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A lost warrior

This is the post excerpt.

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What a way to start my first ever blog.  Grieving the loss of another young soldier, taken too early by the demons who followed us home.  My profile picture is of the said young warrior.  Zachary Sparling of Seattle. Washington. An Iraq and Afghanistan veteran who lost his fight this week. We were deployed together in 2010-11 and remained battle buddies after we rotated back to the US. I’m not gonna pretend we were the very best of mates and that we were in touch every day; but we stayed in touch and spoke of visiting each other when we could afford the airfare.  No matter the distance, he was my brother and a small part of me leaves this world too when a battlebudy becomes part of the ’22’.  Mission 22 is an organization close to my heart. Bringing awareness to the approximate 22 veterans who commit suicide each day in the US.  An utterly alarming statistic, which goes unnoticed and, generally ignored.  The daily activities of an overpaid spoilt sportsman is acknowledged and debated far more frequently than the fact that our real life heroes are screaming for help.  Who are too often being drawn into the most desperate and totally heartbreaking decision they have ever dealt with.

My hope for this blog is to bring awareness to veteran suicides.  I suffer from PTSD and have often found myself so desperate I was unable to see a way forward.  Having said that, I’m here (obviously) and I’m moving forward. I still struggle at times, and I continue to see a VA doc for PTSD treatment.  I felt embarrassed and even disappointed in myself when I first sought treatment!  This stigma needs to STOP in our society! I highly encourage any and all of my brothers to seek help if you are feeling depressed, lonely, lost or any debilitating sysmptom. I want to see, I pray to see the 22 daily suicides vanish from our society.  I hope for this blog to be a place of comfort to those suffering, feeling desperate and in need of someone who’s been there.  Someone who still finds himself there!

All things are possible thru God, and I hope you enjoyed my first blog.

I am my brothers’s keeper!

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Forgiveness

To forgive is to love and to love makes God smile upon you!

There has been a cloud, a dark cloud of hatred and mistrust enclosed around my heart since I was a small boy.  It has taken away my ability to be empathic, loving, trusting and kind.  I have definitely shown some of those traits through out my time on earth.  However, on a meaningful consistent basis, they have been severely lacking from my life.

I am currently reading a book about emotional intimacy.  It states that it is sometimes ok to hate, but only for something extremely disturbing, emotionally or physically devastating and overall, utterly life changing.  Yet, it is imperative that we work through that hate, process it and let it go.  Otherwise it is likely, no absolutely going to take over who we are and who God wants us to be.  It will slowly become the essence of how people perceive us and how we interact with the world and those around us.

Layered smoothly on top of my childhood is lovely thick helping of combat PTSD, layered like a beautifully constructed sugar iced cake! haha… a double kick in the groin for me I think!  So it would seem I have been at a disadvantage since I was a young lad in England, coupled with 3 combat tours I’m basically dribbling from the mouth, taking meds and making no sense at this point; or so it has often felt.

Again, like my last blog; I am NOT looking for sympathy or asking for a pity party for Mike!

My eyes are being opened to certain things, through therapy and reading.  I have always been rather proud of the fact that during my time at University I managed to complete my degree, (with Honors) by only purchasing 2 books!!  Back home we don’t do the whole list of books you must buy for each class/semester.  You go about buying books how you see fit.  having said that, for my university book collection, one was a encyclopedia concerning Sports physiology and, the other was the karma sutra.   I am now thinking I should have passed on the KS purchase and bought something regarding human emotions.  I am sure some of my sports psychology papers would have benefitted too.  If my wife is reading, I know she is shaking her head right at this moment with that, Mike, I told you kinda look!

Jesus forgave me for my sins, some of which are truly horrible.

I cannot become emotionally mature and more intimate in nature unless I develop empathy.  I cannot develop empathy unless I get rid of the hate in my heart.  And I cannot banish this tornado of hatred until I forgive.

What I need to forgive is unforgivable, what I need to stop hating is unthinkable and who I need to forgive is still a son of God, just like me.

 

I am my brothers keeper!

Until the 22 is 0, I am constant.

 

 

Group Therapy, Part 1.

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.

M&K

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!

Let the Battle Begin!

So after all these years I have finally decided to submit my application for service connected disability with the VA.   Hearing nightmare after nightmare and going through hell with the VA concerning medical treatment myself, I have been reluctant; to say the least.

This is not going to be a post about bashing the VA, I think over-all it is a wonderful organization that we (as veterans) are very lucky to have.  When I hear vets moan about the VA, I try not to be-little their issues, as I have had plenty myself.  However, the US is pretty much the only nation that has such an organization for it’s veterans.  Amenities ranging from health care, education, housing, compensation and many other programs, the VA is truly a gift from God for us veterans.

I was welcomed to Austin VA clinic by a wonderful and caring OIF/OEF case manager.  Her job is to help Iraq and Afghanistan veterans navigate the VA and all it’s programs.  She explained why it is so important I file my claim.  Obviously there is a monetary benefit; but she explained the health care benefits once you have a certain % of disability with the VA.  And with the uncertainty of this world, to know you have full and free health care for the rest of your life is truly a blessing.  She also said it was a small way that a nation can say ‘Thank You’ to it’s veterans.  I have never looked or expected a thank you from anyone, yet the way she phrased that sentence was touching.

Another reason for not wanting to file, is re-living parts of the past all over again which I would typically like to put in a box and bury.  I have been seeing a PTSD doctor for approximately 7 years now and it saved my life, yet the thought of digging up certain memories is never an easy one to open up to.

So, a few weeks ago I completed my claim and submitted it for consideration.  I requested it be processed as a Fully Developed Claim, a wonderful option the VA offers to veterans who think their claim is pretty cut and dry, along with supporting documentation.  I attached some documents and crossed my fingers.

Today, I completed my 3rd and last Compensation and Pension examination.  This is where a 3rd party medical facility meet with you to go over your condition(s).  I guess an impartial assessment.  I am please to say that they went well, they were all very professional and efficient.  Thus, clearly nothing to do with the VA or the military! Little efficiency dig there! haha

They have to follow certain, and strict VA guidelines during the exam, which I think they all did very well.  Over the last few days I have been researching things concerning this process and boy oh boy there is some interesting stuff out there.  Then I asked a friend at work about his and he told me he was denied a few years back.  He was shot and stabbed in Iraq!  Now that is concerning!  I’m just praying that this doesn’t turn into a battle or a nightmare.  I’m not looking for anything more than I believe I am entitled to and, don’t wish to begin a life long battle with the VA for benefits.

It’s in God’s hands now and hopefully within a few months I will know one way or the other.  So I ask for prayers and even advice if anyone has any.

Thanks for reading!

I got your 6!

I will always be my brothers keeper!

 

 

John 15:13 — 4/19/2010

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SGT ‘Doc’ Rob Barrett, medic with the US Army, KIA 4/19/2010 in Kabul Afghanistan.  Attached to my unit and living on the same FOB.  Early morning before sunrise, 8 years ago today Rob and I were talking about Pizza!  Good pizza from ‘back home’.  How we missed it and couldn’t wait ot get back to the world in order to eat as much as possible!!

We both had a hot tiring day ahead of us, he was training some Afghan soldiers at the nearby airport in Kabul.  My team were heading to the mountains of Shakar Dara to conduct operations.  I told Doc I would swing by and check in on him and his guys later that afternoon.

The suicide bomber had gained access to the US held part of the airport with fake ID and an accurate Afghan Army uniform.  My guess is, someone simply let him on base to attack us.  Either way he made his way to our trucks and detonated himself.   Doc was the closest and took most of the blast.  The terrorist lay close, blown in half; his legs mangled and several feet away from the rest of his body.  Barrett lay motionless, scorched, smoking and in pieces.  Most of his throat and upper chest missing or exposed.  We tried in vain to put things back together and keep him with us.   I screamed in anger, crying out to God after we got him in the bird and on his way.  God must have needed a first class medic up there, and he must have needed one badly.

pop

Before he left Rob wrote a poem, below is an excerpt from that writing to his parent”

“I volunteered to put my life on the line for freedom and country. For my fellow soldiers, for my little girl, for my weeping mother and father, I am going to a land where American freedom is just a dream, a hope, a slow reality. I am an American soldier.”

Today is going to be a little unpleasant.  I am going to finish this and try to stay busy at work and keep my mind from wondering back to war.  I’m not very confident on this one though.  I can smell that day, I can hear the screaming, the shouting, the gun fire and the confusion.

The guilt on my shoulders remains heavy, there have been some dark dark days when carrying it nearly buried me.  Footprints in the sand always comes to mind during dark times and I can only pray that when I was unable to keep moving forward, God was carrying me.

“Dear Lord.  I know we can not understand all of your actions and why you sometimes do the things you do, or let happen the things that happen.  Lord, please hear me that I do trust you and I do trust your plan.  I ask that you pay special attention today to Rob’s family and friends  and especially his little girl Sophie.  Now, a 10 year old girl Lord who has only known her father through medals, pictures, memories and memorials.  May you bless her Lord and keep the memories of her brave father alive and vivid in her growing mind.  Dear Father, on this day I ask you to send the holy spirit  and cover me with grace and love and forgiveness.  And Lord, tell Doc that I am sorry I let him down that day.  On this day Holy Father I do thank you for sending me one of your most precious daughters; my wonderful wife Kaytee.   She supported me on a long and often dark, hellish journey.  I was still over there when I was physically here and she never gave up helping to guide me home.  Forgive me Lord, my life is yours Lord and I give it all to you.”

John 15:13 – Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

Hummer

A Poem for my wife.

When we forgive, we love

 

The clouds were rolling in, the sky grew darker and winds whistled mischievously

Yet, on that beach was a moment of light, a moment of love delivered by the unseen

Two hearts were reborn with the love and forgiveness of God

The clouds continued to dance; the wind blew the old away and delivered the new

 

A little girl praying to have a true love, a prayer offered every night to our father

A dream snatched by the devil’s laugh

The demons of his twisted soul trying to take the life from God’s children

A small boy tormented and broken, fodder for the smiling Lucifer

 

When we forgive, we love

And when we love, God’s light shines upon us as his heart glows with pride

A level of forgiveness delivered through the sacrifice of our Lord

A level of love that is unrivaled

 

We continue our walk in the grace of he who loves us

Lucifer no longer lives in our home; he has been defeated

A lifetime of true love offered and accepted

God reached down and held our hearts, he smiled and breathed a new life into our souls

 

He is particularly fond of who we are becoming

New year, Newer me?

OK, so I’ve never bought into the whole new years resolution thing and, still don’t participate when people ask what my resolutions are going to be.  I have no issues and do not think poorly of those that do, its just not my thing.  I don’t see how a new day, which happens to be January 1st is going to have a drastic impact on my decision making.  Again, some people do and I am all for that.

Having said that, it is the start of a ‘new’ year and I am in a new place.  We felt called by God to move down here so perhaps it can be the continuation of ‘new’ Mike, one I started back in Massachusetts about a year ago.

I am meeting my new medical team at the VA tomorrow which I am excited about (sounds weird I know) but am also feeling very anxious and nervous.  I’m deeply anxious about explaining things all over again, digging deep into who I am , who I was and, who I am trying to be.  Doing it alone in my own head is bad enough, so sharing it with people I don’t even know yet is a pretty terrifying idea.

I know I am a better person when I can speak with a professional about the war and about the disastrous ways PTSD has influenced my life.  I do have a better handle on things, that’s for sure.  However, when I go too long without talking and without taking medications I feel a change.  The hatred I have for myself, the world, people in the world and anything outside my world slowly creeps back inside me.  Its as if the Devil senses I am weak and he knows hate can harbor a safe place in my heart.  He jumps at the chance of using me again.

Although, I will never be the person some people would like me to be.  I am happy with the ‘nicer’ Mike and the less hateful Mike.  I know Jesus hates seeing me so torn and I hate feeling that/this way.

Fingers crossed for tomorrow and, for the rest of the year!!!

After all, its a World Cup year!! 🙂

I got your six!

 

 

 

 

God, its me; scrooge! I am sorry! Forgive me?

The big guy must be a little sick and tired of listening to me lately, more so listening to me complain and shout at him, sometimes screaming and crying to be honest.

I know its a tough time of year for many people, I am unfortunately one of those people. How many times have I been called Scrooge??  No clue, but we can be sure its far too many to track.

This is not a pity party for Mike, I am not looking for sympathy about my childhood/life. OK???  It is what it is and I have always said, and continue to say that overall,  I had a very blessed and wonderful childhood.

Having said that, we were pretty poor my entire childhood.  Not piss broke poor eating bread and water but, money was very very tight.  As kids we mostly got everything we ‘needed’ but rarely the things we truly ‘wanted’.  There wasn’t much to get excited about when it came to gifts in my tiny village on the morning of December 25th.  I never had cool clothes, toys and we never ate out.  My ‘sneakers’ were bought from a supermarket, no brand names could be afforded.  I went out to dinner with my parents once as a child, when I was 15.  We went on one holiday/vacation, 1 week in Wales when I was 14.  The big annual treat each year would typically be a birthday celebration lunch at BK.

Christmas motivated me on 2 fronts as a child.

I look back now with shame that neither was centered around Christ.  I couldn’t,  I wouldn’t and, I even flat out refused to make him the ‘reason for the season’.  This time of year would mean more than usual singing/caroling commitments and events at the church.  My family were not church attendees, nor enforced regular Sunday church attendance on us kids.  However, through my choir enjoyment at school, I had been offered the chance to sing in a rather prestigious and hugely popular Church of England vicarage.  I was utterly thrilled!  Since I was too young for my voice to have ‘broken’, I guess you could say I was able to sing with a certain amount of innocence and purity.  I truly enjoyed singing when this endeavor first knocked on my door.

Oh yes sorry, the Christmas motivations I mentioned………

The first, was Christmas day dinner at my nan’s house.  This entailed as much food as we could eat, and it was bloody good food too.  And I don’t mean, it was just prepared and cooked well.  I mean, it was also good quality food.   ‘Proper’ ham!  Not some processed, packaged crap.  Off the bone of a real, once living pig type of ham.  Ham that I now buy freely at the supermarket any time I want.   YOU ARE THINKING regular sandwich ham, and you would be correct but, as a kid it was a once a year treat for my siblings and I.  —  The second was the Christmas gifts from my grandparents.  Looking back, I think they were financially stable, perhaps even well off.  Either way the gift I received off them each year was always something I wanted, not something I needed.  I really treat, a true luxury gift you could even say.  As I got older, the gift would change to cash! Cold hard, I can do with what I want cash!!!

Unfortunately with things that were going on in my childhood, trying to find my way in the horrific young world I had been introduced to.  Mixed with the lack of razzmatazz over the 25th, this was a time of year I ached to be over as quickly as possible.

Fast forward 30 years, as a combat veteran and a somewhat ‘new’ husband, this time of year now has additional struggles which I am sure many of you can relate too.  Some of them I have brought on myself and others are ……………..situational I guess.  PTSD, flashbacks and nightmares don’t take a break simply because the fat guy in a red suit is getting ready to devour any left over cookies.  I spend time remembering those who didn’t make it back to enjoy the festivities this time of year delivers.  I spend time going over my own deeply depressing fuck ups.

God, forgive me for having a cold heart this time of year.  I offer you the hatred and misery that creeps into my soul each December.  Help me embrace it, enjoy it and be a joyful happy bloke to be around.  Take away the pain, hurt, guilt, shame, disappointment and embarrassment Christmas often fills me with.  My wife is full of such wonderful holiday spirit Lord and it IS infectious.  Help me to open my eyes, heart, mind and body to the wonders she always brings to my life during this time.  At the very least Father, I ask that you not make my issues become a burden to her or anyone else.

I have already been called scrooge a handful of times this December, and that’s ok.  I am currently the Grinch who wants to live alone on top of mountain every December.  Having said that, I am happy to feel a little ‘Whoville spirit’  inside.

Even the Grinch can be his brothers’ keeper!

http://www.mission22.com