November 11, 2010 - Poetry is the natural syntax of survivors
Hi everybody! It's Veterans Day in the US, Remembrance Day in the UK and Canada.
It is an honor to be among so many who respect our warriors, past and present.
As part of this day of reflection and honor paid to all those who have served we are continuing our #SOT
effort to raise awareness of PTSD a very personal and heart felt thank you to those all across our nations
who are joing in this effort to support our troops, veterans, and their families.
Truly freedom is not free.
As we honor those who serve let us hold close to our hearts the military and veteran families who also are
bearing such an enormous cost.
A bit earlier today I was reflecting on my brothers and posted some thoughts on Facebook. I'd like to share
those with you as well.
On this day I remember my dad, Dennis Jones, who has always been the person I most admired.
He was career Navy aviation and used to take my to the flight line on Saturday mornings so I could climb
around in his airplane.
I do miss him.
On this day I remember my brother Ned Neathery. Ned did two tours in Viet Nam.
The first was at a place called Con Tien- "An aiming stake for the North Vietnamese artillery school."
Ned's second tour was with the S Vietamese Marines as a naval gunfire spotter in 1970.
Ned's fire missions stopped a North Vietnamese armor attack within 50 meters of the SVN marine's position.
The official Marine policy in 1970 was that there was no North Vietnamese armor in South Viet Nam.
On this day I remember my brother Gabe Rollison. Gabe was a warrior's warrior.
He was a US Army Ranger that served two tours in Viet Nam. One was as a platoon leader with the 25th Infantry;
the second as a company commander with the 101st Airborne.
Gabe had a very special way with animals and gardens http://bit.ly/aYVuGQ
On this day I remember my brother Jim Bondsteel.
We learned to love and trust each other as we worked our way through the worst of the recovery time from
our PTSD together.
Like my brother Gabe, Jim was a warrior's warrior. http://bit.ly/9m4sRK
On this day I called my brother Mike Callahan, the last of my brothers still living.
I thanked him for saving my life several times in Viet Nam, and told him how grateful I was that he had
made it out alive.
What we now call PTSD is a pain beyond imagining for those who have not experienced it.
It is impacted anguish for things that we have seen, and smelled, and heard, and done, and not done.
And it is the extraordinary, unacceptable guilt of one who has survived when so many of our people did
Poetry is the natural syntax of survivors.
It is in the silence of words not said, sounds not made that the utter silence of knowing resides.
PTSD is a state of perpetual memories, unresolvable no matter how many times we relive them.
And relive them we do. Where are we when you observe the 1,000 yard stare? We are there again, still.
In our silence of reliving we unintentionally inflict our pain on those we love.
It is those we love who want so desperately to understand and to whom we cannot admit our guilt and helplessness
as we watched our brothers die, as well smelled the burning flesh and gathered up human pieces.
People we would have died for and may yet.
There is no one who can forgive us our sins of a moments inattention, or a misplaced step, or a 5 minute
change in an action.
The inconsequential that we know killed and maimed our people.
We have made decisions that saved lives and altered events in our favor. All the things we did right are
not what come to visit us.
It is those things over which we had no real control, those things where there was no right answer, no
good call, no rational response that visit us again in the darkest hours of the day and light up the visions
in the night.
There is a time in our lives when the thing we know most about in all the earth is death and killing.
It is no longer what we do. It is now who we are. And with out this identity, we have none at all.
And we sit for hours at a time staring into the infinite emptiness of beyond.
This is what combat PTSD feels like on the inside, and why warriors are so reluctant to acknowledge that
any of this indwelling anguish exists.
For such an admission carries with it a question of identity, of self, of purpose and meaning.
If I am not a grunt, who am I?
I know no other me. I know no other way to be. I know no feelings in the range between utter despair and
the all consuming rage.
In our culture suicide is considered irrational. In my world as a survivor, endlessly reliving things I
I have become what I participated in. I am that guilt and anguish and rage hyped ever higher with every adrenaline
And sooner or later many combat survivors find this place.
suicide becomes not just logical, but imminently practical. What's one more killing?
Long ago, when my brothers and I were were in this place we made a promise to each other.
The promise was that none of us would ever die alone. We promised each other that we would make a call
to one of our brothers, and that person would come immediately to be present. Not to argue, or intervene, but
to bear witness.
And to do one last thing:
As we took the pills, or placed the muzzle to our head, our brother would say the words that would be the
last we ever heard: "I love you, Bro."
And from the moment we made that solemn commitment to each other , we never had another suicide among
This is my experience with life affirming love. This is the reason that I know that love heals.
And this is what we learned to do with and for each other. From the emptiness of an unnameable abyss we
learned to love again.
We loved fiercely and often defiantly, and in our way we learned that we could allow ourselves to breathe
We learned to allow ourselves a tiny bit of space between all or nothing. Wiggle room. The merest gap of
In this space we could reluctantly allow a very few to offer guidance. There were so very few other than
ourselves that we trusted.
But we used our trust in each other as a lever to take small steps with people who had a better understanding
of the path we were on.
How enormous that decision is at the time. To trust again.
Because at the time we did not understand that the anguish, and guilt and rage we held onto were not us.
They were simply the tools we used, the Ice Man's tools that we wield against the knowing that our mind has
been torn, our souls shattered, and our heart has been broken.
For the fact for each of us was that we knew at the very depths of our being that we were, not just unworthy;
I knew that I was unlovable.
I learned slowly that if I could not feel love, at least I could offer it.
I could offer unwavering commitment to those who, like me, were also on the path.
And I did, until I could not give any more because I had no way to replenish the love I gave. I was fried.
But I was no longer without hope. Somehow the act of commitment to love others, my people, my brothers made
room for hope.
And now the journey began in earnest. This was the point at which I finally understood that "It don't
mean nothin' " is a double negative. It means everything. It means EVERYTHING!
I knew now that death was serious, but not fatal. Every death was a statement of truth in some way.All
of that pain, and guilt, and suffering has to mean something. It just has to. My people did not die for nothing.
And so began my personal search for meaning and purpose, and the will to live again - the duty to live again,
the faith to live again without a reason why. Why itself was the journey.