Monday, October 28, 2013

Do you dream?

I started this blog several years ago. In fact, I was ashamed to publish any of my writings until earlier this year. I was ashamed of going through all that I have. At the time, I didn’t realize that so many of us go through the same things.  The following is something I wrote in 2008. At that time, I was battling one of the worst parts of PTSD. Nightmares. Then I wrote more about this subject in 2011.

I understand and respect the fact that many of my friends look at me and this blog as a source of “positivity” but please remember, I originally created this blog so that anyone could get an inside look of what it means to have PTSD. Remember, this is raw emotion and all up front honesty. As always, thank you for taking time to read this, and if you’d like, please leave me a comment.

2008: Do you remember your dreams? Have you ever had one dream that has stuck with you, even though you had that dream years ago?

I remember as young boy growing up how vivid my dreams were. Of course most of them were always sports related. Such as, “I hit the winning home run in the world series!!” Or, “I scored the winning touchdown in the super bowl.”

My dreams were regular. Sometimes I would remember them and sometimes I wouldn’t. But I distinctly remember having a dream. Of course they were not all good. I can remember one dream, I was being chased down the street by a taco! Seriously? I guess ate too many tacos that night.

But recently, my dreams haunt me. They interrupt my sleep. Actually, I cannot sleep without having a nightmare. I don’t have any happy dreams. Most nights I’m afraid to fall asleep. Because I know I’ll wake up screaming thinking I’m back in Iraq.

I live in northern California, where earth quakes are common. I remember one night, about 2 a.m. a small earthquake hit, but it rattled my house and windows. I ran outside to see what was wrong. I was thinking a car hit a telephone pole or worse my house. Nothing was there. But I couldn’t sleep for a good week after that. I had flashbacks to Iraq. And even more nightmares started.

The nightmares worsened. I found myself not wanting to go to sleep. Most nights I wondered what it would be like if I didn’t wake up the next morning. I didn’t care. I wished I had died. At least those that gave the last full measure of devotion didn’t have to suffer. But why did I have to suffer? Why couldn’t I sleep without nightmares? I just wanted a full nights rest.

But they continued. In one dream, I was at the checkout stand at the grocery store and when it came time to slide my card to pay….BOOM!!! The bomb exploded! It happened all over the place. At the bank, grocery store, even the toy store where I just wanted to by my kids a present.

In another dream, I was walking down a street in Iraq. The bomb would explode. I knew instantly it had killed one of my soldiers. But this unfamiliar voice mocked me, saying: “It’s all your fault! It’s all your fault!!” Regardless, of the nightmare, I awoke feeling worthless. And wondering why I was still alive. Wondering why I was being made to suffer.

They kept happening over and over again. I didn’t want to sleep. I wanted to pass out. I soon began taking medication to help me sleep. It helped. But I didn’t dream. I didn’t dream at all. I want to dream. But I want to have happy normal dreams. When can’t I have normal dreams? Why didn’t I just die? I’d trade just about anything to dream again. I’d always wake up feeling exhausted. Not wanting to face the day.

2011: I no longer take the medication to help me sleep. I sleep okay. But typically I wake up every few hours. I’m still startled by noises in the night. My daughter woke me up in the middle of one night and it scared me so bad! I think I scared her the way I woke up screaming. I took her back to bed and read her another story. She asked: “Daddy, what’s wrong?” And I told her she surprised me like at Halloween. And she laughed. This was good for both of us.

But I don’t dream. Neither good nor bad. At least I don’t remember any of them. But it makes me ask: “When can I have good dreams again?” I want to dream of good things. I want to dream of happiness for my children. I want to dream of hitting a homerun. I just want to dram of something positive, something happy. Why can’t I be normal? Maybe I should just give up wanting to dream and be satisfied without having nightmares. After all, they don’t happen every night anymore. I’ll take waking up every few hours over those terrible nightmares any day.

Each night I go to sleep, I don’t want to dream of money or material possessions. I want to dream a happy dream. The kind where you wake up smiling, knowing it was only a dream, but it made you happy. Instead I wake up wondering why I can’t dream. And instead of looking forward to a new day, a new gift, I look at it as another day I must suffer. Hopefully one day all of this will be better. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Each day I grow more concerned with the stigma associated with PTSD. So I thought I’d take a few moments and write a few words about it. I firmly believe that PTSD is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. Not only veterans can suffer from it. Victims of a horrific car accident, victims of rape, or anyone that has had a traumatic life altering experience may be affected by PTSD. And frankly, I’m sick and tired of the terrible stigma associated with it.

I originally created this blog to share my struggles with survivor’s guilt, anxiety, and depression all related to my experiences in combat. My hope is that if a fellow veteran reads this, it will help them realize that it is possible to rise above your struggles. In some way, I hope to inspire others. God knows, I have many inspirations in my life, and it is because of them I was able to defeat my own demons. So I decided to put it all out there. In fact, I’ve found that writing about some of my experiences has been very therapeutic. I even recommend it. Whether or not you decide to share your story with anyone remains up to you.

I do hope that you’ll continue reading. And even like or share a comment.

I’ll be brief and describe just a few issues.

Acting out and feeling numb. Do you think it is possible for someone to do something so completely out of character just so that person can feel “something?” PTSD not only hurt my emotional state, but also those around me. I acted differently. I treated others without respect. I stopped being the friendly outgoing person I once was. I once yelled at my daughter for standing on a piece of paper! I remember that day like it was yesterday. It was nearly 5 years ago. She asked me: “Daddy, why are you yelling at me?” I didn’t have an answer. But that one event unfortunately wasn’t enough for me to seek help. I’m so glad she doesn’t remember it.

I felt disconnected from my family, like I didn’t belong there. When I left the Army, I was not surrounded by friends that had similar experiences. I felt like I couldn’t just talk anyone about my experiences. I didn’t trust them with my own heart or emotions. I was afraid everyone would call me “crazy” or worse. And because of it, I became withdrawn. I isolated myself. I didn’t want to leave my couch. It was safe there. The couch never judged me. And it gave me support.

All of these things impacted the way I work, eat, socialize, sleep, and have healthy relationships with people. It was a dark time in my life. It lasted for years. Some nights, I’d wonder what it would be like if I wasn’t alive the next morning.

Today, I’m so grateful for my life! So happy to be alive and to have so many wonderful people in my life!

Someone once told me: “PTSD never heals.” I’m not sure about that. But I do know from experience it does get easier! There is help out there! You are not broken! You are having a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. You are stronger than what happened to you! And that is why you live today. I urge you that if you are struggling with PTSD or know someone that is, please seek help. You are not alone!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Patriot Day

Do you remember where you were and what you were doing September 11th, 2001? I sure do. I remember it like it was yesterday.

I was stationed at Ft. Benning, GA. I was a machine gun instructor and was preparing to teach some basic trainee’s. Several other non-commissioned officers and I were inside our range building watching “Good Morning America.” And about the time the show was about to sign off, Charles Gibson reported that a plane had hit one of the twin towers. My immediate thought was that a small plane had misjudged course and crashed. However moments later, the television channel showed a live feed of the World Trade Center as smoke and flames poured out of the north tower.

Everyone in or small range building watched in stunned and silent disbelief. Moments later, we witnessed a second plane hit the south tower and part of the building erupt in flames. Seconds, perhaps minutes passed before someone said what we were all probably thinking. “We are under attack.”

Little did we know the events of that tragic day would send our country and many of us within that room to war.

Looking back, I can recall how our country and the citizens of this great country acted. We were united. We came together through a terrible tragedy. I think it is safe to say, that for the most part, we appreciated each other. We respected each other. And we were grateful for life. We were grateful for those first responders and innocent people that gave their lives. We stood united and most certainly appreciated the members of our military for answering their nation’s call to war.

On Patriots Day I ask that you do not waste a breath complaining about life. There were 2,977 victims that tragic day. Over 6,000 service members have been killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They cannot be here. Over 50,000 have been physically wounded in those wars. And an estimated 600,000 are battling the unseen wounds of war such as Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Be thankful and stop complaining.

I would recommend that you take the time to shake the hand of a first responder or veteran.

Be grateful that you have a life. Be grateful for those that have given their lives. Take time to remember that life is precious. Please remember the victims who gave their lives that day. And please do not forget the thousands of veterans and their families that have been affected by the wars that followed.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Replacing Pain and Negativity

Replacing Pain and Negativity

                As a combat wounded veteran I know what it is like to suffer from pain, both physical and emotional. Physical injuries typically heal in some way. Perhaps with less mobility or in some cases a lingering pain and even surgical scars, which may fade away after time. For some people a physical injury requires an amputation. However, in all of these cases people learn to adapt to their new lifestyle. They make a choice to adapt and overcome something negative and replace it with something that will help them continue living.

But emotional pain is different. This pain comes in many forms such as trauma, grieving, survivor’s guilt, depression and anxiety to name a few. It seems to follow us. Taunts us in our sleep. It may interfere with the way we work, the way we spend time with family and friends, and some of these scars never really heal. For some, it gives that vacant look in the eyes that everyone sees but very few understand. And because of this emotional distress we become negative. We look at life as something “we HAVE to do” instead of something “we GET to do.” We view life as a dark tunnel with no way out. A life in which nothing can kill our pain. We become lost and lose focus on what is truly important in our lives. We feel that we have lost so much and feel like there is a giant void in our heart and soul that nothing can ever replace it.

However, there is hope. There is a light at the end of that tunnel! There is something that you can do to fill that hole and live a life that is happy and rewarding. And it all starts with taking one small step to replace that pain and negativity.

The first thing I will recommend is something I was taught a few years ago. The man that taught me this is someone that I truly look up to, and have the utmost respect and admiration for. And if it were not for him, I may not be here today. I challenge you to go the next 24 hours without complaining one time. Go 24 hours without saying anything negative. No exceptions here! Take the day as it is. And remember that you are alive for a reason! I promise you will be surprised how quickly your life begins to change.

If you can do that, then you are ready for the second step, ridding your heart, your mind of negativity. You must find something to replace it with! Find something to be passionate about! Find something you are proud of! Say positive things! Spend time with positive and happy people that have been through similar experiences as you have. Trust me it works!

Do not be afraid to pick up the phone and call a friend. Talk it out. I do it.

Pretty simple, really. I assure you, if I can do it, than I KNOW you can! I BELIEVE in you!

Make it a POSITIVE day!

Sunday, June 30, 2013


      When you look in the mirror, what do you see? Are you happy with yourself? Arguable, the greatest personality trait is self-image. How you see yourself, both mentally and physically, directly impacts how you interact with those around you.

      Of course, I’m not merely referring to physical appearance. In the greater context of life I believe it is more important to focus on the kind of person you are. Do others seek you out for advice? Are you generally nice to random people? Are you a good parent, spouse, or friend? Are you selfish?

      Personally, I have not always liked looking in the mirror, because I was not happy with myself.  

      After I medically retired from the Army, I was confused and lost. I found it hard to look at myself without wearing my country’s uniform. My first thought was always, “If I can’t be a soldier, what good am I to anyone?” It was without a doubt one of the most difficult struggles in my life. Trying to figure out who I am and what am I supposed to be. As a leader, as a soldier, I had respect. I had people asking my opinion. I had people that I could ask for help. I had amazing friends that would do anything for me. Then after the Army, I was in an unfamiliar place with no friends. Yes, I had family.

      But I didn’t have anyone around me that understood what I had been through. And because of it, I felt useless. I hated asking anyone for help. I was embarrassed to ask for help. I did not have a good enough self-image of myself to embrace my new way of life. And because of that, I hurt more people and burned more bridges than I care to count.

      I put up walls around me. I wouldn’t let anyone into my heart. I’d look in the mirror and tell myself terrible things. I had a negative outlook on everything and everyone around me. Doctor’s would tell me I couldn’t do things, hell people close to me told me “You can’t…” and I believed it. And I nearly gave up.

      But somewhere along the way, after all the hurt I caused, I found some people that believed in me. They told me so. They taught me about the importance of self-image. They taught me that self-image is the first step in living a happier and healthier life. I also found out that my negativity that I had towards everyone, for no reason in particular, was limiting my ability to be happy.  And so I was challenged, to go one day, without saying anything negative.

      Well I did! And it felt pretty damn good! I started changing every aspect of my life. I started being a better father. I started being a better friend. I started asking for help! I even started saying something positive to myself in the mirror every day. I realized I alone have the power to change my life! And you know what happened? I started gaining a better self-image of myself. And because of it, I am a better father, a better friend, and a better person.

      Tim McGraw sings: “I ain’t as good as I’m gonna get, but I’m better than I used to be.”

      When I look in the mirror now, I’m happy with what I see. But I know I can become better. I’m more happier now than I can ever remember. But I'm still looking for more!

      When you look in the mirror, what do you see? Are you happy?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Love and Happiness

            One of my fondest memories of growing up is something my mother repeatedly told me. Whenever she sensed I wasn’t happy she would say, “Don’t wait for your ship to come in, swim out to it.” Sure, it’s a cliché, but that doesn’t matter. It has taken me years of failures, missed opportunities, successes, and of course learning from my mistakes to understand what she meant.

            True happiness is a journey. Once you swim out to your ship, it can take you anywhere. But you have to be ready to get into the water. But be careful, it’s filled with danger. Most notably, negative thoughts and people that are unwilling to go after what they themselves want. So they try to bring you down and drown your hopes, dreams, and desires.

            If you want happiness you have to be strong enough to rise above the negativity and specifically define what you want out of life. And I’m not talking about material possessions. I’m referring to love. Love can be defined or interpreted many ways. Perhaps it is a special someone that you just hate to be without. A person, that when you leave them, your life seems incomplete. Maybe it’s a group of friends that you have shared the most intimate details of your life with. The kind of friends that would never judge you for past mistakes. Or possibly even a job in which you are serving a purpose that is far greater than you.
            Far more important than anything, you must believe that you deserve love and happiness. This is the most important part! You have to let someone climb onto your ship. You must be willing to let someone come aboard. You need to be ready. Let me ask you this. If pure happiness out of life is what you want, and you believe you deserve it, and all you had to do was tell someone what you want, would you do it? That’s a tough question. If you answered no, why not?!

            Finding what you want out of life is the easy part. The difficulty comes from swimming out and latching hold of what you want and what you deserve. Personally, I’ve come a long way over the past few years. Today I’m comfortable to say that I deserve love and deserve to be happy. I know what I want. And I am swimming out to it as fast as I can.

            I have obstacles in my way. For example, distance, personal strength and courage. But I’m confident that I will reach my ship. No one will stop me!

            What is stopping you from getting into the water? No matter what you have been through, you deserve to be happy! You deserve love and deserve to be loved!

            Spend the next 24 hours without saying anything negative. You will be surprised how your life will begin to change. Honestly, if you do, you’ve just taken the first stroke in the water to find love and happiness.

            Don’t wait for your ship to come in. Swim out to it.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Survivor's Guilt and Closure

             Instead of me boring you with the definition of survivor’s guilt, I’d like you to use your own experiences in life for a moment. I want you to think about a time where something tragic may have happened. An event in your life where someone died. Think, just for a minute, about the guilt you may carry because of it. Now hold on to that feeling.

            I want to share with you more of my story. From one perspective, it is a story survival. However, the truth is, this story is all about feeling guilty because I survived. Feeling at fault because I lost one of the men assigned to me. I lost one of my soldiers. You see, as a leader, you take responsibility for everything that happens. I believe this applies in the both the military and civilian world. And for some reason thinking that Jody’s family would blame me for his death. Honestly, part of me always wished I was buried in the ground instead of Jody.  I've carried that feeling with me for over 7 years. This is the story of how I overcame those feelings.
            April 8th, 2006. I was wounded by an improvised explosive device, or IED. In the explosion, PFC Jody W. Missildine was killed. I’ve always felt guilty. That his death was my fault, that I should have seen the IED. But I didn’t, no one did. And I regret it. I’ve punished myself since that day. I’ve hated myself since that day. Part of me has always hated the fact that I survived. I didn’t think it was fair. Many days and nights over the past 7 years I have wished it was me that died that day. Because I felt that if I did die, then I wouldn’t have to suffer. I wouldn’t have to live knowing that I survived and someone else died. How could I celebrate life knowing a young man died that day? Hell, I felt guilty that I didn’t even get to go to his memorial service or funeral. I was in a hospital bed, but that didn’t matter to me. In fact, I was scared to do meet his family. I thought they would blame me for his death. Logically, I knew I didn’t plant that IED. I didn’t set it off. But as a leader, you ALWAYS accept responsibility for what happens to your soldiers.

            Well somewhere along the way, I finally had a chance to visit the family of Jody. The story of how this trip happened is not important as what happened.

            It was a Sunday and I flew into Tampa, FL and was greeted by Jody’s sister Nikki. I had previously spoken with her and we became friends. She was going to drive me to her grandparents’ house. Jody’s grandparents raised him, which is important to note. Since Nikki and I were friends, she was happy to meet me and pretty much set up the meeting between me and the rest of Jody’s family. As I arrived in Florida I was overcome with a lot of emotions. I was happy to be there, yet nervous. Jody’s grandparents had practically demanded I spend the night with them. I think they were excited to meet me. I was pretty happy it was happening.

            As I walked into their home I was greeted with smiles, handshakes, and of course sweet-tea! A true southern tradition. Jody’s grandfather, called Papa, by the family began to show me around. He showed me a display case that housed several pictures of Jody, along with newspaper clippings. I was overcome standing there, seeing this tribute to Jody. I was choked up and wanted to cry right there, but I held it in. Jody’s grandmother, Nana, had told me she had questions. I was ready to share everything I knew right then. But she also said, she didn’t want to ruin the evening. She had dinner cooking and the rest of the family would soon be arriving. She told me to make myself at home and relax. I felt grateful.

            After dinner Nana, Papa, Nikki and I sat down. I started to tell them everything I knew of Jody from the moment I met him until the day he dies. I talked about the first day I met Jody in a much detail as I could remember. I talked about a few days while we were in Iraq. Then finally I talked about that fateful day. I told them that I always felt guilty for what happened.
            I hugged Nana, cried, and told her I was sorry I couldn’t bring him home. She told me, “It’s not fault, but I’m so happy you came here.” Papa told me, “I wish I had known 7 years ago, you felt this way. I would have told you then, it’s not your fault.” Those words filled my heart joy. With that, I had begun to heal then I turned in for the night. The next day I was going to visit the final resting place of Jody.

            On Monday May 20th 2013, I did something I’ve waited over 7 years to do. I was able to visit Jody. Part of my guilt has come from not paying my final respects to him. In Iraq, there was a memorial service and of course I couldn’t attend because I was in hospital bed in Germany. In Iraq, there was memorial service, but I was already at a hospital in the states. I remember someone showing me an article in a local newspaper for our unit in Germany, and I just cried at I looked at his picture. Why had it taken me so long to come here?

            As I walked to Jody’s grave site I was cold, nearly shivering. I stood, and saluted him while tears rolled down face. A few moments later I sat next to him. My first thought was that I still had days where I wished I was in the ground instead of him. At that instant I was overcome with a hot burning sensation and I realized Jody wouldn’t want me to think like. Then the sensation faded. I told Jody I was proud of him and that he was a good soldier. I told him it was an honor to serve with him. I let him that his family and the Black Sheep miss him. I apologized to him for taking so long to pay my respects to him. I spoke to him for a while longer and said things I only wanted Jody to hear. I felt a tremendous weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I promised him that it wouldn’t be another 7 years before I came back. With that, I stood and saluted him one final time then walked away.

            I was set to speak the following day and in the audience would be Jody’s family. As I spoke I felt more emotional than in any previous speech. I also added part of a quote from Abraham Lincoln that he had written to the mother of a soldier killed in the civil war. It read, “I pray that our heavenly father may assuage you the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the alter of freedom.” I choked back the tears and pushed on through the rest of my speech. Afterwards, Nana and Papa both hugged me and thanked me. In a small interview with a local reporter Nana was quoted as saying “Every day, Jeremiah’s work honors Jody’s life. That is what Wounded Warrior Project means to me.”

            I had decided to take Jody’s family to lunch on the day of my departure. I wanted to thank them for their hospitality. We sat and talked more about Jody and just life in general. As we were leaving, something very special happened. Papa reached into his pocket and pulled out a Gold Star pin. This pin is given to the families of that have lost a son or daughter in combat. I knew what it was instantly. I put up my hands in protest and told him “I cannot accept that sir, it is only for families.” He replied, “You’re my family now and I want you to have it.” I looked down at the pin and held it in my hand and started to cry. He put his hand on my shoulder and said “Let it go son, it’s not your fault.” I hugged him and could barely get the words “thank you” out of my mouth.

            I left Florida a few hours later. I knew in my heart that I had gained new family members. And I felt as though I had finally moved towards closure. For me, closure cannot really be defined in words. It’s all about the action and feeling of having done something for someone else. But what you find out is that those people you were trying help, helped you in a way that will never be forgotten.