The Pen is Mightier than the Pill.
Gideon D. Asche
This article was originally published in the Havok Journal.
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 get to 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 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, based on that statement. He wasn’t. 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 world.
My mind went for a walk without me, back three decades. I got angry, and my hands began to shake – I felt exactly what he described.
No wonder we have 22 a day.
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 it – some of you can harness it and wield it like a weapon. Me… I just learned to love it.
There is nothing wrong being afraid. In a lot of cases, it shows common sense. 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.
Fear can be like a narcotic, no less intoxicating than Heroin, no less addictive than nicotine, no less enjoyable … but 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.
Go ahead… you try to convince yourself it’s not better than regular sex.
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.
It makes me question – Why? How can I find comfort in my time in hell?
We all Chewed the same dirt; no matter if it was in Southeast Asia, Granada or Somalia 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 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.
Being in the field is like doing heroin for months, then just trying to stop. Your body has a need for that opiate and revolts – All hell breaks loose.
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.
Your mind goes through the same kind of “Cold Turkey” response that your body would if it were Heroin.
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 a long time. When I came back, it was to become a “Lotus Eater.” Oh, I was taken care 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 a few years and spent way too much time in bar room brawls. The people 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 any more, 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. I did, and it turned into a fact-based novel, and I started contributing to various publications – It actually made me laugh that anyone wanted to read what I wrote.
The bottom line is that it is my pen, or keyboard in contemporary terms, that has been the key to me dealing with being back in the world.
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.
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.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, arguably one of the greatest legal minds in US 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 in his life. Holmes enlisted as a Private, was wounded 3 times and promoted to Brevet Colonel before war’s end.
I’m not saying to toss your prescriptions, a lot of that crap will 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.
Take that bad memory and beat it into submission with your keyboard.
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 to produce a 1200-word article.
It is the process that has therapeutic qualities. Even if no one else ever reads your words, expressing them will probably help… it won’t hurt.
The Havok Journal is always ready to hear from a new writer, and I know they have a good editing staff that can give some direction. I’ve also seen calls for submissions to a few other Veteran publications and one for old Kiowa Jocks.
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 wrote a piece for High Times right after Desert Storm, and it was almost a year before It was published. I’d already given up and only discovered it published when the check showed up in the mail.
I do get paid for much of my work, but the publication that I submit the majority if my freelance work to pays me nothing, and that’s ok… I like the audience, and while I’m no Marshall McGurk or Scott Faith, I can format a readable paragraph in English, and the audience seems to get something out of my writing – 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.
You might find it has an analgesic quality that eclipses anything VA is trying to feed you.
Authors Note… My private e-mail Gideonasche@volcano.net – feel free to drop me a line if I can help any of you figure out how to fill that void.