Meeting the Demons
No longer under sedation and left to my own devices, I found myself confined to foreign military base, in a Country I had never been to and where I don’t speak the native language. I managed to buy some pop and snacks at the base exchange, I also managed to smoke a pack of cigarettes during the 15 min that this took.
To say that I was nervous or scared was an understatement. I was a total wreck, for the first time since I was home on leave in the summer, I was alone with my thoughts. No longer did I have my job to distract me, I no longer had a mission. I was restless and paranoid, every sound I heard was foreign. Although I was on NATO’s largest military base in the heart of Europe, far from the desert and fields of Afghanistan. I did not feel safe, I never felt more vulnerable in fact.
Exposed and Naked
I felt naked, I no longer had the comfort of my sidearm strapped to my thigh. I didn’t even have a pocket knife. My right hand continuously tried to find my pistol but it was back in Afghanistan. I tried to sleep, but I could only think about those I left back in Afghanistan. Who was taking care of my Troop? What if they get bumped or strike an IED, I wasn’t there to tell death to piss off. What about Andrew? He’s dead and now I return home not having finished the mission he gave his life for. My thoughts turn to how much I was going to miss him.
That grief flooded me, along with the stress of not knowing why my brain had a seizure. I broke and cried, I cried like I’ve never cried before, I was a broken man and I quickly put that all back into a box, and then stuffed that box in a closet then locked that particular door in my head. I needed to suck it up and push through. But that door was not locked tight. There were cracks and through those cracks the demons came for me.
Demon of Survivor’s Guilt
Why was I allowed to live? Why was I not maimed in battle? Was I not worthy of the sacrifice? Why wasn’t I ever envolved in a TIC (Troops in Combat) or an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) Strike? I sure as shit was out on the front lines. Almost everyday I was out on patrols, going on re-supply convoys, helping to keep others safe. Did we not drive over and past several IED’s? Why oh why was I not blown up? Why was I doomed to return home, shamed by illness, betrayed by my body and mind?
I was no longer worthy of being a soldier. I was no longer a man, I was ashamed of my body. How could I return home to anything but a losers welcome.
So many questions and feelings, however there were not any answers. I am still trying to come to terms with this particular demon. He haunts me in my sleep. He haunts me in the shower. The survivor’s guilt has torn me completely apart. I will never know the answers, I will always have the doubts. I know intellectually that I had no more say in what happened then anyone else, but mentally and emotionally, I now question my very being and my worth.
Demons of Fear and Paranoia
But the demon of Survivors Guilt was not alone. Oh no, it brought some friends. One particular friend was the Demon of Fear and Paranoia. Fear keeps you alive on the battlefield. It is an ancient survival skill honed through centuries of evolution. It is fear that allows our senses to be tuned to their highest setting of sensitivity, our reflexes and speed are also greatly increased. This is traditionally known as our Fight, Flight or Freeze response. But as soldiers, we have been trained to override these responses.
For soldiers are trained to use that heightened state of awareness. We learn to live in that state for extended periods of time. Not hours but days and months even. We have trained to take the responses of flight and freeze and turn them into fight responses. This takes intense training and brainwashing. In Afghanistan we lived like this for most of our tour.
The only people you fully trusted were those in a NATO uniform. Everyone else, especially our local contractors were suspect. You never knew when one would turn on you. This was especially true for those of us working with the Mentoring teams. Everyday, we received briefings on Afghan forces turning on their mentors.
So we learnt to live in that world of fear and suspicions. Of always watching your back, keeping your gun hand free, maintaining that aggressive stance and always being ready to flip the switch go full on fight mode. Our rifles and pistols almost always had bullets in the chamber ready to go at a moment’s notice. At night our pistols were kept under our pillows. To us, this became normal.
But now there was no pistol…no rifle…no grenades…and no knives. I cowered in the corner, alone and afraid of the dark.