 year old Maple tree in in our backyard which had to be repaired following a microburst storm on Monday. Thankfully, a realtor friend of ours recommended someone who would do a professional job at a decent price.

Likewise, I haven’t slept well because my new CPAP mask has irritated my face and led to a bacterial infection that I just finished a course of antibiotics to treat.

That being said today is the 38th anniversary of my enlistment in the California Army National Guard, which with my simultaneous enrollment in the UCLA Army ROTC program began my military career. That career has spanned 38 years without a break in service, in the California National Guard, the active duty Army, the Texas and Virginia National Guard, the Army Reserve, activated and mobilized service in the Reserve and finally the last 20+ years in the Navy. In that capacity I served seven years with the Marine Corps, and four years in Joint assignments.

In the words of Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, “what a long strange trip it’s been.” 

Now, in seven months time I will be retiring from the Navy. This too is a stressful time of transition, not just for me but my wife Judy as we try to get our current home ready to sell and find a new home, without all the steps in our townhome.

However, it will be good to finally retire from military service. I’ve done my time in peace and war, and screwed up my body, mind and spirit in the process. At the same time I am glad that I will be done serving a potentially criminal and authoritarian regime. Like the German General Ludwig Beck realized when it was too late:

“It is a lack of character and insight, when a soldier in high command sees his duty and mission only in the context of his military orders without realizing that the highest responsibility is to the people of his country.” 

I remain committed to my oath and the Constitution. I won’t surrender that. It is a matter of honor.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

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Filed under leadership, Military, Political Commentary, Tour in Iraq, us army, US Marine Corps, US Navy

Recovering: Calmer but Still Anxious, yet Determined

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today has been a day of recovery from the physical and emotional stress of being run off the road last week. Despite having dealt with the effects of PTSD for almost a decade and pretty well versed in what happens in the brain and body during a traumatic event, but it has been a long time since I have actually been through something this traumatic.

It’s funny, when it happened I was pretty much pumped up on norepinephrine and cortisol. They control the  fight or flight response, and norepinephrine is similar to adrenaline. When I pulled my damaged car into the grass median I didn’t have anyone to fight. So the initial rush wore off and my anxiety and fear began to build. Since I went over that yesterday, I’ll move on.

Judy was a tower of strength to me over the weekend. She understood and even this morning was willing to take me to early fat boy PT, then to the Naval Medical Center for my other appointments and the pharmacy. I thanked her but said I needed to do it on my own. I was nervous on the road, but extra careful. I gave myself lots of time, kept good following distances, and kept a sharp eye out.

My early morning PT was good for me, as was the aquatic physical therapy. I think they helped release some endorphins, which combined with some time in the sauna calmed me down. Of course I had to wait an ungodly amount of time at the medical center pharmacy for my antidepressant prescription, but such is life. But, I was able to get my paperwork to the orthopedist so he can approve me to take the Physical Readiness Test this fall.

The past two PRT cycles after the fall that injured my knees, ankles, and hip, and has resulted in so much pain and inconvenience as I tried to recover, I wasn’t cleared to participate. The injuries, the failed treatments, and failed meniscus surgery left me unable to physically do much, so I gained weight and got depressed because I saw no hope in sight. I could only walk with the aid of crutches or a cane for months. Of course I gained weight and came in over my maxim body fat allowance.

Since then things have changed. I was switched to aquatic physical therapy and the orthopedics Department Head made me his patient. Despite the injuries to my knees, I am not yet a candidate for knee replacement, so he decided a last ditch effort to relieve my pain, which had been a consistent 7-10 on the pain scale for months. He decided to repeat the gel injections in both knees before trying any other surgeries. This time they worked and soon I was walking relatively normally without the aid of crutches or canes, and the pain level went down to the 2-3 range. I do a lot of walking and swimming and since the first week of June have lost about 17 pounds. My goal is to lose another 10-15 pounds by the 15th of October. I am now up to walking, on a good day, 8-10 miles. I hope  by eating nothing but soup, salad, fruit, and low carb/calorie yogurt over the next week that I meet my allowed body fat allowance by next Monday, on the next “fat boy” weigh in. I think I need to lose about 5 pounds to make it. That won’t stop me from working to lose all I need for my last official weigh in before retirement. If I don’t succeed, under the revised regulations it could screw up my retirement. I won’t let that happen, even if I die in the attempt.

So until tomorrow I leave you with less anxiety, more determination, and a desire to kick ass and take names. I’ll start catching up with current events tonight and tomorrow.

Until then,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

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Filed under healthcare, Loose thoughts and musings, Military, US Navy

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