Monthly Archives: September 2011

Head Shots, Exercise and #PTSD

The Games we Played…

I took and aim and let it fly.  The impact hit his head with such force it knocked him off his feet and sent his glasses flying.  Everyone paused for a second…

“Sir, you can’t pick on the LT that way.” One of the scouts shouted.

“If he’s gonna play, he should have better situational awareness.” I said.

The Lieutenant dusted himself off and headed to the sidelines.  Playing dodge-ball with soccer balls can be rough.

There we were.  In the middle of the town were set to occupy for the next seven months, as secure as we could be playing a kids game.  We were sweating, dirty, and most of all, having the time of our lives.

Let me be clear, we were not out in the open.  Actually, we were probably in the most secure outside position we could possible get.  At the Grain silo, on the back of the compound, were five overflow pits.  They were of durable smooth concrete, had high concrete walls, and no view into the compound.

As the Kiowa Warrior and Apache helicopters did laps around the town, we had the stars align where we could catch a few hours of down time as a complete Troop.  Our future home was a few hundred meters away and temporarily occupied by Regimental headquarters.  As such, we dropped off their radar and were able to take care of a few administrative tasks, like playing dodgeball.

My tactic for the afternoon was to stand close to the out of bounds and “camouflage” myself with the players that were knocked out.  Once the action continued I was essentially forgotten about, and when the target was right, I would unleash the ball I was hiding behind my back.  I didn’t mean to hit the LT in the head, but I didn’t mean to miss either.

We carried a fierce attitude from the battlefield to the dodgball pits.

The little bit of break it gave us greatly charged our batteries.  We talked about those games for a solid month.  The trash talking during and after was tremendous.  It perfect timing for all of us mentally and physically.

Looking back, the tremendous up-side of those few hours was the exercise and camaraderie.

Exercise AND Teams

Today, I am still struggling to cut down on the meds that are an essential part of my life.  I have been exercising steadily and attempting to thwart the need to take them with little success.

After moving back to New York I was exercising and playing lacrosse regularly.  It was nice to be back on a team breaking a sweat.  I was still anxious and did not look forward to going out, or meeting new people, but I pushed myself and got involved.  But, having kids, the team disbanding, breaking my wrist, all derailed my effort to get a part of my life re-established that had always sort of just been there.

So, I am going to make a concerted effort to find a team, and keep working out.  (is there competitive Yoga?) I will tackle this medication dependency and grind it down to nothing.  For now, my wife and kids will appreciate me being on it.

Triggers, The Opposite of Grief, and #PTSD

 

Courtesy of Zimbio and Getty Images

Triggers

The World Trade Center September 11th Memorial was very emotional.  I sat and watched the reading of the names of the fallen with sadness but control.

As the moment of silence came and went I was still feeling sorrowful, but it was not until Paul Simon played “The Sound of Silence” that I really broke down.  I thought it was the emotion of the song, but I

later reflected a bit more and found a distinct trigger for my emotion: other people crying.  The people crying in the crowd pulled the chords on my grief.

The Past

I can see her face in my nightmares.  We have just told her that her husband is dead.  My track killed him.  She wails and scratches her face.  She throws dirt on herself sobbing loudly.  We left the body with the family in a neat black bag and drive away.  It has been eight years and the effect of pulling the trigger will never leave me.  She is crying uncontrollably…

 

“Mister, save my brother.” The Iraqi man pleads with me.

I am in my angry zone.  There is work to do.  No time for compassion, just work.

“Mister!”, he puts his hand on my shoulder trying to stop me.  I glare at him with an evil a look as I have ever put on.

I pause and look at the man laying at the foot of the steps in front of me.

Our aid station has been flooded with victims of a suicide car bomb.  The hospital is over capacity.  We have half a dozen medics.  It is an all hands triage meaning even our grease monkey mechanics are giving IV’s.  I am making piles.  Who will live.  Who will die.

The man’s brother is missing an arm and a leg.

“He is going to die.” I say bluntly to the Iraqi.

“Put him in the bad pile! NOW! And get this haji off the steps.” I bark at a mechanic pointing to the man pleading with me.

“Please Mister! Please!”  The man is now crying.  I ignore him.

There is a burnt child laying next to him.  On to the next casualty…

 

The Opposite of Grief

Split seconds and life or death decisions brought out the ice cold version of myself.  No time for nice.  No time for anything except execution.  I could see myself operating outside of myself.  It was better to see it than convince myself I was actually acting that way.  Seething anger was the only way to get through it.  The opposite of grief which my soul was screaming to pay attention to was anger.  Cold calculating execution methodically spurned by adrenaline and anger.

Full Circle

The memorial of 9-11 gave me time and experience to think about those days.  A woman who was crying during Paul Simon’s rendition of “Sounds of Silence” confirmed that I feel so much more when an image shows a person crying.  I think it is from all that repression for all these years.

Seeing others cry is hard for me.  It is a very vicious routine in my family in that we are all sympathetic criers.  One gets started, we all go.

I have written about bottling it up before.  I think that identifying this trigger will help me focus and feel the emotion but not be consumed.  I know it is not the only trigger, but there are a handful of them that I can lay my finger on and prepare for, or at least recover from quickly.

 

Talismans, 9-11 and #PTSD

My bracelet broke today.  I have worn it almost everyday for four years. Etched on the black surface are the names and dates of the two Troopers from Fox Troop that we lost during my last deployment.  If you see a Veteran with a black bracelet, chances are he or she is wearing it to memorialize a Soldier, Sailor, Airmen or Marine who fell during combat.  I guess it is a subtle way of wearing your heart on your sleeve.

My bracelet literally fell off my wrist this afternoon.  It was a simple aluminum band, and I guess I fidgeted with it a bunch since it developed a stress crack and broke.  When it did finally break and fall, I took a few moments to reflect and ask questions:

Is there some symbolism that I will start tomorrow, September 11th, not wearing it?

Was it a message to maybe, after these five years, let go a little more?

As I sit here and type this, the tan lines on my wrist are stark.  It feels wrong to not have it on.  I rarely take off my wedding band, but when I do, it feels awkward. (At that point, I usually stop spinning it on the table in front of me, and put it back on.)  I am still up in the air if I will get another one, or go without it.

I have always carried small reminders with me of my missions or goals.  Coins, scraps of paper, pictures, and tokens all became homemade talismans that gave me luck and strength and courage.  Over time, some were lost or replaced, some had their meaning shift.  But they were always there in my pockets, around my neck, or pinned out of sight.

On the eve of September 11th a particular set of Talismans is worth noting.  Being a Long Island kid, September 11th impacted my family greatly.  On my Mother’s side, family members who worked in the towers got out.  On my Father’s side, we were struck with tragedy.  Two of my father’s cousins, like Uncles to me, were eating brunch at windows on the world when the planes struck.  A voicemail message saying goodbye was the last we heard from them.

On September 11th I was a 2nd Lieutenant on a machine gun range in Georgia.  I scrambled to get in touch with my family back in NY.  When I finally did and the dust settled, I traveled back for the memorial.  The mass cards from their funeral and pictures of me at my graduation with them were added to the collection.  Another token, from my Uncle who walked home over the Brooklyn Bridge that fateful day, was a reflective sticker of the World Trade Center with an American flag.  It was from my Uncle, a survivor, and sacred to me.

These holy talismans ventured through the swamps of Florida in Ranger school, through the monsoons and snow of Korea, and twice through the deserts in Iraq.  I felt they kept me safe and they were always there for inspiration in those moments when focus was needed.

Since coming back from Iraq, they found a place on my bookshelf with my journals and field notes and I transitioned to donning the black bracelet to remember those I served with and as a reminder to always honor what they lived and died for.

Tomorrow I will honor all of them in my own way.  In doing so, I hope to continue my treatment by exploring the emotions and the experiences for the better.  I will remember the good of those that left us that day and since.  I will not avoid the conversations or images.  And, I will allow myself to feel the sorrow and grief, but I will not let it consume me.

After that, maybe it will be time for some more talismans.  Never forget.  Gone, but not forgotten.

Poems and #PTSD

everywhere is sand

it becomes one with the blood

bullet did not miss

~mikey piro ( Feb 2010)

 

I believed,
But found the time for doubting,
He made no sound,
I heard the devil shouting.

I wanted peace,
I did not want the glory,
I walked in hell,
Now I tell my story.

I sing sad song,
I did not write the music,
I find sad words
Waiting – just inside my mind.

I’ve played my part,
But seldom did I choose it,
I held a gun,
I did not want to use it.

Call it fate or destiny –
By either name, it troubles me.

And now,

If you should look into my eyes,
By chance you might just see
A sad, sad soul that sheds it tears,
Yet lets the heart go free.

And in between the two of them,
If you should read my mind,
You’ll know the soul still sheds its tears,
For deeds left far behind.

But if you see the eagle there,
Then don’t ignore the dove,
For now that all the killings done
There’s nothing left but love.

~J. Miles.

 

I always found that in the wake of the violence, poetry had the power to give feelings to the words that are just not available with dialog or description.

Wrestling with some more anniversaries.  But, chin up.   I am plowing through this one.  If you have some poems, please share.