Couple years ago in Beverly, MA I attended a local veterans group for soldiers who had/were suffering from combat related PTSD. In the basement of a city building, we shuffled around a table in a dimly lit room that had seen better days. The leader of the group was a recovered, or recovering alcoholic, credit to him I thought. He had been sober for over 30 since he returning from Vietnam. For his service in the far east and his battle with the booze demons, I immediately respected this chap.
I think that’s about as good as it got with my first taste of group therapy.
My wife and I were living in a flat in Beverly and were somewhat newly weds. Trying to save for a house, discussing starting a family and I hadn’t been home long from Afghanistan and Kosovo. Things were getting messy and I could feel it all unraveling right in front of my eyes. I had no idea how to stop it, control it and to be honest, did I even want to control and stop it? I was drinking more, we were fighting more and I think I was honestly in full blown ‘F*ck it’ mode. Even with my beautiful wife begging me to get back in therapy, I refused and decided to give Mr. Samuel Adams a chance at dealing with my hatred for life and, the hatred I had for myself. Before, you all gasp in shock, Mr. Adams, although tasty and delicious…… is a terrible therapist.
I was the youngest in my new group therapy class. And the youngest by a long way. Now, I don’t consider myself to be much of a spring chicken these days. Multiple combat deployments have made sure that I surely don’t physically feel like a spring chicken. Having said that, these chaps had 30+ years on me. I have no issues with people older or younger than me, but I was starting to think about what soldiering similarities we could possibly have. We’re all war veterans, check….and ….. crickets! We were from a different generation. Our wars were totally different, the tours were totally different and I was the only one there who had volunteered to enlist. I am NOT in any way shape or form knocking these chaps for being drafted. As I said, it was just a different time and under different circumstances. My heart was already sinking at the thought of being in this group.
I bolted out of the house and took off up Winthrop Ave, peeling away (on foot) as fast as I could getting away from my home and my wife. Running like the po po were chasing me. It was fairly late on December 31st! What should have been a lovely, warm joyous accusation had deteriorated into a night of fighting (not physically) and screaming at each other. Weird thing to say but luckily we lived above a couple that fought and screamed more than we did, so we didn’t have to worry about bothering them with our evening. F*ck this sh*t…. I wanted to have a fun night, and if that meant me doing it on my own in a bar, then so be it. I honestly cant even tell you what we were fighting about, who or what started it and who was right or wrong, I guess it didn’t matter. She eventually tracked me down to an Indian restaurant who were celebrating with Karaoke. I was busted. Sitting along in a busy bar, having another meeting with Mr. Adams. I was crushed that my night was now officially ruined, as I was no longer alone with my anger and beer.
Nothing about being a soldier, war or PTSD was being discussed. This was now week 3 and I had sat there and listen to the information about the local rotary club, horse betting, Florida vacations and anything else, so long as it had nothing to do with veterans struggling with PTSD. What the f*ck was I doing here. I already felt out of place being so emotionally closed off and being around guys who went to ‘Nam back in ’65. The closest we came to any type of military talk was when one of the chaps commented that me being sent down range 3 times wasn’t fair. At the time, I didn’t have the emotional confidence to interject and let them know that my needs were not being met. I was crying inside, screaming for someone to at least try and talk about what we all went through. Listening to some of their stories, I could see I was the mirror image of them when they came home all those years ago. Life spiraling out of control, alcoholics, junkies, divorced, homeless, jobless and medicated to no end by the VA. I was looking across the table and seeing myself in 30 years!!!! F*ck this sh*t went through my mind again and again. I was NOT going to be like these guys. Don’t get me wrong, some had gone off the rails when they came home but eventually got themselves together and made a good life for themselves. Nice home and career with a second home down Cape Cod. Yet, I know me. And I know that should I take a long walk down some of the roads they were talking about, there would be no turning back for Mike. I would soon end up dead, in jail or dead in jail if I didn’t start to take control of things. Group therapy was not going to be a part of that recovery. Or was it?
It took several days for Kaytee and I to get over New Years eve and begin to talk and be civil. It took weeks for things to resume a sense or normality. Group therapy hadn’t worked for me, but I couldn’t give up. I know I needed to try something else. Or I would be involved in a full blown self destruct mission, and I would be doing it alone. I never failed mission.
Crying out to our Father Lord Jesus he placed a lady named Karen into my life. A PTSD therapist in Boston took me on her case load. She saw the dark hole I was in and the road I was heading down. I was in full blown self destruct and she didn’t want that for me. I didn’t want that in all reality. And my dearest Kaytee was offering to walk with me….. one last time.
Since moving to Texas, I have obviously ceased meeting with Karen, but she continues to check in my progress. I don’t miss her as a person, as awful as I am sure that sounds. Yet, I miss our sessions and how she made me look at PTSD, shame, life, war, myself, my wife and my future.
And guess what………………..I started group therapy again! And it has changed my life! I could honestly take or leave the Dr who runs the sessions. However, the veterans are amazing. I have become more vocal and express my fears and nightmares. These guys are all Afghanistan and Iraqi veterans, and like me, have done multiple tours. The sessions have structure and appropriate content. And the best part is that we are NOT ALLOWED to talk and discuss anything combat related. It may sound weird but most of us have received intensive treatment for that with individual therapy. Therefor, these sessions are about our reintegration into society. Relationships with spouses, family, friends and work colleagues. We also address how we feel about ourselves and what the relationship is like with me myself and mike. I know I am a little crazy, but I am with my brothers who are a little crazy too. I’m not such a freak anymore because I don’t like crowds or loud bangs, fireworks. I know i can be so insensitive to the world, yet emotions have now surfaced where something on TV might make me cry, and not a war movie. Something uplifting and glorious in life!! I am not alone on this journey and I am the same as many many vets out there. We are a support system to each other, blokes I don’t really know but there is a bond, there are no judgmental comments and, the military banter we all love so much is still there in abundance.
Group therapy is no longer the Devil……..its just taken some time to find the right group and to be open enough to embrace it. I have prayed and prayed to God that he help me with my demons and that I am not alone nor am I beyond the reaches of being fixed. I’ll never ever be the same chap that left for war; and I am finally ok with that. That’s OK Mike.
Kaytee helped me condiments and all the fixings as I prepared the burgers for our guests. She started the grill and poured some drinks. Light music that we BOTH love was playing in the background and we moved around each other in the kitchen like a pair of well seasoned 2 steps champions. She brushed my shoulder when she passed me, I usually brushed her b*tt when I passed her. She continues to fight in my corner and I continue to………………. simply fight.
We are a group now. With our puppy never too far way; we are a tightly knit pack who look out for each other. When HE knows the time is right, WE know God will bless our pack with a wee baby. Until then, we will continue to move as one unit and, I finally love it.
Group therapy has rocked, Texas has rocked and I have never been so in love with my wife and never so trusting of our Lord Father Jesus!