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You must get OUT of the traumatic stress to have POST traumatic stress. I never got out of my stressful situation from my earliest memories until 2 years after Vietnam. I grew up in the absolutely world's worst dysfunctional family.
My childhood was in the 1950's and we lived as in the early 1800's. This was by design of my father who wanted total control of his 11 children. His constant physical, emotional and sexual abuse of all of us was devastating to every last one of us children. While still in this abuse, one does not have the problems of PTSD because staying alive is all that is on one's mind. I left home at the earliest possible chance, along with the rest of my siblings, thinking that would solve all my problems. I had a job in retail for about 6 months, then got drafted. Not wanting to "crawl around in rice paddies," I joined the Navy.
I made it through boot camp and almost a year of electronics school. Then I was sent to Nam on an aircraft carrier. I still didn't realize my upbringing would ever come back to haunt me. I excelled in my job on the carrier as an electronics tech on aircraft. It seemed that every day we had another major event of one kind or another. I soon began to just ignore all the things going on around me and became numb to death.
I remember one time working on the rear of the ship on an open plane and someone on the front of the ship walked into a propeller (yes we still had some planes with props) and the fine mist from his body soaked my equipment. Now I should have been horrified that I was just showered with human parts, but I was just pissed off that my radar was now going to have to be taken apart again.
Another time some idiot set off a Zuni rocket in the lower deck magazine and started a major fire. Being in the chow line at the time, I was ordered to man one of the fire hoses since I was close to the fire. Medics were on one side of the passageway carrying burned people back to sick bay while we inched forward to take their place. That was the first time I gave up on living, A kind of peace comes over you when you are sure you are going to die. Well the fire was under control before my turn so I am still here. I remember walking back through the mess hall where the burn victims were waiting for help, all laid out in rows and one of them said directly to me "Well, now I know how bacon feels." I thought that was funny at the time.
I was coming out on the flight deck one night when we were under "lights out" meaning red lights only.An F4 fighter plane launched as I came around the corner and one of the yellow shirts didn't duck low enough and the wing took his head off. It didn't bother me in the least and I went about my business like nothing had happened. That plane sat on the hanger deck 4 days with blood on it, I suppose just to teach everyone what can happen. I have many other things like this but I am about tired of typing.
Anyway a few years after coming back to the states I realized I was not the person I had always thought I was. Absolutely anything would make me mad and the only time I ever felt normal was smoking pot. Somehow I managed to get married and have a few kids but I made life really hard on them and my wife.
I went to my family doctor to see if he would give me tranquilizers and after talking to me as to why I wanted them he said it looked like I had PTSD and put me on Prozac, which did nothing at all. After about a year I quit taking them. I blamed my PTSD on what I went through in Vietnam, but after a year of psychotherapy I came to realise that I have had PTSD all my life. Now I have no idea what a normal life would be like. I now live alone, and think that is probably the best thing for me.
Response from Dr. DeFoore
Hello Harold. Thanks for writing your story on this site. It will probably encourage others to do the same, and it seems clear that "telling your story" in this way can be healing in some cases. I hope it is helpful to you.
I know you didn't ask for help here, and I want to respect that. If it's okay with you, I would like to suggest some things that might help you, or others who read this. If you have any thoughts or feelings about what I say here, please respond in a comment on this page, and I will edit if necessary.
There's no way I can know what's going on inside your head, or what you may need going forward in your life. What I'm going to say here is based on my 60 years of living, 37 years of experience as a counselor, and being the son of a WWII veteran who has had PTSD all of his life. (By the way, my dad is 90 now, and doing well. He has used the techniques I'm going to recommend here with good results. He was Army infantry, and served in the Philippines and New Guinea.)
As a child, you had to "lock away" the daily, ongoing trauma that you experienced in your home. You had no other choice. You were just surviving. When you locked away your pain, terror and anger, you put a wall around your heart that prevents you from feeling empathy or deep compassion for other people. That's why you were so disconnected from the war trauma you experienced.
This might sound strange to you Harold, but this is what I want to say to you right now: There is nothing wrong with you. All of your emotional responses, past and present, are there for good reasons, and at some level in your subconscious mind, they make perfect sense. I'm sure you have done and said some things you regret, but the important thing is that now you are trying to stop all of that--that's why you feel it's best to live alone. And I think that's why you wrote your story on this site. Consider the possibility that you really are that person you thought you were, and that you want to be.
You don't have to be permanently damaged by what has happened, in your childhood and in the war. You will be permanently affected, but you now get to decide what some of those effects are.
If you're interested in doing some healing, here are some things that I think will help:
1) Keep writing your stories, either on this site (where others can benefit and you can get support), or on your own. Either way, writing your stories will help you. If you want to see the research that backs this up, read Dr. James Pennebaker's book entitled, "Opening Up: The Healing Power of Emotional Expression."
2) Try some of the exercises you will find on this page. If you can get into the swing of that type of exercise, it can bring you a lot of healing. I realize it may not work for you, but if you're in therapy, maybe you can do some of those types of exercises with your therapist.
3) If you haven't already done so, also read some of the other stories on the Veterans' PTSD page.
Don't give up on yourself, Harold, no matter what. You can get through this and be the person you choose to be.
My best to you,
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