Monthly Archives: November 2013

Revisiting Anniversaries and PTSD

calendar imageWell it is November and I have not posted in quite a while. So, with the countdown to Veteran’s Day less than ten, I will attempt to write a blog post a day. Goodness knows, I have a digital folder full of scraps of drafts. A blog a day. 11 days. Until Veteran’s Day.

A while ago I wrote about anniversaries and their significance to me. That post is over two years old yet traumatic dates and countdowns still dot my yearly calendar. As more life events have papered over smaller dates, there are plenty of times where a date comes and goes and I don’t notice until well after it passes. As more life events stack up, I am less fixated on dates and the events that caused so much pain. For that, I am truly thankful.

Still, there are major dates that my mind will not let fade into the background. These handful of dates, days when mounds of conflicted emotion stack high, are days when the lead in to the memories is particularly tricky.

I have written or talked about June 7th 2005 in many therapy sessions. It was a long day where a pre-dawn raid turned into an excessive search and our element of surprise gave way to hours of searches and subsequently let the enemy organize. From that day the largest emotions that stick with me are guilt and anger. In a box in my basement is a piece of asphalt I picked out of my gear from that day.

Each year on that date I take the time to mourn my fallen comrade. I still have trouble sleeping that week. I still hear the contact report on the radio. I can still see him receiving aid that came as quickly as it could but ultimately too late. The sight of our fallen comrade, the sounds of gunfire and mortars and acrid smell of cordite and unmistakable odor of blood linger ready to trigger vivid memories. The fuse is shorter that week.

Yet, there are other anniversaries that have come to take hold. The birth of my sons are two that bring me such joy no bad day in Iraq can compete. And, this past week, to a less extent but with a strong significance to me, I hit one year at my new job. I don’t often write about work, but I am meaning to change that in these coming days.  I have to admit, it was very odd to get congratulations for hitting that mark.  However, knowing that I should celebrate my own achievements with this new normal early and often, I took it as a gentle reminder to try harder to let go of more harmful dates.

Letting go is a tricky balance because it feels good to hold on to some things, even if they can sometimes bring pain.  At certain points in my recovery the pain and suffering defined me.  Though I did not want to be know or acknowledged as the guy working through his therapy, it was so all consuming I had little other choice.  After much therapy what I can say for sure is that time and process have made these dates pass easier for me. One emotion in particular that lingers around anniversaries is the need to feel as though I am adequately honoring my fallen brothers and sisters in a significant and meaningful way.  Early in my therapy it started with smaller and more trivial acts.  An inner monologue that continually chirped over how much effort or sacrifice I was still making knowing my friends paid the ultimate sacrifice.  Over time, as my confidence in my own thoughts and emotions matured, I am grew less concerned with keeping score on myself and more focused on being positive and in the moment.  Now I look to build more positive memories on top of the old and potentially harmful anniversaries without the burden of constantly checking to see if I was carrying that guilt or whatever emotion was on call.

Building memories is not necessarily a quick and easy method. For me, things have to feel right. They have to be planned, and even when they are planned they must completely remove me from the reminders and memories I am trying to build over. That is why this year anniversary at work is great. I had to “work” at getting to the work anniversary.  Other successes I have had generally take me far away from my everyday routine and have special time set aside.  Because I often see the dates of the past coming each year, for me, the planning is all the more important.

I know from my Facebook feed that many of my friends and family honor their loved ones with anniversaries. I hope that in time they are not bound by grief or other emotions and they find peace and energy to create great and meaningful memories.

One blog post down. Ten to go. Thanks for reading.