My dad was a disabled Vietnam vet. He was bound to a wheelchair, having lost his legs in a double claymore mine blast somewhere in the jungles of Cambodia. Even though his physical wounds were obvious, as a child I never thought of him as disabled. He drove a pick-up truck with hand controls, hunted and fished, drove an ATV, mowed our grass, and did chores around the house. He was a carpenter, a welder, and a gunsmith. He could find a way to do anything he wanted to do.
He was warm, and kind, and funny. He loved to make people laugh. He loved to play the guitar and sing. He had many characteristics that made people want to be around him, and he was well-liked by most everyone he met. But there was a secret side of him, a dark side that most never saw. He was sullen, emotionally distant, easily frustrated and quick to anger. When he got mad he was scary, and when he got really mad he was terrifying. He carried a pistol everywhere he went, and at night he kept it on the nightstand by his bed.
On the outside Dad appeared to have everything together. He had a wife, two kids, two cars, a nice house and a nice middle-class life in a suburban neighborhood. On the inside, Dad was still in Vietnam. In the evenings he would say goodnight to his family, and relive the horror of the war in his dreams. Night in and night out, the ghosts of war wouldn’t let him rest. In an effort to silence them, he started abusing his pain medication. As the years went by and Dad’s drug addiction got worse, our home became a war zone. Screaming, shouting, crying; for over twenty-five years every day was a different kind of battle. Sometimes when the fights got bad Dad would threaten to kill himself. A couple of times he came very close. Dad knew he had PTSD and he knew he needed help, but once the drugs took hold of him he couldn’t let them go. He made some attempts to get counseling, but they all ended in failure.
After an extended illness, Dad passed away in 2011 at the age of 61. He never made peace with Vietnam, with the things he saw and did. In his final days, when he knew he was going to die, he told me he was afraid of going to hell. Later that year, my wife and I lost our first child to miscarriage. My life started to fall apart. I had severe outbursts of anger and terrible nightmares. One day at work I had the first of a series of flashbacks. I eventually had to leave my job and go to therapy to pull myself together. As difficult as that period was, it was only the culmination of a lifelong fight.
Throughout my life I’ve struggled with PTSD. I’ve battled depression, nightmares, anger, fear and paranoia. I’ve felt a deep sense of isolation and disconnection from the world around me. I’ve lived for many years in what author Peter Levine refers to as a “functional freeze,” a feeling that I’m observing my life without fully engaging in it. During some of my worst periods in my late teens, I would sit on my bed staring out the window for hours at a time. I’ve been to therapy on and off for the last twelve years.
Today I’m 39 years old and live in a small town with my wife and our four children. I’d like to say I’ve overcome PTSD, but the truth is that my recovery is still a work in progress. I’m looking forward to sharing the journey with others who have suffered with PTSD or have been affected by it. Contact me to ask questions or contribute your ideas and suggestions to this page by email (email@example.com) or using the form below. Thanks for visiting!
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Being a Friend When it Matters Most
With PTSD, there is a strong desire to talk about the trauma with other people, coupled with an equally strong fear that other people don't want to hear it. Trauma can be horrible and terrifying. In my experience, the sad truth is that most people don't know how to handle it, so they shut you out.
Click the arrows for some tips about helping friends coping with PTSD.
Coming soon: Short blogs on how to be supportive to a friend with PTSD—Please check back.