I have PTSD. And before you read any further, please know that I'm not going to talk about what caused my PTSD. I felt like I have a strange form of PTSD. I hate bridges. I hate crowds. I hate loud noises, not sudden noises I think those suck for most of us, but I mean more than 3-4 voices at once. I test myself sometimes to see how I can handle the things I hate, the things that trigger my anger or anxiety. I really hate the two dams near where I live. It's not the water or the height of it. I look down the road across the dam and all I can see is Zero chance of exit. If the shit hits the fan I know I have no way to get off that dam. Everyone always says "oh you miss the chaos" when they talk about me having PTSD. If it was the chaos I miss, then I would love crowds. But I don't. I hate them. My worst nightmare is Black Friday shopping. That is regular civilian chaos. I know exactly what I miss. I miss my knowing my job, knowing what to do and how to react to each and every possible scenario I could come across. I have found that sounds so odd and its misunderstood but so many people. They life is so regular to them. They always have to go to the grocery store. They always cross the bridges and dams. They have never been taken from regular life and broken down either. It's not that I'm scared to be home. I just don't know how to react. I don't remember civilian levels of reaction. Do I shout at them for standing to close to me in line at the gas station? No, you can't shout at them for living their normal life. The guy behind you just wants to buy a packet of gum and a monster. He doesn't realize that he's destroying your level of personal space and making you feel threatened. Our brains are wired that we are in constant threat, that we are targets. And for the most part, we aren't a target at home. I don't know how to adjust to that. So what do we do to help it? What can I do to fix this? Every once in a while when I'm having a good day, I will drive across one of the dams across the Tennessee river near where I live even though I know I will get the same cold chill down and up my spine that looks like I had a seizure. But not everyone of us can do that. Not everyone can face their fear or triggers. And I'm not saying I always can. Some bad days when I have a high level of anxiety I will drive 20 minutes out of my way to avoid the dams. I will go to the store at 7 am so I know that no one else will be there. I have a service dog. She helps. She helps wonders because no one wants to get close to the person with a German Shepherd with a vest that says "DO NOT PET" on it. I do what I have to do to cope. The best way I have found to cope is to talk to others veterans who understand. I know that I'm not alone. I'm not some strange veteran who is paranoid and can't handle half of the things I used to. I can't handle civilian mediocre life, that's normal and day to day for them. Reach out to your brothers and sisters. You aren't alone. My favorite times have been bowling, eating, having a few beers, or just sitting and talking with my fellow Warrior Pointe members. You don't ever have to explain yourself. We get it. We have lived it. Best of all, we can help you. You're not alone and you don't have to cope alone.
Category: "Warrior Stories"
Blood shot eyes, exhaustion consumes me. Sleep is a word that has been nearly forgotten.
It’s dark and cold, the city has turned in for the night but I am wide awake.
I fight my eyes as they try to close. I take another drink, the whiskey runs through me as fast as lightning, jolting me awake for another few minutes.
I can hear everything, the quieter it is the louder I can hear. It starts off as a small ringing in the ears. As the clock ticks, the ringing gets louder. It’s as if I am being hypnotized by my own thoughts.
The ringing turns into other sounds. Some of them can be explained, others I try to ignore.
Cries for help and images of wounded soldiers start to flash before my eyes. The images are mixed with memories from child hood, innocent things combined with things that I would never wish on my worst enemy.
I fight myself to open my eyes so the flashes will stop. The cycle continues every day and every night.
Who will understand the battle I face? Who will understand my fears?
This illness does not have a color, it does not have a smell and it cannot be seen by the human eye.
We live in two worlds, inside and outside. We see both but you only see one.
Many fight this battle all alone because they know that no one will understand.
Sometimes all we need is open arms to comfort our delicate soul. We don’t want to explain the horror that goes on inside, we just need to know that we are not alone.
So my problem is that no matter how many good days I have, or how well the meds and therapy might be working, I am constantly walking on a ledge between worlds. There are the good days, the really good days, that I can function and put a smile on my face for the outside world. Then there are the days where I'm hanging on to that ledge with my pinky finger and the dark abyss below is calling my name.
I am walking that ledge right now, and I'm writing down my thoughts in an effort to regain my footing on that ledge. The effort it takes me to keep the world at bay on days like today is exhausting. The effort it takes me to keep from falling the rest of the way of the ledge is equal to the effort really required for a person to hang on to a ledge by their pinky finger. It is damn near impossible. Inside the abyss is all the things I'm fighting to stay away from; alcohol, harmful intentions, suicidal thoughts, anger, regret, frustration. You name it; it is probably down below in that blackness and it's all calling my name. It's calling my name loudly.
It's easy to get overwhelmed by the thoughts in my head. Like a lot of people, the things going on in my life are all taking their toll. I absolutely hate being away from my kids. I cannot stand the emptiness inside when they are with their mother. That alone is harder for me to deal with than anything else in my life. They make me whole, they keep me far away from the edge of that ledge, and a hug from them can bring me back from anywhere. They keep me alive. They are without a shadow of a doubt the only reason I have not taken my own life in the 5 years they've been alive.
I fight for them. I am alive for them. I'm getting help for them. Without them I have nothing to live for and no purpose in life. I am willing to live on this stupid fucking ledge for as long as I need to just so I can be there for them; so I can see them grow up. I do it so I can see them enjoy a life I don't think I can at this point—so I can see them live a better life than I am. It's hard to admit to myself, let alone the world at large, that I'm in tears as I am writing this. I have not even written that much and I have to stop and look at pictures of them. It's the closet thing I to sanity when they are with their mother.
You know, as I sit here and talk about this ledge that I walk and the more I address it in the limited ways that I have, I learn that most of the people I connect with on this planet are walking their own ledge. Within the last 24 hours I've learned that 4 people in my life are on their own ledge. They’re all in different places and times and for different reasons. They’re all keeping themselves out of the abyss for some reason only known to them. I would never betray their trust by giving any details or personal information and there is no way anyone reading can guess considering the only friends I keep could all fall into this category.
The one thing I'm learning as I deal with this shit is that I am not alone—not even close—but I notice that everyone else that is fighting the same battle I am seems to have the same issues talking about it that I do. Why am I coming public with this and talking about it? Because I can. Because one day in the future my kids can read this and hopefully understand that I'm doing the best I can and that I will always love them. I hope they understand why they are so important to me and why they keep me from falling all the way off this ledge and succumbing to the abyss that lies below.
I saw a man about a horse and it changed how I feel about myself.
A while ago, I ran across the website for a program called Saratoga WarHorse. I reached out to Bob Nevins, Director of Veteran Program and Founder. Bob is a Vietnam vet and retired from a 24 year career as an airline pilot to start this program. Bob called me and we spoke on the phone about the program and then selected my date to attend the program and it was one of the best choices I've made in a long time. Saratoga WarHorse is an unbelievable program that works on a simple level. It is just you and the horse. This program is one of those things that I can tell you about, but it's hard to actually explain and express how it feels. Bob has created a program that works and has had over 300 graduates with no failures. It is not that the program is pass or fail, because it is what you make of your experience that matter, but the program's success rate is just that good.
It is a three day program that teaches you a lot and gives you an experience. One fantastic aspect of what Saratoga WarHorse offers is that the program is free to the Veteran. Through donations, the program is able to pay for travel to Saratoga, a 2 night hotel stay in a beautiful hotel and the meals while you’re there. The other fantastic aspect to the program is the retired horses. They are what makes the program work and they are in the program to graduate as well.
My horse, Volente, was a retired race horse. All of the horses in the program are retired race horses. They enter the program themselves to learn how to be something besides a racehorse. The program is as much to retrain the horse for its second life as it is for the veteran. The program is a new beginning for all involved. The veteran and the horse. Volente, and I'm directly quoting The Saratoga WarHorse website here, comes to SWH from Akindale Thoroughbred Rescue after an unsuccessful racing career. He has a kind and gentle personality and has been adopted out to several homes over the years, which due to circumstances out of his control, have ended up with his return to Akindale.
They are not joking either. Volente is my favorite horse and once our experience was through, Volente was a very loving horse, and even returned my hug. So, I've talked about the experience and I haven't told you what it is yet. The day we go to the facility that houses the horses is the day everything happens. Melody, our wonderful and super talented guide through the whole process, started the morning by bringing in all sorts of home cooked food. You might actually gain a few pounds, the food is good and plentiful for both lunch and dinner. I'm not going to detail every aspect of this experience because it is not necessary to tell you them all. I’ll tell you the highlights and the things I can actually explain into words.
Throughout the morning we learned about the horses, communicating and working with them and about the program itself. It's very personal, very well done and very interesting. Our afternoon started the work, there are some physical aspects to this, but nothing above what each individual can handle. We assembled the round pen, the area in which we will work with the horses (we disassembled it as well) and working as a team, we actually did it quite quickly. Inside this pen we were visually schooled my Melody and Bob before practicing our routine with Melody pretending to be the horse. That poor women ran and ran and ran all afternoon making sure we had everything down.
The moment that makes the visit is working with the actual horses. I cannot explain how I feel. I'm sharing the video of my experience below, you can see for yourself what we do. Immediately, I felt good. I enjoyed my experience, I enjoyed bonding with the horse. I did feel good and extremely glad I participated. It's now though, several weeks later that I'm realizing the real effects of the experience. I find myself thinking about my time with Volente instead of the memories I used to refer back to. The horrible memories nobody wants to think about. It's much more pleasant to think about hugging my horse and I do it and think about it naturally. I'm not going to say that I'm fixed and that every issue I have was cured by my time with Volente, but it sure helped me.
Bob talks about resetting a circuit breaker and I find it is an excellent analogy. I learned things about myself and I opened myself up. I gained a lot of traction in my personal battles and this experience jump started my recovery. I am forever grateful for my time with Saratoga WarHorse. I can't thank Bob, Janelle, Melody, Brian, Troy, Volente, their many donors and all of the other volunteers who showed up to help enough. What they do is a fantastic service to the veteran community.
From the bottom of my heart, I can't thank you enough.
If anyone thinks this program might help them, please reach out to Bob or Jennel, all it takes is a phone call. I can consider these folks family for what they do to help. Bob is a veteran himself and words aren't needed. After 300+ veterans, he just seems to know.