I was recently watching a George Carlin clip on Youtube in which he rails against people who use soft language to hide the truth and pain of a situation. Most notable is the term ‘shell shock’ from World War (WW) 1. Shell shock is defined as, “a reaction to the intensity of the bombardment and fighting that produced a helplessness appearing variously as panic and being scared, or flight, an inability to reason, sleep, walk or talk.”
Carlin states with each new generation, truth and pain become buried under jargon. The condition of shell shock in WW1 morphed into ‘battle fatigue’ that morphed into ‘operation exhaustion’ and by the time Vietnam was happening, the very same condition was called ‘post-traumatic stress disorder’ (PSTD). With each evolution of the condition it became more complex with less humanity. The original pain of the situation became lost in vague jargon.
My dad was a Vietnam Vet. In fact, he served in DaNang during the worst time of the Vietnam War. To this day, I have never heard my dad speak openly to my brothers and me about his experiences during war-time. Only my oldest brother was privy to these experiences. Why so? My brother was in charge of preparing the case against the US Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) about the horrors and acts against humanity, that my dad witnessed during war-time. His accounts of these horrors were over 300 pages long. After preparing that case-study, my brother never looked at my dad in the same light again.
This case started because my dad was unable to continue working as a correction officer for the state of MA. My dad’s “inner demons” were rearing their ugly heads again and he was unable to return to work because of doctors’ orders. It put him in the position of having to resign from the state job and apply for disability with the VA. During this time my dad supported himself and the three of us with savings, home equity line of credit and maxing out all of his credit cards. It was the most stressful and often, most dire, time of my family’s life.
After 3 years of battling with the VA and proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that my dad’s condition was caused by inhuman acts of war and not from psychological make-up, the VA relented and awarded my dad 100% disability due to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder caused during war-time.
You might say, “Awesome! Your dad deserves that compensation for the risk he took defending our country. Now he has the time and money to travel, work in the garden or pick up a hobby he’s always been interested in. No more worries about retirement, medical bills or even burial plots. The VA is picking up the tab for all of it.” I originally thought the same thing, little did I know about the iron-claw that PTSD would have on his life.
Benjamin Franklin said, “Many people die at twenty-five and aren’t buried until they are seventy-five.” My dad’s ‘death’ happened when he left the Marine Corps at age 23. His life became a 15-year drunken stupor of eating out of garbage cans, fighting at local bars, working back to back menial, low-paying jobs and black-outs that lasted days. During his misery and pain, he stumbled into a relationship with my mom and had two boys with her. Ten years later, I was the lucky little surprise my parents had after falling out of love and into divorce.
My dad was ‘awarded’ his 100% disability status in 1996. One could imagine the past 18 years being filled with travel, gardening and hobbies but not so. CNN or History Channel play on TV around the clock, he sleeps at all hours of the day and night, eats only processed foods, moves his body very little, and still smokes like a chimney with filter-less Camels. Besides downing chocolate glazed donuts and 12-inch steak and cheese grinders from Papa Ginos, he’s on anti-anxiety, anti-depression, anti-high blood pressure, anti-high cholesterol, and anti-quality of life medications. Why? Simple…medications are free from the VA and popping pills require no change on his part. The pills keep him alive, but not enlivened.
My brothers and I have tried to urge, conj-ole, even threaten him to go out on a date, see a therapist, start juicing, walk around the neighborhood, quit smoking, go on a day trip to the Cape and any number of things that we KNOW will improve his physical and emotional well being. Even a friend blogger, Mans at theHackedMind, suggested the nootropic, aniracetam, which has been shown to help with depression and anxiety. But the old adage, “Nothing happens until someone sells something”, applies to my dad as, “Nothing happens until he sells himself.”
He has to be willing to change.
Its a humbling experience to help complete strangers greatly improve their physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well being with a complete overhaul of poor lifestyle habits yet I’ve been unable to help my dad drink a glass of fresh carrot juice. What I know about habit change and behavior modification, its best to insert a new behavior immediately after an established habit…the challenge is, my father has almost no established habits. Not in sleep, not in eating, not in tv viewing, not in socializing or anything I can think of at the moment. I guess I’m gonna have to look into his micro-habits.
For the record, I love my father with all my heart and he has accomplished some amazing things despite his shortcomings with alcoholism and PTSD. He was able to get his life together enough to be able to accept my two brothers and I to live with him after leaving our mom. He worked 80-hour weeks for years in order to provide food, shelter and a down-payment for a great house in a great town. All those who know my dad respect, admire and adore him because of his tremendous heart and willingness to sacrifice himself for the benefit of his three sons.
For 14 years he was able to keep his emotions under control and work ethic in check long enough to provide my brothers and I with stability. Then in 1993, he could no longer keep it together. The ‘inner demons’ could no longer be silenced, that is when he applied for disability.
My heart goes out to every veteran who has ever served our country. I do not agree with the military/industrial complex and how it sees human beings as machines rather than men. It sickens me how the men and women of power can sacrifice the lives of others to move their own agendas forward. There is nothing sexy, macho or admirable about war. Killing only begets more killing. If that wasn’t the case, we’d have peace. On the flip side, these men and women enter the military under their own free will because the draft is no longer in affect.
While most veterans do not lose their physical lives during a Tour of Duty, countless others have lost everything else in mind, motivation, and meaning, becoming the walking dead waiting to be buried.
I salute you.