Tuesday, February 1, 2011

How?

by 13 Stoploss

I’ve been meeting with a VA Psychologist since late September, just after Brian died, for PTSD related help. I can’t say whether or not this helps or works, but I can say that it is comforting and that I have been challenged with different thoughts and emotions that ask me to think. One of the things that Dr. M has said, repeatedly, is that we often hide behind avoidance.

Am I avoiding anything?

I’ve posted a lot of my thoughts on the internet for the world to see. Type my alias, or my name into a Google search and there I am. I’ve made it available, at the expense of privacy, for the world to see and read.

(I’m just one guy, right? Is my story any different than any other stop-lossed veteran?)

In early January, I was interviewed/filmed for ½ of one episode of a four-part Canadian mini-series documentary on “The Science of Behavior” with Dr. Ray Novaco and graduate student and veteran Oscar Gonzalez of UC Irvine. I don’t know if what I filmed will be in the final version, after edits, but there was a moment after my part was finished, where outside, before walking away, the director opened up to me.

He said something like, “Man, I don’t know how you guys did it, or what you went through…I just, I can’t imagine war.”

And then I blabbed on about… about what? What the hell do you say to something like that? Was he opening up to me? Was he trying to connect with me? Was it some sort of off-camera moment that he liked to use to get a more intimate portrait of his subjects?

Something Dr. M. said today reminded me about this. I thought about what I said to the director and how embarrassed I felt because I had no summation, no closing argument, nothing to make sense of it all in the moment.

I felt like a fool.

And so when I talked to Dr. M, I wondered, how do I make sense of this? There are plenty of students at school that I meet who ask me, “What’s it like over there?” “Is it hot?” “Have you killed anyone?”
I typically shrug these questions off.

But how do I tell someone who is really interested in how I feel, how we prepared for death? How do I tell someone what it was like in 2003/2004, when we had no armor on our Humvees, what it was like to roll out knowing we had no protection? How do you tell someone that your life depended strictly on luck, and that we had no official way to prepare for death?

In’sha’Allah?

We were young, nearly all of us overgrown children with guns and bombs. We fucking did what we had to because we had no other choice.

I remember leaving on patrol at night, jumping onto the back our Humvee in a convoy of four. The open road, west of Mosul in late 2003/early 2004, was desolate. I wore black leggings and fleece and a baklava under my KPOT. We couldn’t see anything, even with NVG’s on. If someone wanted to, they could have blown us up with a string of IED’s and we wouldn’t have known who or where it came from.

I had to face this thought every night: how the Missus would take it, knowing that every night, I rolled out knowing that I could die instantly? Even painlessly? That if I was lucky, I would make it to Germany, or to Walter Reed, a vegetable, and never again be what she remembered I was on the morning I left?

How do you relate this thought, this emotion, this flippant feeling to someone who honestly, heartfeltedly says they can’t imagine? How do you say that we were dumb enough to do this everyday? That we had no choice? That we were young and dumb? Or that we didn’t want to, that we were scared, but did it because we had to?

For no other reason than we had to?

6 comments:

FOX3 said...

Dearest Friend,
I understand where you are coming from. I also see a Dr for PTSD. It has helped a little. I no longer quite as angry with people...well I don't have the emotional outbursts at least.
I feel like I need to say something, but nothing comes to mind. So here I'll stand, silently watching from behind my Oakleys. You are not alone.

Desert Crone said...

I think you've just said it Jason, tho I wouldn't call you dumb. Idealistic and young - prerequisites for any fighting force. After all, we'd just been attacked on US soil, something that hadn't happened since WWII (and that didn't really amount to much). Your blood was up, we all felt that way. The cynic in me wonders how many wars would be fought if the fighting was left to politicians and old men.

After all I've read and seen about war over the years I've come to think of it just as you said, well, and some you didn't say. My impression is that war is about killing the other guy before he kills you and, as you said, luck. I think young men go to war for all the right reasons but when they get there find it's a horrendous slaughter. They fight to protect themselves & their buddies, politics be damned. As early as the Vietnam "war" I heard my friends (Army chopper pilots) saying they felt they'd been lied to. I expect if it's still the case.......

I'm one of those you talk about who -- "honestly, heartfeltedly" can't imagine but wants to understand. I suppose that's why my book cases are full of military and, to a lesser extent, political books.

Jason, I applaud your move to talk with someone about your feelings. It can be uncomfortable sometimes but it's also tremendously rewarding. At one point in my therapy I was hooked up to a couple of machines that actually showed my body "shutting down" when the therapist got close to the heart of my problem. My heart slowed, my breathing slowed and I clenched my teeth. It was fascinating to see and perhaps explains my result on a lie detector test I had to take at work when $1000 went missing. The sheriff who administered it said if I'd been anywhere near the missing cash he'd have wondered about my guilt. I think that when put on the spot, I shut down in the same way I saw later.

Generation after generation of men and women have faced the horrors of war and then been left to fend for themselves. I hope that what the VA is trying to do will help this generation of warriors learn to cope with their memories. Imagine being 90, losing touch, and needing to unburden oneself of memories buried since the 1945......

KathyB said...

Fortunately, you do not have to make sense of war. Impossible to do. Just have to do what you are doing and learn about what comes next for you. Tall enough order. You do not owe even the most well wishing amongst us an explanation or explication of your experience in war. Mostly I am personally thankful that you came through it and are living your life now as a young veteran.

Thank you for the post.

bigD said...

Jason all I can say is from my perspective from another world and experience that people "can't imagine" and don't understand is I wish I had the answers but I don't!! Hugs Jason. :*( D

Bean Delphiki said...

Many of us civilians would like to say the perfect thing to make you open up and let us share some of your burden, but "So, how hot was it?" is probably the best pick-up line that we can think of...

We don't know what to say. We don't know if we should say anything.

We don't know what we want to learn from you. We don't know if we should learn anything from you (not in the sense of "we don't want you corrupting our precious minds with your tainted consciousness"...but in the sense of "do we deserve to know what you have to say?".

We want to help, but we don't know what 'help' even is to somebody who's experiences are so beyond our ability to conceptualize.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, if you feel like it (and your feelings are the only thing that matter at this point), when somebody says "Was is hot?", possibly consider not shrugging off the question...tell them how fucking hot it was, or how fucking cold it was ("It's cold in Iraq?!?!" will be the knee-jerk civilian response, please work past this)...and find out if there's anything you two can talk about to make YOU feel better.

In the end. I don't know if veterans should speak with random civilians about what's on their mind, that's for those who served to decide. I'm very glad that there are experienced professionals that you can speak to, and I hope you find a great one, and talk his/her ear off.

...but if you do want to talk with us we're here...we just ask stupid questions.

P.S. Never ask a Soldier if he/she killed anyone. Are you fucking retarded?

Kristina Divine said...

Jason~ I am a civilian who spends a lot of time with Veteran's and Active Duty. One of my best friends was in Iraq 03/04, this was his worst deployment to date. The anniversary of witnessing his best friends death is this month. I know there are no words of comfort, all I can offer is my presence, my love even though we both know it's lacking, but I don't know what else I can do.

When he is faced with a question he has no answer for, he says, "It's just war." I interpret this to mean, "I did what I was told, what I had to do, and for some reason I survived."