2:53 a.m., im watching a television show, while simultaneously scrolling through facebook or playing a card game on my cell phone or tablet. Multi-tasking… Doing anything. Anything possible to keep my mind off of anything negative. Does it work? Sometimes. So this is my normal routine literally 7 days a week. Gotta be at work at 11am across town. I will instinctively be up by 7am at least long enough to get up and use the bathroom and get a glass/cup of water or juice and then bed back down for a quick short nap, and then be up and awake by no later than 930 a.m. as it is for the rest of the day again. And then repeat.
While at work I am hyperaware of everything around me. Sounds, conversations, images, smiles, frowns, body language. Even when I am typing or writing something at work I am more than aware of my surroundings. Constantly scanning, interpreting, reading eyes, hands and stances. During the day I interact with people at work and have very pleasant and sometimes challenging conversations and interactions usually due to their part as I admittedly try to stay to myself unless I’ve known someone for awhile. I spend all day just like this… Until it’s time to go home.
Once I get home, I enter the doorway immediately lock the door behind me, get out of my work clothes and hope not to be bothered for the remainder of the day by anyone inside or outside the house. When I enter my home and lock that door I am looking for some place perceived to be safe. A place of refuge. A place where I’m hoping I can find temporary peace. A self created world inside of the rest of the world. I get on social media and see something of a nature that seems to challenge my core beliefs, I see someone make a snide or insulting or challenging comment on Facebook and immediately I lash out, 0 to 60 in less than a second. My mind becomes tactical. I’m drawing on all my historical and life experience knowledge base, my heart is racing, respiratory rate is rising, blood pressure spikes and adrenaline rushes as though im back in Iraq or Afghanistan, or in the streets of California where I grew up or the streets of Oklahoma City where I have worked Armed Security in some of the most treacherous, violent and undesirable locations where if you don’t know what you are doing you get your ass kicked, your shit taken and sent packing off the property you were assigned to protect. I respond with a bunch of “Fuck Yous”, and “we can handle it however the fuck you want, I dont give a fuck” type replys etc. Eventually people tell me to “calm down”, and “chill out”, but it’s not that simple or easy. I’m somewhat on a hair trigger in regards to reaction.
This shouldn’t be confused with thinking I’m somehow dangerous. I don’t throw shit, break shit, punch shit, etcetera. I don’t threaten people per se; however I don’t back down either.
Why??? Why am I like this???? Am I crazy??? Am I fucked in the head??? Am I just an overly sensitive guy with thin skin??? Again, the reason isn’t so simple either.
Apparently and admittedly at this point I suffer from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Or in short, my mind or psyche has been overstressed and traumatized to the point where I now perceive each and every situation based on a threat/no-threat manner. Man, Woman, adult family members, work, people at work, strangers on social media, strangers in Public, bills, official mail, neighbors etc. Everything except my children is a potential physical, psychological or emotional threat in my life and I must or am forced to be prepared for each and any threats that may arise day or night. So I am up. Both day and night ready to respond and fighting to relax. It is an at times miserable and vicious cycle. Exhausting most of the time and that is simply with mere perceived threats alone. Couple that with actual natural life stressors and trauma such as The Boss being on my back, occasional assholes at work, baby momma drama, girlfriend drama that frequently makes me decide to be without one, bills, bill collectors, and of course unexpected and unknown threats and emergencies in life that can happen at any given time such as death of a friend or a death in the family, etc.
So what caused this to happen? What happened that caused me to be like this…??? Was it the fact that I was physically beaten and sexually molested for about 7 years of my childhood, was it the fact that I wasn’t raised by either of my biological parents due to a physically and emotionally abusive marriage between my parents? Was it my rough and violent teenage years on the dangerous and deadly streets of California where tragic violence was an every week occurrence, and my best friend was killed at age 17 while I was off at Army Boot Camp? Was it due to two marriages that ended in horrific divorces; one in which I received a Dear John Email while deployed to a war zone in Afghanistan, and one in which I discovered and learned my second wife had committed Paternity Fraud and passed our 3 year child off as my biological child when that wasn’t truly the case as she was secretly bringing the child around the other man???? Or was it maybe because of the fact that my curiosity and familiarity with high stress and violence and tragedy made me volunteer to travel to every Conflict area the US has had any involvement in over the last two decades except Africa???
Most would think the latter. Only the sights and sounds of conflict would do such things to an otherwise strong man who had experienced so much in life prior to his going to these conflict areas. I may have decided to think the same thing. Afterall, I didn’t start experiencing noticeable symptoms until my last trip back from overseas in Iraq. Actually I started noticing it in country….. But not while I was at work/working. If I was working I was the model of stability and performance. Long days or nights, making the big machine work, supervising other armed men. Giving orders. Discipline handed down and out quickly and sternly when needed, bonding strongly with my peers and subordinates alike. If there was disagreement with peers we would have it out but there was always a somewhat mutual level of respect as we were all in the arena and in harm’s way. If anyone ever needed any proof of such all you needed as a constant reminder is when you frequented the Base’s MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) center internet cafe or the pay phones to call home and you would see a notice on the door that read “River City”. This was code for a death/ American KIA within the location of US Forces. People followed orders and did not debate shit. They didn’t give you flack and unnecessary feedback and drama and bullshit. We all did what had to be done for those of us who came back alive.
The first signs of my developing condition would happen in Iraq when I would be asleep. I would at times literally jump up or sit up in my sleep and start shouting startled and cautiously. “What do you want!?!?! Why are you here!?!?! Who are you!?!?!” At the time my roommate/Battle buddy would just call out my last name and tell me to go back to sleep or laugh. After getting up later on in the day or night he would tell me about it and I would have somewhat of a vivid groggy memory of the event of being in a state of half awake and half asleep but still fully alert and or hypervigilant.
Things really started to become more clear when I came back to the States and the sleep incidents continued, but something else was noticed. I was very very verbally aggressive. What I commonly refer to as my Command and Control voice was spilling over into my relationship back home. I had already been Dear Johned in Afghanistan by my first wife and any sense of bullshit, challenging stress or drama just automatically put me in “oh hell nah” mode when it came to taking any shit or perceived shit.
I had deployed again probably too soon after getting back from Afghanistan injured from/due to a bad fall on the Ice in the winter in the Stan, and going through such a huge significant emotional event as a Divorce after a 13 year marriage is difficult enough. But fuck it, im tough I said, so I wanted to get right back in the saddle and did as soon as possible. In doing so, I had a sense of purpose and felt like I belonged. Again in such environments men have to be men and leaders, and mistakes can be costly or deadly. But so can being in such an environment for too long when other things are weighing deep inside your mind. It didn’t start to click or make sense until my brother was visiting from California after I came back from Iraq and during an encounter between my girlfriend and eventual second wife and mistake, he said, “Bro, you need to calm down”. He went on to say, “you know they train you to be these aggressive killers with a go get em attitude, but they don’t train you how to come down from that.” I knew he was right, but still had no idea what the fuck was going on. It wasn’t until a few more years down the road that everything finally made sense.
So I knew something was wrong/up, and I self diagnosed as most likely having a moderate to light case of PTSD. Eventually the night tremors/startled incidents subsided and went away all together. I wasn’t jumpy in my sleep anymore, but the aggressiveness never went away. I began working for the state in the field of Juvenile Probation and Parole and loved the part of my job that involved interacting and helping the state’s troubled youth. After-all, I too was a troubled youth at one time who pulled myself up from the bootstraps and made something of myself and my life. I served my Country, got a Bachelors and Masters degree etcetera and supported my state and local community. What I couldn’t stand was the Bureaucratic System that wasn’t functionally or operationally proficient or efficient. Being handed the worst and most problematic cases made me feel a bit shit on as the new guy and had me perceive the mid-level leadership as sort of weak when the most experienced people handle the slack cases and the new guy handles the most difficult and challenging cases but challenge accepted and with limited resources had me literally trying to pull off miracles almost every court appearance at least twice a week.
The Judge had a set of expectations which was to get these kids the best treatment, resources and support and get them released back into the community as soon as humanly possible. Then my Supervisor and the District Supervisor had their expectations of disposing of caseloads as quickly as possible as well as taking on more as quickly as possible. What one of our agency specialists told me one time is “You care too much. You are one of those that actually care about what you are doing”. Which added additional stress when I saw the system fail from the inside and the blame gets put on the case worker. I didn’t Get the blame per se as I was told I submitted some of the best most proficient reports and advocacy requests they had ever seen, but still my boisterous anger and ability/willingness to so openly and freely opine or critique the flawed and fucked up system as well as witnessing the persian bazaar slick assed fast food manner in which these kids lives was handled within the system in which I was working drew the ire of some in the office who were fine with 9 to 5ing it and not really giving a fuck what happened to who. The office had cliques. I fit in with the older crowd and more mature group, but again drew the ire of the younger more hip group in our office. Eventually a day came when I got called into the District Supervisor’s office upon coming back from a visit at a Secure Juvenile Facility/Prison for kids elsewhere in the state and was told I was observed texting on my cell phone while stopped at a stop light….. And because I was perceived to have been not acceptable of how things were run within the office and system. There was an Armed State Investigator outside the District Supervisor’s office waiting for me to escort me to clean out my desk and out of the main office. So again due to my inability to adapt to a system that is not run as dysfunctionally efficient and orderly as the military, it was becoming more and more obvious that something was off with me or with the world around me.
Next, I decided to do something that I knew would work and get me back into a semi familiar swing of things. I decided to do Private Armed Security as an Independent Contractor throughout the Oklahoma City area and I specifically only chose and wanted High Risk dangerous and violent properties. Places where other people were afraid to go, where other Security was run out of, where there was violent fights guaranteed almost every single day, where cars got set on fire, where attempted rape, domestic violence, controlled substance distribution, prostitution and gang banging all took place on an almost every other day basis. I found myself running towards gunfire and after vehicles on foot through complexes, almost single handedly dealing with 21 person full scale riot fights with 4 simultaneous fights taking place at one time and people jumping into each of the 4 fights…. I loved it. I would do 10 and 12 hr shifts and would feel as close to home and as comfortable as I did growing up on the California streets as a teenager and during my time in Afghanistan and Iraq, Kosovo and Israel. I felt like I was making a difference. Changing outcomes. Keeping some people safe while others were getting hit with my ASP Baton, or Sprayed in the face with O.C. spray or put in handcuffs etc. But as time went on I eventually started bonding with the people there both good and misguided. I started connecting, and as time went on its almost as though I started becoming friends and almost distant family with those I had hit with my Baton, Sprayed in the face etc. Of course there were those who could never be trusted, but next thing I know I’m being given food plates at BBQ cookouts, invited to people’s High School graduations, asked how my family is doing etc….
As time went on I realized I was becoming more and more emotional. I hear a certain song on the radio or in a movie, I’m tearing up. I see a certain movie scene, I’m tearing up. I think about my older kids becoming young adults, I’m crying. I take them back from my weekend visitation and drop them off I’m crying. In all my adult life I may have cried maybe five whole times up to this point. Now, everything makes me fucking emotional. I see a homeless person and my heart is breaking. WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING TO ME!?!?! I’ve been through harsh physical and sexual abuse as a kid; I’ve been through California’s mean streets as a teen; I’ve been through tons of training and vetting in the US Military and with some of the country’s top notch Private Military Security Contractors; Blackwater, Triple Canopy, Global, Armor Group, etc…. I’ve been to High Threat at war/conflict areas around the world, a horrific Divorce while physically injured after 13 years of Marriage the 1st time and a from the cooking pan into the fire second marriage a year after getting out of the first marriage…… And there lied the answer to everything. No, not my second marriage, or the first, or my time doing High Risk Security in the nation’s 5th highest gang related homicide rate city, or any one specific thing. It was EVERYTHING previously mentioned that did this to me. An overwhelming accumulation of high stress and physical and mental trauma and abuse from life in a state where for my mind and sense of being to protect itself said over and over again “you’re fine”, “this will not affect you”, “you can handle it”, “you are tough”…. But somewhere along the way I broke inside. Regardless of what I told myself, inside I was breaking. More and more I began withdrawing. I don’t like working in groups. I don’t like offices with cliques. I can’t stand favoritism in the Civilian world. I can’t stand listening to fucking civilians complain about pussy ass whiny shit. “I had to walk from the car to the front door and it was raining or snowing”……. Bitch, are you fucking kidding me??? “I have to work on a weekend.” Boo Fucking Hoo. Its called being grown up and having a job…. But unfortunately this outlook and perspective and verbally calling bullshit when bullshit arises makes me less than a team player. Now, I do jobs or work such as Security or Disconnecting cable where I work alone and with no constant supervision and minimal interaction with larger groups. I work on my own and produce my own results as well as provide and direct my availability for work where I minimize contact and interaction as much as possible.
But even in changing my work environment, I still have incidents that keep me in that constant state of analyzing and evaluating each adult person as friend or foe??? Fight or Flight???
My visiting older brother seems like he’s acting disrespectful as a guest in my home and at first I avoid. I avoid. I avoid. I let it go, I let it go, I let it go I ask nicely and then I ask nicely again…. Until eventually I snap!!!! And then here it comes; the Motherfucker this, the fuck you that, the why the fuck can’t your ass just…???
Same at work. Dont complain. Dont complain. Dont complain….. And then eventually here it comes again.
Im dealing with baby mamma drama. Trying to keep me from seeing my kids not because of me, but because they are jealous of another one of my kids moms and that causes and creates more court appearances and I’m being constantly hassled for legal paperwork and arguments and demands and im either avoiding the entire world, or I’m ready to take on everyone and everything on my own what the fuck ever!!! Fuck it let’s do it, however you want to do this shit!!!!
One day I finally just decided to look up signs and symptoms of PTSD. I met and exhibited almost every one of them. So I called my 4 year old sons mother who I am closest with and said, “I think I have PTSD”… Her response came almost immediately; “Yes, I think you do too”. And with that I immediately began choking up and breaking into tears. Im tearing up as I’m recalling that revelation and confirmation even now. I thought I had everything under control as usual. A flood of thoughts came rushing to my mind such as “you’re broken. Everyone is gonna think you are a nut case. People are gonna think you’re violent. People are gonna laugh or make fun of you. Women will be afraid to be with you”. And the scary thoughts ran on and on…. The next day I private messaged a facebook friend on a military page I am a member of and asked him a bunch of questions. Not because I was in doubt or denial anymore, but just to talk to him about how he approached it and what his initial reactions and feelings were when he made the admission and self discovery… Some of his most helpful advice and words were that “you have to let go of your pride”… And then he suggested I make an appointment with my local V.A. (Veterans Affairs) hospital/medical center and be seen by a trained Psychologist. I went in and explained everything about my life up to the present circumstances and she was impressed with how well I understood and had insight to what was going on and happening with my condition. She recommended me to a PTSD group where I can now work more on handling acceptance and be with others who understand what I’m experiencing as they too have or are experiencing it themselves. I can somewhat be at peace with the fact that I was/am human and vulnerable and that I am not invincible. It doesn’t make me a pussy and trust me when I say that we can handle shit however and wherever you want. I still know I could go back to any shitty neighborhood, country at war, etc and still be a valuable and lethal asset. But I also know that is a part of me that is better left behind as a part of my past, than for it to still be a part of my present. I have nothing left to prove. Nothing except that I can still be a functioning and productive member to society and an involved and insightful father by sharing my experiences with others and helping them accept who they are regardless of their life experiences traumatic or otherwise.
Its 12:29 a.m. the night after I started this article….. I bet I won’t sleep till about 3 or 4 am easily…. When I wake I bet my day tomorrow will begin with my mind and thoughts racing…. Upcoming court dates and how ugly things will get, the boss at work and will he cause me to lose my shit again, my current relationship status and is it better to be alone and single the rest of my life, what I have to do around the house and will I have the energy, physical capability and resources to get it all done, missing my kids that are not with me right now… And so goes the never ending cycle of what it’s like to live with PTSD.