Tag Archives: combat

Peace Full

Combat is exciting. We can say a lot of other things about it, but it certainly is an adrenaline rush, and it leaves a big, empty space when it is over—a hole inside us we cannot understand.

Note: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD (and other past stress) which has become part of our ethos or basic belief system. February is a meditation on harmony.

Football is exciting, too. And teaching. And trading stocks. We find meaningful ways to fill our days, ways that stimulate and excite us. Then, we stop. Whether in retirement of career or for the day, stopping the activity may leave us feeling drained of thrill, empty.

We find ways to fill the void. Many of us find unhealthy ways that fail to fill the emptiness, offering only illusion.

Still, the emptiness is real and growing, for even the activities that thrill us gradually diminish efficacy. They don’t work anymore.

In some ways, this is the message of The Hurt Locker and, I suppose, American Sniper. It might be one reason Nancy’s brother went back to Vietnam for a second tour even though he was not making a career out of the U. S. Marine Corps.

There is good news to the emptiness. The void provides an opportunity to be fulfilled. The Relaxation Response offers a way to find peace of harmony through body and mind relaxation. Progressive body relaxation following mindful breathing in relative comfort has the power to open us to light.

Sweat helps. A good workout prepares our muscles for relaxation. Purposeful sweat works best for me. A bit of time gardening, clearing brush, moving trees, or throwing hay bales gets my mind and body ready for relaxation. Being physically tired helps, but it is not necessary.

The process is simple although I suggest finding a teacher or partner to talk you through it a time or two. Once you are in relative comfort and aware of your restful body position, and once you have cleansed with deep, deliberate breathing, slowly tense and release body muscles in progression. I usually start with toes and up the legs in steps, then fingers and up the arms in steps, on to the abdomen and chest, and up to neck, face, and scalp. Tensing slightly may be sufficient. Cramps are not required.

Combining deep breaths with body tension followed by sudden release of both air and tension is very effective. I usually suggest one progression from toes and fingers through the body to head followed by a second, slow progression combined with breaths also held and released.

You will know when you have achieved some significant relaxation because your desire to do another thing, even to breathe, will lose urgency. The logical mind will likely search for something to do at this point. After all, we have trained it to take charge.

To sleep, perchance to dream…

Yes, our logical minds will begin to dream, to speak to us, to ramble. We might even hear things, see things, feel things. Yes, Hamlet, there is the rub.

We will perceive tracks through our minds, but fear not. We have ways of dealing with that, also—simple ways that are rather enjoyable, even amusing.

Next week we will talk about “Hair.” In the meantime, Happy Tracking!

Comfort and Joy

Life is a trip, so enjoy the journey.

Note: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD (and other past stress) which has become part of our ethos or basic belief system. February is a meditation on harmony.

No matter what else we may learn about Post Traumatic Stress, it is a disruption of harmony, a discordant cacophony, a disturbance of The Force, or “noise” in a quest for peace. When the disruption is great enough, behaviors follow that define “Disorder” in APA terms. Such behaviors not only define PTSD, but they also disrupt or destroy families, damage work relationships, and threaten social stability. On a personal level, disturbed behaviors leave the individual with feelings of anxiety, guilt, remorse, and oppressive confusion that demand relief.

Some combat Veterans seek comfort if not joy in arousal states induced by gambling, intoxicants, high risk behaviors, pornography, or even returning to combat. We seek the relative comfort of adrenaline rushes to the depressive muting of life without meaning. What we find is addiction, disease, and death.

“But what is happiness except the simple harmony between a man and the life he leads?” (Albert Camus)

So, just how do we find happiness? How do we learn to celebrate this journey of life?

One day at a time. A journey is one day’s travel. All we must do is navigate this day and enjoy the journey for a few hours.

Meditation helps.

I have learned four basic requirements for successful meditation. The first is relative comfort. Relative comfort.

“The moment will arrive when you are comfortable with who you are, and what you are– bald or old or fat or poor, successful or struggling- when you don’t feel the need to apologize for anything or to deny anything. To be comfortable in your own skin is the beginning of strength.” (Charles B. Handy)

I have meditated in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey in deep darkness of a winter night cold front rain that turned to ice, but I was comfortable. I wore raingear with warm clothes underneath, and I was with a group of students with a shared intention. And, we were led by very experienced people with a loud drum.

Sometimes the required comfort is not physical. Sometimes the distraction is the discomfort of one’s mind or soul. Since we are meditating to achieve harmony of mind, body, and soul, how do we first achieve the comfort necessary to meditate?

Practice.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, comforts me like walking and sitting in the woods. I am comfortable there, in the woods. Actually, I find comfort in many natural places, but I seem to need some camouflage and concealment, some trees, hills, cacti, or shrubs protecting me from the intrusion of thoughts of being observed. In a strange way, I am never less lonely than when I am alone in Nature.

I am blessed. My prayer for you is that you, too, can find your place of comfort—if only in your own mind. Sometimes in a crowd, I find my place of safety and power in my mind where my soul is comfortable. If you learn to meditate, you will find your clear space, also.

There is harmony in that place in your mind. You only need to seek.

Happy Tracking!

Joyous Gift

If I were a drummer boy, I would play for you.

“It is the personal thoughtfulness, the warm human awareness, the reaching out of the self to one’s fellow man that makes giving worthy of the Christmas spirit.” (Isabel Currier)

Note: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD (and other past stress) which has become part of our ethos or basic belief system. December investigates charity.

You and I are separated, but it is in my heart to connect with you, with others. I find this very curious—like it is in our DNA. I have studied a lot of genetics, because I seek to know how the universe works, and the genesis of life seemed central at the time. The focus of my studies has shifted.

I have not studied the drum for a long time although I have a wonderful elk-hide gift from a friend that I play for spiritual purposes. I have studied a bit of guitar, harmonica, keyboard, and even voice. Music is not my gift to you.

My ego demands that I find my gift that I may share it with others. I have searched a lifetime for it but all I have found is a few tracks.

Words are tracks.

Ernest Hemingway said something about writing being easy, that all one has to do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. He bled to death.

I do not write because I am in love with words or particularly gifted in playing them, nor do I wish to bleed to death. I write mostly because I can’t seem to help it. I need to write if only to find out what I think about how the universe works. I choose to share it with you.

That is not easy for a shy person with a touch of PTSD. But, then, if it were easy, it wouldn’t be a gift to you, would it?

My gift is my art, and that is all I am to share. My medium is ideas. I move ideas around until I find some structure that pleases, amuses, or teaches me. Sometimes I stumble upon one that does all three and I simply have to share my joy.

“Life is self-controlled chemistry.” is such a structure. I built that sentence many years ago to challenge Advanced Biology students to design a philosophy of Biology.

Define self.

We are each individual, separated from one another in specific ways. Our individuality defines life. It is sacred. And yet, we strive to connect to others. Because we know, deep down inside our selves, that the connection is also sacred. It is spirit.

Trauma breaks something inside us so that we no longer connect well with others. Our individual survival depends upon our separation from others who would end our lives. Forever. And ever.

Still, we need others. We need connection. For combat veterans, we understand connection because our lives depended upon our brothers and/or sisters. But, they all went away to their own lives lived very separately.

Shy men who do not connect well with others can jump right into conversation with other men. Vietnam veterans talk to other Vietnam veterans. Oh, sure, there is a vetting process, but combat veterans understand that other combat veterans understand what the protected can never know. We need each other and we understand that.

Writing words is not my gift to you. Sharing my thoughts and feelings so that we might understand each other is all I offer this Christmas Eve. It is my hope that I can define self in a way that celebrates rather than denigrates the gift that is individuality, that defines life. It is my hope that I can help others who suffer directly or indirectly from Post Traumatic Stress to accept themselves, the sacred individuality, the blessed ego, the gift that finds joy only in being shared.

It is there, that gift, inside each of us, as unique as the freckles on our faces or the prints of our fingers. Track it, find it, and share it.

Have a joyous season—Merry Christmas, if you please—or any other reason to celebrate giving.

Happy Tracking.

Stone Soup

“We are so lucky.” (Nancy Barnes, almost every day)

Note: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD (and other past stress) which has become part of our ethos or basic belief system. November investigates gratitude.

Grace is a state of exuding joy, an emotional effervescence springing from the heart and overflowing the physical self. I love that feeling. I want some more of it.

Still, much of my life is lived in some kind of vortex between grace and despair.

I know that I am fortunate and I am grateful. I am thankful, but grace often eludes me.

Fate, Fortune, or Facility?

It is my mind. I keep wondering, obsessing, on why I am so blessed.

Is it fate? Have I been granted privilege to live so long, to experience joy and success, to feel functional and relevant into old age, for some reason? If this was predestined for me, I have to ask, “Why?”

Why have I been so blessed? Is there some purpose for my existence that has not yet been accomplished? What do I owe (and whom?) for these gifts?

Maybe grace is the ability and practice of accepting gifts with simple gratitude. Okay, “Thank you.”

Or, is it all just luck…fortune? Is life just a big numbers game? I cannot help but believe that my choices have had something to do with my luck, but how (and why) did I make those choices?

I have won in casinos and it felt good. I have won in life and questioned why. I question my worthiness for the good fortune.

Maybe grace is the ability and practice of accepting gifts without justification of worthiness. Okay, “Thank you.”

On the other hand, maybe all that I have is a result of my hard work. Maybe I have earned everything I have found enjoyable. Ah, but there is a rub.

Maybe I survived combat because of my prowess. The corollary is that those who did not survive, failed. The conclusion is that I won and others lost.

By my junior year in college, I had lost my drive to win in wrestling—because it always meant that somebody else had to lose. Winning was not that much fun, anymore (even though it was rare enough), but losing was no fun at all. Winning meant creating losers, a philosophically unsatisfactory reality for a young idealist (or for an old one).

The proposition that I won the combat contest while others lost their lives or limbs is deeply troubling to me. The proposition that my Vietnam experiences were relatively mild compared to others’ because of the choices I made is deeply troubling. It makes it hard to say, “Thank you.”

Stone Soup?

There is an old folk tale from sixteenth century Europe about a village running short of food when a traveler came through town looking for a meal. Yesterday morning, in the dark shadow of Monday nights events in Ferguson, MO, my spirits were lifted by serendipity as I watched preschool children act out a version of the story read by a teacher. The experience changed my whole day.

Was this encounter fate, fortune, or facility of my decision to schedule my co-teaching date in a beginning education class on that particular day?

The answer does not matter. I am grateful for the experience.

Sometimes there is evidence in my past and present of forces beyond my understanding. If the product of these forces leaves pleasant tracks in my heart, I have reason to smile and be grateful. Thanksgiving is about finding that evidence and celebrating it without regard to causes or worthiness, but accepting it with grace.

Happy Tracking.

Gratitude Untied

Mornings bring the blues and Veterans Day is no exception. I sit here writing about gratitude and feeling sad at the same time. How is this possible?

Note: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD (and other past stress) which has become part of our ethos or basic belief system. November investigates gratitude.

“I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” (Helen Keller)

Strange thing, gratitude, when we feel it at the grace of less fortunate.

When I see my grandchildren born to a daughter conceived after I came home from Vietnam, I am grateful beyond measure for my survival.

Then I remember more than 58,000 names engraved in black granite and over 150,000 wounded comrades. I think of the hurting souls in my combat PTSD group, my friend’s hot flashes from hormone treatment for Agent Orange induced cancer, my brother-in-law and the husband of a friend both also lost to Agent Orange. I remember my Khmer friends and wonder if they survived “The Killing Fields”, and I think of a former student killed in Iraq.

My gratitude slips away like a poorly tied knot…from pulling it too tight, I suppose, from trying to own this gratitude thing.

There are those who belittle gratitude: “Gratitude is a sickness suffered by dogs.” (Joseph Stalin)

Well, I like dogs. I trust them more than I trust people, and I would rather emulate most any dog than a lot of people—people like Edward Gibbon who said, “Revenge is profitable, gratitude is expensive.” He also said, “The courage of a soldier is found to be the cheapest and most common quality of human nature.” Yup, I like dogs better.

Would you believe that scientists actually research gratitude? “Social scientists have found that the fastest way to feel happiness is to practice gratitude.” (Chip Conley)

Practice? So, gratitude is not a thing loved by all, especially arrogant despots. Gratitude is not a thing that can be owned—or a thing at all—but a process I can practice.

Yes, I will have this thing called happiness, and if gratitude is the way, I choose to practice gratitude.

Oh. How do I do that? How does one practice gratitude so that one might become happy?

I am a mess. When I go inside to look at myself, I see messy tracks for which I am not grateful. Still, I must look inside, honestly, to track my feelings. Such a dilemma.

One key is service to others. Yesterday I began writing this blog on Veterans Day, a day when I had no obligations before 6 pm. Today, on the other hand, I must go to work. Service. Today I have the opportunity to be useful, to be relevant.

Not only do I have the opportunity to develop programs to help teachers teach our young people in Yuma, but today I get to serve others in very specific and personal ways. A young Marine veteran is coming to get advice on her academic future, on her major, on her career. I don’t give the advice, but I serve as the connection for her to get to the advisor. That allows me to think about her needs instead of the mess that is me.

Later, today, I get to help a student teacher struggling with academic language in his second tongue so that he may finish his major writing assignment standing between him and his certification. I have the privilege of helping someone, and that is something that not every old veteran has.

I am grateful, again. For this guy, the process of gratitude is finding ways to be helpful to others. Practicing gratitude is searching for ways to serve, tracking opportunities rather than my own mess. May you find your own ways of getting outside yourself so that you may unleash the power of gratitude to lead you to your happiness.

Happy Tracking.

Flickering Joy

Note: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD (and other past stress) which has become part of our ethos or basic belief system. October looks at humility.

“Find a place inside where there is joy, and that joy will burn out the pain” (Joseph Campbell)

There is pain inside us, and that is the hard truth of it. We can live with the pain, maybe, but can we live well? Can our families?

Pain is a poison creating more pain and spreading through our secret selves, those parts we consider dark. Joy is the antidote.

A young Veteran on campus asked how he was supposed to relate to the younger students. When I told him that was a good question but that I did not have the answer, he said that nobody does, only excuses. But, he also acknowledged that he had a better chance of relating to them than they to him. After all, he had been young, but they had never faced the fire.

It has taken me several days, but I see the answer to his question in his own acknowledgement.

“You’ve never lived until you’ve almost died. For those who have fought for it, life has a flavor the protected never know.” (Guy de Maupassant)

I remember the second line from a wall in our C-Team compound in Bien Hoa.

The protected cannot know the pain inside us—unless we share it, and that is hard to do, maybe even dangerous. It feels dangerous, like reliving it. Sometimes, it smacks of weakness. Always, it bares the vulnerability of being misunderstood.

We can, however, remember being young. We can find the innocence of our youth, faint as it may be, and reconnect with that. We can find the joy that still lives inside, the joy we knew before we faced the fire.

That is the part of us we can share with the protected. We can connect with them by touching the good things we still remember inside ourselves, flickering lights of joy we tend to hide beneath a bushel of pain.

There came a time when I could not find my joy. I had buried all the pain so deep that when I looked inside, all I found was darkness. A few gifts of humility helped me find my way back home.

Yes, it is a kind of humility to find good things inside ourselves. I know it can feel like betrayal to feel joy in the presence of so much pain in our brothers and sisters. It is not. It is necessary, for it is life.

Sure, we must track down our own pain and face it (but not alone); however, if we are to reconnect with the protected including our own families, we will do well to find the light of our own joy to show us the way back home.

Happy Tracking.

One Among

Note: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD (and other past stress) which has become part of our ethos or basic belief system. October looks at humility.

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.” (C.S. Lewis)

At the time I joined my A Team in Vietnam, one of the NCOs was getting ready to leave. We all wore solid OD jungle fatigues, but he had some Army issued camouflaged fatigues, Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol, I think. He was leaving them behind, they were my size, and I coveted them. As I was preparing for my first patrol in the jungle, I was thinking I might wear them. He thought not.

He asked, “Have you ever been at the small end of a funnel?”

I got the picture.

Most of my life I had seen myself as “special.” I had won academic and athletic accolades. I worked hard to be special, to stand out, and thought I had earned the recognition. Didn’t they even call us, “Special Forces?”

Looking special in a hostile jungle is not that special. It is being a target, one time when looking special is ill advised. I wore the same tiger fatigues that all the other Strike Force members wore, to blend in. I became just one among a group.

There is something about landing on an unsecured LZ that churns my stomach. I wore a steel pot helmet, as did many of our Strike Force, and I carried my own radio, which at that time was the size and weight of a boot box full of rocks. One reason was I had this fear of reaching for a radio handset to call for help and seeing my radio carrier lying on a hot LZ. The other reason was that I had heard of snipers targeting officers as the man ahead of the radio carrier with the tall antenna sticking out of the pack.

Blending in, being one among, has become my style. I wear camouflage, today—no, not literally, but really. If anyone were pressed to describe what I was wearing, on most days they would be unable. I blend in, look like everybody else. At a NASCAR race, I wear racing fan clothes. At a Packer game, I wear green and gold. At a Christmas party, I might even wear a Santa hat. But, on campus, I wear jeans or khakis and a simple shirt unless I am representing NAU off campus. Then I wear a tie.

A young Veteran student asked a profound question last week which I paraphrase. How are we supposed to relate to these teenagers on campus? It is a fact that military and Veteran students do stand out on campus, and everybody knows it. What we do not know is what can be done about it. I’m working on that.

My wife, Nancy, also a Veteran, went to school after service. She not only found it difficult to relate to students, but to relate to some faculty. Having been a medic in an obstetric unit of an Army hospital, she had held and fed many newborns. When she wrote about instinctual infant behavior in a psychology class, the professor got upset with her, claiming that all behavior is learned. Nancy asked him when the infants had classes on grasping and suckling.

The question as to how Veterans returning to campus can relate to students and faculty is an important one. I suggest a much more important question is to ask how students, and especially faculty, can relate to returning Veterans.

I choose to blend in because I simply do not like to stand out. This is not humility, however. Humility is more than the superficiality of my clothes, something deeper and, at the same time, more subtle. Humility leaves little to no track. How, then, can we know humility when it finds us?

You know what? That is not for me to say. I can sometimes recognize humility in others, but to even look for it in myself is to drive it from me.

I can, however, see the tracks of false pride in me, usually in some form of intolerance. When the elevation of my status depends upon the diminution of the status of some other, humility has escaped me.

Sometimes I can see my own tracks of false humility. Putting myself down is no closer to humility than is pumping myself up or putting someone else down.

Humility, I think, is a gift of gratitude for who I am with tolerance for who others may be. May you find tracks of humility from others and tolerance from yourself.

Happy tracking.

Lonesome Otherness

“Brotherhood is the very price and condition of man’s survival.” (Carlos P. Romulo)

Note: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD (and other past stress) which has become part of our ethos or basic belief system. October looks at humility.

You sent me alone, America. Did you know you did that? You trained me in platoons and teams, and then you sent me to Vietnam on a plane with about forty newly trained Green Beret Lieutenants. We processed through Long Binh, together, then got split up to go different ways. I rode the helicopter to my A-Team camp near the Cambodian border, alone.

A team was there, but I had never met them—any of them. I was the new guy, a fresh butter bar with a face of a teenager. We all knew our lives depended upon each other, but they had no measure of my mettle. I would have to prove that in live fire.

This is one of the worst things you can do to a person, to send them into combat, alone, and make no mistake, sending with strangers is sending, alone.

We coped. We got to know each other. We lived through a firefight or two. We learned to trust each other, but you kept splitting us up, sending some home and bringing in new guys.

I’m still kind of mad about that.

After about eight months at our border camp, you pulled us out, the lieutenants. You decided we were needed at the rear, for what we did not know.

I didn’t care. I had no career ambitions in uniform, and it was one step closer to home, to my family, by baby girl, and my return to UW Madison to study Genetics.

It did not take long for a group of combat veteran first lieutenants to bond. We became our own team, the “Crises Eliminators” (there were always crises at headquarters). My friend, Rod, was a performer with a great Flip Wilson impersonation. We became the Gorilla Club after Flip’s Reverend LeRoy of the What’s Happenin’ Now Congregation. Like Mr. G. O. Rilla in the zoo, “Whatever they said we did, we did it—and some more, besides.”

Then, we came home. Some of us shared a flight from Seattle to Minneapolis. Rod, who lived there, even waited a few hours with me until I got a flight to Madison. I saw him a couple of times after that. I have never seen any others from my A Team or the Gorilla Club. That leaves a hole in me nobody else seems to fill.

We are compelled to judge others, to determine who can be trusted. All people are so compelled. Animals, too. Combat veterans are particularly slow to trust. It becomes a problem for us.

We all know our survival depends upon brothers and sisters, but strangers are not to be trusted. Groups are threatening. Crowds are intolerable. Even others we want to trust are avoided.

Because, they go away.

Trapped between the threat of being alone and the vulnerability of trusting others who may attack, betray, fail, or abandon us, we live in desperate otherness, tending to fear and gravitating toward hate.

It’s alright. We can live with this condition if we are honest about it, honest enough to develop personal humility. Because, first we have to judge ourselves fairly enough to accept the way we are. We look deep inside to see the reality and the scars that make us this way, deep enough to accept the truth of it.

Looking upon these personal tracks is difficult—probably too difficult to do alone—but so liberating. May I suggest you find a new team of people who share some of the same scars and lean on each other?

Together, may you find happy tracking.

Shades of Pride

Note: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD (and other past stress) which has become part of our ethos or basic belief system. October looks at humility.

“In reality, humility means nothing other than complete honesty about yourself.” (William Countryman)

I began to look at humility years ago as the opposite of pride. That view was, at best, sophomoric. I know a little more, now.

I am proud of my Green Beret, the same one I wore to Vietnam and back that now lives in a zippered plastic hat box with Nancy’s Madison General RN cap. I worked for it and I earned it by doing some difficult things many other men chose not to do. This might be a healthy form of pride, good pride.

I am proud of my Combat Infantry Badge. I faced the enemy fire with some courage—enough so the Sergeant with me recommended me for a Silver Star. I told him not to pursue it because I hadn’t done anything heroic. I picked up a machine gun from a wounded man, but the firefight was already over. It only made sense since I had qualified Expert with the M-60. Besides, in a fight, there was nowhere I would rather be than behind that weapon. I only did my job, but I am proud of that and I believe that is a healthy pride.

For forty years, I was not proud of my Bronze Star awarded not for valor but for service. Then, one day while processing PTSD, I talked with Nancy about our operations, how we walked the jungle with one or two other Americans, two or three Republic of Vietnam Green Berets, and interpreter, and fifty to a hundred Civilian Irregular Defense Group soldiers, some of whom were likely Viet Cong.

She looked at me and said, “That’s nuts.”

I decided right there that I really had served well. Discounting my Bronze Star was a false humility, a form of unhealthy pride, bad pride.

Have you ever had a dream about embarrassment? You know, naked in public or doing something totally inappropriate or unacceptable like singing off key in front of a crowd? See, that is a bad form of pride. Fear of failure, embarrassment, or shame robs me of my power, even the power to serve others. Humiliation does not equal humility. It equals false pride.

I think.

It gets confusing. It seems that searching out and finding my false pride, boastful pride, or bad pride is healthy. But, looking for my humility is like trying to catch a rainbow.

Maybe true humility is the act of looking for tracks of false pride in me while false pride is looking for the tracks of my humility.

Happy tracking.

Feeling Honesty

Note: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD (and other past stress) which has become part of our ethos or basic belief system. September looks at honesty.

Do we honestly feel, and do we feel honest? I know, there are two questions there—tied together by the way we feel.

Last week, I attended a POW/MIA recognition breakfast at a local American Legion post and heard a friend speak on the creed that we leave no one behind. It is always an emotional experience. I sometimes wonder why combat Veterans put themselves through such emotional experiences—events that evoke strong feelings we cannot deny. Maybe it is because we have a compulsion for camaraderie. Or, maybe the camaraderie provides us the security to honestly feel, and having done so, we feel more honest with ourselves.

One major symptom of Post Traumatic Stress, at least for combat Veterans, is waking with a feeling of dread. This feeling is hard to deny, but I found many excuses for the feeling, hypotheses of explanation, or just plain blaming. Because I didn’t want to feel that way and certainly didn’t want it to be my fault when I did.

Feelings are good for us. Honest, I mean that.

“Lieutenant Dan was always getting these funny feelings about a rock or a trail or the road, so he’d tell us to get down, shut up.” (Forrest Gump http://m.imdb.com/title/tt0109830/quotes?qt=qt0373723 )

Feelings saved our lives. We learned to channel feelings away from the thinking mind and directly to the quick-fire decision making mind. We reacted to feelings, and we learned to rely upon them for protection in situations of extreme vulnerability. It worked for us.

Now, I wake up with a feeling of dread, a feeling that something bad is going to happen. I am not in combat, but I feel like I am. Honest, I do.

Perhaps this is a good point to remind you that I am not a psychologist.

One way to define an emotion is as a very strong feeling, strong enough to emote a physiological response such as increased respiration rate, increased heart rate, dilation of pupils, and sweating. It might involve less obvious changes in the body including alternate nerve pathways, release of hormones like adrenaline, hypertension, and hyper vigilance. Some of these are difficult or impossible to deny. So, we blame them on others—people, institutions, or even principles.

I had lots of reasons for this form of dishonesty. I was tough. Surrender was not in my vocabulary, not for me. My tour wasn’t that rough. Others experienced much more trauma than I did, so I didn’t deserve to feel this way. And, even if I did feel dread, maybe that was just the way I was made. It had nothing to do with combat. Besides, the feelings weren’t that strong. I was fine. Leave me alone.

One definition of a disease process is a positive feedback loop. The more I denied my feelings, the stronger they became. Emotions built. Hypertension, depression, addiction, anxiety, avoidance, and rage followed. Family members felt it.

“It don’t mean nothin’” (Hamburger Hill http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9U1XPyg-gM )

Well, yes, it does. It means something. It means stuff that happened to us, by us, around us, or for us means something to the people who love us.

When our feelings become too big to deny, when they start to leave plain tracks in our lives, on the hearts of people who love us, it means it’s time to get honest and get help.

That’s when we start to feel better, and that means something to a lot of important people.

Feel the love and happy tracking.