July 4th…. and fireworks.

We’re not too far away from America’s celebrations of independence from my homeland.  A time when I still get asked if I am angry about it all being an Englishman haha… I find it difficult to get angry about something that happened 243 years ago and had nothing to do with me.  But there’s that.

Its a paid day off work, a time for celebrations and cook out and ice cold beer!! What’s not to love about July 4th!?  I cant wait to stuff a few burgers and hotdogs in my face, washed down with some delicious beer!!!   However,  for some of us, the big Debbie Downer about his time of year also happens to be fireworks.  A reminder of times we work hard to forget.  A time that brings combat flashbacks, memories and nightmares  to the forefront of one’s mind.  In the past, I have done what was needed to avoid the evening tradition of fireworks.  Gone camping or locking myself away indoors and drinking myself into a deep sleep were my typical favorites.  The latter, clearly not being healthy or productive.  Yet, to avoid the memories and nightmares I was prepared to do pretty much to avoid the effects of fireworks.

Me

However, I have married a wonderful woman who happens to LOVE fireworks.  I have to admit that I really enjoy seeing her face when we have seen them together.  Her eyes light up like a Christmas tree, she has an innocence about her when she falls under the spell of them.  She has been with me through my PTSD journey.  Through some horribly disappointing down times and with me during the successes.  There must be a middle ground we can find right? I refuse to let the enemy beat me now I am home.  They already took a lot from me, I refuse to let them take even more, especially the enjoyment of my wife.

This is the first year I have bought and will be displaying a sign asking people to be considerate of their neighbor being a combat veteran.  I am not for a moment asking my neighbors to avoid enjoying the celebrations.  Perhaps just take some time to consider the possible unnecessary and/or excessive usage of them.  In the past we have experienced locals letting them off days before the 4th, then days after the 4th.  Perhaps get them all done on the 4th!? I don’t know, I just don’t want to be tormented for days on end.  I know its not being done out of spite, I just hope the sign gives them an opportunity to learn and be considerate.

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I’m also in search of some good headphones to wear on the 4th since we will be going to a wonderful even in my wife’s hometown including a parade and a bonfire.  I desperately want to stay for the fireworks and enjoy watching my wife’s pretty face smile as she enjoys them.  She has already offered for us to leave before they start but I don’t want that, its appreciated but I want to support her love for them as she has supported my battle with PTSD.  Yet, I know that I must be aware in knowing my limitations.

The purpose of my blog today?  Hhhhmmm… I think to simply get some things off my chest that have started to bother me as we approach July.  Perhaps to bring some awareness to non veterans who may not have known about this issue with combat veterans during this time of celebrations.  I certainly don’t want to sound like a party pooper or the July Grinch.  Simply looking out for my brothers and asking people to be considerate of those veterans who will undoubtedly be struggling this July 4th.

Hummer

http://www.mission22.com

I will always be my brothers’ keeper

Cheers guys, God bless you all

 

 

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Finding my place as an introvert ….in my church.

Its very unlikely that you’ll ever hear me before you see me, and even when you see me you will likely not hear me.

However, find me on the football pitch (soccer field) and you’ll immediately notice the loud, aggressive English bloke who is not shy in giving orders and instructions.  Locate me on the battle field and you will find an enthusiastic, vocal and energetic leader.  Advancing towards the enemy full of confidence, larger than life in every possible way.

Put me in a room of people I don’t know, or put me in a room with work colleagues, in my own church, even my in-laws; and I vanish.  Not easily intimidated, offended or weak.  Yet I become rather…… invisible.

I don’t like to talk, I often don’t want to listen either if I am honest with you.  I have always been comfortable with my own company.  I have very rarely felt lonely or in need of company.  I don’t always like that about me, I have sometimes thought about how nice it would be if it was different.  None of this is because I feel that I am better than everyone, quite the contrary.  Sometimes I even feel jealousy towards people who I see just strike up conversations with anyone and everyone.  Watching, often searching myself for “Why cant I do that”?  I sometimes feel inadequate, more so at church.  I am happy and confident of my relationship with God.  Having said that, I find myself intimidated by other peoples’ knowledge and strength in their faith.  Of all the places, surely God’s house is the one location I shouldn’t feel intimidated right?    If I knew the bible word for word, would that change it for me at church?  I think the answer is no.  I know the answer is no.  I have read the bible, and I continue to read the bible.  I know the stories, the people and the basic requests God has of us.  Yet, didn’t he make me perfect, in his eyes? He knows how he made me and why he made me the way he did.  This isn’t a cop out so I can do and say what ever I like or not say or not do what ever I like.  But it leaves me confused.  I spend time thinking of what else I could be doing for God, for his church.  Do I have talents? I think so yes but they don’t seem to be something tangible that I could use for his good.

I get so awkward in most public situations, unless I have had a few beers.  Which clearly isn’t the best answer.  At least not on a regular, long term basis.  Can this be conquered with practice and exposure to uncomfortable situations?  Do I have the courage to try to beat it?  Is it something that can even be defeated? I have done some reading about this and recently came across an interesting article about introverts.  It stated that God loves us (introverts) and he made us this way on purpose.  He does love us and that he has a plan, even if its a quiet plan.  As much as I enjoyed the article I know it wont take away my self doubt in church and will not stop me asking myself.

“Is God happy with me? If not, why did he make me the way he did”?

Thoughts, advice and suggestions are absolutely appreciated! 🙂

 

I always had my brother’s back.  My job would sometimes absolutely depend on me be quite.  I will always be my brothers keeper.

Suicide Prevention week Sept 9-15!

Call someone, text someone….. anything!!! Cry, scream, sob, hold, be held…. anything, just anything except making that irreversible decision to end it all.  Please!!

This blog is not only ‘aimed’ at veterans, even though my brothers are always close to my heart.  It is for anyone who is in such a dark place they are considering the ultimate self inflicted wound.  As a combat veteran I have watched helplessly as I experience the news time after time that a brother in arms has taken his own life.  Six of those times, it has been a close battle buddy I served and fought along side.  The demons of War, following them home, as they did with most of us.  Defeating my brothers thousands of miles from the battle field where they found us.

I have been there.  I have found myself on several occasions in a particular position/situation where I was about to make the ultimate decision.  Completely exhausted and defeated to the point of wanted to go and personally meet Jesus on MY time and ask him “why me”?   Or, not necessarily getting ready to ‘do it’ but caring so little about yourself that you put yourself in extremely dangerous situations that could easily end up in the loss of your life.  I have been there too.  Either one is a desperate situation.

At my darkest time, after several self destructive moments, I decided to flee everything and head home to England to be around my family.  I spent weeks with them, walking and thinking and praying.  Asking over and over again, why me? why make me go through all that and feel this way God?  Help me Lord?  Where are you?  Why have you left me?

God answered me during a walk through the fields outside my village.  He told me he hadn’t left me and that he loved me.  Yet, I had to trust him and I had to believe that what he had planned for me was perfect, FOR ME.  I wouldn’t think so, I wouldn’t want to follow his plan but I had a chance, perhaps my last chance to follow and do things HIS way, not mine.  I was financially broke, mentally broken and physically exhausted.  Living back at my parents home in the same bedroom I had grown up in.  In a village with a population of no more than 1000 people, little job options…… few options of anything to be honest.

So…… how did he heal me?  I got deployed again for 12 months! Yep, not joking!  After our intervention I went home and had received an email from a contracting company offering me a lucrative, yet dangerous contract back to Afghanistan.  Are you f*cking kidding me Lord?? This is my salvation? This is the golden ticket for me??

Within 2 weeks, I was in Texas taking a medical examination and a physical fitness test.  Completed my firearms and first aid training and being interviewed.  At the end of the process I was selected and formally offered the contract to sign and accept.  Six figure, tax free salary with a completion bonus tacked on to the end if I stayed the entire 12 month deployment.

I trusted and I went.

I trusted and I was saved.

12 months later and after 6 months in Afghanistan and 6 in Serbia I was out of debt and even had some money in the bank.  I was physically in amazing condition and I had spent plenty of time with God, in a wonderful church family on base.   My mental state was still rocky but I finally had hope, I had experienced Gog.  Including his full and unwavering level of grace and forgiveness.

Upon my return, God had placed my (now) beautiful wife back into my life and connected me with a wonderful support system of professionals who helped me stay on the right path and, away from the dark ledge I had spent so many years hanging off.

My way had not worked, clearly.  I trusted God with my life and he saved it; literally.

So give it a go!!! Just ask him and he WILL save you…. he will replenish your soul and your life.  Although he is never done working with us and for us,  in the aftermath, he will place people in your life that will continue his work.

I love me again, which means I can feel his love for me.  I can feel the unconditional and everlasting love my wife has for me.  I love life again.

After the things I have done, the hurt I have caused, the pain I have put people through.  The hatred that lived in my heart, the darkness I invited into my life and the lies that flowed from my mouth.  If God loves me so much that he would still move my life in a way that could save a wretched soul like mine, he WILL save you too!!!

I’m not perfect, life has not been perfect since I asked Jesus into my life.  Having said that, he has continued to work and do things for me that are good for ME, even if I didn’t ask for them, or agree with them.

Please don’t make a decision you cannot reverse.   Pray and look at the options he has placed in your life.  As bad as you think it is, the options are there.  Trust me!

I am not professionally trained in counseling or mental health but if you think I might be able to help, or you just need to be heard.  Feel free to reach out to me.

I will always be my brothers keeper!

 

http://www.mission22.com

http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org  —  1 800 273 8255

 

 

 

 

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

grave

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.

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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