Lost…A Walk in Darkness..

The sun has barely broken through the cloudless sky when our convoy is hit with indirect fire. “Move out! Keep your intervals!” We speed through the narrow streets, the clink, clink, clink of bullets impacting on the vehicle’s armor drives home the point we are no longer in Texas. Mortar rounds explode around us as we rush hurriedly to our destination. I glance in my mirror and notice a vehicle with no roof is dropping rounds into our convey as they rush through the city behind us.

“Light ‘em up!”

My gunner fires the heavy machine gun. The choom, choom, choom of high impact rounds plays the hymn of death and destruction. The recoil from the heavy weapon firing bursts of death shakes the cab of my truck. Suddenly, the vehicle following us crashes into a shanty building and the mortars stop dropping into our convoy. “Boy, they sure don’t like us. I would give anything to be back home.” The silence following heavy combat action lulls us into thinking the worst of it is over. We are wrong.

As I drive through the city, people are making their way back into their homes. I glance out at the Euphrates River, when my gunner drops into the vehicle. He spins around and points.
“IED!”

The sudden crack of the explosive device shatters the silence and the explosion blinds me. Everything goes dark for a moment and I feel the vehicle roll over. Suspended upside down, water rushes in through the shattered glass. I reach for my seatbelt and pull the lever, nothing happens. The cab starts to fill up with water. “God help me! I do not want to drown in this mudpuddle.” Again, I yank on the seatbelt and nothing happens. Rough hands grab my seatbelt and my buddy snatches on the lever. “Hold on Freeman. Stay still, I would hate to cut you.” He inserts the blade between the belt that holds me captive and my sternum. With two quick motions, I am free. I crash into the water. Sputtering, I push myself upright and we egress from the vehicle. Weapons in hand, we make our way up the side of the embankment.
“Hurry up! Jump in a vehicle before the whole city descends on us!” We pile in and continue to make our way to our destination. When we arrive, I am shaking. The adrenaline rushes through my veins. “Freeman drink this, it will help you calm down.” I reach for the Mountain Dew and gradually my hands stop shaking. “We have you another vehicle, can you drive?” I nod my head in affirmation. “Yeah, I got it.”

The line from Predator passes through my mind, “I don’t have time to bleed.”  However, it is all for show. My mind is taking a beating and nearly drowning has caused me to do some serious soul searching. “I am not ready to meet my Maker; I would have gone to hell if I had died today.” My temporary lapse into spirituality is short-lived. “Time for the convoy briefing, let’s get it right this time.” Another mission complete, I make my way to the briefing.

“How lost am I?”

A still, small voice provides me with the answer, and it shakes me to my core.

“Very.”

Joy, therapy, and A Walk in Darkness….

 God only knows where I would be if I had not encountered Joy that fateful day at Ft. Carson.

I suppose my view on therapy today is somewhat parochial. At my lowest point however, I was willing to accept all the help I could get. Those days I spent in the small office recounting the pain I was feeling provided a rope to assist me in hanging on for another day. I could freely express my thoughts and punctuate it with venom and flying chairs. As much good as it did me to go through therapy, it is limited. The goal of therapy is to help you get to a point where you can stand on your own. A soldier who can’t stand on their own is useless on a battlefield.

Therein lies my problem with a continued reliance upon therapy and psychologists. At some point, I must be able to stand and deal with the issues which arise in my life. Running from the pain does me no good, facing it, baring my teeth and dragging myself to my feet after getting knocked down, is how one learns to stand. A newborn child needs milk to grow, but it doesn’t live off milk it’s whole life. As it grows into a mature human being the body develops a need for meat, vegetables, and other means of nourishment. Therefore, a continual need for therapy keeps the mind weak, it can’t grow strong if it is constantly pampered.

I do not mean to belittle people who continue their therapy. You know what you need to do to overcome your struggle. For some, therapy is a necessity, for me however, after almost a decade in therapy, I see no need to continue mine. Trust me, I know who to call if I crash back into my darkness. After spending the last few years trying to regain a sense of balance in my life, I would hate to start over from the bottom. If that is what it takes for me to be the best version of myself, I am willing to do it again (I would just rather not).

There is a place for therapy, and usually we find our way there when we hit rock bottom. When you reach the bottom, you know it. At the lowest point in my life, when I felt I was alone and no one cared if I lived or died, I was glad to have Joy in my corner. Our weekly meetings gave me the strength to try again. She would listen and let me vent until nothing was left, then she would encourage me to get up and give it another go. I am eternally grateful God placed her in my life. The story of A Walk in Darkness would not be complete without Joy. She saved my life.

9/11/2019

More than the decrease…A Walk in Darkness….

The small white office where I recount my past makes my head hurt. White light glares off the white paint and my eyes hurt from the interior of this small room. “The government should be able to afford a better paint job!” I detest therapy. The lithe Native American lady sitting across from me notices my pain, her dark eyes never miss anything it seems. “Tell me about your week, Freeman. How are things going?” I want to lash out in anger and bitterness, instead I smile. “Things are fine Joy; everything is as it should be.” The #2 pencil she holds in her right-hand jots down a note on her notebook. She smiles and I can see she isn’t buying what I am selling.
“Do you always deflect, Freeman? Why are you so angry?”

“Who’s angry Joy? What do you mean deflect?”

Joy continues to smile; her dark eyes never move from mine. “You are being difficult. Every question I ask, you ask one in return. You never answer. Tell me what makes you angry.”

“People make my head hurt. I can’t abide stupidty.”

The #2 pencil jots down another note. “What kind of support structure do you have in place to help you cope?”

“I have Jameson.”

“Whiskey is not a support structure; it is a crutch. How much do you drink?”

“Depends on how the day goes. Sometimes, I drink too much and other times I don’t drink near enough.”

“Why do I get the feeling you drink until you pass out?” Joy’s brow furrows as she asks this question. Her dark eyes seem to pierce the darkness which lingers in my soul. ‘Do you feel like you are making progress in overcoming the issues in your life?”

“No.”

Joy glances at her watch. “You must find a way to relate to these sessions Freeman. Otherwise, you are wasting your time, not to mention mine. I want to help you, but you keep resisting my efforts.”

My heart beats like a barrage of rain on a tin roof. Finally, I look at Joy. “I have nothing left to live for Joy. I just want to die.”

She shakes her head and puts down the notebook. The #2 pencil is placed on top of her left ear, held in place by her dark hair, and she takes my hands in hers. “Look at me Freeman. You are more than the decrease. Things are dark right now. You are angry, bitter, and more than a little jaded, but you will heal. Take it one day at a time. Here is my phone number, when you feel the way you feel now, you call me, and I will talk you down.”

I nod and look at the floor. “Ok.”

She glances at her watch and picks up the notebook. “It appears our time is at the end; would you like to schedule an appointment for next week?”

“Sure.” I force a smile and she hands me the appointment slip. As I stand, she pauses at the door. “You’re more than the decrease Freeman. You are an overcomer.”

If only….

Friendly fire….A Walk in Darkness….

“Alright troops listen up! Today’s lesson is on friendly fire. As Murphy’s Law of Combat states, “friendly fire is not friendly!” This simple rule applies to your military career and your civilian career, when you depart Uncle Sam’s Army.” My soldiers huddle together in the motorpool bay as I instruct them on the importance of positively identifying their target. “This is no joking matter. We are all brothers here, members of the greatest team ever assembled to fight our nation’s wars. If you can’t identify your target, you should not fire your weapon. To caveat on this point, if you get angry at someone for whatever reason, you take it out on the person who made you angry. DO NOT bring your anger here and take it out on all of us.”

My soldiers sit still, and no one is smiling.

“Friendly fire, more times than not, happens because someone fails to identify their target. You have time make a positive ID, there is no reason friendly fire should occur. Where should your finger be if you can’t positively identify your target?” My soldiers look at each other and finally the new guy stands to his feet. “Um, outside of your trigger guard Sergeant?” I nod my head in affirmation. “Yes Private, your finger should only touch the trigger if you have identified your target and you are firing your weapon. Otherwise, your finger should be outside of the trigger guard.”

“What does this point have to do with being angry Sergeant?”

I smile and look at my new soldier. He stands at parade rest, hands interlocked behind his back, standing tall like a paragon of truth and justice in a world without either.

“Well Private, let’s look at it for a moment. Let’s say I am dogged out by the Platoon Sergeant for something I didn’t do. However, because he has had a bad day, he continues to rail on me. Is this the right action to take?”

“No Sergeant, he shouldn’t be tearing into you for something you didn’t do.”

“Would you classify it as friendly fire Private? I am a soldier, and so is he. We belong in the same platoon.”

“Yes Sergeant, it is friendly fire.”

“Look guys, we are all guilty of hammering people who aren’t involved in the drama. It happens sometimes but it should be the exception, not the rule. How can you justify coming to work and tearing into people here, but you don’t have the guts to address the issue with the person who made you angry?”

Silence is my only answer. My soldiers shift uncomfortably in their seats, no one looks around, instead they look at the floor. Finally, Specialist Johnson stands to his feet and assumes the position of parade rest.

“Because we are married to the person who made us angry Sergeant.”

I shake my head and turn to walk to an empty chair. My lips pull into a tight grin, and I struggle to contain the mirth which threatens to become full-blown laughter. I can’t contain it; my laughter pours out and tears moisten my eyes.

“True story Johnson.”

The “loss perspective”…..A Walk in Darkness…

As I write A Walk in Darkness, I often utilize the perspective of loss to convey the destruction I caused in my own life. After all, I lost my marriage, career and health in seven months. However, a story is not complete because we experience loss. Granted, loss may cause us to enter a state of hebetude, but we gradually find our way out of this state. AWID is a tale of redemption, of restoration, and an overcomer. None of us would be who we are today without the trials of life.

It is easy to fall into the trap of believing everything is negative. As I look back, I can see where I came from and the progress I have made since my exit from the inky blackness that once smothered me.  Friends, who have exhibited great loyalty to me is one such positive in my life. There are many other positives, but I will not name them all. Sure, things can be bad, but not every day is a bad day.  In the cluster of my life, there are certain things I wish would work out a certain way, but there is nothing I can do to change what is. If it is out of my hands, why am I worried about it?

This has been a weekend of lessons for me. Some things have been confirmed, other lessons have been a shock, but all of them have been necessary. I can be difficult and dense at times, surely this does not come as a surprise revelation. However, I have always been preferential to laying all the cards on the table and having an honest conversation. Regardless of the circumstances which may arise from such conversations, the “talks” are a positive. It clears the air between the conversationalists and informs them of where they stand in each other’s book. Honest discourse is a must.

While I belabor the point, not everything is a negative. Even my sojourn through darkness had a silver lining. After dumping the “loss perspective” I could see the good things God had placed in my life. I am not an optimist, but through it all I have been blessed with a good church family, friends, and a simple life. Though the road may be rocky, and trials may batter me at times, God is still in control. If he brought me out of darkness not once, but twice, then surely, He will do it again if I need Him to.

Freeman out.

02 September 2019

Self-inflicted stupidity….

Yesterday was extremely hot, but in the spirit of cooperation, I decided to go to the ball field and watch a softball tournament. I regret it now. The heat has made me sick from sitting out in it like a dummy. Self-inflicted stupidity is the bane of my existence. I once thought I was intelligent, but as I grow older, I realize I am not as smart as I once thought myself to be. As nausea floods my body, I make myself this solemn vow, I will never do this again (until the next time I do).

Back to self-inflicted stupidity, it seems I will never learn from the mistakes I have made. Once again, I fall into the snare even though I know it is a trap. I amble on in and make myself at home. Then I become aggravated when it is the same crap in just another package. “It will be different this time around!” How naïve can one guy be?

This Friday past, I sat in a restaurant with my pastor and had lunch with him. We chatted and the topic came up concerning the link between PTSD brought on by combat and other vices (alcoholism, addiction, etc.). I made a remark that I did not know what was worse, surviving combat or coming home a skewed view of reality. The skewed view is a direct link to self-inflicted stupidity. I will use myself as an example. At times, I experience bouts of paranoia where I do not trust people or the environment, I am in. Everything can be fine, and then BAM! Something is wrong, or I am overcome with a sense of dread. I may have known these people for years, or been in the same environment for years, and suddenly I do not trust myself or them. A car broke down on the side of the road triggers erratic driving on my behalf. Hyper-vigilance stays with you forever it seems.

I’m sure I am not alone in this struggle.

However, I know people are not out to get me, but sometimes I can’t help but feel they are. Of course, I have no one to blame for the PTSD and the traumatic brain injuries I have suffered other than myself. No one put a weapon in my face and forced me to join the Army. After weighing the pros and cons, I signed my name and joined. I knew the risks and still went through with it. Looking back, I suppose one could say it was self-inflicted stupidity in motion. As pointless as war is, I am glad I wore the uniform of my country and laced up my boots. I am glad I made my stand for what I think is right. If I never attain wealth or success in a given field of study, I will have the pride of knowing what I believe in. I stood my watch and did my duty.

If all else fails, I am sure I will shoot myself in the foot with more self-inflicted stupidity.

Freeman out.

02 September 2019