Tag Archives: road rage

Faugh a Ballaugh: St. Patrick’s Day Thoughts 

  
The Irish Brigade Memorial at Gettysburg 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

According to my DNA tests I am 43% Irish, the highest percentage of any of the DNA in my genetic soup recipe, I enjoy Saint Patrick’s Day. While much of my intellect is coldly logical like the Germans, my attitude toward life is probably more Irish than anything else. I like to have fun, I can be combative, I occasionally suffer from the melancholy that afflicts the Irish, and I love to drink good beer. While my beer preferences tend toward German pilsners and lagers, I love real Irish beer too. When I was deployed on a ship whenever we were in port I found the local Irish expat pubs where I drank a lot of Kilkenny beer with the other old guys from the Wardroom. 

My regular readers know that I am a historian and do a lot with the American Civil War, especially the Battle of Gettysburg. They also know that I am most definitely a Union man despite the fact that many of my ancestors fought for the Confederacy, and that I have tremendous admiration for the legendary Irish Brigade of the Army of the Potomac. In fact the title of this article comes from that unit’s battle cry, which means clear the way. When I lead the Staff Ride to Gettysburg I am always drawn to where those brave men fought in the Wheatfield, the Rocky hill (Houck’s Ridge) and where Father Corby pronounced a general absolution for all of his soldiers, Catholic and Protestant, on Cemetery Ridge before they went into battle the afternoon of July 2nd 1863. 

Likewise, when I am in one of my melancholy moods the Irish song, The Minstrel Boy always comes to mind. 

But all this being said, yesterday and for that matter this week has been a bit tumultuous. I had to deal with a driver who had a road rage attack Wednesday which has left me sleepless, as well as the totally unexpected loss of a beloved long serving civilian employee at the Staff College. 

My wife and some colleagues at work have convinced me to report the road rage incident which I will do today, as the rager was a sailor in uniform.  Since I suffer from PTSD the whole incident was quite unsettling. At first I thought of just letting it go, but I do think now, for safety sake that I should report it. While I don’t think that I am in danger, and while I do not want to have him charged with anything, or have his life ruined, but the young man obviously needs help before his rage gets him killed. 

I attended a memorial for our employee yestday afternoon at the little Baptist Church that he attended. The service was touching and heartfelt, many people from the church and the staff college were in attendance. The man who died wasn’t much older than me and he was a gem. I liked joking with him and he was one of the most conscientious workers, and dearest of people you would have ever wanted to know. Our current class graduates this morning and we are dedicating part of the ceremony to his memory. 

Last night we had a few beers with our friends at Gordon Biersch before going home and taking it easy. 

So anyway, I will have some new material out this weekend. Until then, please take care and be safe. 

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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Filed under faith, iraq,afghanistan, Military, PTSD, Tour in Iraq