My headshrinker was all excited about me shedding some tears in his office. I believe he thought that he had single handedly lead me through some break-through. What he was actually witnessing was my frustration at a quarter of a century of VA bullshit and neglect. My body is falling apart and my mind isn’t too far behind.
My next visit was on June 3rd. I decided that I had to take matters into my own hands. This clown wasn’t doing shit for me other than telling me to get all Zen with myself. I went into his office and asked him about a place about which a friend had told me; American Lake. When it clicked in his little egg-shaped head that I was asking to go to an inpatient PTSD program, I think he peed a little. He got all bouncy and excited. It must look good on a report somewhere if he refers Vets to this program. I can not say that I was excited as he was, but I had to do something because he sure as fuck wasn’t.
Before the end of the week I had my date for going to American Lake. This was the first time the VA had done anything in a timely manner. It completely knocked me off my pins. I spent the next couple weeks trying to get my mind right for what I was about to get myself into. On the 19th of June a little after 0800 I walked through the front door of Building 4 at American Lake. I was greeted by a really rough looking biker type named Cliff and some country-ass meth-head named Jimmy. All I could think was “what the fuck have I gotten myself into?”
Well, that is the question. What had I gotten myself into? I had landed myself smack-dab right in the middle of exactly the place I needed to be. Cliff became a good friend. Jimmy, well, Jimmy was Jimmy. This was the first time in years that I had felt anything akin to that fellowship that being in the service brings. The civilian world will never understand what it is like. The brotherhood runs deeper than blood. For we are truly Blood-Brothers. To be clear, I am also referring to my Sisters-in-Arms.
American Lake is a Co-Ed VA Facility in Washington State that helps Veterans with PTSD, Addiction and/or Homelessness. For those of you who are focusing on the Co-Ed part, forget it. There is no scratching and screaming going on in this barracks. Those Vets who do not take this program seriously are weeded out and find themselves hoofing it for the front gate. A lot of fun can be had there, but you better be doing the work too. No one has time for your bullshit.
All five branches were represented. Plenty of interservice rivalry. However, the one thing that reigned supreme was the Brotherhood of all the Vets. We had Vets from Vietnam, the Cold War, Iran/Iraq and Afghanistan. Combat Vets and Non-Combat Vets together with no one judging anyone. This was a safe place for all of us to come together and get our shit straight.
I will only speak from my experience as a PTSD Vet. We had classes to attend. At least once a week we would have a one-on-one meeting with our assigned Headshrinker. The rest of the time we would be doing group sessions. Sometimes these group sessions would get a bit heated. When I say a bit heated what I really mean to say is that we were ready to run roughshod over the staff and anyone else who got in our way. There would be silent tears, open weeping, yelling and screaming, laughter, silence, a lot of fist bumps and the occasional hug. Those three and a half weeks was an emotional rollercoaster. I cried every day that I was there. We dealt with topics such as grief, guilt, loss, trauma, anger, and anything else that came up.
Guilt was the worst. This topic brought up gut wrenching memories for most of us. For some of us it was guilt over what we did. For others it was guilt over what we didn’t do. The common thread with all of the guilt stories or memories was that it involved the death of a friend or an innocent. There was not a lot of guilt over the death of those who needed killing. Some, on occasion, but not a lot.
The Smoke Shack is a small building just outside of Building 4. This was our designated smoking area. This is also where a metric shit ton of unsupervised therapy took place. At any given time you could find a Marine crying on the shoulder of Army. You might find Army laughing with Navy about some messed up story. But the one thing you were always guaranteed to find was someone poking fun of the Air Force. We only had one guy from the Coast Guard and he kept to himself.
Going to American Lake was the best thing I had done for myself for as long as I can remember. However, there is a down side to subjecting yourself to something like this. It makes everything new again. I was raw walking out of there. I was/am experiencing emotions I haven’t dealt with in years. I was/am dealing with memories of shit that I suppressed for over 25 years. Some of this stuff will haunt me until I die. They warned us that there is a higher than average suicide rate of Vets who go through programs like this. The reason for the suicides is that we have trouble dealing with all these new emotions and memories. Once the Vet returns home the Vet no longer has the support system of other Vets. We find ourselves surrounded by civilians who not only don’t have a clue, they don’t want to have a clue. They don’t want to understand. They just want us to shut up and be better. They truly want the best for us, but they want it on their terms. Maybe what is best for the Vet is to do their shopping at night, but that is inconvenient. So what does the PTSD Vet do? They suck it up and go shopping during the day. They have an anxiety attack and do their best not to show it. Their loved ones will never understand all of the triggers we have. Hell, we don’t understand half of the shit that goes on in our own heads.
How have I coped with my PTSD after getting out of American Lake? I stay in touch with my Brothers and Sisters through Facebook or phone calls. Those who served know the pain. Before I left for American Lake I had gone a decent amount time without entertaining thoughts of suicide. Since I’ve been out it has been that shadow that hovers just out of view. At the moment I am in no danger of harming myself, but I know that specter is lurking around and waiting for a moment of weakness to pounce.
I did have a visit with my headshrinker about completion of the program. He was all happy that I was now cured. The shit stain obviously has no clue how this shit works. I’ll be looking for a new headshrinker soon.
So, why is this post called Walking with Lola? Lola, as some of you know, is my dog. She is a five year old mutt who has been a blessing in my life. At least four times a week Lola and I go for nice long walks. This morning we went for a walk on the beach. It was peaceful and quiet. We were the only two out there. The only thing I could hear was the sound of the ocean retreating to low tide. It is these moments that keep me going. I’ve lost my focus. My creativity has stalled out. I haven’t made a video in months. Hell, this is the first blog I’ve done since May. I’m hoping to find inspiration soon. There is a phrase that we used at American Lake. Fake it until you make it. A lot of YouTubers say the same thing. This phrase can be said about most anything. I’m tired of faking it. I’m tired…