Tag Archives: speech comprehension

“ I pray to you to help me, and every day I get worse. Are you deaf, too?“ Thoughts of a Washed up Priest and Chaplain at the End of a Military Career


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

A few nights ago I watched the final episode of the television series M*A*S*H “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.” As I mentioned in my last blog both the series and the film have been important and long lasting parts of my life. It is interesting because when I was first commissioned as an Army Second Lieutenant on 19 June 1983 in the Medical Service Corps, and September 1992 became a Chaplain in the Texas Army National Guard, subsequently serving in the Virginia Army National Guard and Army Reserve as a Chaplain. I also served as a Armor Officer in Texas during seminary. On 9 February 1999 I turned in my Gold Oak Leaf as a Major in the Army for the two Silver Bars of a Navy Chaplain Corps Lieutenant.

Now, 21 years after that move I am a washed up Chaplain and Navy Commander mostly abandoned by fellow Chaplains for openly and honesty dealing with the ravages of PTSD, abandonment which created moral injury that I have never recovered from, no matter how hard I prayed the Daily Office, or studied scripture and theology. Without going into such detail that it would harm me even more in much current fragile emotional state, I can only say that I was abandoned, ghosted, and off revamped by the senior Chaplains who sent me to war, of course I was a very willing volunteer, and then ensured that every subsequent assignment would be harmful to my career, while certain senior chaplains treated me in the most malicious and evil manner knowing I needed a continuity of psychiatric, psychological, and spiritual care, ripped me away from it sending me on a three year geographic bachelor tour, away from home and those supports.

I also continue to suffer physical and neurological disorders related to combat. One is a combination of serene Tinnitus, and abnormal degraded speech comprehension without corresponding hearing loss. The neurologist thought it was due damage to my auditory nerves and auditory processing center related to PTSD. My speech comprehension was rated in the third percentile, meaning that 97% of people process speech better than me. In order to understand speech in individual conversations or in large groups I have to be completely focused and not have any cross talk or background noise. This makes it difficult to function. Basically, I am functionally deaf unless I am completely focused on whoever is talking and they are speaking clearly enough for me to understand. Judy is really deaf, and she understands speech better than me much of the time.

During Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen the 4077th’s Chaplain, Father Francis Mulcahy is exposed to a mortar blast and suffers Tinnitus and hearing loss, which continue to get worse despite his prayers.

In one of his prayers to God, one which resonates much with me, he cries out:

“Dear Lord, I know there must be a reason for this, but what is it? I answered the call to do your work. I’ve devoted my life to it, and now, how am I supposed to do it? What good am I now? What good is a deaf priest? I pray to you to help me, and every day I get worse. Are you deaf, too?“ 

My situation doesn’t simply involve my inability to understand speech but the residual effects of PTSD: hyper vigilance, anxiety, severe depression, sleep disorders, nightmare and night terror disorders that have resulted in injuries including a broken nose when battling the phantom like images of assailants in my dreams.And most recently under the stress I feel, horrible angry outbursts that are so unlike me. They make me feel horrible, but a decade of death threats, internet stalking, being called an “enemy of America”, and for supporting the rights of Blacks a “nigger lover” and “wigger,” and condemnation by Christians for caring about the rights, safety, and decent treatment of LGBTQ as enabling sin against God, but I never saw Jesus turn anyone away. The greatest hurt I experience is when Christian friends attack, condemn, and abandon me, especially over the past five years as so many became members of the Trump Dictatorship Cult. It took a while but I don’t take it anymore and after slicing and dicing their arguments leave things in their hands as where to they want to go with our relationship. Some cut me off and others make sure I know how rotten I am before they cut things off. Back in the early days after returning from Iraq while melting down and being thrown out of my former Church I culled a lot of them preemptively from my social contacts. A few have since renewed and reconciled but not all.

No amount of praying ever changed anything. I still believe in God, but I struggle every day. Sometimes I don’t feel that I am of any use, but too many people tell me that I do. Even so the fourth verse of the M*A*S*H them song, Suicide is Painless rings true for me now. I don’t have the answers. That verse says: A brave man once requested me to answer questions questions that are key, “Is it to be or not to be” and I replied “oh, why ask me?” 

Something that Colonel Potter said to Father Mulcahy and Mulcahy’s reply seems a pretty good place to end this before I sign off from this post:

Col. Potter: Well, Francis, you’ve been a godsend.
Father Mulcahy: Look on the bright side: When they tell us to serve our time in Purgatory, we can say, “No thanks, I’ve done mine.”

So here I am, an old, broken, washed-up Chaplain and priest who is a better historian than many looking to the next phase of my life, with Judy and the puppies, but even so, without a Parish, without an institutional Chaplain position, or any formal place of ministry, I will still be a Priest, and serve whoever comes into my life, even when I struggle and doubt.

Since I am going to have to get a bit of work done  house and do my damnedest to finish the illustration section of my book so I can send it to my agent and publisher tomorrow, which means whenever I wake up, I wish you all peace and safety.

Blessings and Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith, film, healthcare, History, iraq, mental health, Military, movies, Pastoral Care, philosophy, Political Commentary, racism, Religion, remembering friends, Sleep and Insomnia, suicide, televsion, Tour in Iraq, us army, US Navy

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