Last week I finished my follow up to A Failed State, the second book in the trilogy called “Relapse: A Damien Collins Saga” It is what it sounds like, the adventures of Damien and members of his team as they try to navigate the uncharted waters of commitments to war and family. I feel that this novel does a better job of illustrating the relationship between the teammates, develops their characters and even discusses the trials of war related health issues. There is still plenty of action, I just felt that these topics deserved some real attention.
My second book is huge departure from the writing I have been used to and what comes easily to me. That being said, however, it is an experience I am all too familiar with. It can best be encapsulated in the books title:
RISE AGAIN: Hard Truths About Grief and Dominating Its Landscape
I’ve learned how to survive one of the best debilitating experiences of my life and feel this knowledge could intrinsically help others. Putting these understandings in print could go a long way for someone. Even if only a few people use the lessons I’ve learned, the book is well worth the effort. I never want to know that someone who lost a loved one could not go on and gave up. I was there, I know what that looks like and I also know that its survivable. In fact, someone can do amazing things in the wake of loss and grief. I can’t wait to start this one.
Recently, I realized I felt more gratitude during the holidays than most other times. The season kind of reinforces this. I know that I was grateful for my country and the family waiting at home for me when I was forward deployed for 180 days. Sure, that state of mind is easily reached in that case. It’s even easier to find yourself there if one is destitute or in poor health. But how about being grateful on a daily basis?
I’ve taught my children the need to be grateful as a principle. We pray about it, talk about our mountains and valleys at the dinner table and make sure we say “thank you” for gifts we receive and attention we are given. But often I’m horrible at practicing what I preach. I forget that gratitude is a mindset that, if employed regularly, somehow seems to make you a better person. Still, I have to remember how blessed I am for the little things in my life every single day. If I don’t, it seems I’m quick to become annoyed with others, feel inconvenienced with long lines or traffic, or become overly prideful about things that were never truly mine to begin with.
I’ve always heard that it’s better to ‘live in the moment’ and being constantly grateful is the only way I know how to do this.
I spent last Tuesday evening relaying a personal story to almost 400 people that was the inspiration for my second book RELAPSE. It was the story of adopting my brother in-law’s unborn daughter after he died. I talked about how three of them lost their lives struggling with addiction and depression. Two of these deaths happened while I was deployed. Just before my 22nd deployment my wife took her life in our master bedroom closet. I never saw it coming. It made me an instant single father, navigating a landscape I was unfamiliar with and without an income to support us.
After I stepped off the stage, I was busy signing books when a young woman approached me. Her eyes were welled with tears. She recognized my daughter’s father from the story despite the fact that I didn’t use any of their proper names. She had always wondered about what happened with his daughter after he died and was glad to hear she was in my care. She gave me a hug and walked away. I had the feeling that despite the grim nature of my story, it had brought her some peace.
You never know who you can touch relaying a traumatic or difficult personal experience. I’m here. I survived and what I’ve lived through is worth something to someone else.
I keep randomly running into soldiers, veterans and civil servants such as medical professionals and police who over several meetings have communicated to me that they are having difficulties with PTSD, anxiety, anger, headaches, nightmares and/or moments of paralysis. Some seem concerned about disclosure to their own professional organizations and how they will be perceived. These are men and women who have dedicated their lives to serving their country, county or city and now suffer health issues because of it. Many of them don’t ask my advice, thus I don’t give it. I do, however, make an effort to communicate how I dealt with my own issues if time permits. This gives them options in case they aren’t seeking treatment or resolutions. Some are simple and things many of them already do; maintain a schedule or a regimen, exercise, try to get regular sleep either through natural means or if necessary medication and talk to trusted family and friends about their problems and concerns. Other resolutions include counseling, such as EMDR which helped rid me of most of the physical symptoms of my grief and anxiety. I believe that I can do better in making these options known instead of relying on happenstance. This blog is simply one of them.
As the Veteran’s parade rolls by in Boise, I reflect on all the friends I have that served and are still with us. A good friend of mine is having his bachelor party this evening. He doesn’t know how important his journey has become to me over the last several years. I started mentally tracking his progress when he told me he tried to hang himself in his garage shortly after we had deployed several times together. Prior to that he was a Lance Corporal with the Marines in Iraq and saw action in Fallujah. His relationship with his wife was rocky at best and she communicated her desire to separate. She filed for divorce shortly afterwards. He was working on his relationship with his preteen daughter. I prayed for him often, hoping that everything he valued so much wouldn’t fall apart. I hoped he would seek help.
Fast forward three years and everything has changed. He used his GI Bill to go to college and get a degree, he was hired to regionally represent a sports nutrition company, his relationship with his daughter is good and getting stronger everyday and he recently met the woman of his dreams. The dark clouds parted and my friend is having sunny days. I am elated for him. I wish the same happiness and success for all my friends, active duty, veteran or civilian.
As I stand in the back of the room on Halloween training Air Force TACP operators at Gowen Air Field on providing their own medical intervention in case of injury in the field, I find myself reflecting on my own deployments and the loved ones I left behind. The simple things like trick or treating with my young children or carving pumpkins had to wait for another season, a year or two down the road. I didn’t take things for granted when I was on leave and loved my wife (when she was still with us) and my children so hard it often almost brought me to tears.
Some of these men might not make it home. Some might change (like I did) based on what they see and experience. This is cost of being a husband, father and patriot. You sacrifice one for the other. It’s a negative sum game.
Sure the brotherhood sustains some but I’ve never loved and missed someone so hard in my life than when I was deployed. It’s times like this when I realize how blessed I am, despite everything I’ve lost along the way.