I listen to the heavy metal band Slayer on my iPod as I write. Their music is the only thing that prepares me to write about war. The cacophony of words, the anger spewing from the guitars, the pure hate they create in my mind. War Ensemble, is one of my favorite songs. I remember hearing it as a kid on Headbanger’s Ball on MTV. I was never allowed to listen to Slayer because they were “Satanic” so I would stay up late after my parents had gone to bed hoping one of their videos would come on; ironically now it’s one of the few things that provides me comfort.
My five favorite songs are Jihad, War ensemble, Disciple, God Send Death and Bloodline. I listen to them over and over. They prime my mind for recalling the sights, sounds and other disturbing images from the pictures in my head. I cling to the title of one of their albums and the chorus of their song Disciple… “Homicide-Suicide, Hate heals, you should try it sometime, Strive for Peace with acts of war, The beauty of death we all adore, I have no faith distracting me, I know why your prayers will never be answered…God Hates Us All; God Hates Us All!!!”
It reminds me of all the stories of fellow service-members committing murder and suicide; the hate I feel towards others, and how good it makes me feel. Many times over the last seven years has the sweet respite that death must provide been on the periphery of my mind. I am unable to reconcile all that I have experienced and seen with the notion of a loving god. I know god must hate us all if he somehow exists.
Intrusive thoughts and reminders of traumatic events serve to fuel a cycle of inaccurate thoughts, negative feelings and ultimately PTSD. The cycle of inaccurate thoughts and assumptions, flashbacks, nightmares, and negative emotions, lead to symptoms and behaviors that are associated with this scourge. Although the behaviors are known as symptoms to the medical community, they represent safety, escape, and reliability to us, the sufferers.
In my struggle with PTSD I have experienced avoidance and escape behaviors. I give wide berth to triggers that remind me of my experiences, and I shun thinking or talking about the experiences. I tend to steer clear of any war, horror, or otherwise violent movies to avoid dredging up old memories about my war-time experiences. I avoided watching the news for a lengthy period, and only read certain types of news on the internet in order to censor what I took in. I suppressed my emotions through both alcohol and avoiding the emotions themselves when I was sober. I was verbally aggressive, which served as a mechanism to help me escape the omnipresent sense of danger. I somehow believed that if I was on the offensive, I would always have the upper hand in any “battle” and thus had a better chance at surviving or winning.
I abused alcohol and would go on binges that lasted for days that took away the horror movie I was experiencing. I withdrew socially; even when I was at the bar every night getting drunk, I was alone. I significantly reduced most of the activities which I had previously enjoyed such as reading, exercising, traveling, hanging out with friends, pursuing my education and talking to my family. I didn’t want to do anything or talk to anyone. It angered me to see others enjoying their lives, when I was unable to enjoy mine.
Finally, I began to experience physical symptoms. Most of these symptoms began to appear around the time I decided to leave the Army; they allowed me to defer confronting the emotions that were destroying me on the inside. My psyche had produced an array of negative emotions and behaviors for years in order to avoid dealing with the underlying trauma itself. Now instead of producing only emotional symptoms, it added physical symptoms to its arsenal. I never processed any of the trauma; my psyche protected me by producing emotional and physical symptoms which lead to more avoidance behaviors and other issues for me like crowded places, flying, and loud noises.
We are all two people: our conscious, and our subconscious. We control our conscious actions, but our subconscious actions are far less controlled. We are able to program our subconscious, but most of what occurs at the subconscious level is a primitive mechanism designed to keep us safe, both physically and emotionally. This mechanism uses physical and emotional symptoms as distractions to the conscious mind so as to prevent the trauma registered as distressing emotions in the subconscious from spewing forth into the conscious.
When I was first presented with the idea that my subconscious was producing emotions and physical symptoms to distract me from dealing with my PTSD, I denied it. Although the emotional aspect of the symptomology was easier to accept than the physical, it too was difficult to accept. However, if one deconstructs any emotion to its root cause then the concept isn’t that strange. Take for instance sadness; no one is ever sad without reason. They are sad in response to a perceived loss of some sort. The sadness is the mechanism by which the subconscious deals with the loss or more accurately, avoids dealing with the loss.
Anxiety, depression, and anger-the three main emotional distractions from which I suffered- were debilitating. They always seemed to get worse when in treatment which is eventually what convinced me that everything I had read from Freud, to modern-day case-studies conducted on veterans suffering from PTSD, was indeed true. I even noticed that talking about my experiences in a casual manner to a friend would exacerbate both my emotional and physical distractions.
The physical distractions from which I suffered were too numerous to count. They included: tachycardia, difficulty breathing, excessive sweating, tremors, syncope, vomiting, vertigo, lightheadedness, electric shocks throughout my body, and terrible stomach pains. I also endured chronic nausea, loss of appetite, discoloration of my stool, bloody stools, flashing bright specks of light in my field of vision, blurred vision, double vision, difficulty speaking, memory loss, temporary paralysis in the jaw and legs, numbness, and chronic pain in every region of my body.
As I began treatment for PTSD, the frequency with which my symptoms appeared began to increase exponentially. The nightmares were so bad that I lay awake in bed for as long as possible until I was so tired that I would drift into a semi-lucid state of consciousness so that my body was forced to rest. I would never truly fall asleep. Every night around twelve and three-thirty I would wake from a nightmare. To date, I have been unable to determine the significance of these two times. I was constantly tired and my inability to sleep lessened my ability to deal with normal everyday stresses. I was listless during the day, often dozing for hours at a time at my desk or in my car.
My hope is that this story will touch someone that is suffering from PTSD so that they will know that they are not alone. Many others suffer the same things. After I finally realized that I had PTSD, I didn’t want to accept it. It was a like the Scarlett Letter for me. “Only pussies had PTSD” was the phrase I repeated to myself, over and over. I believe part of the reason so many people avoid getting treatment, or coming to terms with PTSD is because of the way it is portrayed. It is a “disease,” a “disorder,” a “mental health issue,” a “weakness” of sorts. Coming to terms with fear, and anxiety in the military culture is also an additional milestone that I had to overcome. I was a soldier; I wasn’t supposed to be scared of anything. Or at least I wasn’t supposed to admit that I was.
In the years since my departure from the military, great strides have been taken by both the military and the Department of Veterans affairs to address the growing number of soldiers that are showing signs of PTSD. However, advances in the way the military is dealing with the rising tide of new cases of PTSD and suicide are markedly insufficient. The Veteran’s Administration (VA) is just as bad as the military, if not worse, in terms of tracking and treating veterans with PTSD and other mental illnesses.
I faced numerous issues and obstacles in seeking care at the VA. It took perseverance and downright rudeness in some instances for me to get treatment for my service-connected disabilities. I don’t dare think about the number of vets not able to be as forceful as I was in my search and demands for treatment. Perhaps this is why more service-members are committing suicide than are being killed in combat. I am incapable of watching as our veterans continue to kill themselves at an ever-increasing rate; I feel I must do something.
During my journey with PTSD, I lost my faith in god and religion. I was raised a Christian, and had believed in God until early 2010. In some ways, I am happy I was stricken with this ailment, for it challenged me to ask questions of myself and of this world that I had never dared ask before. It pushed me to read things that I would never have read. Finally, it demanded of me that I search for true meaning in life. This was just the beginning of my journey and my search.