My American Dream

  
Many years ago on some random weekend during my time as a Californian, I found myself sitting on the diving board of some random SoCal residence having a beer induced conversation with a gentleman that I consider my brother. At this point in time (some 12 or 13 years later), I have no clue how we got on this conversational topic or even what the rest of the conversation was about. But one portion of the conversation has stuck with me over the years. Maybe it is because of the topic, maybe it is because of how close to my heart that topic was. I frankly have no clue at this point why it stuck with me, just that it had stuck with me.

I was in my early 20’s when I was stationed in California. Already more than two years into my first enlistment when I picked orders to the World Famous Wallbangers be with a friend from my time in Pensacola. I mention how old I was because I drank a lot then. We all seemed too. Likely like those in college at the same age do. Never for an particular reason. Most often just to blow off steam and have fun. I had a fantastic group of friends then, they were more than friends, they were my family. I still talk to most of them. Most of us have moved on to new things and new places. But we still talk when we can and it is always a relief to hear from some of them.

My last paragraph took me slightly off of my original point. It was more of a back story and random tangent. While it adds to the original intent of this post, I could easily have continued without it. So back to the random pool, back to the diving board. I have a tendency to either play the piano or become philosophical when drinking and on this occasion I am pretty sure I did both but the aspect I’m referring to is my hopeful look into what I wanted in my future. While I do not remember the exact word for word conversation I had, I do know what I was talking about because for a long time, those hopes persisted in my mind.
I wanted what I have always called my American Dream. I wanted a family. I wanted a wife. I wanted children. I wanted a home and land that belonged to me. This things I could call mine. That is what I wanted. For 2160 days (186,624,000 seconds, 3,110,400 minutes, 51,840 hours , 2160 days, 308 weeks and 4 days of you want a different way of counting) I thought I had my American Dream. It did not come all at once, but one by one I checked off things from my mental checklist. Man, I had them all. My list was complete. I had a wife. I had kids. I had a home with a little patch of land that I could call my own. Even had a bonus dog that I added to my list. That was then. 

My American Dream imploded. I do not particularly feel like going into the reasons it imploded. It is rather irrelevant to what I am writing at the moment and I am also in a good mood so I would like to keep it that way. I no longer have a wife. She has moved on. My house is for sale. I do not see my kids nearly as must as I wish I could. The dog went with my ex-wife since he was a present to her when he was a puppy. Other than my children I am pretty much back at square one. The things that I focused on achieving for so many years is not what matters to me anymore. In many ways I am not sure it really mattered anyways. You can see things so much differently after they happen and after age brings with it a little bit of wisdom, things change.

I want three things now. I want my kids to be happy. I want a safe place for them to live. I wanted to be happy. That is it ladies and gentleman. That is all I want. Right now I have that. I might not own a home that I live in, but I live in a place that is safe for my kids. I am doing everything in my power to make my kids happy. That last thing I need (and I am making good progress on) is being happy myself. It takes some effort to climb back from what was basically rock bottom. But step by step I will get there. Mainly I need to figure out what things, aside from my children, will make me happy. Many of the things I thought made me happy before, really do not have the same appeal to me anymore. I do not really know of some of the things ever will again.

So. There you go. A short trip down memory lane and I shared my feelings with you. Hopefully the time you took to read this was worth it. I cannot promise life lessons or empirical wisdom. What I can promise my readers is honesty in my writing. I want to share my life experiences, wether it be with PTSD or something like what I have written today, with anyone who will take the time to read it. If something I have lived through and what I write helps even one person than I do not feel like I am wasting my time. Either way, I will continue to write because this is the easiest way to get things to stop floating around inside my thick head.

Same dream, new cast

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Little more than a week ago, an ambulance backed into my car and managed to set off the airbags. I had kids in the car and while the damage to the car was not that serious, the air bags going off lead that car to be totaled. Before I get to the positive from that, there is some negative that came with it that I frankly was not expecting. My oldest twin boy was in the back seat, thankfully on the opposite side of the damage and the airbag deployment. I left him and his older brother in the car thinking it was safer given the location while I got out and attended to things. I was just out of the car long enough to get around back when I looked forward to John screaming and crying. He thought the car was on fire and that I left him in there. My car was not on fire, but the smokey air venting out of the airbags was enough to make it seem like it. My heart broke seeing the look on his face and I got him out the that car extremely quickly. I am pretty sure I hugged the fear out of him because after a few minutes he was back to his normal self and preoccupied with everything going on.

Why do I mention all this? Aside from my broken heart from what I perceive as a poor decision, my illustrious brain has chosen to make some unintended connections between this event and a previous event in my life. It is a connection that I really do not like. Over time, I have had certain repetitive dreams about the events surrounding my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They became so routine that when I started taking meds to help prevent them, I actually came to miss those dreams. For the most part, between the meds and the changes in my life and how I deal with things, I only seem to have nightmares when I am dealing with an increased amount of stress. (Stress as a whole seems to cause my symptoms to surface.) One of these dreams has come back the last week or so and while the events of the dream are mostly the same as before, the cast of characters in this dream changed. It gained a passenger and now, in addition to seeing 3 other lives end, a fourth life perished in a cloud of smoke. It is very unpleasant and very unnerving to see your child die and I hope it is an event I never have to live in real life. As unpleasant as these dreams have been, they need to stay as dreams because I honestly do not think I would be able to handle it if it were reality.

Despite how uncomfortable the dreams are, I am fascinated with the manner in which the human mind works. I have read a tremendous amount of material on how the human brain is affected by trauma and tragedy. The one part I cannot get a handle on is triggers. I know some of mine. I think I have them under control, then my brain makes some cockeyed connection between completely unrelated events. It kinda makes what I have learned seem irrelevant and useless. Having addressed that, there are some positives that came out of this situation. I have found that relinquishing some things from my life makes it easier to move on. Somethings just came with memories I really do not want to be reminded of on a daily basis. My black Jetta had both good and bad memories, and I wanted none of either to be honest. I was not, nor was I in, a place to get rid of that car. It was almost payed off and good memories or bad, I was going to drive that car until I did not have an option to anymore. In steps an ambulance driver who didn’t know how to back up out of a parking spot.

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Now, thanks to that ambulance driver, some airbags and my insurance company, I have a new truck. A little smaller than my old Chevy Silverado, but I am very happy with my new GMC Sierra. My boys love it. I look forward to creating a lot of new memories with them and that truck.

Emotions

  
I have to say that this evening was probably one of the worst evenings I have had in a long time. It is even more difficult to say that knowing that the night is not over yet. Some things hit home today and they hit home much harder than I expected them too. I have found myself on one hell of a emotional sea saw. One moment I felt angry enough that I wanted to destroy things and I had a hard time preventing myself from doing so. Thankfully I was able to. The next moment I found myself quite sad. Sadder than I have felt in recent memory. Sad enough to break through the self control I have developed over the years.  

I found myself unable to hold back my tears and just found my emotions taking control. The moment I found myself in control again, I was angry again. All evening I have just been going back and forth. It is draining and wish that I did not feel this way. With one set of emotions come others I have fought to control. It is like someone opened the flood gates and I do not know how to close them at the moment. I really, really want to close them.

Today if finally hit me exactly what has happened to me in the last year and even as I type this I am having difficulty focusing and controlling the emotional responses to my thoughts. My ex-wife has completed her move out of the home we bought together and while I wait for someone to decide to purchase the house, I am responsible for it. At the behest of my parents, I was over at the house cleaning up and organizing the few things I have left there. Each empty room brought back a flood of memories about happy times I had with my kids and even with my ex-wife. Regardless of negative things that happened in that house, all I could think of were happy things.

Happy things made me sad because they won’t happen there again. Not in that house. Not as a family. Not as my complete family. I have lost that because I was too stubborn to admit what was wrong with me. Regardless of what transpired, my initial inaction caused the chain reactions leading to today. Even though I know exactly how far I have come in the last year, how much better I have gotten, knowing what I have lost is taking a toll on me today. I know full well that I will make many happy new memories with my boys. 

Someday those memories will be made in a new house. Someday maybe those new happy memories might even be made with a future significant other. But for the moment it is hard to see past now. Past today. Past the sadness and knowledge of where and how I cannot make new memories. I honestly thought myself indifferent to my divorce and what was going on. Maybe it was because I was focused on therapy and dealing with my own personal demons. That seems as good of an explanation as any other I can come up with. I just wish that it did not hit me at all. If I could have avoided feeling, I would be much better.

It is twelve am, correction, 12:01 am and I have far to much on my mind to sleep. Everything I have done to distract myself only provide momentary relief before its overwhelmed by thoughts. I try something else and I just get pulled back. It is exhausting to battle myself like this. One would think that exhaustion would lead to sleep. Obviously my mind did not get this memo. Hopefully this goes away soon. Hopefully the house sells soon. Hopefully I can move on. Hope. Lots of hope here. I would prefer something logical. Some facts. Something for sure. But all I have is guesses and unknowns. Having only that is making me extremely uncomfortable and I can feel my anxiety growing.

Don’t get me wrong

It seems like I have been dealing with PTSD for so long now that some of my symptoms have gone seemingly dormant, I feel off. I don’t feel like myself and even though I know that is not me, that PTSD is not me. I feel like something is wrong because I do not see my days over shadowed by a sense of impending doom. Do not get me wrong, the fact that my symptoms are very low key right now is definitely a good thing. I know with out being told by anyone that it means I am getting better and that is what I know is best for me and deep inside I know that is what I want.
I guess I am just finding certain things different and make me feel out of place. It is weird to me to be navigating the world and not be on constantly guard. I still have my moments but I am better and it feels a little scary. I believe I had just grown accustomed to being hyper-vigilant all the time. To not being able to relax. I do not feel like something bad is going to happen every moment I am around others. I still do some of the time. It’s generally obvious when you see my leg shaking or constant fidgeting. It is getting easier though.
Over all, these are all things that I had been dealing with for over seven years. They had become a part of who I am without me permission or my knowledge. It is only recently that I have started to feel better. I did not even feel totally okay after finishing CPT. Some days I feel fine and here is where I get confused with myself. Some days I do not seem to have a single thought about what happened. Not feeling that anger, that sadness, that frustration, it is all so foreign to me. I guess it is just something I will have to get used too.

Waking up from a nightmare

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It is difficult to wake up from a nightmare. It can be hard when you are not sure if the nightmare is reality or just another nightmare. It is disconcerting to lay there unsure if your nightmare was real, if it is over, if the thoughts running around your head are making it worse or making it better. I know the nightmares, they are rarely new anymore. They just tend to be like a bad horror movie stuck on repeat. The meds I’m on help most of the time, but I have noticed that excess stress can overpower the meds and bring the nightmares back on full force. I have talked about nightmares before and it is likely that anyone with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can tell you how real they are. Outside of the people I see at the PTSD clinic at the VA I do not think I have actually laid out what one of my nightmares contains and I do not really have an urge to.

I am just happy that they happen at night and rarely do I suffer from daytime flashbacks. Thankfully most daytime recollections that I have a mild and more like unpleasant daydreams. I also have the tools to handle things during the daytime. Those same tools do not really work as 3 am in the morning when you are not sure you are actually awake, your heart is beating out of your chest and the shirt I happen to be wearing is soaked I sweat. In fact, those tools do not work at all. Almost 90 minutes later, my heart is still racing and I am only 90% sure I am awake and that the thoughts racing through my mind are more than just a continuation of my nightmare. It blows honestly and sucks because it just sets the tone for the rest of my day.

I try very hard on mornings and days like this not to just shut down and retreat back into my own little protective shell. I know it is unhealthy and it never really fixes anything anyways. I do have to work hard on not being an asshole to people though. Part of me tends to feel like making everyone else suffer with me. Yes, I know that never really fixes anything either, but depending on who I get to be an asshole to, sometimes it makes me feel better. On a more serious note, it is just hard to be normal when your tired, frustrated and preoccupied with over analyzing a stupid nightmare. I know it is not real and I end up using every tool I have learned and spend the day picking apart my nightmare piece by piece to prove to myself it is not real and why it is not real. My problem is that is does not really seem to stop the nightmare from reoccurring and it does not really stop my want to retreat.

Like everything else though, I do know I will survive. I do know that I will not have a nightmare every time I attempt to sleep. I just wish I could say that they will go away forever one day. The problem with that belief is no one has yet to tell me they will.  I know what living in my reality is like and having night terrors be apart of them royally sucks ass.  Just remember, PTSD is not a choice, we didn’t wake up one day and decided: ‘Hey! Let’s have nightmares and flashbacks for the rest of our lives!

I am an Introvert

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So I have run across quite a few things recently regarding personality types and the like. Articles comparing different types or blogs stating how to care for certain personality types. Some have had useful information, some have belonged in the funny pages. I have know for a long time that I have an introvert personality but I decided recently to look more into it and possible connections and even susceptibility to PTSD. I have not really found any blatant connections, but I have found that many of my coping mechanisms are just amplified personality traits of an introvert personality. I have also figured out that my introvert personality really messes with my PTSD somedays, especially days where I prefer to be alone and the best thing for me and what is going on in my mind is to not be alone. It is a large challenge to my everyday life.

Some days I feel like my mind is going a hundred miles an hour while the rest of the world is going fifty. This also messes with me somedays. I take time to process things, it is another trait of an introvert personality. They need time to process things and generally, trying to demand an answer right away is just not going to work. My brain never seems to shut off, so when you add the fact that I have lots of unpleasant things in my head somedays I wonder how I even pay attention to other people.

On a separate, not personality related topic, sometimes I wonder what it would have been like if I had decided to get help earlier. I realize that compared to some my diagnosis after 7 years is quick yet compared to some others, the 7 years it took me to start getting my head back together is a long time. I also wonder what would or could have happened had I not been diagnosed when I was. I wonder if I would have or could have muddled through and thought a happy thought. My life and my PTSD is probably the toughest, weirdest and at times the most gratifying thing I’ve ever been through. I realize gratifying is a very strange word to use in conjunction with PTSD, but I know now and have learned what I can actually handle in life and to me, that is a gratifying thought. The other thing, and I have discussed this with my therapists at the VA many times, is that I’m not sure how I would have reacted had I tried to get help sooner. I honestly think I would have just driven myself farther away from reality and further away from life.

For a while, I felt that my now ex-wife was the one who was essentially the one who saved my life and convinced me to seek help. More and more as I reflect on things, she only had her self in mind with her actions and ultimately used me and my diagnoses as the leading (and pretty much only) reason for the failure of our marriage. The truth is, she had nothing to do with it. I know in my heart that had I not wanted to seek treatment, nothing she said would have changed my mind. I know that I saved my own life. I know that the quick and well intentioned response from my primary care Doc at the VA helped turn my life around. I know that the two highly skilled and highly caring counselors/therapists/inserttheiractualtitlehere helped save my life. I know that my family, even when I am sure they had no honest clue what to do with me or a true understanding of what was going on, they helped me save my own life. I know most importantly of all, two twin boys who have nothing but love for me in their heart are the real reasons I still walk this earth.

Not so bad

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So for the first time since being officially and legally divorced, my ex-wife, my children and I went to a hockey game together. While it was not really a bad time. I did not enjoy myself. It was for a variety of reasons really, not all my ex-wife’s doing. It was her idea to go to the hockey game with the boys. She felt it would be good for the boys to see us all together. While I do not disagree I do think that it is more likely to be confusing for them at this point. I also really dislike having to answer my boys when they ask me if I am staying at the house tonight. It breaks my heart.

The other big reason I did not enjoy the came is because I didn’t feel all the comfortable. I still dislike large crowds. I was okay for a while (mainly because there was a large amount of veterans in the crowd for military appreciation night and that seemed to appease my anxiety) until the little kids in the row behind us starting kicking the back of our seats. It broke my attention to the came and just started to raise my anxiety to an uncomfortable level to the point where I became more concerned with possible things that could be happening that what was actually happening.

Like I said, overall is was not a failure of an outing, but I wish I had turned down the invitation. It is bad enough I have been spending a lot of time at the house lately to get it ready to sell, I do not think its good for my boys at the moment. I am also slightly annoyed about that house. I did most of the work to move us into that house and I guess she is going to push my buttons enough to make me do most of the work to move us out of that house. She knows I want the house sold. It is really the last remaining issue between us. The ex-wife just cannot make things easy I guess.

Ok. On a lighter note, I saw my primary care doc the other day, the first time since she got me into therapy at the VA and other than discussion that I’m healthy and just chubby, she asked me if I had started dating yet. While my answer was no because I am not ready for that yet. I would like to know if it is it wrong that the first thing that popped into my thoughts was asking her on a date? She is pretty cute and definitely close to my age. My CPT doc was pretty cute too, except o would not want to date someone moving back to Texas and that looks like someone I used to work with. Maybe I can ask for a new doctor and then ask her out. (Is that allowed Shannon?)

So what’s next for me? Well. I want to buy a house. To buy a house, I have to sell a house. I need winter to be over to I can get my behind back to work, I enjoyed working at the boat yard and I have not really paid attention to how much I miss working there. Sooner we get warm weather, sooner we get to go back to work.

Some Days

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I sit here in a house I own slowly packing up the few things left in it that are mine. Tomorrow, my divorce will be final after what I’m sure will be several hours of me uncomfortably sitting in a courtroom with strangers. I am positive that I should be feeling some sort of emotion, but I’m not. I am basically moving through actions I know I should be going through. The only thing I am close to feeling is anger and my reasons for feeling angry are many but I do not want to focus on or validate them. I am trying to move past those feelings.

I am fully aware I’ve been quite for almost a month. Between the holidays and my divorce, my stress level has been on the rise and with that seems to come a resurgence in my PTSD symptoms. While they have thankfully be mitigated with skills I learned in CPT, they have not and not will they every really go away. Over the last few weeks they re-manifested themselves in some unpleasant new nightmares. Nightmares mean I don’t sleep. No sleep means I am a cranky asshole to those around me. I have done my best to keep myself in check, but I am sure it has slipped out.

I brought all of this up in my one month CPT follow up the other day thinking it was not normal or that the effort I had put into CPT was wasted. Thankfully I was told it was normal, well as normal as any of this is or can be. I will survive this and strike out on my own. At this point the only thing I can do for myself is prove that I can do it. I can. I will. I am going to.

I will probably have more to say tomorrow after I am officially and legally divorced.

Overwhelming

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Overwhelmingly, humans avoid challenging their long-standing beliefs, tastes and opinions. We prefer something we know instead of seeking new experiences.  I am proof positive of this fact and this fact is a big issue with PTSD.  For over 7 years, thanks to my PTSD, I have held a certain set of beliefs in myself, in others and about certain things.  For the last 12 weeks I have worked very hard to challenge these beliefs in CPT.  Some I have had success in challenging completely.  Some I have been able to reduce my belief in and then there are others that I wasn’t even able to make a dent in.  As much as I have tried to do so, things external to myself continually reinforce those beliefs.

Even in the modern age with constant new stimuli, we like to follow the same well-worn paths and draw the same conclusions regardless of fact.  This is a problem with how PTSD changes your brain.  At some point in the last 7 years, my brain has been rewired.  The paths, let’s call them healthy paths, that I had once upon a time have been replace with well worn “unhealthy” paths that have been so worn, they are nearly impossible to climb out of.  These remaining stuck points, these last few long standing beliefs do not appear to be going anywhere any time soon and it sucks.  While I have made good progress on some of my more difficult stuck points, the remaining ones also affect parts of my life the most.

The last few days, while I have felt fine, I have noticed that I have let myself become preoccupied with certain parts of my life.  I have been getting stuck in never ending loops of thought.  While not entirely all about my trauma or triggers, how I react to that never-ending loop of thoughts very much is.  It’s just kind of put me in a funk that’s amplified some behaviors and thought patterns I dislike and don’t want to have.  The funk has been gone far enough to fuck with my sleep and even bring back a few nightmares that my meds normally keep at bay.

Truthfully, I was starting to remember what it was like to have a normal sleep pattern.  Something I haven’t had in such a long time.  Either because I worked odd shifts in the Navy or because I was simply afraid to fall asleep in the later years.  My screwed up sleep and the thought patterns and behaviors all seem to elevate and be caused by my stress level.  My stress level seems to be the biggest/easiest trigger in my life.  It blows and unless I can find a cabin in the woods away from people and someone to pay me to live there, I highly doubt I’ll ever be stress free.  So do you see my problem?  Exactly.

How does someone maintain a stress free lifestyle?  Especially someone in my situation?  I’m open to suggestions.

Dear John and Kevin

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Dear John and Kevin,

As I stand here in the doorway to your bedroom, staring at your empty beds, I realize how much I miss you when you are with your mother. My life is much to quiet without you around and it’s no wonder why I find you two to be my anchors in my life. You are my world and I would do anything for you. The short five years that you two have been in my life have brought me unimaginable happiness. Your not old enough to understand it yet, but you two amazing boys have saved my life. You brought me back from the brink of death and you gave me the courage to fix myself and the motivation to right my ship.

I wish that one day you are able to read this and understand that I never meant to hurt you with anything that I have to deal with. I had tried my hardest to shield you from my problems. I hope, I truly hope that you understand that no matter what happens between your mother and I, you will always be the most important things in my life. Even if I am not always with you, if you need me, I will be there. Anytime, day or night.

I want to thank you for giving me the strength to start healing my wounds. I know that I am doing this for myself as much as I am doing it for you. But how could I enjoy my life with you boys the way I was. Daddy will always have his bad days but he has learned new things to help him. When you are old enough, the three of us can sit by a fire and drink a beer together and I’ll answer any questions you have. You deserve to know and when your ready, you will get the unfiltered truth.

I want to thank you for saving my life. Around the time I found out that your mother was pregnant with you both, it gave me a reason not to be stupid with my life. Since you were born and since I first held you in my arms, every time that my demons were starting to over come me, all I had to do to bring myself back from the brink was look at you too. You were, you are and you always will be my reason to life. I hope you understand how valuable that is to me.

It has only been a few months since your fifth birthday and time is flying by way too fast. You guys are growing up right before my eyes and I dislike missing a single moment of your lives. If I do half a good a job raising you as your grandpa did raising me, the world is in for a special treat when you two grow up. You two will be the most remarkable young men to walk this earth and I’m grateful that I am your father. I love you both.

Daddy