PTSD and the Vietnam Vet – Part 2 of 2

To continue from yesterday… we are talking about PTSD as it relates to the Vietnam vet. It probably relates to you if you are a veteran from another war, also. This information is based on an article I found on the web about PTSD, written by a Vietnam veteran. This is a terribly long post, and I am hopeful it will be useful to any of you veterans reading it.

First, though, I need to say what I was reminded by a Vietnam vet that I forgot to say to you yesterday, and that is the words, Welcome home. I am glad you made it and am hopeful you have and are resolving your difficulties associated with the war. Yes, I know these words are long overdue, and it is my first opportunity to say them to you publicly. I hope you will accept them.

The author of the article I found goes on to describe in detail the symptoms. Anger is the most prevalent. It is free-floating, with no real target. Everyone and everything become the cause of the anger. People with PTSD go right to rage, especially soldiers who are taught to react and not think about things. On the other hand, “normal” people experience a slow progression to rage… from anger, to angrier and angrier, to rage. Not so with the veteran.

People around you who are  displaying rage walk on eggshells, never knowing when you will “go off” on them. The author relays that a way to deal with this is to have conversations with all who are involved, talking about your anger and the effect it is having on others and yourself. He further claims that the way to deal with anger issues is to learn how to manage it, without trying to figure out the cause. Anger management classes are useful for this.

The author made a distinction between flashbacks and hallucinations, stating that flashbacks are reliving the events in your mind, while hallucinations are seeing things that are not there. These are common with those of you dealing with PTSD.

Fear is a common symptom, and it is often paranoia. Every action by those of you experiencing PTSD has fear attached to it. Dread is also common, especially dread about death. The author stated that there are so many Vietnam vets in prisons because the dread of death within 6 months was so strong, that they engaged in reckless behavior for the adrenaline rush, that it led to crime.

Hyper-vigilance is a big one. You Vietnam vets feel unsafe in public, the author states, because the American people became the enemy upon your return home. He makes the point that when you spent so much time securing an area and watching for “Charlie,” that you never stop watching for Charlie. You, as well as I, have a tendency to sit with your back to a wall, near exits.

When your anxiety level is increased, all PTSD symptoms increase. If you keep an eye on your anxiety levels, you will know when to call a friend, a therapist, or get to a hospital for help.

What is learned in combat is never lost, the author states, and, therefore, you vets have difficulty trusting people. You fear intimacy and yet need intimacy, as all of us do, and your inability to trust leads to superficial relationships, one night stands, multiple partners, and extramarital affairs.

Drug and alcohol abuse is very prevalent among you with PTSD, and unfortunately, PTSD symptoms are enhanced when using. You from Vietnam were the first who actually returned home already addicted, and that was a new thing for the VA to deal with. Alcohol, drugs, and the need for adrenaline rushes are a deadly combo and jails, prisons, and graveyards are filled with Vietnam vets so afflicted.

Sleep disorders are a common problem, as are night terrors, nightmares, and night sweats. The author relayed that most of you return to combat in your sleep… He didn’t really discuss a relief for those things other than learning how to manage PTSD in general.

Guilt is a biggie, as part of war is doing things you are not proud of. You are rewarded for your kills during war, and to come home and function as if nothing happened is a huge disconnect. He suggested talking about this to others. Survivor’s guilt is also a problem, as you feel that when something bad happens to you, like a failed marriage, loss of a job, or an accident, you deserve it.

“Why am I the one who lived?” is a common belief. To alleviate this, I suggest you consider that you were intended to live to be of service to others in some way or another. Perhaps, as you heal from your wounds, you are intended to share how you did that, so that others can benefit and heal themselves.

Memory loss that occurs to you, and to me big time, is related to damage and a loss of function in the hippocampus… the part of the brain that controls memory and learning. When I discovered this, I felt a huge relief about my memory loss.

Intrusive thoughts invade your life, the author says, and the way to deal with this is to stay busy with other tasks and projects. Helping others is especially useful to “get you out of yourself.”

It is not at all surprising that, given all the above things you are dealing with, that you experience depression. This can be controlled with nutrition, drug therapy, talk therapy, and being in a safe, loving environment.

To summarize, the triggers for your PTSD symptoms can be learned, as can the things to do that help you with those symptoms. The biggest thing the author stressed is to get it out… talk about it and feel the feelings. This is the first step to healing. Nutrition plays a big role, also. The bottom line is, controlling your symptoms with drinking and drugging is slow suicide and is avoidable.

Above all, the tone of this article was one of taking action and getting help. I hope you do that, and I wish you well on your continued journey.

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PTSD and the Vietnam Vet – Part 1 of 2

Wow and OMG. I have just spent the last couple of hours on a veterans’ website and discovered a wealth of information in an article by a Vietnam vet on PTSD.  Even as a PTSD-diagnosed person myself, it opened my eyes to the plight of the veteran, and specifically to that of the Vietnam vet. It renewed my desire to reach out to you Nam vets. It seems to be my calling…

You guys who fought gave not just of your life to serve; you have been forced to give of your whole remaining lives dealing and coping with the aftermath of the war. I am in awe and deep appreciation. To say thank you for your service seems so trite. Perhaps instead, I could be saying, thank you for dedicating your entire life to this country.

I have nine pages of notes from the article written by an author whose name does not appear on the article. I couldn’t find it anyway. How do I narrow it down to a blog post and leave the meat of the article intact? I can’t, which is why I have provided the link to the article. Nonetheless, I will summarize what I read.

PTSD is a physical illness, with chemical changes to the brain. It is not the sign of a weak person. It stands for post traumatic stress disorder and can be acquired from battle, or chronic abuse. Mine was diagnosed at the age of 54 or 55, having dealt with its symptoms since the age of 20, so that’s 34-35 years. It was a result of my repeated physical, verbal, and emotional abuse. But I’m here to talk about PTSD and the Vietnam vet.

The point is, you can go for years before it jumps up and slaps you in the face. Some of the signs of PTSD include difficulty getting along with others, abusive behavior toward authority figures, poor sleep patterns and inability to rest, and excessive hyper-reactivity… or an increased startle reaction, anger, flashbacks, severe fear and dread, hyper-vigilance, anxiety, and problems with intimate relationships.

People living with PTSD initially feel like they’re living in a fog, have decreased concentration, and things don’t make sense. If caught when it’s acute, treatment and cure are possible. If it’s chronic, not recognized until years after a traumatic event(s), then it is not curable, only treatable. In the latter case, PTSD sufferers will need to learn how to manage their symptoms and through that, recognize when to reach out for help from a friend, therapist, or hospital.

People with PTSD often self-medicate with alcohol, drugs, and engage in activities that produce adrenaline rushes… doing dangerous and illegal things. Many Vietnam vets with PTSD, the author claims, are in jails and prisons because of this combination. Vietnam produced vets that came home addicted already, so if you were one of them, you either sought help or you’re still drinking and drugging. I know I medicated with drugs to combat the high degree of flashbacks I had, as well as my anxiety, fear, and depression. The problem with that was that all of those things were intensified during my drinking and drugging days. I simply refused to admit it at the time.

This post is getting too long and I have more to say, so I will stop here for the day. I invite you to join me tomorrow for the conclusion of the blog.

 

 

 

 

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What It Was Like Getting Sober – Part 3

My van

To continue… I must say, I hope you stick with this post. It’s long and I really hated to do a part 4.

The first year and a half of getting sober was difficult, as my feelings were extremely raw and I had nothing with which to numb them. I did a LOT of writing. I took several brisk walks a day.

After several months of doing these things as well as going to 4-5 meetings a day, God brought me the old van I ws telling you about earlier, and I dove in, gutting it, redoing the plumbing and electrical systems in addition to all the woodworking. I designed the interior bulkhead walls and the bookshelves. This project was a life-saver. It eased the difficulty of getting sober and feeling all my emotions.

I left San Diego in the spring of 2002, and headed back to the Bay Area, where I got a job. Soon after, I fell and injured my right, dominant wrist, so much so that I could not write with that hand and started journaling with my non-dominant, left hand. All sorts of deep feelings welled up, out of nowhere.

In fact, some of what I wrote now appears in the book I wrote and photographed, Opening the Gates of the Heart: A Journey of Healing. In 2004, I discovered that the writings matched perfectly with some gate photos I had taken earlier in the year, describing their physical characteristics perfectly. I did not plan this; it just happened, which is why I believe my book was divinely created, guided.

Anyway, after returning to Marin and injuring myself in 2002, I could not deal with the weather that winter; the rain was blowing sideways and the van was leaking, getting my journals and books wet. I lost it and became suicidal. After reaching out to the crisis line and getting stabilized, I returned to San Diego and proceeded to receive treatment for my wrist injury.

Surgery was necessary, and I spent the next 3 years trying to find a place to live where I could be and not use my hand for a month following the surgery. It was going to be pretty extensive… First I went to Colorado and then to a friend’s home in Washington state, but these places did not work out and I found myself back in Marin in 2005, having surgery.

My emotional recovery continued, as I delved deeper into my psyche. I got assistance from a therapist. But I still was experiencing great, deep despair over my childhood. I felt the pain I had endured was for no purpose in my life, other than to make me miserable. That despair continued until one day, I discovered my purpose in life.

What I discovered was that my story, my abusive history, was of help to another when I talked about it and relayed how I had begun to heal from it. Suddenly, I saw the reason for the abuse. It was to help others by talking about my experience of healing so that they, too, could begin to recover from their abuse, their pain that they had endured. Suddenly I had purpose, my life had purpose.

After realizing my life’s purpose, my whole attitude and belief in myself changed, and I have not felt despair since that discovery, that day. In fact, my recovery has progressed to the point that I am stable and flourishing. Initially after surgery and for 2 years, I pulled together my book. Then I spent the next 2 years publishing and marketing it. It didn’t really take off, despite the fact that everyone who reads it, raves about it.

In 2008, I bought my humble little home in Marin, so now I am a long-term resident in a place that I love. An opportunity and calling came about, working with the Vietnam vets to help them through the suffering they still experience. What I have to offer today that I didn’t have 38 years ago is a way through grief, as well as how to get past anger and bitterness that is long-standing.

You see, I was finally able to forgive my parents for my upbringing. I carried that deep resentment around for 33 years, and am well-versed in how to forgive a long-time hurt. This is one of the major things I talk about when I work with the vets.

I conduct workshops now, as well as coach others. The topics are as I’ve discussed… grief recovery and forgiveness. I love my life and most of all, I love it when, after talking with someone, I see their eyes light up with hope after being sad and listless, void of all hope. That wonderful peace that I have found is something which I love to pass on… how to get there, how to look at the world and oneself with new eyes, 180 degrees from what one saw before.

You, too, can have a healing journey through all of your grief, your anger and bitterness, through all of your despair and hopelessness. It all starts by getting sober, giving up the drink for a kinder and softer way. Come join me. It is a wonderful life. Learn how to start on that path by coming to my workshop Finding Freedom In Forgiveness on National Forgiveness Day, October 27th. For more information and to register, go to http://findforgiveness.eventbrite.com.

If you are hurting enough, and you want something different in your life, then you are ready, perhaps, to embark upon a new journey. Reach out. Get help. You were not intended to do life alone in a vacuum, by yourself. It is a sign of strength and courage to reach out for a hand. There is love out there, brought to you by God’s countless angels. I wish for you to discover it.

 

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What It Was Like Getting Sober – Part 2

To continue… So, Brad and I were friends and palled around for about a month. During that time, the thought to go on a road trip to “find myself” came to me, so I began preparing my little Audi Quattro (a 1985 runnin’ strong with 350,000 on it) for the trip. My first stop was San Diego where my old Sausalito bar tender was now living, getting sober herself. I packed up the car, made drawers and shelves in the back seat for clothes, pots and pans, and finally left Marin County, planning never to return. I had had it with Marin!

The ironic thing is that I am back, have been since 2005, and now own property in Marin. lol Just goes to show you that you never know where life is going to take you! My trip to San Diego was leisurely, as I stopped at several camp grounds along the way. I would drink my six-pack and go roller blading around the camp grounds, a hobby I had taken up at Brad’s encouragement. (He was a roller blader).

I spent my evenings reading Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch. And drinking, of course. From the book, I formed the belief that there could be a God and that He was constantly sending help and messages my way through other people, songs, ads, etc. I became very open to suggestions by others, seeing that it might be God at work for me.

When I got to San Diego on March 5th, 2001, and spent the night in a Motel 6 in Chula Vista, south of San Diego, I had my last six-pack as I wrote a letter to the man who did not reciprocate my feelings of love. It was a letter explaining the events that occurred that had made me believe he cared, in an attempt to get clarification from him. I became a sloppy and teary-eyed drunk that night, and awoke with a bad hangover, as usual.

I headed to my friend’s on March 6, 2001, and we proceeded getting sober for the next seven days, at which point she claimed she was going to a support group and did I want to join her? As I was taking everything that came along as a sign from God, I said yes. I will never forget that first group meeting I went to. Everyone was going around the circle, claiming to be an alcoholic and giving their name. What would I say when it came my turn!!?? I was terrified to speak.

Miraculously, when my turn came, the words “Hi, I’m Carolyn and I’m an alcoholic,” rolled out of my mouth with no effort or hesitation at all. I cannot tell you what relief that I felt, what weight was lifted form my shoulders. No more hiding. There. Everyone knew, or would know. That meeting was the start of my recovery to a much better place. First though, I had to go through a lot of healing.

It started with looking at my resentments and examining them. After my parents and my ex-husband, came the “white man” for his treatment of and crimes against the Native Americans, and then came the American public for how they treated the Nam vets when they returned home. I was tremendously upset and angry about those things. They were some of the things I drank over.

Speaking of the Vietnam vets, what was my interest in them? Well, I vowed 38 years ago that I would give back to them even a little of what they lost when they returned home. Back then, I had nothing to offer. At this point in my sobriety, I still had nothing, but that changed, and I’ll explain how, tomorrow.  Hope to see you then

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What It Was Like Getting Sober – Part 1

Good morning and welcome back. I am hoping that the last two days of blogging about getting sober have been helpful and useful to you. It’s quite a low point when one realizes it’s time to stop drinking or actually die. At least it was for me. The thing that’s needed  is, being convinced that it’s worth living.

Ah, yes. I remember being in this space for several months, drinking more and more, seeking relief from my grief, my confusion over the unrequited love. Finally realizing I would die if I continued, it was with desperation that I prayed to a God I didn’t even believe in, asking for help. God answered. He sent Brad. Today I know that Brad’s coming into my life was a God-thing; back then I didn’t have a clue. Brad was my angel sent from God.

It got to the point when I was drinking that I’d start my afternoon at about 3 pm, at the local bar. I was there for margueritas… two of them. Then I walked to the grocery store across the street for a six-pack of beer, and then back to the boat I was living aboard at the time. It was an anchor-out, meaning it wasn’t attached to the docks, meaning I had to row back and forth to get to and from it.

I had to transport fresh water to the boat, had to monitor the electrical system and charge the batteries every 2 days, and other such tasks for survival, like watching the anchor in a storm to be sure it didn’t drag, allowing the boat to drift. Thankfully, I never had to reset the anchor in a storm; it always held fast..

I lived aboard from November 2000 to February 2001, through the winter months in Sausalito, California. Winters are pretty rainy and really nasty windy in Sausalito that time of year. I clocked some storms with 80 knot winds. Nighttime most often found me out of beer by about 7 or 8 pm, so I’d row in and go to the liquor store for one more six-pack. Miller Lite. Someone once told me that that was not beer! Well, it did the trick for me quite nicely… Anyway, my rowing in and out during the storms was suicidal.

Back to Brad. He was this young guy, in his early 30’s (I was 48 at the time), who rode his bike past the bar where I sat on the deck every afternoon. We’d wave to each other. One day, soon after I begged to God, Brad stopped and asked how I was. It was when I responded “Just fine,” and he replied gently “No you’re not,” that I began to cry.

We became friends and his friendship helped me start the long journey back from deep, debilitating despair. He helped me gain back a sense of reality, of what was real about my thoughts, my feelings. And I continued to drink, just not with such desperation. I contemplated getting sober many times and was terrified to let go of what was familiar in my life.

Miserable as I was with my drinking and the results of it (severe hangovers every morning), I knew what to expect in life. I didn’t think I could feel my feelings any more than I was already doing when I was drunk, and I was terrified of having to deal with more pain in my heart if I quit drinking. I didn’t know if I could stand it.

What I didn’t know at the time was that, once I asked for help from God, that included helping me through those feelings, giving me relief when they became unbearable, when I wanted to drink again. He brought me a major project to do, to occupy myself in a healthy manner… renovation of a 1982 Dodge full-sized van that I gutted and rebuilt in cherrywood. That became my pride and joy, my masterpiece, my business card when I tried to get varnishing jobs. That all happened in early sobriety… and I have jumped a bit ahead of myself.

This post is getting long and there’s still more to come. So, I shall continue tomorrow. Come back and find out how this relates to the soft spot I have in my heart for the Vietnam Veterans.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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