A rather dramatic title but, nonetheless, apt for today’s post – the long, drawn out journey from when I left Vietnam in 1968 to where I am today, a torturous 49 years later. The journey from then to now is littered with casualties, figuratively speaking, as I lived within myself even after I married, causing pain to my wife and to my children, succeeding only in work, from abandoned friendships, before being blindsided by three traumatic events in 2011: Being rammed from behind in heavy traffic on my motorcycle in May; my best friend’s death in August; and telling my family in October that they would be better off without me, that I should leave, shattering the trust between my wife, my children and I. This sequence of events began unraveling walls, barriers, and safeguards unconsciously built up in my mind over the years since leaving Vietnam, ultimately triggered the flashback that occurred while driving to work on that sunny May, 2012 morning.
My life, and my relationship with my wife and my sons has not been the same since. Each day a journey of introspective thoughts, counseling, backsliding while moving forward even though I felt progress was being made. Painful discussions with the counselors and my wife; dissecting traumatic events to an “nth” degree; recurring flashbacks, searing memories, triggering events that seemed to have no end; keeping a journal of my thoughts while trying to get a better understanding of “why”; an inability to recognize triggering events in “real-time”; writing, writing, always writing about what was going on, how I felt, eventually sharing with my wife; joining a Veterans Talking Group; before slowing becoming aware that “Yes, I can do this” as I realized that I am in a better place, that “I am doing this”.
From when I entered counseling in 2012 to the realization that “I am doing this” has been a difficult process, a process that hinged on understanding and accepting fundamental truths if you will:
As I look back from 2012 when that first flashback thundered into my mind, I’ve realized that where I am today would not be possible without coming to grips with important waypoints, six in particular:
- PTSD, once recognized, is a lifelong journey; it never goes away, yet it can be managed
- I can only control what I can control; what I cannot control I have to let go
- I am not the same person today as I was when I was 18
- Communications with your spouse and friends is critical
- Participating in a Talking Group with other veterans with similar experiences is cathartic
- Forgiveness is acknowledging you cannot change the past; until you truly understand this, you cannot forgive yourself
These points are the culmination of many counseling sessions, discussions with my wife and my counselors, constant backtracking to trying to understand why I hadn’t quite grasped the nuances of each point before they could be incorporated into my daily life, each step requiring more and more painful introspection before the next plateau could be scaled, before I could truly understand that there would be no true acceptance of my past before I could forgive myself.
If you cannot forgive yourself, you cannot love yourself
If you cannot love yourself, you cannot love others
If you cannot love others, you will always be haunted by your past
If you cannot forgive the past, today is not possible
If today is not possible, tomorrow will never be
Thoughts on Today’s Post
This post was driven by a friend’s request a few years ago asking if he could share my post about Memorial Day in 2014 thoughts in the hopes that it would help one of his friends who was also suffering from PTSD.
This was a very difficult post to write, extremely difficult in fact, given that it took over a week and another day anguishing on whether I should post this or not. In the end, I finally came to the conclusion that acknowledging publicly that I have suffered from PTSD from events of long ago, that by not acknowledging I had PTSD many, many years ago, has and an extremely adverse impact to my family, to myself, to lost friends, to lost opportunities, to a loss of a better life for all.
PTSD is a painful, often private, journey that is almost impossible to acknowledge publicly, yet without acknowledging PTSD exists within you and shuttering it away to avoid the pain, ultimately has a cascading, adverse effect on everyone.
It is my sincerest hope that writing about my journey will allow PTSD survivors realize there is hope, that forgiveness of yourself is possible, that in time, each of you “can do this”, no matter how arduous the journey.
As I told my friend in 2014, “yes, please share it” with you friend, if you find find value in my journey that you wold like to share with someone you know who also a PTSD survivor, please do!
Tommy – A Vietnam Veteran from 1965 – 1968