When I left Iraq in April of 2009, I didn’t realize I was deploying to America. That’s right, I deployed to America, to fight a war. It was a war that has raged on every day for the past 22 plus years. A war I didn’t know how to fight. A war that I didn’t know would last the rest of my life. I engaged in multiple fire fights daily.The battlefield was the rough terrain of my shredded mind.The enemy was my own thoughts that assaulted me relentlessly. Each day I became a casualty. The Motrin and water, became pills and whiskey. The uniform, cargo shorts and t-shirts, instead of combat boots I wore flip-flops. The night vision goggles became beer goggles. The noisy barracks is now a lonely apartment. The Humvee became a pick-up truck. My weapon became a pen. My ammo, ink.
Misunderstood and feared by civilians, I isolated myself in the darkness. Locked away in the vault of my mind, I kept the memories, nightmares, violence and thoughts to myself. I was the only one who could hear the screams of hell. I was scared to remember, and scared to forget. The scars were only visible to me… everyone else only saw my smile. I continued putting my left in front of my right, marching to the cadence of life; but I fell back on that road march. The weight of what I carried was too heavy to move forward. I had no battle buddy to help me up from my knees and encourage me to press on. I was no longer able to function.
So there I lay… in my own blood that poured from my wounds sustained on this battlefield that had become my life. I had fallen into the hands of the enemy. Now a prisoner of my own mind, I disintegrated slowly, subtly.
I longed to return to a place where I could see the enemy. I didn’t know that I saw that enemy every time I looked upon my reflection in the mirror.
On 24, June, 2010, while in the midst of intense emotional distress, I attempted to defeat that unknown enemy. I assaulted myself by firing a bullet into my face. The enemy that was me, survived. Fueled now by rage and self hatred after this brutal confession, I entered the dark world of the VA. With bottle after bottle of pills I was slowly being controlled. My weapon became more effective. I took the memories, nightmares, thoughts and violence, and gave them life. I gave them breath. The words came easy as I scribbled on the pages of numerous notebooks.As they danced upon the paper, I could finally see the enemy clearly. I had found the perfect weapon to defeat this enemy. The enemy no longer lurked in the dark shadows of my mind. I had successfully illuminated that beast for everyone to see. I slowly crossed that threshold into healing. I am no longer my own worst enemy.
The enemy that lived in my shredded mind has a name; Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) … a worthy opponent that creates havoc on so many. The voice of PTSD is incredibly loud and sneaks up on you like the enemy that it is. The number of lives it has claimed are numerous. There is in fact a war raging on America’s soil. It rages in the hearts, minds and souls of America’s fighting men and women when they deploy to the Unites States. It wears no identifiable uniform. It has a never ending arsenal of weapons used to assault us. It fires bullets of pain, launches rockets of rage and plants IED’s of worthlessness. It’s like a sniper with a well placed round when we are most vulnerable.
I am still on deployment here in the US. I battle every day an enemy that I am now familiar with; an enemy that can be defeated. I continue to fight the war on PTSD with my best weapon…the written word.
Written by: Shaun (last name left out per request) 14, Sept, 2015