Call for Good Grief Camp Mentors

Hey all. If you live in the DC area, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) is looking for active duty service members or veterans to attend their Good Grief Camp this Memorial Day weekend for the child and teen survivors of parents lost in military service. Please see here for details:

http://www.taps.org/GGCMentors/

 

Some Poor Dude Has Always Got It Worse….

Just a friendly reminder that there is some poor dude, someplace, who has it worse today than you do. 🙂

Some poor kid burning a field head (latrine) in Haditha, Anbar Province, Iraq. Dec 2006
Some poor kid burning a field head (latrine) in Haditha, Anbar Province, Iraq. Dec 2006

And, in years time, he’ll probably be a victim of cancer, terminal respiratory illness or organ failure due to the inhalation of burning feces. I doubt very much the government will ever own up to the cause.

So, both in the short term and the long term, you are probably better off than your current job makes you feel.

Peace.

“Bonfire at Midnight”

A good and dear friend of mine, Fareed, who had a great deal of influence in pushing me to address the spiritual desert, or maybe it was a wasteland, I was in, started me on reading the poems of the 13th century Sufi scholar and mystic, Rumi. I am sure many of you are familiar with Rumi’s works, if you are not, I encourage you to give his writings a read. I have found quite a connection with Rumi’s poetry, so much that I now keep a book of daily readings of Rumi’s next to my bed. Please don’t ask how often I am dutiful and consistent in my reading though… 😉

What has been most jarring to me, as I get to know Rumi, has been the sense of meandering, the sense of resignation, the sense of spiritual and emotional homelessness I find in his poems. I identify with those lost and lonely feelings, but I am reassured by Rumi’s confidence in the journey he is on and the courage he possesses, because of the strength provided by something greater than him and by his companion Shams, who was a light of mindfulness, peace and friendship.

Now I have many Shams in my life; yes that is a cheesy thing to say, but it is true. My progress forward is a testament to their strength more than mine, just as Rumi found his strength and confidence in Shams.

But to one of his poems.

The other night I was grabbed ahold by the first stanza of Rumi’s “Bonfire at Midnight”:

A shout comes out of my room

where I’ve been cooped up.

After all my lust and dead living

I can still live with you.

You want me to.

You fix and bring me food.

You forget the way I’ve been.

Was that not me? A life of lust and dead living? And is not the acceptance and forgiveness of me, by friends and family alike, the core and foundation of my recovery? Was not the fear of not receiving such acceptance and forgiveness the terror that kept me alone with alcohol as my only friend? Is not acting and living upon that acceptance and forgiveness the instrument that has resuscitated my soul and gifted me once more with a future?

Is such knowledge of that acceptance and forgiveness not a Bonfire at Midnight for me? Is it not a beacon to my soul and mind of a clear and sound determinant of life, peace and hope?`

What I love so much about art, be it written word or image, is the transfer of someone’s emotion, someone’s story, someone’s fear, affection, despair, joy, horror, beauty…someone’s life through centuries, societies and cultures to another person, who in turn, understands and recognizes himself in the artist’s message. About 800 years ago Rumi wrote the words to a “Bonfire at Midnight”. Today, half a world from Rumi’s land, in an age that would appear fantastical and magical to him, I share in Rumi’s joy and appreciate his gratitude.

There is something bigger than me in my life. There are also many Shams in my life.  I have no doubt today, on Thanksgiving, as to where my thankfulness lies.

Peace to you all and Happy Thanksgiving.

“Am I Taking Crazy Pills? It Really Says That!?”

That’s what my friend and fellow Marine, Joe, said a few months ago when I sent him the conclusion from a Department of Veterans Affairs study on veteran suicides that read:

“Killing experiences are not routinely examined when assessing suicide risk. Our findings have important implications for conducting suicide risk assessments in veterans of war.”

Seriously.

The VA’s sole purpose is to provide care to our Nation’s veterans due to veterans’ unique circumstances and experiences. How can the VA have not included “killing experiences” as part of suicide risk assessments of veterans? It is no wonder that at least 22 veterans are killing themselves each day, with 22 a day most likely being an underestimate as it is based on partial, incomplete and non-uniform reporting from only 21 states, or that more than 60% of veterans are not registered with the VA.

If your Thanksgiving travels, the weather or your family haven’t made you drive your head through the wall yet, then this VA study will.

Cheney, Kilcullen and Captain Stubing Walk into a Publisher’s Office

I’m trying to utilize Buddhist practices in my life. The concept of Right Speech is one I like, but it is one I am really struggling with, and, sometimes, to be humorous, one I find necessary to disregard. Forgive me, I genuinely do dislike snark and want to be more effective in my communication, but I just could not pass this up:

In Barnes and Noble today I found a book by former Vice President Dick Cheney on matters of the heart, another on war by former counter-insurgency proponent and now counter-insurgency apologist, David Kilcullen, and one by the guy who played the skipper of The Love Boat, on love, or boating, or love boating, or whatever. Regardless, if I had to choose between reading a book on hearts by a heartless Cheney, both figuratively and literally, a book on war by a strategist integral in our failed war policies in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a book by the most famous pretend cruise boat captain of all time, I’m going with Captain Stubing every time. Every time, no doubt.

Actually, Gavin MacLeod’s book is a testament to his struggles in life, his alcoholism and his near suicide. Telling his story is a brave and noble effort and will help many more people than Cheney’s psychopathic, megalomanic and cowardly policies, or Kilcullen’s romantic fantasies of saving little brown people with smart war conducted by munificent white people. MacLeod is bringing peace to himself and to others, cutting through the lies of his life, and helping others to see and cut through their own personal lies and live fuller, happier and more peaceful lives. Cheney and Kilcullen’s books, and the lives they have led, in very stark contrast, stand to only perpetuate lies of compassion, war and, most disturbingly, the notion of compassionate war.

Peace, and again, apologies for the snark.

Cheney on matters of the heart, Killcullen on war, MacLeod on love: I'm going with the latter as the credible voice.
Cheney on matters of the heart, Killcullen on war, MacLeod on love: I’m going with the latter as the credible voice.

 

Pouring out that Bottle

I poured a bottle of Wild Turkey out in the VA parking lot this afternoon. It was a big bottle, a handle, $50 worth of bourbon. It had been in my car for the better part of two days, after I bought it at a liquor store off of I-85 at the tail of a long drive. I had convinced myself of the need for my old friendship with alcohol and was warmed by the opportunity to accept the comfort of the misery of remembrances that the alcohol would release. For so many years alcohol was my only friend, the only one I opened up to, the only one that allowed me to be myself, the only one I could acknowledge my failings, my guilt, my sorrow, my anger to.

I was excited to get back home. To sit in my living room, listen to my music, with all those triggers in so many sad and angry songs, and to drink that bottle. True friendship, true understanding, true tolerance. Alcohol would numb me, alcohol would accept me, alcohol would say it was ok. I was going to happily and eagerly throw my life, and my soul, back into a deep, black, cold hole. And I would revel in it.

But then I didn’t. The thought of an early dentist appointment the next day reminded me of my past life, where I would easily neglect such appointments and rapidly dismiss responsibilities to both myself and others. A timely phone call from my girlfriend and the quickness with which I lied to her, telling her everything was ok and that I was just going to watch football that evening, cut me open. Was I going to go back to that life? Hadn’t I given alcohol enough of a chance? Wasn’t over four years of self-medication and self-destruction enough of an opportunity for booze? My attempts to relieve my suffering through alcohol had failed. Without a doubt, alcohol had failed me. The bottle stayed in my car when I got home and I called Megan.

Next Friday, November 1st, will be my twenty-first month of sobriety, or attempted sobriety, to be honest and clear. It has not been easy and I don’t expect that handle of Turkey will be the last bottle I will have to empty indecorously down a drain, into a toilet or over a parking lot. But there is no other way.

The most important thing I have heard from friends, what my therapists have taught me, and what I have learned myself, is this process of recovery, this attempt to take my life back, is a long, hard, tortuous effort. Bad days come less frequently now, but they still do come, and when they do, they hurt. Faltering and falling down, but recomposing oneself and standing again, is the very essence of this process. Of course, it’s not possible on your own, you need others, like a psychologist who will tell you, very sternly, to pour that bottle out; and it won’t work unless you build a life, a good life, a happy life, one that is worth the struggle and separate from the distress brought on by your own personal history.

Last spring, a Vietnam Veteran in my group told me: “if I hear someone in church saying he doesn’t have the taste anymore for alcohol, then I know he either never had the taste or he’s lying.” My friends, that taste for alcohol doesn’t go away, its alleged friendship doesn’t ever make good on its promises, and its acceptance of your suffering is illusory and cruel.

Again, I expect to fall down again. If you are going through this process with me, then you most likely will too. But I know there are others to help me up and there are others who will help you up too, including you and me.

Peace.

Jeremy Scahill’s Dirty Wars: Giving Voice to the Voiceless

Jeremy Scahill’s politically important and emotionally exhausting film, Dirty Wars, is now available on iTunes, Netflix, Amazon and through a whole bunch of other video services that I have no idea how to access: Google, XBox, Playstation, Sundance…..

A few years ago, Jeremy interviewed me and a little bit of that interview made it into the film. We spoke for a couple of hours at a bar and Jeremy bought me a few beers. I had forgotten about the film until last spring when Jeremy contacted me about helping with the film’s roll out and having me speak at screenings.

I attended the film’s premiere in May in Washington, DC. Many of my friends attended, thankfully. As Dirty Wars deepened and darkened my mind with remembrances, my friends, almost all of them not veterans, were a buoy to me. It was a stunning and nauseating ninety minutes. I had to leave the theater at one point.

If you are surviving PTSD, depression and suicidality you do a good job staying away from triggers, trying not to let thoughts metastasize and take over your life; allowing the memories to remain just memories, not haunting or demanding action, but just present in your life, a part of your life, but not your life. But then you sit in a dark theater and you watch, listen and feel a story told so compassionately and so beautifully by a man who knows this story, which is also your story, so well. He lives it too. His film, his testament, makes you remember your obligations.

More than your story or Jeremy’s story, Dirty Wars is the story of thousands of nameless and voiceless men, women and children. Children of God, brothers and sisters in humanity, those who our wars are supposed to bring freedom and liberty to, unlucky bastards, whatever you want to call them, the truth is these people are suffering under an American political narrative of good vs evil and a policy of perpetual war that benefits a one trillion dollar a year national security Leviathan and those who enjoy and profit from the romance of war and the fear of terrorism.

Thank you Jeremy for witnessing and giving voice to those nameless and voiceless thousands, those mortal souls and their corporeal families destroyed by war, unknown to our society and ignored by our media.

Please watch Dirty Wars and please ask your friends to watch too. Give voice to the voiceless.

 

Dead Eyes in a Live Face

Sometimes Twitter conversations turn into something meaningful. Here’s part of a conversation I had with a new friend on Twitter today. Some brief and twitter-style thoughts on guilt and responsibility over civilian deaths in war as well as this photo:

Payment
Payments to the relatives of dead civilians, Afghanistan, 2009.

I’m in the blue shirt. It’s Afghanistan 2009. We are paying villagers after one of our Apache gunships killed 5 or 6 members of a family in an orchard. You would think a detail like that would stick, that you would remember how many men, woman and children were killed, exactly how many. But I don’t. You do enough deployments and details, bodies, tend to blur.

I’ve seen plenty of dead eyes in a live face in my life. They were here this day, in this mountain village, dead eyes in a live face, looking back at us as we gave them money for their people we killed. This is war and it will never be any different.

Peace.

 

Gratitude

I’m going to share personal stories on this blog. It will be a way of helping myself work through issues and hopefully will help others in deciding to begin recovery or continuing their recovery. Throughout the 20 months of my own recovery, it has been others sharing their stories; telling their tales of suffering, often embarrassing and humbling, but with recognizable themes and events that motivated and strengthened me when I was hurt, weak and wavering in my commitment to life and health.

I cannot take credit for my recovery. Yes, I did make the decision to begin it and there have been times, tough times, when I chose not to forgo and give up. However, it was the actions of others, some intentional and some unintentional, that has allowed me to be successful. As you will see, gratitude is a big part of this blog, because gratitude is an important part of recovery; it’s something that very naturally and necessarily comes with others helping you to live. It’s not something I expected when I began therapy, when I gave up booze, when I went on anti-depressants, but gratitude is certainly a very welcome blessing in my life.

The list of who has helped me and who continues to help me is quite long. It is a living list, because, as I am experiencing, recovery from PTSD, depression, alcohol abuse and suicidality is a long and uneven process, most assuredly a permanent process–I begin a new medication today. Waves and troughs of varying durations and intensity come and go, but the good waves last longer over time, while the bad time troughs come less frequently, aren’t as deep and are manageable.

That list of help is populated with family, friends and strangers. My ex-girlfriend who got us into couple’s therapy because I had stopped having sex with her, along with a torrent of other PTSD problems and symptoms; Lenny B, my first counselor who got me to quit drinking and led me through a PTSD treatment program; one of my best friend’s, Van, who told me “you fucking know better”, an auditory slap I had needed for a long time; my parents, of course, who took me in when therapy and recovery had stopped being easy and when I had run out of money; the guys in my PTSD group at the Durham VA, some 15 years younger than me, some 25 years older, some white, some black, but all willing to talk, to share and to be open in order to help one another, to be brothers to one another; my sweet friend who opened her home to me in Maui, basically letting me convalesce and allowing me to see color again in the world, while learning that trauma and suffering is not unique to combat veterans and that there is a universal love that can be found in that knowledge; this soldier, who I will probably never meet, whose testimonial got me to admit to myself and then say out loud I was suicidal; my current girlfriend for her acceptance and for helping me regain the concept of a future…I can go on….

But I want to make sure I make special reference to Shea Brown, the originator of the quote at the top of this blog. It was his kindness over soup, hamburgers and coffee at Liberty Tavern in Clarendon Square that got me to believe in myself again and to this day serves as an inspiration for me. I don’t know if he intended to have that kind of impact on that rainy January day; I suspect not, as I believe both angels and demons have purposes uncontrollable. Regardless, he did, and his kindness is one of the reasons I am alive and that’s not hyperbole, exaggeration or drama.

Peace works both ways. For just as sure as it can be nurtured and grown within you, it can be given to someone else. I’m not sure why it has taken 40 years for me to learn this, but I now know it.

Peace.

IMG_1188
With Shea Brown at the 2013 Ridenhour Prizes, Washington, DC

 

 

 

 

 

First Post

The first of what I hope to be many blog posts.

Please read the About Me and the About This Blog sections to get a feel for what I would like this blog’s purposes and my efforts to be.

Please be patient. I am new to blogging, at least on my own site, and easily confused, as the customer service representative from Yahoo and the WordPress Support forum moderator can attest to, but I plan on a regular commitment to this site, for my own healing and development, and maybe for that of others.

I’ve thought about doing something like this-like a blog to be clear-for several months now. Those thoughts formed into action over the last couple of days, and then CNN ran this article today:

“Why suicide rate among veterans may be more than 22 a day”

This notion, this horribly shameful notion, that we somehow do not, in the year 2013, truly know how many veterans are killing themselves each day is something I’ve been concerned with for a bit of a while.

And then, boom!, my friend Rob DuBois, former SEAL and author of Powerful Peace, posts this article on Facebook:

Vet Launches Suicide Prevention Campaign: ‘I Am A Suicide Survivor … And I Am Not Embarrassed By It’

So, here I am. Egged on by the same recurring theme of dudes just like me killing themselves and inspired by a 25 year old kid, a veteran of combat.

Eighteen months ago I was planning my own suicide. I had been trying to kill myself through alcohol since 2007. It was because of testimonials like what I read today from Andrew O’Brien, among other inspirations, that I found the courage to get help. I’m now at the point in my recovery that I need to be sharing my story with others in case my words and experiences can be of benefit.

If any of my friends need help, please know it is ok to ask for help. I can assure you life is so much better on the other side of that dark life. I can also assure you I’ve never met with any derision or rejection, but only acceptance, love and compassion from those I have shared my suicidality and darkness with.
I invite you to reply, contribute and comment, and I look forward to a journey on this blog focused on healing, redemption and life.

Peace.