Flashbacks

According to the VA, and I assume other medical professionals, flashbacks are moments where the individual literally feels like they are back in the moment. The can see it, feel it, smell it and hear it. The mind thinks it’s there. It can be extremely traumatic, especially if they happen all of the time and the sufferer cannot control when they happen. To many people, that is the symptom that most defines PTSD.

I don’t have flashbacks.

I wonder if I am the odd one out.

I do however have intrusive thoughts. All of the time. If it’s quiet, my mind wanders. If I see something, my mind is filled with thoughts and images. I can smell something and it will trigger memories that I don’t want to remember.

It is never a good thing. I relive every bad situation in my life. Major events to crazy, stupid things that happened when I was a kid. I relive the moment in exact, excruciating detail. Some events pop up more often than others. Things that happened in combat.

I remember August 20th 2003 in vivid detail. The UN embassy in Baghdad had been bombed and we were there within an hour. For what reason I don’t know. That was above my pay grade. There are things I can’t unsee. It wasn’t a thing I really worried about for years. I thought about it often but I never thought it was a problem. It is now.

September 7th 2003. We were in a hasty perimeter around a military intelligence unit. We were attacked and it lasted for about 90 minutes. This was the first time I shot someone. Several someone’s. I exchanged fire with one guy. His bullets hit the tree next to my head and ricocheted into my helmet and neck. I hit my target. That date is one I can’t forget. Initially I was proud of that moment. My award was downgraded because of my rank but I still received a V for Valor. I may have thumped my chest a bit. Now I see it in detail every night. Every. Night. My neck is phantom burning as I write this.

One date I can’t remember because I never cared to look. I was the gunner in the last gun truck in a convoy. We were stopped for an IED up ahead. Another convoy stopped behind us. The driver and commander got out to ask questions and to help pull security. We all never saw the hidden, secondary IED at the drivers feet. It went off and blew me out of the back of the truck. I hopped up and ran around the back of the truck, finding the driver in a cloud of dust and blood. I jumped on top of him and readied myself for the ambush that was sure to come. After what seemed like awhile, someone pulled me off of him and we began first aid. Medevac would not land in our area because of the threat of fire so we had to load him in the back of our truck and drive him to an aid station. I never saw him again or heard anything regarding his status. I’d like to think he was ok. Realistically I know he wasn’t. It wasn’t until later that I realized I had just been going on adrenaline and I couldn’t hear anything. My ears were bleeding and I had a major headache. A headache I’ve never really gotten rid of. I told several officers and senior NCO’s about my headaches. They told me to get over it, they’d go away. They didn’t. I still get migraines all of the time and I never did before this. I relive this moment every night. Every. Night.

That seems like a lot of things to always be remembering. It is. It never really goes away.

I can’t help but think this may be why I’m on edge all of the time. The trauma never ends.

I had another incident my second tour. I won’t go into details. It was not combat related. It was worse than everything else I’ve mentioned. It destroyed me. It took everything I had and am/was and destroyed it. To the core.

It triggered everything. Before that I thought I was a badass. I was an NCO who had been in combat. I’d seen shit that no one would have believed. My squad was chosen for every terrible mission because my squad leader was the best and we worked hard to justify our status. I had been in so much shit that I had monthly meetings with our Battalion commander or Command Sergeant Major, just to make sure I was ok. I just brushed them off. Of course I was ok.

This last incident, in my last tour, made it all not ok.

I see it all.

I did EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapy. I’ve talked about this before.

It worked. I no longer relive that time in my life. But that was only that one incident. There are others. Many more.

I feel like I’m in a black hole and I’ll never claw my way out.

There are too many memories.

I wonder why I really haven’t written abou this before, or at least verbalized it. I have to my therapists, I think all of them.

Maybe because it is so constant. It’s just a part of my everyday life. I adapt to it. I’m sure I really haven’t but that is my new normal. I’m thinking that has a lot to do with why I’m angry all of the time. How could I be ok and happy when I have thoughts like that? That is impossible.

Adding stressors to my life just makes it all worse. Stress brings all of the thoughts, terrible memories and feelings of inadequacy to the forefront of my mind.

Then I collapse. I can’t see a way out. How could I when I think about this junk all of the time.

The reason I mention this all now is because I was having a good day. I am still as a matter of fact. I’m doing ok. But I caught myself reliving an event. So I thought of something else. Then not 10 minutes later I was reliving it again. I caught myself again. It was tedious but I was able to redirect my mind each time and right now I feel peaceful.

I’m hesitant to call this a breakthrough. Maybe just a good day. I wasn’t stressed today and so my mind was capable of handling it. Who knows what will happen if I’m having a bad day. Actually I know exactly what happens and I need to stop doing it.

I’ll keep working on it. Just writing this out brings back bad memories, and right before I go to sleep. This is the main reason I take sleeping pills. So my mind doesn’t tear me apart lying in bed.

Phew.

As for my day?

I left Rob and Jenn’s home just after 7am. I received the coolest gift from them that I’ll treasure always. It’s a poker chip. One that commemorates their son who suffered and died from PTSD in the Navy. Thanks you two for everything.

I put close to 5 hours on the bike and got to the Chair Force (oops, did I just say that?) Museum around 12. I spent over 3 hours there. Here’s some of the things I saw.

Yeah, that’s a motorcycle. Right in the gift shop. I actually watched that episode of Orange County Choppers. To be honest, other than a few artistic parts, it looks like junk.

Another Me262! That’s 2 on this trip so far. This one is a single seater but still never saw combat.

The ACTUAL Memphis Belle. This display just opened in May so I feel pretty lucky to see it. I learned that the only reason this plane became famous and was sent home on a liberty bond tour was because the originally chosen plane and crew were shot down. Oh, and the guys in the ball turret were nuts.

If you are a veteran and dealing with Agent Orange effects, this is likely the plane responsible for it’s dispersment.

An MH53 Pave Low. My favorite Helicopter. This thing is huge.

My favorite airplane ever. A P-38J. This one saw action over Europe.

The first airplane model I ever built. I think I was 7 or 8. My dad helped. It’s and F 105 Thunder Chief. I still remember that day.

An A 10 Warthog. Brrrrrrt. This was our angel in the skies my first tour. All of the other American jets flew too high and didn’t care about the guys on the ground. This one did and we saw them all of the time.

They had added an entirely new hanger of exhibits. In part of it was the “Presidential” section. They had 3 former Air Force One’s including 26000 which flew every President from Kennedy to Clinton. It was surreal to see and stand where Lyndon Johnson was sworn in hours after Kennedy was killed and then to stand in the back of the plane where they placed his casket. They didn’t want to put him in the cargo hold and so they cut out a wall and removed seats. Jackie Kennedy had designed the outside of this plane. All very intersting.

My favorite WW1 fighter, a Spad XIII

An actual piece of the very first airplane, ever.

That was the museum. At this point I just wanted to put in some miles and so for the very first time on this trip, I deactivated the “no highways” filter on my GPS. 3 hours later at an average speed of 70mph and surprisingly little traffic, I made it into Michigan.

I am tired. 480 miles today.

Quick note, I’m about 10,600 miles total so far.

12 thoughts on “Flashbacks”

  1. Thanks for sharing. I can’t imagine what it must be like to carry those memories and have them periodically hijack your life.
    I love aviation history too. A lot has been built on that little piece of Wright Brothers fabric.
    Ever been to the Reno Air races? It’s like watching the WWII fighters on steroids. It’s one thing to see a piston fighter, hearing several at max power is an entirely different experience.

    Like

  2. I’ve been reading every post brother. You’re not the only one my friend. At times my anger has driven away family and I have lost good friends over it. Feelings get hurt and we feel like shit, but most people can not understand what we go through. You are not the oddball trust me, no flashbacks here either. When I feel someone is not listening to what I have to say I become instantly angry and have to walk away. Smells and boredom trigger my mind into wandering. When my mind wanders I tend to block everyone out and get accused of not listening.

    I try to make everyday better than the last. Apologies feel lost at times because I feel as if it is all I do. Keep pushing forward Jake. It’s all we can do.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. 🙏❤️🙏 Thank you for sharing and helping others to understand the cycle of PTSD Truly appreciate your willingness to open up and share
    Blessings ride safe

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Jake! I’ve been reading all of your posts. I just want to say what you are doing is so good not only for you but your kids. I can’t tell you how much it will mean to them to have your story in your own words. I hate PTSD and I hate how it harms people I care about. Something my own therapist said that helped me is PTSD is really just a less efficient coping strategy. It works really well in the midst of trauma but the ghosts it leaves behind are not effective and a pain in the *** to deal with. This same therapist believes PTSD isn’t a life sentence, I think you are living proof that he’s onto something. The day to day grind definitely doesn’t help, I won’t pretend to get what you face but I do want you to know that I’m proud of you. We are all glad you are here, sharing your life and it’s challenges. Being open and vulnerable the way you have been is just amazing, it means a lot to many people. Safe travels!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thank you brother for your courage in sharing this journey with us. Not just the physical, but the healing as well. I wait, and watch, for the posts and I gain courage in my own fight against this monster that has so thrown off my life. I’m off to the VA today for an appointment, and I will think about your quest as I ride. Maybe I will ask again for help.

    You are doing amazing things for yourself and others, even when you feel doubt or have a bad day.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks for sharing this with us. They say it is supposed to help, but that’s something I woiluldnt know. It was great spending time with you. You helped us more than you will ever realize. Stay safe.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Jake, I continue to read all of your blogs and pray for you. I sometimes don’t get to them until later or the next day because when I read them, I like to find a quiet place to do so. It is because I really want to be present for the words you’ve written. I know it is important to know someone is taking the time to read what you’ve poured your heart and soul into. Thank you for being authentic and putting things out there, as raw and emotional and at times, even as ugly as it can be. Being real about who you are, what you are about and everything Combat PTSD has done to you, your mind, your emotions and physically. How you think or try not to think sometimes; how it really feels to have PTSD…as much as you can try to describe in words anyhow. PTSD changes thought processes and the struggle to battle through is real; overwhelmingly painful. Your explanations give just a glimpse into what you are going through; living through… the haunting, intrusive memories. For people who do not have PTSD, they cannot come close to comprehending what it is truly like. I don’t know that some will really understand what it is like to lose faith in the stability of your world, both internally and externally. What I can say is that I hear the pain in your words and I see your “want” and your “need” to rise above it as best as you can. I see you making many small wins along the way and in those wins, some peace. I see you loving your amazing and supportive wife, because she loves you in spite of everything and no matter how hard it gets, she will continue to support and love you. Your kids will too. It’s ok for you to love yourself too. There are many of us out here who are praying and rooting for you and your family. We may not always respond, but know we are still reading, following you and wanting the best for you. There are many out here that can identify with you on different levels. Keep fighting the fight and know that you are never alone.

    Liked by 1 person

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