Things are going pretty good lately. Of my New Year’s resolutions, I am achieving my weight loss, I’ve knocked out one acrylic painting, (Batman and Robin swooping in) my wife and I are communicating well and I’m finally feeling like I’m hitting my stride with work. My symptoms of PTSD seemed to lessen.
I’ve had this feeling before. I thought things were way behind me in the rearview mirror only to realize they were in my backseat. It doesn’t take much to trigger the emotions of combat. A news article, something on TV, and even off hand comments can remind me of memories as a Veteran I would rather avoid. The easy diagnosis is an immediate trigger and switch you can put a pin into and say, “It was that damn car backfiring.” But sometimes, the shavings make the pile. Either way, it’s always there.
So after weeks of managing symptoms and trying to maintain a positive outlook, today I unfortunately took step back. (I mean we really didn’t think Jeremy Lin would play like that all season right? Well, neither could my string of great moods.) So, in that light, today must be looked at as just part of the process.
I started this morning as I have for the past few weeks: I went to the gym. While there, the regular crowd struck up conversation and the Army and Afghanistan came up in conversation. I can tell benign stories about my Army experience and I am usually am pretty good at deflecting from the darker topics to a canned lighter story. But this morning, I actually asked not to talk about it. I had not done that in a very long time. The way I have survived this long, in my opinion, is by taking things head on. The day started to take shape and I could tell my skills were dull.
My realization that I was avoiding the conversation came on a good date. I actually had an appointment with my local Vet Center and I am now tied back in to a group.
When I walked through the Vet Center door it was apparent how much I had been neglecting my toolkit. I had tried group before. Unfortunately, I had not established enough tools and it was a miserable failure for me. It kicked up more dirt and left more unresolved issues. It was not as though group was bad, I just wasn’t prepared.
As I walked through the front door I got a queasy feeling almost instantly. The memories of leaving group frustrated and angry came back. When I got into the new screening and started to recap it my experiences, the memories I revisited over and over in Cognitive Processing and Prolonged Exposure felt more tender than when I was in regular therapy. I am learning new things all the time. This was a new thing.
When things are going bad it is easy to reflect on what you need to improve upon. But sometimes the real danger comes from being complacent. I resigned myself early on in my journey that PTSD is something I would have to wrestle with for a long time. Today was a taste of what complacency can do if I am not careful. I went too long without checking in. I pushed everything just below the surface and a series of little things built up into one big thing.
I let the shavings make the pile, but on this road, I cannot forget to continue to keep sharp. I remember a Ranger Instructor in Florida (Bubba knows who) who would continually ask us a question, “What is the number one killer of Soldiers?” All of us had to give a resounding answer, “Complacency.”
Time to sharpen up.