Archive for January, 2018

Guest post by Joe DeCree, Maj. (Ret.) US Army

Groundhog Day…again.

It is almost February 2nd. Time for more reruns of the Bill Murray/ Harold Ramis classic movie. It is a movie that works on many levels for many of us. In thinking about this movie (it is a favorite of mine) I found an interesting parallel to post military life.

Speaking for myself, when I first suspected I had PTSD I did what most of us do — I told myself that it wasn’t so. I managed to dodge reality for quite awhile (I was an officer. I can be very convincing and still be wrong). But when reality would not be put off any longer I found myself in Groundhog Day. Nothing much changed. I got up, got angry, went to my job, felt pointless, wanted to be somewhere else, wanted to be dead. I kept talking to people and mimicking right answers, funny jokes, etc. and complained about everything and everyone all with the vaguest hope that one day I would wake up and it would be magically different. No matter how much I tried to show normal, I just wasn’t feeling it. Mostly I wasn’t feeling anything and when I did it was pretty bleak.

Just like Bill Murray’s character I did things that were increasingly risky with less and less thought about consequences because after all I would wake up tomorrow and nothing would have changed. I was stuck in Groundhog Day. Sound familiar?

But the metaphor is incomplete without the resolution. That is the best part of the movie. The character in the movie is stuck for exactly that reason. He works on just stuff- things that amuse himself or impress others. They are heartless and meaningless acts essentially. But at one turn in the plot he starts doing things for others. He stops a kid falling out of a tree. Helps some old ladies change their tire, and does a few other random acts of kindness. He makes it his purpose to help others. This progresses to an interest in making himself a better person. At that point he wakes up on February 3rd.
It is a new day at last.

That was me too. PTSD and readjustment blues (sounds like it should be a song, yeah?). It is easy to be stuck in Groundhog Day. Nothing changes. Meds, VA, friends pretending it’s all good, or nagging you about getting something new started. You want it all to go away but the regularity of it all becomes its own kind of weird comfort. The dullness keeps some of the rage and anxiety at bay so you tolerate it and tell yourself that you are getting there or perhaps that it doesn’t matter at all and soon you’ll be dead. If you stay here you are gonna die. It will either be a suicide or worse- the slow emotional death that perversely proves that you were right and life is not about anything and never was. It is a truly dark place we travel through to appreciate what light is.

If this is where your story is then please let’s do something about it. It does not have to be. Bill Murray did not stay in Groundhog Day forever. It changed when he decided what life was about and that he would dedicate himself to pursuing that. In the movie, he discovered (just like I discovered) that life is not in fact pointless. It is all about how we relate to others. For me that took a decidedly Christian path. Yours may be different but a philosophy that keeps you isolated and makes life pointless is a guaranteed Groundhog Day. It will never be different.

We are relational creatures. That is how God made us. We are made for one another. This implies certain responsibilities. First it implies that we have to make ourselves into something that can support that. Then we have to find people we want to serve who have a cause we believe in. This stuff is not new to military folks. It’s why we served.

It is who we are.

Be who you are. Get busy working on yourself to get to a place where you can fulfill that mandate in your soul.

Being stuck is a normal part of life. It happens sometimes. You get in a rut. Partly, your current rut is normal. It is amplified by the medical conditions related to trauma. Those may be permanent to a degree, but your rut need not be. One thing that I have learned that I hope you do too is that God has no zero and no max.

That means whatever time you have left is enough time to do what we were meant for. It also means if you want to wallow in your trouble there is not truly a bottom. My friend Britta Reque-Dragicevic has an interesting way of viewing this in her blog here. She details her own struggles with depression due to physical problems. She says that you have to choose to fight for your own life every day. I agree with that. You can get to a point where that is not daily, but you will still have to visit that choice at regular intervals.

Life changed for us. We went to war. Much of what we experienced was not a choice, but at this point in your life you must make that choice. February 3rd will not roll around by itself. It has to be invited in. That’s good news — at last you finally get a choice about what happens to you. This is not an IED or ambush. You can make this decision toward your own life.

This isn’t me painting a rosy picture. Nothing erases what you did or what you saw, or how you got blown up. I still have days when I wish I was dead and past it all, but they are getting fewer. Here is the million-dollar question: What if you woke up tomorrow and you weren’t pissed off? What would that mean to you? What if you did not feel like you were in a box that was getting smaller? You felt like you could make some future plans that might work? What if your emotional rucksack just felt 10 lbs. lighter? Heck when was the last time you really laughed with someone? Don’t you miss that? Brother, you can get to that day but you have to make that happen. You can. It is scarier than your first jump out of a perfectly good airplane but it is just as big a rush if you truly commit to it.

Step one is to reach out to someone. Anyone. A spouse, parent, friend, clergyman, your general practitioner, Britta — heck, I will talk to you if you think it will help. This is not negotiable, remember we are designed to be relational creatures. Isolation does not serve us well. Adam had a date before the end of the second chapter in the Bible (Genesis 2:18 …”it is not good for man to be alone…”). Everybody needs somebody. Even you. Pick someone you think you can trust and lay it out.

I know trusting your issues with someone else is hard. They might be shocked. They might not believe that people are capable for doing those things to one another. They might judge you and what right do they have to do that? They did not go over there! I was worried that my wife would hate me if she knew some of the things I did in combat. She did not. It took me years to tell her. When I did she thought I had pulled off some brilliant plays. Believe me, I get that you are scared. You are going to keep being scared if nothing changes. You ask, “what if talking is a mistake?” Ask a different question “What if it helps me get where I want to be?”

Disclosure makes you a bit vulnerable but, honestly, you are very vulnerable now in your isolation so that is not working either. And if nothing changes then you will always be isolated, vulnerable, and scared. Change something, man. Find a confidant. Connect with Britta or reach out to me. Open up a bit. Work on yourself so you can get back to the business of doing for others because that is who you are. It is why you fought.

Get to February 3rd.

JoeDeCree

 

Joe DeCree is a Maj. (Ret.) US Army, Green Beret, 19th SFG (A). He works with returning veterans and lives with his family in Montana. You can contact Joe directly at jdegijoe@gmail.com or 406-871-0638 MT.

Guest post by Joe DeCree, Maj. (Ret.) US Army

Warriorhood — the status of being a warrior.  Warrior  — a person who is called to defend others; to live by a code of honor and ethics in pursuit of the greater good; to lead the non- warrior class in living up to the ideals of the society. These definitions are my own, but I think they are solid. Regardless of definition being a warrior is a calling.  Oh, it is an oft used term and its overuse is offensive.  I do not see professional athletes as warriors. Sorry. No one is getting shot on the 50 yard line today.  There is no catastrophic fail of human rights if an otherwise reasonable and classy athlete engages in an unsavory press interview speech. Other cultures have and have had a warrior class. The United States does not.  It could violate the equality under the law clause.  At a minimum, it does violate the founding tenet of equality. 

But, in many ways, it is a separate group in our culture.  Some of us never dreamed we would do it for as long as we did.  Some of us only joined up to do our bit for the war on terror.  For others it was the thing we were born to do.  If you are reading this then you are probably no longer in the official status of warrior.  By that I mean that your professional tenure as soldier, marine, sailor, airman, coast guardsman, is over.  You are now a veteran. The treasured post-warrior class of the nation.  I know it does not seem like this always; especially for the VietNam guys.  Some of us got parades. Some of us got spit on.  Some of us are still trying to sort out what it was all for.

Most of us have PTSD, PTE, or some form of Post Combat Transformation (PCT-my own term).  We watch football millionaires not render honors to the nation and others argue about which toilet in the restaurant they should use.  It is easy to see the country and compare the pop-culture against the value of buddies’ lives spent so that we could have these ridiculous arguments.  Here is a hint: the arguments were not worth their lives — but hold that thought.  If that statement rings true to you then your professional tenure as warrior is up, but your spiritual tenure as one is not.  For most of us that can never be. It is both our great blessing and our great curse.

Some of us are glad to be out and some of us cry about losing that part of our lives.  Some of us got medically retired. Some retired the conventional way. Some just got disillusioned and left.  Big deal; why am I saying this when we all know it?  Because we are all still warriors. The days of just joining up to get the college money is 17 years past.  That is when this era of constant war started. 

We had our eyes wide open when we stepped into the recruiter’s cubicle.  There was no question where that conversation would lead us. So how do we maintain warriorhood now that we are veterans?  That is “veteran” and not “former warrior”. I am not certain that such a thing exists.  I am of the opinion that once a warrior, always a warrior.  The question is now how do I get my warrior on without a uniform to wear?

To answer this let’s breakdown what it is to be a warrior.  We all believe in something bigger than ourselves.  That’s easy. For all of us that was the ideal of America.  I understand that there are warts and stretch marks on Lady Liberty and she might need a boob job, but that lamp is still on. We followed the lamp. We sweated bullets and bled for that lamp to stay lit.  This dovetails nicely into the second reason which is a desire to serve.  The third is a willingness to defend her and the people she has brought in.  Regardless of what you believe about immigration or racial differences you believed that the torch on the statue was for everyone here.  Newsflash – it is; you were right. 

The defense of the nation and her people points to the major corollary of warriorhood (a corollary is a major point that supports a principle). That corollary is that we were all willing to do a job no one else would.  The active service is around 1% of the population.  You are elite. You are the 1% who dared. Those that did not will have many “reasons” like they did not support the war, did not want to be shot at, believed they were best used elsewhere, etc.  These are the excuses of selfishness and in some cases cowardice.  We were not selfish. 

Stay with me we are almost there.  The first is that we believe in doing things. We are not talkers and philosophers.  We do not trust speeches.  I tell my friends that I am what happens when those speeches fail.  Talk is nice but we tend to see it as a warning order. In other words we either drop the polite discussion or do something with it.  Final point-we are leaders.  The lowest marine or army private is more capable of handling most emergencies than John Q. Public.  It isn’t their fault.  It comes from knowing that you can do things because you have. They try to live their life stress free.  You see that as a kind of prison. 

So if we set this up in proper military fashion it looks like this:

  1. Belief in the American ideal-we followed her lamp/torch.
  2. We wanted to serve others.
  3. We wanted to defend our country and her citizens-even those of the other political party.
  4. We were willing to do a job others were not. We are the 1%.
  5. We are not selfish.
  6. We are people of decisive action.
  7. We are leaders.

Now you are out of uniform.  You have some kind of PCT.  Your noble intentions had consequences that you were only vaguely aware of much like a professional athlete who now has concussion syndrome.  The explosions were cool when you were in training but now you blanch at 4th of July fireworks.  Getting shot at did not scare you when you fought, it pissed you off and made some noise of your own. You were fast, lethal, and very expert. Now you are broke, angry, scared, physically broken, and Lord knows what else. 

For my own part I spent a few years just kind of cowering from life. I had had enough and whereas I was not planning a suicide if I had fallen in front of a careening Mack truck I would not have tried to get up.  Many of you are like that.  It wears on your family and friends. It wears on you.  One friend told me “I am so angry all the time that it makes me tired.”

How do you get out of this weird alien syndrome you find yourself in? Here is the answer as I see it – it lies in our training and the six reasons I listed above.  It seems to me that cowering and hoping that things get better is not who we are.  It is antithetical to our character, to our training, and it doesn’t work that well either.  I was in special operations, we have great unit mottoes (as you did) like “Molon Labe or De Oppresso Liber, or my personal favorite from the SAS: “Who dares wins”. 

These mottoes indicate action or the readiness of a cocked fist. This is who we are.  If nothing else the country sure could use the leadership we can provide.  It can use some unselfish people who still think Lady Liberty is hot. Time to mount up boys and girls, the work ain’t done yet.  Seek out the positive action you can take for the cause you believe in. If it is not the country that’s fine. I am not going to judge that, but we need something or someone to fight for. Find it.

You may need some counseling and some meds.  If that’s you then do that and take them. Don’t make excuses and don’t be ashamed.  That is what you need to be mission capable.  Don’t listen to the people who tell you it’s a sign of strength to get help.  Also, don’t listen to that voice that tells you it’s a sign of weakness.  Here is ground truth, it is neither. It is simply what you need to do to stay in whatever fight you are in. It is like spare batteries for your night vision – you just make sure you have them.  So do it and tell everyone else thanks for their irrelevant opinion. 

America is at a crossroads and needs it veterans vibrant and active.  Can we still shoulder a ruck and move out? No. Those days are behind us but look at what we are doing in business and politics.  Look at the numbers of us who are getting into teaching.  There are still fights worth engaging in.  That does not have to be a senate run or mayoral bid.  It might just mean being a deacon at the church, volunteer to run the neighborhood watch, or show the guys at the plant what a good day’s work really is.  Maybe coach a youth team. 

Our perspective is unique-after all only 1% of the population has ever done it at any given time; perhaps 7% of the total population has ever served.  We have a perspective on life that they just don’t get but they need.  They are the folks we defended but were not permitted to be a part of. Well, we are part of them now and a new 1% is stepping up to serve. 

Being in therapy does not mean that we are out of the fight. In fact it might just help us get back into it. Remember the 6 pillars (above) of what a warrior is.  Don’t let someone else tell you what you are or when you are “healed”.  That happens when you say-and being in counseling or on meds does not mean that you are not healed. It is just how you manage your day now.  Combat changes us. One of those ways is to ingrain the warrior into us.  If that is who you are then don’t stop now because life will not make sense any other way. Warrior you were. Warrior you are. Warrior you will be. Find a fight you can believe in again.  Suit up.

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Joe DeCree is a Maj. (Ret.) US Army, Green Beret, 19th SFG (A). He works with returning veterans and lives with his family in Montana. You can contact Joe directly at jdegijoe@gmail.com or 406-871-0638 MT.