Tag Archives: tbi

Smile and the World Smiles with You: PTSD, Broken Noses, Smiles, F-Bombs, and God’s Love


 Smile and the World Smiles with You: It Looks and Feels a Lot Worse in Person, the Black Eye is Awesome

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tuesday morning began with a fucking bang. I was in the middle of one of my HD PTSD nightmares and I was rudely awakened when my face smashed into my nightstand. It’s not the first time that this is happened, and it is the second time in the past two years that the incident required a visit to the ER. I have had a lot of these incidents since returning from Iraq in2008, but thankfully only two required going in for medical treatment. The last time I required medical treatment was when in a similar nightmare, I bruised my jawbone and gave me a concussion. Today, just a gash across my face and a broken nose. The incident was so violent that it scared the hell out of Judy, Minnie, and Izzy. I woke up and felt liquid on my face and realized that I was bleeding. So I rapidly put some Kleenex to keep the blood from dripping everywhere I didn’t want to clean and stumbled into the bathroom where I was confronted with my bloodied image in the mirror. I looked like an old and out of shape MMA fighter who just had his ass kicked, but thankfully I didn’t tap out. 

Judy drove me to the Naval Medical Center, and two of the nurses both related to my situation, having both dealt with the nightmares of PTSD. One female nurse said that hers lasted over five years after returning, mine have been going on over eight years. It is one of the marks of PTSD, the fucking brain matter gets scrambled, and sometimes, no matter how much therapy you get, or how good your medication management is, shit like this happens.

That my friends is life. It may not be fair. It may not fit in with a theology that says of you pray that God will heal you, but it is life, and for that matter it is much more in keeping with scripture, and reality than the bullshit put out by the mega-church and television preacher bullshit artists who call themselves pastors, who fleece their flocks by the tune of millions of dollars every fucking day of the week. So fuck them, not that I would want to, but I digress… 

That being said, with the except of the chronic insomnia and nightmares I am doing much better when it comes to dealing with PTSD. I make accommodation for it, I avoid things that I know are likely to blow me up, and So I have a choice; I can either sulk and be angry, or while realizing how serious it is I can decide to live, to smile, and to love. So fuck it, I’m going to live and smile. I might need to start wearing a catcher’s mask to bed to keep from hurting myself when I have these high definition nightmares, but then I did play catcher in both little league and softball. 

So… What now? Well for me the answer is simple, live, love, and smile, because when you smile, no matter how fucked up things are, the world smiles with you. Laugh, and no matter how fucked up things are, and the world laughs with you; and for that matter, God might even give me a grin, because the God I believe in actuality understands and cares about real human beings and is much more concerned about our happiness than he is about the occasional F-Bomb. 

As for me, no matter what life and dealing with the effects of PTSD and TBI may be, I am still going to fucking laugh, and fucking smile. Even so I do think I will go looking for a comfortable and well fitting catcher’s mask when I get back from Gettysburg. 

Have a great night, and no matter what happens, try to smile.

Peace

Padre Steve+

P.S. I will post something about the Democratic Party National Convention tomorrow and promise to soon do something on the Trump-Putin bromance and Trump’s probable treason in the coming days. 

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The Second Thing: Living and Thriving with PTSD


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I wanted to take some time to reflect on the struggle I have had with chronic PTSD following my tour in Iraq.

For years, PTSD dominated my life, in fact it almost defined who I was. The nightmares, night terrors, anxiety, depression, occasional thoughts of suicide, and so many other effects of it were often almost more than I could bear. But over the past few months, beginning with an existential crisis around Easter, I think I have turned a corner. 

I have quoted James Spader’s character Raymond Reddington from the television series The Blacklist. Reddington told an FBI agent who had seen his fiancée murdered: “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 that you think about. Until one day, it’s the second.” 

For me, my time in Iraq haunted me. It was the first thing that I thought of when I got up, when I went to bed, and so many times during the days, and through the sleepless nights. It still is there, I left part of me in Al Anbar Province and brought part of it back with me. That will not change, but it is no longer the first thing that I think about. 


That my friends is a turning point. I still suffer in many ways from the effects of PTSD and mild Traumatic Brain Injury, or TBI, but while they are a big part of me, they do no longer define who I am. Iraq is no longer the first thing that I think about, and that my friends is important. It has taken over eight years, and yes, I still deal with the effects, but they don’t define who I am. I am a priest, a chaplain, a historian, a theologian, a husband, and a career military officer; not to mention daddy to two very sweet and smart Papillons. 

Indeed, there is nothing that can take the pain away, but for me, it is now the second thing. For me, that is a victory. 

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

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Filed under mental health, Military, PTSD

The Uncounted Cost of War: Veteran Suicides

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler probably discussed the true cost of war better than anyone. Butler, a two time Medal of Honor winner wrote in his book War is a Racket:

“What is the cost of war? what is the bill? “This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all of its attendant miseries. Back -breaking taxation for generations and generations. For a great many years as a soldier I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not only until I retired to civilian life did I fully realize it….”

Mangled bodies, shattered minds. The bodies get counted, the minds do not, and when a Marine, Sailor, Soldier, Airman or former serviceman or women ends their life due to suicide their name is not included on the casualty reports.

In January 2014 the Veterans Administration released a disturbing report that male veterans under 30 years old saw a 44% increase in the rate of suicide. The rate for women veterans increased by 11%. About 22 veterans a day committed suicide in 2013. That did not count those still on active duty numbers which are still high but have dropped somewhat since 2012 and previous years.

The VA National Mental Health Director for Suicide Prevention, Jan Kemp said “Their rates are astronomically high and climbing…” Kemp postulated that reasons for the spike might include “the pressures of leaving military careers, readjusting to civilian life and combat injuries like post-traumatic stress disorder…”

I believe that the stigma that many felt about getting psychological help while they were in the military continues on when they enter civilian life. Unlike the military where there is still some sense of camaraderie and a chance that the chain of command might force a service member to get help, no corresponding structure or community exists in the civilian world. Young veterans are often isolated and face new stresses while they are already on edge. Many find that the military occupation specialties that they trained for have no direct civilian counterpart, leaving them struggling in the civilian job market. Combat injuries as well as injuries sustained in training often continue on, limiting what they can do and the unseen injuries of PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury and Moral Injury, often undiagnosed and untreated lurk in the background.

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This is a national tragedy and crisis. Many of these young men and women are among the best and brightest. They volunteered to serve in time of war and now as the military, especially the Army and Marine Corps begin to shed large numbers of troops, many more will be thrust into a world that they may be ill equipped to survive.

They will attempt to go to work or attend school, quite often alone. There they will be surrounded by people who have no idea of the issues that they face or understanding of the military world that they left, or the places that they served. I think this social isolation will be a killer for many.

My recommendation is that people who work or go to school with these young veterans, or for that matter any veteran get to know them. Help them adjust to the world and keep an eye on them. Ask them how they are doing and just show that you care. You do not have to be a veteran to do that. Likewise get to know about the resources that are available for veterans and help direct them to them. Have the courage to care.

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Resources include the Veterans Crisis Hotline which is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They can be reached at (800)-273-8255, press 1, or here to chat online. They also allow veterans to send a text message to 838255 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day.

Another resource is the Real Warriors Live Chat. The a trained health resource consultant is ready to talk, listen and provide guidance and resources. They can be reached by calling 866-966-1020 or going to their live chat service here http://www.realwarriors.net/livechat.

Afterdeployment.org http://afterdeployment.t2.health.mil offers wellness resources for the Military Community. Service members in transition to civilian life can contact inTransition by calling 800-424-7877 or at their website http://www.health.mil/InTransition/default.aspx

To me this is personal. I still suffer from the effects of PTSD, TBI, Moral Injury and have been to the brink of suicide. I am doing a lot better, and I love life, and I can’t imagine living it without me.

However, I have known far too many veterans who have taken their own lives, or struggle with mental health issues, physical injuries and illness, or social isolation. Last January, about the time the VA report came out a brilliant and heroic senior officer I knew, Captain Tom Sitsch who helped me when I was collapsing due to the effects of PTSD took his own life. This is something that all of us have a stake in. Please help look out for our veterans.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under leadership, mental health, Military, PTSD, suicide

There Will be Nightmares: PTSD & Memories of War

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I’m really very tired today so another short post. I haven’t slept well in several weeks, part of this of course was the worry I had regarding my wife Judy and her cancer diagnosis, surgery and recovery. As she has gotten better I have been dealing with stuff from my own closet of anxieties. Those who have been reading my articles here know that I deal with PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury and moral injury from my time in Iraq, and my return home.

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Last year I went through a very difficult time dealing with the military mental health system that I never want to repeat again. I hope I don’t have to, but I may. My therapist who I have had since last summer took a new job thousands of miles away and now I am going to have to find another therapist. I am hoping the man I see for my medication management can get me referred to someone good, because I do not want to be thrust back into the system and take the luck of the draw. That scares me to death, and since I found out my therapist was leaving and that I will not see her again I have been trying to keep my anxiety under control and not to panic. Awake I do pretty well with this, but when I try to sleep, all my Iraq stuff, plus all the very real and bad experiences that I had with the military mental health system last year flood my psyche. The night terrors are back, the terrible dreams and fears. It is not fun waking up in the middle of the night in a state of terror. Last year, after dealing with a number of providers and administrators I was nearly suicidal. It took the intervention of a former commanding officer who had been recently selected for promotion to Admiral in the Medical Corps to get me listened to and to get me the help that I sought.

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But I know that I am not alone, I will get the professional help that I still need and I do have some friends I can talk to about these issues. Likewise I know many combat who veterans deal with similar issues related to their service, as well what happened to them when they returned home from Iraq or Afghanistan. The return from war is often worse than actually being over there, few people really understand, unless they too have been there.

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.” 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.”

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I am a realist about this. I know that there is no magic wand which will make it all go away and I don’t expect any therapist, or even God to cure me. I can understand why Alexander Dumas in the Count of Monte Cristo wrote, “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 true and I know to some people that may sound like I have given up, especially because it runs counter to the snake oil salesmen who write self-help books which promise to heal you in whatever number of steps or exercises; especially the ones written by preachers. But that is not the case, despite everything I still have a love of life and lust for learning. Except that now I just have moved to a new level of understanding concerning my own dark places, and that pain that manifests at night as I try to sleep. Since nothing will take it away I need to live with it and realize that it won’t always be the first thing that I think about when I wake up in the morning. That my friends is the essence of hope. 

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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.”

I think that is why I can continue and at the same time seek to be available to those who suffer similar afflictions, and thankfully, I do still have those opportunities and as the late Henri Nouwen wrote, “Ministry means the ongoing attempt to put one’s own search for God, with all the moments of pain and joy, despair and hope, at the disposal of those who want to join this search but do not know how.”

Anyway, have a nice night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Chaplain Conference and the Stomach Flu

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I am in Houston for my denomination Chaplain, Pastoral Counselor and Mental Health Professional training conference. The conference has been really good, but exhausting because I am not used to spending eight-hours or more a day in presentations and case conferences. This we are focusing on various treatments for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Moral Injury.

But tonight I am wiped out. Evidently there is a stomach flu going around Houston as well as other parts of the country and I have got it.  At first I thought that it just might be something I ate, but after nine hours and a number of trips to the great white throne I decided to see if anything is going around, and yes it is. I have even been throwing up the stuff I am taking to calm down my stomach. So I will do my best to stay hydrated and get well.

So in the hopes that my stomach calms down and that can enjoy tomorrow  with you a good night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until tomorrow, 

Peace, love and beer,

Padre Steve+ 

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The Long Strange Trip: Seven Years of PTSD, TBI & Moral Injury

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You’re sick of hangin’ around and you’d like to travel,
Get tired of travelin’ and you want to settle down.
I guess they can’t revoke your soul for tryin’,
Get out of the door and light out and look all around.

Sometimes the light’s all shinin’ on me,
Other times I can barely see.
Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it’s been.

Truckin’, I’m a goin’ home. Whoa whoa baby, back where I belong,
Back home, sit down and patch my bones, and get back truckin’ on.

From Truckin’ by the Grateful Dead

It has been seven full years since I descended into the hell of the abyss that is PTSD. Back in the late spring and early summer of 2008 just a few months after my return from what I still consider my best tour of duty in over 30 years of military service with US advisors and Iraq Army and Security forces in Al Anbar Province in 2007-2008 I was in a state of emotional and spiritual collapse.

I really couldn’t believe then what was happening to me or they way that it would end up shaping my life to the present day. In retrospect my return from Iraq marked a beginning of a personal hell that for a number of years seemed like that it would never end. It was painful, it was isolating and it marked a profound change in the way that I saw God, faith, politics and social justice. It changed me in ways that I never could have imagined when I got on a bus heading for Fort Jackson South Carolina following the July 4th holiday of 2007.

Those brave souls that have followed me on this website as well as those that are still my friends despite occasional disagreements and misunderstandings, those that may not understand me but still are my friends have seen this.

So seven years later what is it like? I kind of feel like T.E. Lawrence when he penned this thought in a letter to a friend:

“You wonder what I am doing? Well, so do I, in truth. Days seem to dawn, suns to shine, evenings to follow, and then I sleep. What I have done, what I am doing, what I am going to do, puzzle and bewilder me. Have you ever been a leaf and fallen from your tree in autumn and been really puzzled about it? That’s the feeling.” T. E. Lawrence, Letter 1935

I still have terrible trouble sleeping. It got worse last summer when I had a complete relapse and major crash.  I don’t take heavy doses of sleep meds anymore, my new doctors are working to see what will work. I now take a mild dosage of an anti-anxiety medication and an anti-depressant, I also have a new medication to help reduce the severity and violence of my nightmares. This is far better of a combination than the heavy doses of medications that made me feel like I was hung over without that benefit of sharing too many drinks with friends at the local watering hole.

As opposed to the years immediately following my time in Iraq I have to say that I am no longer self medicating with alcohol. I remember in 2009 going out for dinner, having a few beers, then going to a ball game and drinking a few more and coming home with Krispy Kreme donuts and drinking more beer on a regular basis and usually taking a couple of shots or Jaegermeister or glasses of a  nice Spanish Brandy just to get to sleep so I could go back to facing life and death situations the next day in the ICUs that I then worked in. I don’t need that anymore, even though sleep can be problematic and dreams and nightmares rivaling anything I can watch on my HD TV. I can understand the words of Union General Gouverneur Warren after the Civil 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.”

I still love to pony up to the bar and share a couple of steins with friends but I don’t need it to numb myself into feeling no pain. Talking with many other vets who have served in Iraq, Afghanistan or even Vietnam I know that I wasn’t alone in those dark days.

I have become a bit less hyper-vigilant than I was just in May of 2008. However, that being said I do notice that I am more on guard on the roads and that little things, sirens, emergency vehicles. Loud noises and traffic still set me off more than when I lived in rural North Carolina while stationed at Camp LeJeune from 2010 until August of 2013.

I absolutely hate air travel. I don’t like the crowds, the stress of security or the constant delays, changes and overcrowding. Truthfully I felt more comfortable flying the skies of Iraq on Marine, Army and Air Force fixed and rotor wing aircraft and on occasion being shot at in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province than I do on any airline today in this country.

I have become exceptionally sensitive to tragedy, death and suffering. The loss of friends or major incidents where military personnel are killed in combat, training missions or just doing their job hits me hard. The worst times are when friends, or others that I know die by their own hand. When they are veterans who suffer from PTSD, TBI or Moral Injury it is like a dagger plunging into me.

Whereas in 2008 through 2010 and even until 2011 I was exceptionally sensitive to criticism to the changes that were occurring in my life including my move to the “left” both theologically and politically I have gotten to the point that I realize that it is more important to be honest and authentic as to who I am and what I believe.

I have found that those that really matter to me don’t care so much about those things and that relationships maintained with people who don’t always agree with each other where all remain their personal integrity are far more rewarding than relationships that are first and foremost decided by allegiance to political or religious orthodoxy no matter what side of the spectrum it is from. I hate group think. Thus though I have to now consider me to be on the “liberal” side of the political and theological divide I still have to be considered a moderate simply because I refuse to make people my enemy simply because I disagree with them or they with me.

When I began this site in the spring of 2009 I named it Padre Steve’s World…Musings of a Passionate Moderate. I think I did that because it actually described me then, and now, even though I am pretty passionately liberal about some things and that doesn’t bother me in any way because it comes from my wrestling with God and faith and realizing that integrity matters more than about anything else. I changed the title of the site to Musings of a Passionately Progressive Moderate last year. I did this because I am a passionately progressive moderate; a liberal committed to a Christian faith that speaks up for the oppressed. I am willing to confront those that would use faith, political or economic power to oppress the weak or those different from us.

Since I returned from Iraq in 2008 I discovered what it was to really question faith and God. To become for a couple of years a man who was for all practical purposes an agnostic praying that God still existed and cared. I discovered that in doing so that faith returned, different but more real than I had ever experienced in a life spent in the Christian faith and ministry.

My agnostic period gave me an immense empathy and appreciation for those who have lost faith, struggle with faith or reject any concept of God. I value reason as much, maybe if not more than faith now, not that reason is infallible or perfect. However, reason does allow me to evaluate my faith, and appreciate the amazing mysteries of the universe that our science and technology continue to reveal in ever more complex detail.

That brought change because my rediscovered faith brought me into conflict with people in the church denomination and faith community where I had been ordained as a priest. I was asked to leave and found a new home church and denomination that fit my life, faith experience and where I could live and minister in complete integrity. In the church that took me in during the fall of 2010 I can be faithful to the Gospel and care for the lost, the least and the lonely. This is especially the case for those who have been abused by churches and ministries, who often contact me.

I am now in the process of more medical evaluation and testing to discover the extent of the Traumatic Brian Injury and how it is interacting with the PTSD.

It has been a long strange trip and it will probably continue to go on.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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