Wednesday September 18, 2019
Oct-21-2011 20:24TweetFollow @OregonNews
Seeking Positives from the Negatives of WarAW Schade Salem-News.com
War would eventually shadow the memories of my formative years, and positive events throughout my life.
(POICVIANA, Fla.) - After writing the "The Demons of War are Persistent," my personal story of Vietnam, and the struggle over forty years against emotional conflicts, nightmares and guilt, which today is universally recognized as PTSD. Like many warriors, I never spoke about the war, nor stayed in touch with brother warriors, dreading the likelihood of talking about horrific memories.
However, this story is not intended to rehash the demons of PTSD. Instead, it is a story of a single session of therapy that helped me grasp why I felt mediocre throughout my life. Do not get me wrong, you will not read about a magical solution to PTSD. There remains a darkness in my soul that I continue to fight back to keep from surfacing. Yet, the following account helped me look at one of my PTSD issues, from a different perspective. Hopefully, it will do the same for you?
At one of our sessions, the group and doctor convinced me to speak about myself, starting with my overall thought of my duty in Vietnam–that is; what I felt I accomplished; instead of what I lost of myself.
After a long hesitation, I told them the greatest accomplishment in Vietnam was the hundreds of people our teams personally saved from rape, torture, or savage death. We did not give a damn about the politicians and college students back home arguing, or running off to Canada to avoid the draft. We were enlisted Marines1, on the front lines, protecting innocent people caught up in a horrific war.
My most positive moment, I continued, was when I lifted a three-year-old girl from the rubble that separated her from her parents, who were slaughtered by the Viet Cong for giving us rice the day before. Though traumatized and trembling in fear, she reached up to me, I cradled her gently in my arms and made her smile, for only a moment. I handed her to one of our extraordinary corpsman, and continued to seek out the enemy who committed these atrocious murders. It was then I understood why I was in Vietnam.
However, as with all things I masked in my subconscious, I obscured that moment of compassion for decades. Until this small therapy group encouraged me to glance back and look for positive events. Which most often were engulfed within the worst of war’s memories.
Moving on to questions regarding my post-war years, they asked me to focus on my career. The doctor knew I continued to battle the demons, and wanted me to focus on an area where he knew I had some success.
I explained when I left the Marines, after four years, I was youthful and confident in myself. I had no clue as to what depression and anxiety were, and I thought the nightmares were personal and temporary. I was determined to look forward, and in no way backwards to the war.
Unfortunately, over the years I realized that while constantly looking forward helped me avoid chaotic memories of war, it would eventually shadow the memories of my formative years, and positive events throughout my life.
I thought it would be a good time to stop talking, but the group asked me to continue. As peers, they knew I needed to feel a purpose, and not think my life was a second-rate existence. I was reluctant, as I looked around the room and knew many of the Vets succumbed to PTSD early in life. I felt I was about to sound like a wimp.
Awkwardly, I began to tell them-with many gaps-about my career after Vietnam. My first recollection was one they all understood, that I went through eleven or twelve jobs feeling totally out of place. Watching sales managers gather their teams, and with fanatical enthusiasm tell them how great we were, and together would attain the highest sales revenue, beating all other regions. To me this was a kid’s game, compared to victories in combat.
Feeling extremely inadequate, I was ready to head back to the military. However, before it happened, I got married to my current wife of 42 years-who will be the first to tell you, living with a type ‘A’ personality with PTSD, and didn’t know it, was often a living Hell. Especially when she had no idea what I was battling, but then neither did I. Like millions of warriors before me, I never spoke to anyone about the war, or the nightmares that abruptly woke me; soaked in sweat. I decided not to reenlist and pursued a career in business.
Throughout my thirty-five years in business, I never learned to accept other’s euphoria when achieving business objectives. However, I was a Marine and team player and through hard work and personal commitments, I continuously helped peers, executives, and of course, myself, achieve our business goals. Even when I became an executive, I never sensed the adrenaline rush of winning, as I did in combat. In any case, after eleven plus jobs I wound up working for a bank repossessing cars, but within four years worked my way up to branch manager-without a college degree, which was just becoming mandatory to being hired into a decent corporate position. After six months as branch manager I was bored and under paid; banks are great with titles, but at the time not competitive with salaries. I was ready to do something else when I received an offer from a very large computer company to join their company as a collection administrator.
It seemed I was taking a step backwards to where I started at the bank. However, it was their answer to one question; “If I work my ass off is there an opportunity to advance?” The answer was “yes”, and I never regretted my decision. Don’t get me wrong, it was hard work and a lot of personal sacrifice for me and my family, but going from ten thousand, to over two hundred thousand dollars a year in income over my career, confirmed the decision I made thirty years before was correct.
I realized that was the first time I thought of something I did as significant. It was rather good. I felt the group sensed a change in my demeanor, but I thought some of them had to be thinking, ‘two hundred thousand dollars, how the hell does this guy think he never achieved anything?’ I understood why some of them would feel that way, because after thirty-five years they had nothing.
However, what I did not tell them was that depression, anxiety and thoughts of suicide continuously hounded me. Yes, the money was good, but I was constantly searching for the ultimate ‘adrenalin rush’ and crucial decision-making situations, I experienced in combat. Regardless of what I achieved, nothing brought me close to those feelings. Over time, this created emptiness in my soul, which permitted the demons to maneuver through my mind, at will.
I decided not to belabor them with these details, so I summed up my story by sharing highlights of what I remembered-which surprisingly was more than I thought.
Yes, it seemed I went backwards by switching jobs, picking up where I began my story, but I made slightly more money. More important, I was engaged in a fresh challenge. Even though I began in collections, within a year I was promoted to management in one of our largest branch offices. By the end of the following year, the branch went from the worst operations’ office to number one. For that, I jumped a few levels of management to the Branch Administration Manager. It felt very good, but I attributed it to working hard, good staff, and leadership-which was my primary strength. Unfortunately, I experienced no sense of jubilation.
After attaining many personal and management awards, I was selected, along with a small group of others, to attend Syracuse University to attain a BS degree in Management-paid for by the company. I was very pleased with the opportunity, and for the first time I felt a sense of pride when I graduated. It was a grueling task, but the results were well worth it. We even had some fun when taught by a few professors who avoided the Vietnam draft, and taught their liberal ideals until they realized they were not influencing eighteen-year old students. They had ‘book knowledge’, while we had actual experience. It always felt good to challenge the few who thought they knew it all.
During this period, we had three great sons who needed both a mother and father around. As coach for each son’s team, little league president, husband, and juggling work, school and family was frequently chaos. I did my best but never considered it an accomplishment; instead, it was my responsibility as a man, father and husband.
When I returned to work after finishing school, I began my old ways of switching jobs within the company every two years. It was actually the only way for me to fight the demons. Like Lee Marvin in the “Dirty Dozen,” just send me to do a job, then move me on when it’s finished. Every job I selected was very different, which kept me in a constant learning mode, and managing new challenges.
I accepted challenging positions in finance, marketing, business development, sales, bringing new products from research to market, consulting, managing relationships with business partners, and traveling around the world working with country managers to resolve issues. Nevertheless, the nightmares, depression, anger, and anxiety were increasing beyond my control. I had to refocus on moving ahead. Until one day, I finally realized ‘boredom’ was a major catalyst for my emotional setbacks; having too much time to think and not being productive, was a recipe for falling hard into the bowels of PTSD.
For instance, I was asked to work on the regional staff in NYC for a year, a two and half hour one-way commute every day; three years later, I was still there. So what does a supposedly ‘smart’ man, with the baggage of PTSD, do when he does not get his way? Yup, I quit! Without any discussion with my wife or kids, I made the decision that after fifteen years of service, knowing I would lose my lifetime pension, salary, health insurance, had no savings, and a wife and three kids to feed, it was time to move on. I taught them a lesson. NOT!
With no job, I found work at a small medical insurance company on a commission only basis. I was going to set the world on fire, instead I found myself on target to make, possibly, ten thousand dollars a year, again. All I worked sixty and seventy hours a week for was gone. I was a failure; falling deeper into the abyss of PTSD. But I wasn’t a quitter and never stopped trying to salvage or life.
However, God is good! Nine months after quitting my job and discussing bankruptcy, a friend from my old job called me and said he had a position for me if I wanted it. I wanted it! I told him. I would also kiss his butt and make him brownies for breakfast if he could pull it off. Thankfully, he did not take me up on either of my offers, and closed the deal. I was jubilant, but I had nothing to do with this turnaround of events. For the first time in a year, I was looking forward again. Yet, continued chastising myself for putting my family in that position.
Based on past performance the company had no objections to bringing me back. More important, because I was rehired within a year I had no break in employment service, and everything was reinstated as if I never left; salary, pension, insurance, etc. Slowly my family finances began to get back on track, and I continued looking ahead at opportunities. I still needed to change jobs every couple of years, which I continued to do successfully, without leaving the company again, until I retired.
Towards the end of my career, I began to write and publish two books. The first, was “Stop, before you lose your time, money and reputation.” It is about how to avoid scams, and the work it really takes to build a business on the internet. However, wait until I rewrite it because the grammar is horrible. My second book, “Looking for God within the Kingdom of Religious Confusion.”, is one man’s semi-nonfiction journey to find the truth about God, Spirituality, and Secularism. This is edited, published and selling fairly well.
The thought of retirement frightened me, because I assumed I would have too much time [boredom] to focus on the past. It was also around the time of the 1st Gulf War, and everywhere you turned were vivid pictures of death, and no way to escape the memories of Vietnam. .At the same time I still didn’t accept I had PTSD, but thankfully my brother-in-law was persistent and talked me into getting a quick check up. Three physiatrists later, I was not only diagnosed with PTSD, but for the first time understood the demons I have been fighting alone for forty years. Today, with the continued help of medications, therapy, outside activities and writing I can still look ahead.
I have also taken on a cause through my story; “The Demons of war are Persistent”to reach out to young and senior veterans to break the stigma of PTSDand seek assistance. There is a list on my website, www.awschade.com, under the tab “Demons of War” with numerousresources freely looking to help brothers and sisters of war.
Here are a few suggestions from one warrior to another: