As anyone in my family will tell you, I get chocked up pretty easy. My increase in water works has been tied (surprise, surprise) to my deployments to Iraq. I wouldn’t say I have always been a crier. I think a primer to stronger feelings of grief in my life was September 11th. That day, along with subsequent events have me more in touch with my feelings of grief. However, the Army, and the Infantry, kept me from allowing that grief to be displayed in a public sense. I often found myself going someplace alone and out of the public view. In moments where I was able to let the tears run, I took advantage.
When my cousins perished in the World Trade Center, I bottled that up pretty good, and found quite moments by myself to let them go.
When I was in Ranger school and my Grandfather passed away, I found the time to grieve over my Red Cross message, again in private as I couldn’t make it back for the funeral.
In my first deployment to Iraq I learned that a Great Uncle, a WWII Veteran and POW, passed away. I took my time one afternoon on a pile of ammo boxes to say my goodbye. Tears were there that day.
On my second tour, with a private room and my wife’s shoulder to cry on, after some horrible missions where we lost Soldiers, or civilians or children, I would save my grief, and again, I would weep.
When the catharsis was over, I wiped them off and went back to trying to do my job.
I needed that vent.
I still do, even more so now.
When I was a full tilt Infantryman, I used to try to be a tough guy. I would choke tears back or avoid conversations all together. That act grew tiring. My style of dealing with emotion, and the expectations for being a role model in the Army did not effectively allow for me, in my opinion, to” be all I could be.” I feel only certain emotions are allowed to be shown to be considered a warrior. I needed them all.
Towards the end of my Army tenure, when I was really struggling in theatre, I’m sure I was pretty transparent though I was trying hard not to be.
The Strangest Cup of Coffee
I am much more likely to let’em fly now than I was, especially when I was in the Army. I am much more comfortable letting myself go. My therapy, especially behind the closed doors, is my way to work on allowing the tears to clear my mind and process the grief that comes with the tears. Depending on my stress level, from all stressors, not just PTSD, I can get welled up pretty easy if I touch on topics related to grief.
Last week, I met a woman standing in line at a Starbucks. As I stood waiting for my coffee, I showed her one of my tweets about “#caffeination.” We got to talking about twitter (@mikeypiro in case you didn’t know) and the conversation led to sitting and talking about our respective professions. We pulled up a set of chairs in a quiet corner of an outdoor café. The conversation led down many paths but we talked about the Iraq deployment, job hunting as a new civilian, and my PTSD recovery path.
As I explored the loss of my Soldiers I broke down in the court yard in front of this total stranger. She was extremely polite and shared a story of her own as I gained my composure. The conversation for me was very exciting in that this total stranger out of the kindness of her heart was willing to listen. I felt I could open up to her on a number of topics, so I did not let the previous anxiety of crying get in the way. Talk about an In Vivo exposure! Normally, medicine helps me keep those tears in check. Alas, I was on the tail end of my cycle and I have found that holding tears back is more exhausting than just letting them go.
The conversation ended with a great tone and I walked away feeling good. It was the strangest cup of coffee I have ever had.
Still have work to do
I still have more work to do with being able to talk about parts of my time in Iraq. When I started my last round of therapy in Prolonged Exposure, one of my specific goals was to be able to talk about my time in Iraq with anyone. I am still not at the level I desire. But, keeping in mind the vents I have at my disposal (exercise, talking, crying) and not being worried about using them is a great tool in my arsenal. To say I absolutely don’t care what people think of me is a farce. I care about what some people think of me, but the majority of this world is not in that group. Coming to grips with how I am best able to work through my grief, along with my desire to share has gotten me to the point I am now. I still have work to do, but it is not the only thing to work on.