Sat Oct 21, 2006 at 06:52:05 PM PDT
I haven't posted to a blog since leaving Iraq. I had intended to continue writing about the war once I got home, but soon after returning I discovered that the transition to civilian life was not going to be easy. I now know, like so many other vets, that it will ever be complete.
I returned home in October, 2005, and I went back to teaching in mid-November. Next my family, I missed my students and my classrooms the most during my 17 months away, so I was anxious to get back. I believed that I understood that the transition from Iraq to home would be awkward--after all, I spent a good portion of my 19 years serving with Vietnam vets--but I was confident that it wouldn't be too bad. I was (am) older than many soldiers sent to Iraq, with a stable family and career; moreover, I didn't see the worst of Iraq by any stretch of the imagination. I could surely manage any difficulties. What did I have to fear?
Shortly after I went back to work, I began having serious anxiety attacks. Getting out the door in the morning got harder and harder. I had trouble serious trouble being in crowds. Loud noises sent my heart rate through the roof, and I heard explosions in my sleep. I knew I was angry while I was still in Iraq, but I found I could barely contain myself on some occasions now that I was home (though, thankfully, never with students--that would have really scared me). As the weeks passed, it seemed to be getting worse rather than better; I wasn't handling it well at all. By early December, I knew something was wrong.
Because I'd served with so many Vietnam vets, I saw that the effects of a war zone can go deep and be persistent. I knew a number of vets who were still deeply affected by the war years after they left that war--drugs, alcohol, family abuse, depression--and it didn't seem to matter that much whether they had spent their year doing search and destroy missions, driving supply convoys, sitting in a tower on a firebase, or working as a cook in Saigon. Many struggled to come home from Vietnam long after they got off the plane. From these men I learned that no one should risk falling into the same pit.
I began seeing a VA counselor in December, and have been making trips to the VA once or twice a week ever since. I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder--PTSD--in January; since then, I have come to some understanding of the condition, from the inside out and from being part of a group of returned Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. As difficult and painful as this has been to deal with, I've learned that it can be managed and, after a fashion, surmounted. I've also accepted, along with so many other vets from this and every other war, that life will never be the same.
Throughout these months, I have been speaking about the war, about profiteering, about issues connected to returning veterans, and about the brutalization of Iraq. I've become active with Iraq Veterans Against the War and Veterans For Peace. Speaking at meetings and going to actions hasn't been easy; I pay an emotional price every time. I've also had to confront the animus of ignorant and narrow minded people who believe that loyalty demands blind obedience to failed cause. It seems, though, that actively speaking out against the injustice that I was a part of is a necessary part of my healing. Perhaps more importantly, I've hoped to add my voice to those already speaking out in favor of peace over war and justice over oppression.
I've always taken the oath of enlistment seriously--"to support and defend the Constitution." I trusted, perhaps naively, that I would only be sent to war "against all enemies" who sought to take over our country, oppress our people, and undermine the values we Americans are supposed to cherish: fairness, honesty, the rule of law, care for the weak and vulnerable, putting the public good before the private. I grew up believing that some things are worth fighting for, and I still believe that. So I've taken the oath seriously, and have come to understand the full import of having promised "to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic."
We are indeed at war, but the battlefield is here at home
Disclosure: I have contibuted to IAVA and VoteVets.org
posted by Steve @ 1:57:00 AM