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Had PTSD All My Life

by Harold
(Illinois)

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,

Dr. DeFoore

Comments for Had PTSD All My Life

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Jul 11, 2009
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Dear Harold
by: Abby

You have survived through the most incredible suffering. Thank you for putting your story on this site. I have PTSD too and I have found this site the most healing thing I have found. Being with other 'children' who really do know what it's like and being able to tell your stories in a totally accepting environment is like heavenly milk to my soul. Don't give up on yourself Harold. I think you are completely awesome just for having survived all you have been through. This is no ordinary life you have lived. Your challenges have been massive and you are getting through every one. God bless you.

Jul 07, 2009
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PART 2
by: Anonymous

I do not recommend doing this alone. There is the Vet Center and the VA. There is information and help in places like this web site. I found Dr. DeFoore's book about kicking and punching and other forms of anger release to get out feelings to be very helpful.

Just the fact that you are aware that something just isn't right shows that you are trying to work it all through. It takes time to heal just like any other kind of wound. Remember, you are important and worthy of love. Your father was wrong for treating you the way he did and the military was wrong for just kicking you to the curb instead of helping you to heal the emotional wounds that you stored from protecting this country.

God Bless

Jul 07, 2009
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To Harold
by: Anonymous

Hey Harold,

I can empathize with you. I too came from a hellish childhood and I was in the military for 21 years.

I agree with Dr. DeFoore's statements about how, "what you are feeling and how you are reacting" being normal. Normal in the sense that, that is what it took for you to survive in such an abnormal environment. I am talking about both abnormal environments, your childhood home and the military.

All the tools you learned to survive your childhood environment were carried over into the military and combined with the intense brainwashing that military uses to get you to work in such a dangerous environment and to get you to kill other people while trying to stay alive. The first thing that the military does is to separate you from your feelings and in place of those feelings they plug you into your head. You were then conditioned to follow orders while ignoring your feelings.

If you ponder on it, it really isn't all that different than your childhood. I mean, what would have been the result of you expressing your real feelings about the events that were talking place in your childhood home.

Meanwhile, we go about the process of storing all of the real feelings to the past memories that we couldn't react to and feel about in a healthy way.

Our body sees these stored memories and feelings as if they are some sort of disease (Note: DIS/EASE.) Our body will go through the process of bringing up these stored issues either by getting us to act them out or by us willingly and consciously finding them and going through the process of feeling the feelings that tie us to the events. The acting out part shows up when we do crap in our lives that seems to destroy what what we love.

The memories also show up in our dreams. The dreams get so intense that we wake up, I find that for me, it's sometime between 3am and 4:30am in the morning. If I get back to sleep at all it normally isn't until 5am or 6am but I have to go to work sometime near the time I went back to sleep. Then I'm only living on 3 to 4 hours of sleep and end up with sleep deprivation.

For some people, some paranoia can set in and they find it hard to be around people. Your memory fades and it is hard to multitask. Your mood gets really cranky.

In a sense we need to learn how to feel and be brave enough to look at the past we have stored up in our body. This is not a comfortable thing to do. It is not deadly even though you may go through the memories and feelings of "I AM GOING TO DIE" which can be just as real as the event itself.

CONTINUED ON THE NEXT COMMENT PAGE

Jul 07, 2009
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To Harold
by: Rose Waddell

Hi Harold,

I am always in awe of men who decide to go into recovery. So many of them don't. It's uncommon bravery to write like you did on this site and to be in recovery. The things you experienced were horrible both in your childhood and in the military. Admitting to being hard sometimes on your children and wife took a lot of courage too. If my ex-husband had written a story like that and gone into recovery, I would have never left him.

My present husband went into recovery with me and together we've come through mountains of pain. It's hard. It's worth it, but it's the hardest thing I've ever done.

One of the things that helped my husband and I the most was to punch pillows and do some of the other anger releasing exercises that are in Bill DeFoore's book about anger. I was amazed at the intense rage I had in me when I first started punching pillows. I even scared myself. There were times that my husband just sat there and stared at me with his mouth open. He got out some pretty severe rage too. I didn't want to go through the rest of my life with that pent up rage in me.

Both my husband and I were abused as children. My husband is also a retired Air Force vet. I remember a time when my husband was waking up every night screaming, "We're all going to die!!" Scared the hell out of me. Finally, he went into recovery and found out why he was having so many nightmares and why he had such a hard time sleeping at night. He doesn't wake up screaming anymore. He went through the anger, fear and sadness he needed to feel. It was hard, but he's so much calmer now.

I came out of a family of eight children, so I understand what it's like to come from a large dysfunctional family. I'm still working on healing from my childhood and past, and I still run into times when I feel horrible about it, but I've come a long way.

I hope you write some more on the blog site.

Take care,

Rose

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