The other day, I watched a television show on KTLA and listened how PTSD has caused so many suicides for the past ten years, taking both men and women who served honorably in our military. Their reasons were explicitly related to their individual personalities not to fail or give up but in the end, the pressure was just too much to conform and they ended their lives with a most violent act.
Glancing back a few decades of my own life, I remember people lashing out on me for announcing and denouncing our government and how they fought the war in South Vietnam. I remember the hatred I carried being called all sorts of names and lashing back out at the world for the anger inside of me.
I am pretty sure of myself I was not guilty of any of the atrocities I was being accused of but that what not what mattered the most. What mattered the most was how I was left behind and forgotten after sacrificing everything I had and owned for God duty and country. It was more than I could handle. There was no parade, there were no perfect moments and the medal earned were tossed in the waste basket where I believed they belonged.
I proved I didn’t need God and God didn’t need me. I was alone and nobody cared one way or the other how I felt or what I was thinking. Nothing perfect about my life, I lost everything. I mean everything including my self-esteem, confidence and courage which at one time in my life were at their highest level when in combat and facing the enemy.
Sure, I was just another guy raining on my own parade. I was an angry person who stood alone in the world. PTSD did this to me and there was no time to worry about how it was going to kill me eventually. Lashing out and sinking deeper, I found the abyss of my life my sanctuary where nobody could reach me or harm me any longer.
What happened to my life when I returned home from war? What broke my spirit and how did I lose so much without even blinking an eye as it appeared to be happening overnight and not over a very long period of time.
My heart broken, I became curious of what happened to me. I knew I wasn’t perfect but then, the world was more imperfect than I had ever seen or felt it to be before I went to war. Maybe something changed inside of me and I needed to find out what that was. Surely, this thing inside me was acting like a poison that contaminated my heart, my mind and my soul.
I knew I was bitter. I knew I was sad and I knew I was unhappy but what I didn’t know was how this impacted all those people around me. I was oblivious to their needs, feelings and emotions. I thought, who cares what you do with your stupid life. Who cares if you fall and drown yourself in a pool of pity? Nobody cares what you do with your stupid life and if you are unhappy, so what. God doesn’t love you and you should fact that fact.
Then one day, I tripped over myself and just laid there on the side of the road, thinking to myself, what am I doing here? Why is this happening to me? Sober enough to search for an answer I found out it was my hopeless and luckless life that was getting me down and that I didn’t resist this depressive mood any more than I resisted drinking the next rum and coke.
Around me were cars and trucks with howling tires and screaming horns warning me to stay off the highway after landing hard on the concrete as I had jumped from a moving car at 60 mph hoping to kill myself?
I had contemplated jumping off a freeway bridge, shooting myself in the head or even overdose on those “black beauties” aka amphetamines I had been addicted to since being a combat medic in Vietnam. An addiction and addition that followed me into my civilian life and tore me to pieces when I was withdrawing or craving the chemical high my body needed to survive.
I was tired but no so tired I couldn’t think well enough to realize I was already half-dead. No one was going to come to my rescue and nobody cared whether I lived or died even if I took one step onto the highway where the traffic was heavy and nobody was really paying attention to me or my presence there on the side of the road.
Bruised, tired, sore and bleeding, I picked myself up and walked on down the road, heading for a gas station to wash up and drink some water. The sun was hot and my throat was dry begging for me to find something to drink and I was thinking alcohol, not water, but resisted the fact that water, not alcohol, was the best thing for me right now.
It was transparent I was depressed, forgotten and ill in body and mind. I neglected my body’s needs and chose to destroy it intentionally and felt that since nobody cared, why I should. Feeling better was what I was hearing as I was talking to myself. I kept saying, you need to feel better about yourself. You need to pick your ass up and do something constructive with your life and now is the time to do it.
Talking to myself out loud as I walked endlessly down the highway, I realized it was a barren road I was traveling alone and that I became who I was because of what I was doing to myself.
Sadly, I said to myself, “You have been wasted way too long and now it’s time for you to start caring about yourself as you already know, neither God or anyone else doesn’t care about you because you are a failure and a bum.”
Deep inside, I knew this wasn’t true. I was better than this and I could be a winner again if I tried being smarter and work harder at resisting those self-pity feelings and sadness within me to drown me again into the pit of shame.
The longer I walked, the more I thought about God and how he had saved my life a few times in combat and even lately when I was so self-destructive wanting to kill myself the cowardly way. I wasn’t being fair to God and I knew it. I had been blaming Him for my troubles and it was time to end this charade that I had created to shift the blame from myself to God and all that stood for His work.
Suddenly, the intense light of the sun hit me like a brick. Sweating profusely in the hot sun, I tried to find some shade as the asphalt had reached temperatures of one hundred plus. The Ohio humidity was steaming and the body was drying up quicker than I could handle. Highways long and stretched out in the suburbs are rarely covered with trees or shrubberies that give off shade. I was stuck in the middle of nowhere and the sun was baking me alive.
Starting to question myself even deeper and harder, I realized it was clouding up and I could hear the thunder in the distance. I could see the clouds darkening and forming a pattern often associated with thunderstorms and lightening. Thinking out loud, I realized I was about to walk into a storm and that the rain would surely fall and come down hard on me. This was all happening as I was questioning the love of my God and how He had apparently abandoned me.
I knew deep inside, I was wrong about God. I knew this wasn’t true; keeping in mind his kindness, and compassion he had provided to me when I was lonely and away from the rest of the world. Trapped inside a war that was destructive physically and mentally, I endured because God gave me hope and hope was what I needed to pull myself out of this mess.
A bolt of lightning hit the ground and shook the air around me. It certainly woke me up out of any stupor I might have been in as I walked in a daze and endlessly down the road to nowhere. I couldn’t feel my feet touch the ground as they were numb with pain of walking for so long and the heat of the day turned the ground into puddles of cool cool water splashing me as I stumbled forward putting one foot forward of the other with a momentum to keep on going.
Now for sure, I knew it wasn’t true. God does love me. He makes the rain fall on me, even as wicked as I might have been or as blasphemous I carried His name. When the day was so extremely hot, He found time to make the rain and drench me with his water to cool me off making me think, “God must have thought I deserved the rain.”
God gives us things we either need or as a means to show His love. I realized he does good things for men and that although life was not easy, it was worth living. He made me feel worthy again and the rain brought me the awareness I needed to feel the pain again as the numbness disappeared with the sun and the heat giving me a feeling of hope that I had lost somewhere along the way.