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Dr Cliff Robertson, Jr

Your Life Matters – Excerpt #5 PTSD

Approximately, 24 million Americans suffer from some form of PTSD

Chapter 7

PTSD

Men and women have been going to war in various parts of the world since the beginning of time. Each time they do, they leave a part of themselves—if not all of themselves—there, on the battlefield. Often the battlefield comes home with them.

War forever changes a person. Each person is affected in his or her own way. The impact on soldiers is so diverse that it has baffled everyone who has tried to come up with some formulaic way of addressing it. How do you help a person assimilate back into a world where people aren’t shooting at them or planting improvised explosive devices (IEDs) meant to blow them to kingdom come?

We can trace PTSD in some form or another back to the Greco-Persian wars. Wherever mankind goes to war, some scars are seen. Others remain hidden. Where there are scars, there is pain. And where there is pain there is a need for healing. Too often, when it comes to our internal scars, they go untouched, unshared, and certainly unhealed

American soldiers first experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the Revolutionary War against England. Only after significant advances in military technology did the problem show up in large numbers. That happened during the Civil War, where PTSD was called by a variety of names, like – “acute mania”, nostalgia (now known to have been depression), or a condition called – “soldiers heart” (which was most likely high anxiety due to the invisible scars of war on the mind). In World War I, due to the nature of trench warfare, constant shelling, and the use of “mustard gas”, led to terms such as “shell shock” and “gas hysteria” being used to describe soldiers’ symptoms (Horowitz, 2015).

While there have been many terms for PTSD over the years, how it is to be treated, or whether it can be treated, has remained a moving target. It has led many that suffer from it, to end their own lives.

.According to research in this field, almost 70% of veterans who suffer from PTSD do not know that there are methods to help heal. And of those that know that there are treatment options, many do not always trust them.

PTSD’s partner, depression, adds to the challenge. The Veterans Administration (VA) statistics tell us that someone is 300% more likely to suffer from depression if they have PTSD.

This shocking number goes hand in hand with the statistics that show that those with PTSD are far more likely to commit suicide. Yet, when depression is added to the mix, it skyrockets the numbers dramatically. Visit the VA website or the NIH for current statistics.

My experience working with those that have PTSD has not been confined to those in the military alone. I have counseled women who have suffered from sexual trauma and betrayal trauma that create the same results. What is also interesting is that one of the fastest-growing groups that suffer from PTSD is adolescents. Visit the National Institute for Mental Health website for current statistics.

One story about a command driver in Iraq during the post-Desert Storm—Operation Enduring Freedom resounds deeply in my soul. A young man joined the Army, right out of high school in South Texas. He was a tough kid that grew up outdoors in the hot South Texas sun. He was a high school athlete, a preacher’s kid, and a man of faith. Not ready to go to college after high school, he always wanted to join the Army, like many in his family had done. He was determined to follow in his father’s footsteps, who had served in Vietnam.

Because he was in good physical condition, he breezed through basic training, though many found it difficult. He excelled at the physical challenges and wanted more. He shot a rifle well and handled other weapons with just as much ease.

When he went to Advanced Infantry Training, he excelled there as well. It seemed he could do everything they asked of him.

After he completed his training and was assigned to a unit, he asked for Airborne training. He qualified, but the current classes were filled. He would have to wait for the next available slot.

His unit deployed to Iraq. There, he drove an armored personnel carrier. He saw a lot of action from the day he arrived. There were mortar rounds lobbed at his unit as they were departing the airfield. When they took cover, snipers fired at them. They all survived the first day, but it was a rough introduction to war and Iraq.

As they patrolled, the mine sensing gear on the vehicle in front of the convoy picked up on what might be an improvised explosive device (IED). When the bomb techs got out to investigate the IED detonated.

The enemy had waited in the distance and triggered it. They must have been a bit anxious because no one was close enough yet for any damage to occur. They had set it off too early. But the explosion rocked the convoy and our young driver was rocked a bit as well.

It was one thing to see the enemy and engage them with your rifle or artillery. But it was another to have booby-traps and remote detonation IEDs going off with no warning. He was not prepared for this, nor was anyone, but he soldiered on.

Over the next months of convoys, the group confronted the enemy almost daily and did their job well. Then came the day that no one saw coming. The mine-sensing vehicle stopped, signaling that there was a problem. Feeling like he was in a dream, the explosion went off right under their vehicle. It came with such force that the command vehicle was flipped upside down. Outside it rained liquid metal and a pink mist.

Once our young driver regained consciousness, he could only see smoke. He felt blood coming down his face. Other vehicles in his convoy were engaging the enemy. He could hear the gunfire and the tanks booming away.

Members of his unit came and began cutting the doors off of the armored personnel carrier to get them out. One person in the command vehicle was dead, and all of the others were wounded but survived.

When our young driver emerged and could finally clear his eyes, he saw a medic looking him over. He asked the medic what happened.

The medic told him that the bomb-sensing vehicle had missed the bomb that was right underneath them. When they stopped, it was remotely detonated.

The young man asked, where was the vehicle and what happened to the soldiers?

The medic just shook his head. “They’re gone … there is almost nothing left. You guys are lucky to be alive. If that vehicle had been four or five feet farther up the road, the blast would have incinerated your vehicle too.”

The young man began to doubt whether he could do this anymore. But, like a good soldier, he carried on, tucking away those feeling and images in his mind, hoping to forget.

Each time they went out, it became harder and harder. It wasn’t because the enemy was that much worse, but the enemy was in his head. He couldn’t forget one of his good friends from basic training had been in the vehicle that was lost. They had just had a conversation that morning, right before the convoy headed out.

His friend told him, “Don’t worry big guy, we are taking the lead and we won’t let anything get to you guys.” He gave his life to keep his word.

As time passed, they caught random gunfire, an occasional rocket or mortar fire, but our young driver just kept on. He was a good soldier and was determined to do his best. He defended this unit the best he knew how to do. He fired his rifle when needed. He drove as he was trained and the conditions dictated. He did his job. Each time, he tucked away the next loss, close call, explosion, or look in the enemy’s eyes when his rifle shot met its mark.

When it was time to load up and ship out, our young man wasn’t sure what to expect but he was looking forward to the break. He slept most of the way back home on the Air Force C-141.

When he arrived in the United States, he was able to go home on leave. His parents met him at the airport in Houston and gave him a hero’s welcome. People in the airport terminal cheered our young man as he walked with his family.

Just before he stepped out of the terminal, he saw an Arab man look up from his phone after pushing a button on it, looking right at him. Our young soldier had seen this before in Iraq and it was often a signal that something bad was about to happen. He froze in place. His family walked a few more steps, but his father noticed and went back for him.

“What’s wrong, son?” His father asked.

“I just saw something that … oh it was nothing. Sorry. It is just a major adjustment being back in the normal world.” Our young man said. He tucked this feeling away too, but with a heightened sense of awareness that around any corner there could be an enemy waiting to exploit their weakness.

On the way home, he tried to engage with his family but struggled. He was constantly scanning the other vehicles looking for threats, looking for signs of roadside disturbances that might signal an IED placement.

He thought he must be going crazy. In his mind, he could see threats everywhere and everyone was oblivious. So, he swallowed his fear and put on a brave face, and did his best to engage with his loving family.

When he got to the family home, the church had set out a big welcome home meal. Everyone hugged him and shook his hand. Some of the old men shared war stories of their own. They would ask him for stories, but he just said, “nothing much to tell. It is tough and the enemy is serious.”

That would be all. And yet, each time, in his mind, the events would all play out in living color and sound, as if they were happening again. He thought no one would understand, so he kept it all to himself.

When the crowd of well-wishers finally left, he told his family he was tired and wanted to shower and go to sleep. They helped carry his belongings to his room. His Mom and Dad hugged him, his older brother slugged him in the shoulder and told him that he was proud of him. His sister kissed him on the cheek. He smiled and thanked them all.

In the shower, he hoped the sand from the desert was going to finally be washed away. But it didn’t, no matter how hard he scrubbed. More than sand needed to be washed away.

When he finally laid down and closed his eyes, he was immediately asleep, but that’s when the dreams played in his head.

The tracer rounds went out and came in. The ground shook from an explosion. Someone’s voice came over the radio, then went silent in mid-sentence. That could only mean one thing.

The vehicle he had been driving lifted up and rolled over, leaving his body hanging upside down from a seatbelt, with blood dripping down his face. Every detail replayed in his dreams as if he were still there.

He couldn’t tell his family what was going on. He wasn’t okay but didn’t want to burden them with something they wouldn’t understand.

And yet, they could see that something wasn’t right—they knew him well enough to know what no sleep looked like.

He brushed their concerns to the side.

One afternoon, a West Texas wind whipped across the house, slamming the door so hard the house rattled. He immediately hit the floor and covered his head.

When he lifted his head, everyone in the house stood staring at him with mouths wide open. No mortar round. Just wind. He shook his head, got to his feet, and fumbled an apology. Before anyone could speak to him, he hurried to his room.

Behind the closed door of his room, he threw himself on his bed and began to weep. He wept from the deepest pit of his soul over the things he had seen, the people he had lost, and the people that he had killed. Every image and face came rushing back to his mind and he didn’t know what to do to make it stop.

Then he remembered his old Master Sargent, who had served at the end of Vietnam. He drank a lot and wouldn’t talk about his experiences over there. He guessed he was drowning the demons he saw that must be like his own. The stories of guys getting into drugs didn’t make sense, until now. That must have been how they stopped the never-ending replay of the memories from hell.

Some had taken their own lives. He now understood that level of desperation. He also knew he was headed down the same path. He knew he had to walk out of that room and get some help from his family and any means necessary, or he would end up like them.

He dropped to his knees and prayed. God must have an answer for him. During his prayer, his father came in, and with tears in the old pastor’s eyes, he knelt beside his son, wrapping his arms around him.

Together, they prayed for what seemed like hours. The young man spoke to God about the things that he had seen, experienced, and done—all of it. He asked God to forgive him where he had failed. He wasn’t sure where he had failed but it sure felt like he had. He asked God to take away the dreams and the fear of living with this burden. To help him lay it down at the foot of the cross. To help those families that had been struck by this war in all the different ways that war can destroy lives. He prayed for the courage to finish his tour of duty and then walk away into a new life. He prayed for the help he would need to recover mentally and the strength to stay away from those things that could impair his mind, like drugs or alcohol.

He felt God’s presence. A simple phrase came to his heart, that could have only come from God. “I will.”

He got up from the floor, helping his father, who swore he didn’t need the help. They walked into the family room where everyone was talking quietly. He sat down next to his sister. Looking around the room, he finally smiled.

He took his sister’s hand and told the family, “I need to tell you guys the stories of what happened while I was in Iraq. The things I have seen, done, and lived through are pretty rough, but I know that if I do not get them out now, I never will.”

And so in the very comfortable living room, he talked while they listened. Now and then, someone asked a question where they wanted to know more.

His Mom left the room briefly to order pizza and get something for everyone to drink. She would have rather cooked but didn’t want to miss a thing.

When the pizza arrived, they ate and continued the conversation until long after midnight. Some shed tears. Some had exclamations of shock. When he finished, silence filled the room, along with a new sense of overwhelming respect for their son/brother/soldier.

The young man felt like the weight of the world had been lifted from his shoulders. When he went to bed that night, he was finally able to sleep, really sleep.

When he got up the next day, he had renewed sense of purpose and knew that he needed to make sure that he kept talking about it and that he needed to see a professional counselor. He would not allow anyone’s opinion about getting help to deter him.

He was scheduled to fly back to his base the next day and wanted to spend all this time with his family. The guys got together and played a round of golf.

The ladies planned a going-away party for the young man. It was wonderful. They invited all of his old friends that were close enough to come and when they got home after their golf game, he was overwhelmed with the love of his family and friends again.

But this time was different. They knew him, and they had also heard from him – all that he had been through, leaving nothing out. Knowing they knew all he had been through, and that they loved him, made all the difference in the world.

When he returned to his base, he sought out counseling. In the remaining year of his enlistment, he went to college on the base in between his work details.

When they asked if he wanted to reenlist—and they made the offer very attractive—he respectfully declined. He planned to finish that degree and have a family. And that is exactly what he did. He is now the husband of a beautiful woman and the father of a houseful of wonderful kids. He works at a great job for a big company.

He also still sees a counselor a couple of times a year, just to stay proactive. It helps. And, he now helps other veterans who are dealing with PTSD as a peer-support specialist volunteer. He says that helps him as much as anyone.

This young man’s life matters! He is an American Hero, that served our country. He continues to serve others in both small and large ways, the best that he can. At each point in his life, he was making an impact on those around him. I wonder how many lives his service in the military impacted? I wonder how many lives he saved through his valor? In turn, how many families, kids, co-workers, employers, churches, or others did his life intersect with, either directly or indirectly, in a positive way?

Even if it was just one – his life would matter. Does this story resonate with you? If you are someone who experiences PTSD, I want you to know that there is help. Reach out to www.thewarriorsrefuge.us and ask for counseling. We will either provide counseling or we will find you a counselor close to where you are. You are not alone and help is available!

YOUR LIFE MATTERS!

The book is coming out next week!

Dr. Cliff

Author:

Transformed by the Grace of God. Writer, Preacher, Teacher, Father, Servant and Child of the Most High! Currently Writing - The Transformation Project. It's my story of how God leaned into my pit and changed my life.

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