When I returned from Baghdad in 2006, I was pretty numb. That is probably the biggest understatement of my life. I could not laugh. I could not cry. I did not feel. I did not care. I existed in a sort of perdition.
I had no idea that I was suffering from PTSD. It was against Army culture to admit weakness or ask for help when things went wrong. The rule was to suck it up and fight through. I did my best. My best was far from good enough.
During my deployment, I was a journalist in the Army National Guard. I got to travel outside of Baghdad. I saw some normal things and a lot of pointless human suffering. It wasn’t new to me. I spent my childhood in places even more cursed than modern Iraq. Iraq was what began the breaking of the self for me. I didn’t see the world through the eyes of a child, and I did not once look away from the human condition.
Staring into the abyss that is us/me was an experience of breaking with the possibility of being reborn or becoming damned. I rode a pendulum that swung between perdition and damnation for too many years. I ended up in Kabul, and that experience most likely looked at the cracks in my being, laughed, and then took a hammer to those cracks. I still had no idea that I had PTSD.
People who should not have gone often did. Maybe I was one of those. But some of the people seemed nice. I found the Dutch particularly amenable to my tastes.
We drank a lot of Chai and paid a lot of bribes. It was never about Afghanistan. We were never going to stay long enough.
To make a long story a bit shorter, between Bangladesh, Haiti, Iraq, and Afghanistan, I broke. The numbness grew. The inability to feel grew. The lack of faith in my species grew but did not die completely.
I asked for help. Finally.
And the point of this story is that systems existed to help me, and people listened to my stories. Then they shared their own. And that was enough to allow me to feel again. Little by little.
I danced the dance that kept me sane. That dance took place outside a tent filled with needles that would help me forget. I decided I didn’t need them. After some more years had passed, I found myself in a modest writing and music studio and a place I had dared to dream of. I’m here, and I care. Despite the odds against people like me, I want better for everyone. I want you to thrive. I want us all to survive. I think humans can make each other better if we do the work.
I hope to share pictures of my sanctum soon. I have zero excuses not to write now. I have zero excuses not to live well now. PTSD will always be a part of me, but I have sacred space where I can fight it quietly, and win.
I so enjoy your writing...thank you for sharing the shadows and lights of your journey.
Wishing you the best. Thank you for your writing!