PHOTO: Luis Algerich
He is a bright guy. Career Navy, he’d worked his way up from corpsman to officer, gone to school–college. For all that education, he still didn’t have any insight, no self-awareness. Self-awareness isn’t something that comes easy with PTSD. Too busy reliving, too busy trying to keep his shit together.
Retired, going a bit to gray and pot, he and his wife were on a trip; they were staying at the same Bed and Breakfast as my wife and I. The ladies had gone to bed; so there we were: just two guys sitting in a comfortable living room in small town Arizona.
He starts out telling me that he doesn’t much like being with people, being part of a group, doesn’t really join in, stays to himself. Then he spends the evening talking. Talking and sharing and talking some more. Guess what he really doesn’t like is listening. If the other guy is talking, how can he be back there, back then, reliving?
He starts by telling me about PTSD. I don’t interrupt–to tell him that I’m a shrink–not until he finishes telling me about what a Navy psychiatrist had explained to him–how if you take a cat, nice little cat, and put him in a backyard and start shooting at him and blowing shit up around him and then you take him back into the house, why that cat will be changed
and that was how post-traumatic stress worked.
Then I told him about my background; I mentioned there was usually something else about Post Traumatic Stress–something that cats couldn’t figure–not just the being scared but the guilt that somehow you should have changed things.
That’s when he talked about the ambush. He was supposed to go out with this patrol. They were going to do a sweep and set up an ambush, a standard night operation in Vietnam.
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