Tomorrow is Veterans Day

Tomorrow is Veterans Day, and right now I’m feeling raw. Six years of service to my country as a soldier, six more before that working the front lines of public lands and somehow its become pointless. All that sacrifice. While the rest of you were out there getting college degrees, I was up reading over radio intercepts from DPRK, trying to puzzle together what the fuck those assholes might be about.

I gave my oath to defend the Constitution and this land ultimately because I grew up with a strong land ethic. I read Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac while huddled against a rock for shelter in Colorado’s Flat Tops Wilderness. My radio had died two days before, a storm had moved in, and all I could do at the point was wait it out. Several months later, with my new wife, I found myself back in Florida searching for work with health insurance. My youngest brother had signed up, and damn they made it sound like all you’d have to do was work hard. I’d done that, months wondering the wilderness picking up hunting trash and endless summer days swinging a Pulaski. So I took my work ethic, my young wife and, my land ethic and I signed up expecting that someday I’d return to the wilderness.

My relationship with that woman, my foot, my time, and so much more of was burnt in the tabernacle of service to my country. Until now, I’ve been at peace with this.

I’ve recently been told “Wait and see. Everything is bound to work out for the best.”

Veteran’s Day is the anniversary of the signing of the armistice, which ended the World War I hostilities between the Allied nations and Germany in 1918. Veterans are thanked for their services to the United States on Veterans Day. Veterans Day honors those who served the United States in all conflicts, especially veterans.

How can this be so? Where is the honor in this?  A man who lied and manipulated his way into office. The Electoral College intends to install a man into office who doesn’t understand the concept of sacrifice. Who, unmindfully, has the land ethic of the Once-ler. A man pathologically unwilling to share. A person with whom I have no common values. Someone as to be so unlike me that our only commonality is the shared genetic heritage of our species and the randomness of the geographical land of birth.

Typically, I’d be writing to ask that people hold their thanks. Frankly, it makes me uncomfortable because it feels like a request. Maybe you want to know what I did, where I’ve been, who I saw die; I don’t know, but the request is made when you say “thank you for your service.” I hear the anticipation in your voices. It’s not a movie, it doesn’t work that way. When I left the service of my country, I left a broken and desperately screwed up person. Not the same guy that gave his oath six years before.

It’s taken me sixteen years and a lot of hard work to feel “normal” around the majority of you. I find grace only far beyond the things of man. In the wilderness. And for a man who holds this as his essential ethic how could I want the esteem of a people that would elect a man with no respect?

Dear America,

My disappointment in you has reached a phenomenal apex. Truly, I don’t know how it’s possible to feel so much of this low down dirty frustration, but you’ve gone and made it possible. I guess Americans are innovators, and so many of you just engineered and optimized a new kind of international bad mood.

I’ve spent a good deal of time this morning casting about in search of solace. I guess I’ve found some. Here, let me itemize these places of grace.

  1. I am consoled to live in a democracy, one that is only as good as its voters deserve. We are the government, so to those of you who’ve used your vote to say they’re unhappy with this social system of self-rule you’ve simultaneously volunteered.

    And again, in my lifetime, you’ve given yourself every opportunity to make your world into the utopia of your heart’s desire. You control both Houses of Congress, the White House and now the Supreme Court. Absolutely nothing stands in your way. Not for the next four years, and likely for a long time after that. You are now entirely responsible for what happens next. Success and failure are yours alone so keep that in mind as we move into February. If you care, as so many of you said you did, then you’ll look at the country and the world that you’ve given yourself on that day and use it as a benchmark from which to measure success.

  2. It should now be obvious, beyond any shadow of a doubt, where voter suppression and gerrymandering are happening within our borders. I’m looking forward to seeing the demographics of the vote correlated with age, race and cultural makeup of the neighborhoods where it took place.

    See number one, because if you’re behind the outcome of the 2016 election, then this is now, too, your responsibility. I suspect that we’ll see plenty of places where the vote — access to voting — is not unencumbered.

  3. For millennials, in particular, you’ve just gotten your first big wake-up call. I know, this is going to make an already tough introduction to the world even more challenging. I mean, what did you think electing a guy with six bankruptcies and multiple divorces in his past would mean for the economics of the country.

    Perhaps, you’ll realize that Snake Oil salesmen only sell snake oil? The point being, that if you voted Republican because you wanted a good job, or you wanted to see manufacturing jobs return to the country, or you wanted an affordable education, equal pay for equal work, maybe you voted for the team, or maybe you just didn’t vote the outcome of this election is as much your responsibility as it your gnarly old grandpa’s. Some of your parents won’t live through this term of office. In any case, we Gen-Xers are less numerous and struggling as much as many of you are so now you’re going to get a great big reason to be involved. And that’s a good thing.

Is this the end? Who knows? Significant challenges that will require full participation from an informed citizenry loom on the horizon. I expect the President-Elect to claim his mandate any day now and in doing so, he’ll signal the direction he’s going to take us. I still love this land, I’ve defended it both figuratively and literally, and I know it some of its best features intimately. That’s where I’m going to invest my time and energy because, as I’ve mentioned, so many of the rest of your feel you’ve got the rest covered.

Keep in mind that we created this government “in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” and I’m certain you’ll have it taken care of.

Here Comes the Storm

You can read all about it here, but right now there the remnants of Typhoon Songda are off the left coast making things very wet and very windy.

While not a hurricane this is a big deal. We haven’t seen anything this bad, in fact, since 2006 when another instance of bombogenesis blew down trees and powerlines during a cold November.

We’re hunkered down for the time being. Electricity and the internet are still working, but I don’t imagine that this will last for too much longer. If you’re in the path of this beast, take it seriously. These are hurricane force winds headed our way, and you live in a place stupid with trees that love to blow down given the least excuse.

I support I-732

This is a no brainer. Seriously, I strongly support I-732, the revenue-neutral carbon tax swap, which will help to reduce Washington State’s greenhouse gas emissions, lessen the regressiveness of our tax system, and serve as a potent bipartisan model of long-term action for the rest of the nation. More information here.

It’s Not About How Strong You Are

I’m going to ask you to pretend for a moment. I’m going to request that you empathize with me and try to imagine yourself within the context of my experience. I’m making this request because recently Donald Trump spoke to a group of Vets.

When people come back from war and combat and they see maybe what the people in this room have seen many times over, and you’re strong and you can handle it, but a lot of people can’t handle it,” he said.

The implication I and many others took away from this exchange was that some of us are somehow lesser because we can’t cope. Apparently, we lack strength, as if volition and an iron-will would be our only protection.

Exercise

Now picture yourself laying down on a gurney. It’s one of those nearly solid, foam rubber ones that you find in hospitals. You can feel the cracked vinyl covering through the rough cotton sheet. It’s uncomfortable, but that discomfort is increasingly distant. This isn’t your first time, you’ve been here before. The IV in your arm and the plastic mask situated over your face are taking you very far away from the echoing sounds of nurses and surgeons preparing your body for yet another surgery.

You’ve got misgivings, unresolved concerns, but as the chemical cocktail suppresses your life — a mere breath from death — the drugs obscure all this. You couldn’t struggle even if you wanted to.

Now imagine that some hours into this surgery you’re suddenly awake. This time, it’s not a gentle wash of gasses and counter-agents the anesthetists uses to bring you back. This time, it’s an excruciating pain. Your mind is roused. Your heart races, thumping like a hammer inside your ribs. Bob Marley is blaring from a white and silver boombox in the corner of a room that smells of blood and antiseptic. There are people with instruments and masks at the foot of your bed. Your foot is flayed open. Wrenched open and held that way with metal hooks.

All of your senses are working overtime in an instant.

You scream.

This scream is not an act originating in your conscious mind. You don’t think Oh shit. Now the script says to scream. You just do. For the first time in your life, you experience a primal rage. You express this anger, as a response to the hurt coursing through your body.

Hands push you against the bed. Secrets, and there are many of them, spill from your mouth. Anything to make it stop.

Eventually, they put you out. Ultimately, you move on.

But this experience sticks to your soul, like fallout from a dirty bomb. You don’t know this, not on a conscious level, but you wake up sweating, heart pounding most nights. You can’t hear Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved” and not break down in a quaking fear. Your animal brain is consistently coiled and ready to pounce. You leash this part of your mind, but it will push you to rampage despite your best efforts to contain it. Your relationships will crumble in your hands. You’ll add eternal shame to your pile of dysfunction.

Time passes and things will seem to be getting better. One day you’ll wake, you’ll begin your day like any other. Like every other. You’ll walk into the kitchen, bend over to kiss your youngest child and discover that the beast has found a new way to mess with you.

You’ll writhe and convulse on the kitchen floor. You’ve lost control of your mind as much as your body. Soon anti-seizure drugs will conspire to rob you of all the good left in your life. They’ll transform you into a husk of yourself. They’ll suck the color from your life. You’ll abandon hope.

They’ll do this for nearly two years. You’ll know what it means to disassociate. You’ll lose all grasp on reality, experience psychotic episodes, and end up in the ER more times than you can count.

You’ll unravel. You’ll lose your job, have to sell your car, your insurance claims will be denied by the VA and your private provider alike. You’ll spend your retirement trying to figure out exactly what could have gone wrong. Strangers will judge you. They’ll imply that you’re to blame.

Eventually, if you make it through that gauntlet, you’ll only find a little peace as your family struggles to prop you up. You know that they’ll love you despite all this for as long as they can. They don’t understand. You can’t put it into words.

You’ll brave this singular demon accidentally created in the middle of a surgical ward every day, whether you want to or not. Whether you have the energy necessary to confront your beast or not. You’ll do this all day, every day.

Summary

This characterizes my struggles with PTSD and later PNES. Yes, there were other events which may have contributed to my condition or subsequently complicated my life. Ultimately, this is what lies at the core of my experience. It’s fear. An animal fear that no amount of will or fortitude can overcome.

In fact, the only relief I’ve ever found from this fear has come in my vulnerability.

I think it’s important that I share this dirty secret because there’s apparently still much misunderstood about PTSD and it’s consequences.

As you probably know, I’m not a fan of Trump, but in this case, not for the reason you’re imagining. I know he tried to show a modicum of sympathy for Veterans suffering from PTSD. In doing so, however, he exposed his chronic lack of empathy. Beyond the very narrow bounds of his experience, Trump seems incapable of imagination.

Combat isn’t the only cause of PTSD.

Effective therapies that help people who have PTSD do not rely on the force of their will or the strength of their character.

PTSD isn’t about weakness.

PTSD isn’t about strength.

Getting Political, Just for a Moment

 

Okay, yes @NewtGingrich just made a ham-handed reference to Sonic the Hedgehog and his unmemorable buddy Tails. But that’s not the point, is it? Thousands of people are literally lining up at the blender to guzzle this amoral shills asshole-shakes about @RealDonaldTrump. That’s right. @Newtgingrich is our nation’s chief mixologist, his life’s work has been figuring out ways to plop a steaming dump in a blender, hit Frappé and convince Americans that “Yes, hum, I can taste the blueberries.”

Good grief people! It’s your constant desire to gobble down such obvious crap that makes this veteran ashamed he ever stood up in your defence. @RealDonaldTrump is unquestionably a self-possessed liar who couldn’t fix anything wrong with this country any more than he could name all 50 state capitals. Monday’s debate should have proved that to you. No doubt should remain. He couldn’t articulate a plan, not a single one, even when asked directly and coddled by a generous moderator. His ideas all sounded like something an underwear gnome might repeat.

The Underwear Gnome Plan for National Prosperity

The Underwear Gnome Plan for National Prosperity: A @RealDonaldTrump Story

A don’t even get me started on @NewtGingrich because that rabid shit-show of a dog has bitten the Republican hand that feeds it so many times I find it laughable that they haven’t put him down. Any fiscal conservative with even a shred of self-dignity still in their possession should meet anything this man has to say with derisive laughter. And you social conservatives? Good grief people, @NewtGingrich is an unpenitent sinner your own dogma condemns to hell fire and damnation. The simple fact that he doesn’t wear a crimson “A” around his neck is clear evidence that *your* convictions are lacking.

Let me repeat that, you lack the courage of your convictions.

Look, I know that people make mistakes and I’m all for cutting everyone some slack and even offering forgiveness or finding a reconciliation as each case may demand; if only so we can all move forward. And I’d be a lesser person if I didn’t acknowledge the fact that I’ve wronged others on numerous occasions, but here’s the deal. You don’t get to negotiate what is and is not “truth” when you’ve been caught in so many lies. You cannot be allowed to become an arbiter of justice if your advocacy always punches down. And for the life of me, I can’t understand why anyone would consider handing the reins of government to an ignominious dolt who returns NULL when asked to provide even a glimpse of his outline for our future.

So, before you elect a madman to the Oval Office on the shitty advice of shitty people, for no other reason than because you “can’t trust Hilary” stop and think about where you’ve previously invested your confidence. Look, as a long-time Democrat with strong progressive leanings I’m not happy with Hilary, but I know she can be counted on to keep things moving. If not toward my personal ideals then at least forward. She has, at a minimum, clearly defined her plans, including the mechanisms she intends to use to achieve these outcomes. Conversely, @RealDonaldTrump has spent the last year and a half appealing to your baser instincts. He’s relied on liars, sinners, and crooks to provide him a veneer of credibility. And when that pretense has been peeled away he’s strong-armed his critics. Eyes on you Ted Cruz.

I’m aware that in the event of a Trump Presidency I’ll find myself up against The Wall. Got that. Ted Cruz and I can enjoy our first and last conversation, blindfolded, sharing a cigarette.

Given supreme executive power, how long do you think it will be before he strong-arms you? The GOP, which so often claims the moral high ground on any issue, remains compassionless and in putting forward people like @RealDonaldTrump they’ve failed their party’s mandate. Their continuing acknowledgement of @NewtGingrich just demonstrates how important those “values” really are.