god i fucking hate trauma i hate trauma i hate trauma
i hate that even after an official diagnosis i still doubt whether or not i’m just faking it all to seem cool or something fucked up like that
and sometimes i feel like i could completely deny having it but then i feel your cold hands slowly wrapping around my neck and i have to bite back a scream on a public bus and i realize there’s no way my trauma couldn’t be real
How to not bring up my abusers every time someone mentions their parents and not instantly make the conversation awkward and depressing because you have no good stories to tell about them but still want to join in on the conversation because you haven't said a thing all night
do you ever just sort of forget that you’re traumatized? like you will be having a perfectly fine day and then you just remember that you went through something awful and it kinda fucks with the rest of the day? you finally feel like you’re getting somewhere until you remember and then everything is bad again.
Blackburn, as a Lieutenant, in Mosul, Iraq, December 2007; and with his wife Bethany in 2013.
(Photos and article by Captain Thomas Blackburn, Wyoming National Guard, 14 JUL 2014.)
My first nightmare occurred right before I came home from Iraq for my mid-tour leave. As I slept, my dream sent me out on to the streets of Mosul, Iraq, a place I was very familiar with after seven months of patrolling there.
In this inaugural terror, I was doing my job, leading my platoon on a combat patrol through a neighborhood. After passing a checkpoint manned by the Iraqi Army, I stopped my truck, and got out to talk to one of the soldiers. As I exited my vehicle, a man approached me, lifted his hand to shake mine, smiled, and blew up.
I jolted awake in my bed back on Forward Operating Base Marez, sweating, shaking, and terrified.
That was the beginning of a non-stop, multi-round boxing match with my sleep. I returned home in January 2009, and still suffer through what many other comrades share: restless sleep, anger, heightened awareness, and incredible discomfort in crowds, to name a few.
It’s called combat stress, shell shock, battle fatigue, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Whatever the names, it’s all the same in relation to its effect on a combat vet. And it’s common.
In my family alone, I have two people who suffer from the disorder. My father, who was present when I got home from Iraq, told me that he still had nightmares from his one year tour in Vietnam in 1969. That was 40 years before my deployment! Even more shocking, he told me he had a nightmare not more than three days before I got back home.
I also had a brother who participated in the initial Thunder Run to Baghdad in 2003. He suffers from several symptoms of PTSD, and we shared war stories over lunch countless times while I was stationed in Indianapolis, our hometown. Some of his strongest nightmares that grip him relate to the United Nations bombing, where his unit was one of the first on the scene after the explosion.
As for me, I spent 15 months in a city that had become labeled by media as the “Last Stronghold of Al-Qaeda in Iraq.”
In 2008, Baghdad was becoming safer, so many enemy elements focused on Mosul, and it was a battle. Within a month of my company’s initial combat operations, I had hit three improvised explosive devices, one directly, been mortared, ordered my platoon to fire seven main gun rounds from our tanks, and been the target of numerous rocket attacks and small arms fire. This was against an enemy force that refused to stand still and fight for more than moments at a time.
Others had much more intense deployments than me. My brother was in firefights almost every day when he was there in 2003. My experience was concentrated on reopening routes the enemy had littered with IED’s and work with Iraqi security forces to retake their city. The enemy wanted to hide and attack my platoon at their choosing. They were ghosts. Therefore, every day, I stressed and wondered, where was the next ghost strike going to be?
Luckily, I made it through the rest of the deployment. In fact, my whole platoon returned back to their families safe. However, my war was not over. Within a week of lying in my own bed, with my wife, and sheets that smelled Downy fresh, I suffered two nightmares. My honeymoon phase lasted through my first two months until after my return to work from block leave. Immediately, I became impatient, quick to anger, and completely emotionless, especially to my family members. This was the complete opposite of my personality before I left.
My wife Bethany was pregnant with our first child, but I felt little excitement or joy. I didn’t care about my son’s birth. All I wanted to do was be by myself, alone. Television shows I loved prior to my deployment no longer interested me, I quit planning or doing dates with my wife, and I grew very defensive in discussions. I had little joy for life, so Bethany worried. My family back home worried. My dad knew the road I was on and called to check up on me constantly.
However, prior to me leaving Iraq, before talking to my dad three days after my return, I had already made a commitment. Not knowing how I was going to be when I returned, I already had a premonition that I was going to have trouble adjusting and therefore sought counseling immediately.
Others in my unit waved off the idea of seeing a counselor because they thought they didn’t need it, that there would be an image of weakness, or that they could handle their personal business on their own. At in-processing at Fort Hood, when asked if I wanted counseling help, I blurted yes before the nurse finished reading her script. That week I was in front of a social worker. My appointments quickly became twice a week visits.
As a leader, I wanted to prove that seeking help was not a weakness and so I told everyone what I was doing. My platoon. My chain of command. Veterans I talked to at restaurants or at the mall. Everyone. I admitted I wasn’t myself and my family suffered. But I was seeking as much help as possible.
I have not met an active military person in my whole career who acknowledged that they were seeking help. I don’t know if they fear others knowing, but I refused to stay quiet about my troubles. What my leaders and peers thought of my mental fortitude mattered little to me; I only cared about sharing my journey. The fact that my father, who had several troubled marriages and an emotional exterior like a bulldozer, never sought his own treatment, made me realize that his past had a lot to do with who he had become as an older man. That wasn’t going to be me.
Looking back on that first year I was back from Iraq, I can honestly say two things kept me moving in a positive direction. My wife, who survived my deployment to only go through a tumultuous time during my adjustment, stood by me, willing me to help myself. She refused to let me sink into a dark hole. Then there was my son. It was imperative for me to maintain my marriage, and therefore heal myself mentally, so that he wouldn’t be raised in a divorced household. I went through that and didn’t want to do it to him.
But the healing process wasn’t quick, it’s one that can go on for years.
While I was initially going to my social worker, I grew frustrated with my work environment. I was given the opportunity and time to seek my counseling, but, I quickly felt like no one cared. In fact, during a 10-month assignment to a staff position in 2009, my supervisors knew of my struggles, but not one person asked how I was doing until the day I conducted my exit counseling.
That bothered me, not so much for me, because I didn’t need their assurances that I was doing well, but it made me worry about the soldiers out there who had problems and didn’t feel like they could address them. I made it my mission to ask every soldier I knew how they were doing, especially if they had returned from the deployment with me. If they did say things weren’t going well, I then offered myself to help them. I drove soldiers to counseling sessions, I took texts from those seeking advice, and I provided phone numbers of those who could talk a person down from a bad night.
Now, I’m five years removed from Iraq and I’ve improved. I still don’t allow my son to have balloons at home in case they pop, or remain uneasy when popcorn pops (sounds like an AK weapon). I still battle my remorseless attitude, but I feel more tuned to my family’s needs. The time it takes me to get frustrated is still quick, but Bethany and I work together to keep me calm and relaxed through talking and awareness.
Even with my time home, I still face challenges. But, I continue to seek mental healing, even this far out from my traumatic events. In total, I have seen five counselors in multiple session settings since 2009. I will continue to seek more counseling if I feel that times get tough for me in the future. Hiding behind a false bravado or afraid to come forward won’t work well in the long run. Look at my dad. He lived the majority of his life with his demons. I might do the same, but I have the knowledge and awareness going forward to overcome it.
Now, when my nightmares come, I wake up, remind myself it’s not real, and roll back over and go back to bed.
I’ve made some posts about this before, but as I’ve just recently been put in a position where I was forced to relive some of my emotional abuse, I decided it was time to make a new post about a factor of emotional abuse I have not previously talked about. And before I start, I would like to make it quite clear that I am in no way discrediting any other type of abuse. I am just speaking from the heart about my personal experience with the type of abuse I have experienced.
Emotional abuse is often made out to be solely in the victim’s mind, because emotional evidence is apparently not the same as physical evidence. You can’t see the scars left by emotional abusers because they are emotional. I can’t pull my sleeve up to reveal bruises or cuts. But I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night from a nightmare and cry myself back to sleep because of the mental scars that my emotional abuser gave to me.
For years I tried to get out of my abusive situation, but as I was a child and had no physical evidence of my abuse, few people believed me. And those few that did couldn’t do anything about it.
Once I hit 10, though, and started getting extreme panic attacks to the point of not being able to leave the house, people started to take notice. It took me years of therapy and coping techniques to even start to get better. And even though I’m doing much better now, after years of trying to cope, I still get panic attacks and depression and cry in the middle of the night when there’s no one to hear me. Which brings me to my main point: Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
It wasn’t until very recently that I identified my symptoms as C-PTSD. I always knew that some of it must be related to my abuse, but I blamed most of it on genetics, as my family has a history of mental illness, and I did have the anxiety disorder when I was very young before the abuse affected me too much. But recently I was put in a situation where I was forced to face my abusive past, and I had a panic attack so bad I could’ve been ten again. Not to mention the flashbacks and depression that came with it. I talked to someone I’m very close to about it and she related the episode to a fictional character with PTSD.
After that conversation I did some research on PTSD, and I realized that so many of the things I’d learned to live with, so many of the things I’d convinced myself were just in my mind, were really symptoms of (complex) post traumatic stress, which was something I had convinced myself I couldn’t have because I was not physically abused.
Physical abuse is a horrible, horrible thing, I am in no way discrediting this. But emotional abuse is just as valid, and can cause some of the same mental and emotional problems, and in our society I feel that that is something that is often overlooked. We teach victims of mental and emotional abuse that their experiences are invalid because they can’t show you a scar that’s on their body to prove that they’re in pain.
So if anyone ever opens up to you and tells you that they have been abused, in any way shape or form, don’t question them, don’t make them show you proof, or explain their experiences if they don’t want to. Because if they opened up to you and told you that they were abused, that means that they trust you. So just listen to them, and believe them. Because chances are that’s something they rarely, if ever, get.