The Pen is Mightier than the Pill.
Gideon D. Asche
One of the really cool things about being a writer is that I get to associate with a lot of people for whom I have an extreme level of respect.
I rub elbows with a lot of folks who are smarter, and more talented than I am so I do my best to pick up on their lessons learned. Oddly enough, quite a few of them are much younger than I am, but that’s probably just a function of being older than dirt.
A guy who I put in that class: smarter, better experienced, more talented, better trained than I am, made a passing comment to me last week and it struck me speechless… something I have very little experience with.
All he said was: “I misjudged how emotionally draining my transition back to the world was going to be.” – What a profound statement of vulnerability.
Please don’t make any macho assumptions about this man’s masculinity, or toughness or suggest he was a Fobbit or REMF, because he struggles with PTSD. He is, in fact, the real deal.
Winged, Scrolled and Long Tabbed, with plenty of trigger time. He has been deeper in the shit that I ever want to go. Yet he isn’t exempt from the disconnect and desperation that comes with all of sudden being back in the civilian world. For some reason, my mind went for a walk without me, back three decades. I got angry, and my hands began to shake – I realized I felt exactly what he described when I came home.
It makes no difference if it was Berlin, Beirut or Bagdad; experiencing the level of fear that comes with being operational is a game changer.
If it makes you feel better not to call it fear, go ahead and choose a different word, caution, excitement, adrenaline, it makes no difference… the emotional foundation is the instinct to survive – Fear perfected and in its most primal form.
We all learned to live with fear – some of you can harness it, and wield it like a weapon. If you confront fear and learn to control it, fear can be an asset. It’ll sharpen your senses and quicken your reactions, and if you live it long enough… it can be intoxicating. For me, fear was like a Narcotic. I got addicted to it.
It can be as intoxicating as Heroin, no less addictive than nicotine… and even harder to shake.
I don’t believe for a moment that I’m the only one who occasionally yearns for that pre-mission rush, that 1000-MPH feeling that starts about day 2 of isolation and peaks with successful Exfil.
I know I’m not the only one who has ever closed their eyes only to find themselves someplace they had prayed they would never see again. Night terrors are about as bad as it gets unless it happens to you during the day.
I’ve come to some conclusions. I think; at least in my case… it’s my fault.
When I have night terrors they’re always memories, and they shake me to the bones for the entire next day – but the day after, it changes. I start to reminisce… with a morbid fondness. I almost wish I was still there. How can I find comfort in my time in hell? I have no answer.
No matter if it was in Southeast Asia, Granada or Somalia, we all chewed the same dirt and I don’t think I’m the only one who experiences this phenomenon.
I’m a writer, I do mostly Military history and a few Op-Eds, I am NOT a mental health professional – that means what I’m saying here is just my experience. If it applies and works for you… excellent – if you think it’s crap, you know where to find my e-mail address.
When you spend months or years exposing yourself to extreme fear and the emotional swing, that comes with having people try to kill you… or knowing if you are compromised you will hope they kill you… you can’t just stop.
If you try, your mind goes through the same kind of “Cold Turkey” response that your body would if it were a narcotic. The abundance of PMC jobs out there postponed the issue for a lot of people, but eventually, all of us come to a place where we have to shake it out and figure out how to fill that void – or join the 22.
Personally, I didn’t get that one even remotely right for about 25 years. When I came back, it was to become a “Lotus Eater.” Oh, I was taken care of financially and medically, but I felt discarded.
I could tell they were trying to determine if I still had my all ducks all marching to the same cadence and that in itself, angered me. I somehow decided to fill the void with contempt for the human race. I became an expert at being a dickhead to everyone and anyone.
I did some light contract work for an allied government for a few years and I participated in more than my share of bar-room brawls. The organization who claimed me spent way too much time negotiating me out of local jails. I’m still working on fixing that part. I rarely fight anymore, but I do make an ass out of myself on occasion.
For me, it was a brother’s suggestion that I write a journal of my night terrors as an exercise in mental health that made the difference.
We served together and he kind of kept tabs on me, he saw the rage that blinded me. I took his advice. It didn’t do much for the night terrors but did turn into a fact-based novel. I began contributing to various military publications – It actually made me laugh that anyone wanted to read what I wrote. Then I realized I didn’t care – I wasn’t writing for anyone else and I ended up confronting the memories that stalked me for so long and was able to look at them with a sense of calm.
The bottom line is that for me, it is my pen, or keyboard in contemporary terms, that has been the key to me dealing with being back in the world. I think filling the void as soon as possible is imperative.
You can do it with music, writing, gardening, sports, service or just about anything that fulfills you – but it’s up to you to do it.
If I go a few days without exercising my mind, either by researching an article or writing, I start focusing on the past, the friends I left behind, some because of the bad decisions I had no choice but to make – It never turns out good.
I research and write mostly military history, accounts of individual heroism, and I can tell you unequivocally that combat and covert operations are incredibly conducive to creativity.
Great pieces of literature with titles like Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings, The Catcher in the Rye and Ben Hur all came from old soldiers with the same scars young warriors bring home today.
Tolkien and Lewis were drinking buddies who drew their inspiration from the carnage and cacophony of WW1 battle. Kurt Vonnegut was actually a POW in Dresden when it was bombed… He was housed at Schlachthof fünf.
Supreme Court Assoc. Justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes, arguably one of the greatest legal minds in U.S. history, put it in his will that the first title on his headstone would be Captain and Brevet Colonel, 20th Mass Vol Inf. during the Civil War.
Combat is where he learned his sense of Justice. It was the defining period of his life. Holmes enlisted as a Private, was wounded 3 times and promoted to Brevet Colonel before war’s end.
I’m not suggesting anyone toss their prescriptions, doing that could screw you up even worse if you just stop taking it, I’m just suggesting you see if there is something better, and less toxic.
All I’m saying is you can take that bad memory and beat it into submission with your keyboard, guitar or whatever it is that makes you whole. I assure you there is something that makes you whole, you just have to find it.
Don’t get all caught up in whether it is good enough if anyone cares about what you have to say or how many drafts you go through. Just keep putting one boot in front of the other and, you will take the objective.
It is the process that has therapeutic qualities. Even if no one else ever reads your words, expressing them will help… it won’t hurt.
If you want to publish, there are publications who are interested in your words. Just Remember that if a piece doesn’t get published, it is not always because it isn’t good. Topic and timing are a major consideration for most publications.
I have discovered that more often than not, when I am honest about my struggles, I inevitably get an e-mail or message from some a Brother in Arms got something from it, sometimes just a smile – and that beats the hell out of writing a piece I don’t care about, for a buck, any day.
Share your lessons learned with the world – they need them. You might save another soldier’s life.
You might find it has an analgesic quality that eclipses anything VA is trying to feed you.
Authors Note… My private e-mail Gideonasche@outlook.com – feel free to drop me a line if I can help any of you figure out how to fill that void.
Fratribus Sine Pari