Tuesday, February 20, 2018

OTHERS NOT SELF


Looking back over my life from the vantage point of my age, (72) I find that the happiest times, the best times were those times when I was involved with helping others. In fact, when I was suffering PTSD and when I still suffer it I find focusing on the needs of others relieves many of my symptoms. Even when the symptoms don’t go away I find I feel much better when I’m concentrating on the needs of other people.

That’s why I put on the face of my challenge coin my motto, “others not self”. There is a tendency in each of us especially when we feel bad to focus inward, to dwell on our own problems. It’s natural. Our minds when focus inward, in my opinion magnify our problems whether physical or psychological. However, when our mind is focused on something greater than ourselves those problems diminish tremendously. Why? I firmly believe that it is a gift of God. I believe that it is the way God designed us. Or maybe it’s a natural law that those who put others first find relief. Or maybe it’s when we concentrate on the needs of others our problems diminish because we recognize the pain in others that may be worse than our own pain. Or maybe we just too busy to think of our own issues our own pain. Whatever is whatever you choose to believe I know beyond any question that when we concentrate on others and ourselves we diminish our own psychological and physical pain.

Sadly is I was going through PTSD in my 20s 30s 40s and yes even in the my 50s I never had the wisdom to realize that the times that I felt better, the times that I felt better in regards to the PTSD were those times when I was concentrating on my dad’s cancer, my mother’s stroke, my mother-in-law’s rheumatoid arthritis, talking at grade schools, high schools and colleges about the Medal of Honor, being bullied. All of these things took the focus off of me and put it on something bigger than myself and by doing that my depression, my anger all of it diminished. My wife Susie, she who must be obeyed, often tells me I dwell too much in the past and I suppose I do. But, I continuously find myself being angry that I didn’t know any of this until I was in my late 50s. Which is why I suppose I want to share this with you the reader. I’m hoping that you can learn from my experience. You don’t have to go through the things that I went through, not that I went through that much I am blessed with two functioning arms, two functioning legs, a functioning mind, and pretty good health. Most of my aches and pains are from age and thinking that I was going to be 19 forever. Had I known then what I know now my PTSD would not have gone on as it did. I would’ve had tools to fight effectively.


I know this God has a plan for you if and only if you will allow it. You have a choice you can choose to fight the enemy PTSD. You can choose others not self or you can go down a very negative path that leads only to destruction. In the end as with me the choice is yours.

Fighting the Dragon

I think I should explain why I refuse to call post-traumatic stress disorder, post-traumatic stress. I know that this will make some uncomfortable and I understand that. This is my personal choice. and these are my reasons. If you need to call it post traumatic stress by all means do so.

I believe that PTSD is our mortal enemy and we must face it as such. I don’t think that we can beat the enemy by giving it a nice name. I know some find the word “disorder” to be repugnant. I don’t. Frankly, post –traumatic stress is a disorder. Whether we like it or not. To quote a phrase you can dress a pig up in a $1500 suit but it is still a pig. Calling PTSD by a politically correct name does not take away from the fact that it destroys our lives. I think we have to call it what it is.

I believe we must use every means necessary to defeat it every time it raises its ugly head. Just like we would any enemy on any battlefield. Our battlefield is a battlefield of the mind, of the emotion but it is still a battlefield. I don’t want PTSD to sound nice. I’ve even gone so far as to personalize it. For me it is the Dragon PTSD or just the Dragon. I call it the Dragon because it wants to devour me and everything I have and everything I love. And like the dragons of folklore the PTSD Dragon is greedy. It wants every single part of us, every single thing we have that makes us a good, productive, loving person.

If it is to be defeated, we must use every tool we have available. Those inside ourselves and those outside ourselves, i.e. therapy, support groups, and yes if we have to medication. I believe firmly that God, if we allow Him, will provide us with everything we need to beat this condition. We can subdue it and we can beat it every time it rears its ugly head. God’s promise to us is that he will never let us be tested more than we are able to endure. It is by his mercy and by his grace that he will meet all of our needs. 

The one thing I liked best about being a lower ranking soldier is most of the time I never knew what the commanding officer had planned much less the general. Being just an enlisted man, I saluted smartly said yes sir three bags full and obeyed the orders. Sometimes, I didn’t understand why we had to train a certain way especially when it was really tough. But then in combat I understood.
We don’t have to know why God allows things to happen to us through his permissive will. We just have to have faith that he has a good plan for us. If we allow that plan to be worked out. I know one thing for sure, “all things work together for good to those who love the Lord and are called according to his purpose.”


Saturday, December 30, 2017

“IS IT FAIR TO ALL CONCERNED?”


How many times have we heard the words, “it’s not fair”? I remember saying those very words one time and being told, “life isn’t fair”. Life isn’t fair, but that doesn’t mean that we cannot treat people fairly including ourselves. What I love about, “Is it fair to all concerned?”, is that it requires that everyone in a relationship be treated fairly including ourselves. Fairness means that we treat everyone with justice, equality, impartiality, in other words everyone is treated equally and given a fair shake. Including ourselves.

In my recovering from PTSD I sometimes find myself going the, “extra mile.” I do it because I sometimes think I need to make amends for my past actions. But, I find it leaves me feeling more like a martyr than anything. And not a martyr in the good sense i.e. sacrificing myself in a noble work. No, I feel like the stereotypical self-serving martyr. You know the kind, that person who is always lauding their sacrifice. Who is always jumping on the proverbial hand grenade. That type of martyrdom, if I don’t catch it in time, often leads me to more depression and anger and frustration the last thing the world I want or need.

When I came upon the Rotary Four-way test it hit me, “Is it fair to all concerned?” means even me. I have to be fair to myself in the way I think and in the way I act towards myself. As much I am fair to everyone else I must also be fair to me. Part of my problem was I was riddled by guilt because of my actions while suffering PTSD and because of remembering things that I did and didn’t do in Vietnam, the ever-present survivor’s guilt.

Being fair to all concerned,” made me realize I needed to start being fair to myself. Somehow it reminded me of the serenity prayer often cited by those who suffer addiction. It’s a prayer that I learned to say many times as I started my recovering from PTSD:

God, grant me the Serenity
To accept the things I cannot change...
Courage to change the things I can,
And 
Wisdom to know the difference.


The courage to accept the things I cannot change” part of my problem is that I keep dwelling on the past. I think we’ve all had those questions, haven’t we? “Could I have done more?” “Did I do the right thing?” “Why am I alive and_______ isn’t?” On and on the questions go, but as my therapist said, “I cannot change the past I can only change the future.” Being fair to myself forced me to “accept the things that I cannot change”. Leaving those things in the past, where they should be left. At least as far as how they affect my emotions and my negative feelings. There are important lessons to learn from past experiences and behavior. But the past should not be an excuse for our current actions. “Courage to change the things we can,” that’s our future we can change our future. I did, I changed paths. I was headed in the wrong direction and by the grace of God I was able to change that direction from a very negative one to a very positive one. It was and is a lot of hard work for me it started with the truth and it continues with being fair to all concerned, in my thoughts, relationships and actions. 

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

RECOVERY STARTS WITH THE TRUTH



Jesus said, “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”[1] For much of my life I was not truthful. This is not to say that I was a liar as such. Sometimes stretching the truth, avoiding the truth or simply not telling the truth to avoid a situation is just what we do. Let’s face it, we all lie occasionally.

My greatest lies, and my most hurtful lies were to myself. As I was suffering the effects of PTSD I found it very easy to make excuses for my behavior. I told myself I suffered from PTSD and therefore whenever I acted out it wasn’t me it was the PTSD. The symptoms of PTSD pushed me inward, I became self-centered. Because of my self-centeredness I became very depressed. I often thought that the world, my family, and everyone would be better off if I was no longer here. From the late 70s through the 80s and into the early 90s I suffered fits of depression, rage and I sometimes hated my life.

Because of the Medal of Honor, I was protected. As long as I worked for the VA and later the Illinois Attorney General’s office I had made. After all who would fire a Medal of Honor recipient? Yet, because of the Medal and the fact that many people were looking up to me I could not, would not share what was going inside with anyone, big mistake. I put on the “face.” Outside I was confident, controlled and I tried to set a good example. I often failed but I always tried. Inside I was a mess. I drank way too much though it never stopped me from going to work or performing my duties as a recipient.

Then in the early 90s things got a little out of hand and even I knew I needed some help. I went to a local vet center and started seeing someone once a week. It was the hardest work I ever did. I refused medication. I decided if I couldn’t get fixed without medication I just wouldn’t get fixed. Thankfully, my therapist was amazing though she wasn’t a veteran she was very insightful and helped me negotiate the path through my problems.

But the best thing she taught me was to tell myself the truth and to accept responsibility for my actions. I had to accept responsibility for everything. I was responsible for my drinking, my attitude and for being extremely selfish and self-centered. Somewhere along the way I picked up the Rotary Fourway Test as my moral compass: Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build good will and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned? Being truthful with myself was the first step in the long road home.




[1] John 8:32 English Standard Version.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Thoughts on the Flag and the Pledge

THOUGHTS ON OUR FLAG AND THE PLEDGE

            When we say the Pledge of Allegiance do we really understand what we are saying?

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
      When we consider what the pledge says phrase by phrase its true meaning becomes very clear. “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America” the flag is a symbol of our country. We all have symbols that we hold dear it may be dog-tags worn by a veteran, by a surviving spouse or child. It may be a football jersey hung in a closet as reminder of glory days in high school or college. It may be that special card given by mom or dad. Whatever it is be we all have symbols that mean something to us, that are important to us.
       There are some people today who show disrespect for our flag, who refuse to stand when the National Anthem is played. Or who will burn our flag in protest. There are those who don’t want to say the Pledge of Allegiance to our flag.  Perhaps some feel disenfranchised because of the way their forebears were treated or because their political ideology.
           
            Before I go any farther consider.  Are any of us perfect? Do any of us harbor hate of any kind? For any group? If you are on the left, do you hate the right? If you’re a Democrat you hate Republicans? If you are conservative do you hate liberals? If you’re a Republican do you hate Democrats? Have any of us ever made a mistake? Have any of us ever done something wrong and knew it was wrong when we did it? I know I have.

            Now consider. If we all make mistakes. If we have all have harbored hatred at some time in our life. If we have all done something wrong even when we knew it was wrong. How then can any of us expect our country to be any different than we are? If we the people of the United States of America are imperfect how in the world can we expect anyone in our government to be perfect? And yet we do. We take umbrage with all of the police when less than 1% act inappropriately and yet we ourselves are imperfect. If we judged groups of people by that standard we would be the worst kind of bigot. And yet there are many who judge all by the act of a very few.
           
            When our founding fathers wrote the Declaration of Independence they wrote in part:

 “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Our founding fathers were imperfect men just like you and I are imperfect, but they were looking for something better. Many of them were slave owners and yet they could write those words while they held people in bondage. Slavery was commonplace not just in America but around the world. Sadly, it still is commonplace in many parts of the world and yes in Africa. Even freed slaves in the United States owned slaves, that is a matter of record that we just don’t like to talk about. And yet it happened. Why? Because we are imperfect people and because we are imperfect people we sometimes do horrible, terrible things to one another.

            Yet, America has always had citizens with the will to do good. There were abolitionist movements long before the Civil War. Many, especially in the north, knew that slavery was a horrible abomination and they did what they could to end it. From the underground railroad to the Congress who enacted laws limiting first the importation of slaves and then the states in which slaves could be held, moral, decent people took a stand. Were their mistakes? Yes. But imperfect people act imperfectly.

            The Civil War may not have initially started to the abolish of slavery, but it was the end result. But, even with the end of the Civil War and the end of slavery people of color were not allowed equal rights. Racism was institutionalized and was rampant. It was wrong and many white people as well as African-Americans joined in the civil rights movement to end Jim Crowism.  Institutionalized racism ended with the passage of the Civil Rights Act in the early 60s and other pieces of legislation that followed on that great act. But, even though institutionalized racism was ended by acts of Congress we still have racism and bigotry in America even today. That bigotry and racism is in the hardest place to change, our hearts.

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands”

            We are not a democracy. We are constitutional, representative republic. If we were democracy, then the majority would rule. In a democracy where the majority rules the rights of the minority can be severely limited or even denied. But we are a constitutional republic. The Constitution protects our rights. Our Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of religion, speech, freedom of the press, assembly and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. We are also guaranteed the right to keep and bear arms. The first 10 amendments to our Constitution are our Bill of Rights. They cannot be taken away however unpopular they may seem at any given time these rights are guaranteed by our Constitution and as long as that Constitution stands we the people are protected. Voltaire once said, “I may not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say.” In this country we may say whatever we like no matter how vile and disgusting others may think our speech may be, our freedom of speech is protected. The unpopularity of our speech doesn’t end our freedom of speech.

            The Preamble to our Constitution begins with:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union,”

I believe our founding fathers realized that no government could never be perfect. In fact, there was much discussion about that as our Constitution was being drafted. But they wanted a more perfect union a more perfect government and so our founding fathers developed and wrote the Constitution.  They wrote it realizing that we were a flawed nation. Yet, their wisdom gave us this wonderful document that protects our rights. That guarantees that no matter how unpopular a matter of speech, religion, assembly, or anything else may be our rights to do those very things that the majority may not like are still guarantee in writing by our Constitution.

The Pledge of Allegiance ends with:

“One nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all”

Many people don’t understand and don’t like, “one nation under God” what they don’t understand is that what man can give man can take away but what a higher power gives only that higher power can take away. In the Declaration of Independence and in the Pledge of Allegiance we place our rights as something received from a higher power. Therefore, those rights cannot legally be taken from us by any government.

            “Indivisible” we are one nation not many small nations but one nation with one Constitution that supersedes every state Constitution and every state law. States cannot pass laws that are in conflict with our constitution.

            “With liberty and justice for all”

            The Pledge of Allegiance ends with these very strong words, “with liberty and justice for all.” Clearly a case can be made that we are not there yet but since our becoming a nation we have strived for that ideal. We have struggled to reach that golden shore where there truly there is liberty and justice for everyone.

            When our flag is disrespected what it stands for is also disrespected. When someone refuses to say the Pledge of Allegiance they say basically that they do not agree with what this country stands for, with what this country is trying to be. Nor do they believe in for the ideals of liberty and justice for all.


            But there’s more. Our flag drapes the coffin of all those who die serving this country, our country. That flag is taken off the coffin before it is lowered into the ground. It is folded. Then presented to the family. When you disrespect the flag you disrespect every spouse, child, parent and friend who lost a loved one serving these United States of America. When you disrespect the flag, you disrespect all those who have given the last full measure. When you disrespect the flag, you disrespect those who lost arms and legs and eyesight and even their sanity serving this land of ours.  Before you take a knee or burn or in other ways disrespect think of what you are disrespecting. I may not agree with what you do regarding our flag and our National Anthem, but I will defend to the death your right to do it because our constitution guarantees you that right. I don’t however have to otherwise support your actions with my person or money.  Thank You.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

High School Part IX - Senior Year and the Kennedy Assassination


I had just sat down for my 4th period health class, just after lunch, when an announcement came over the intercom that president Kennedy was shot while on a visit to Dallas Texas. Over the next several minutes announcements came in over the intercom that he was doing well and that he was in surgery. The bell rang at the end of Health class and we moved to our next class, for me English. The halls were silent gone was the usual chatter of teenagers. All talk was in hushed whispers some were crying most were in shock. Shortly after I got to English class we learned that the President was dead.  The date November 23, 1964 the day John F Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald a day I’ll never forget and a day that changed my life forever.

The change didn't take place immediately but over the course of the next several years. But that day I started looking at the world with a set of different eyes.  Over the next several days we watched as the nation mourned. I saw the president shot over and over again each time with a commentator explaining what I was seeing. I saw Jack Ruby on live television kill Oswald. Then we were shown both the assignation and Oswald’s killing again and again in slow motion as the news men explained what we saw as if we were too stupid to see and understand for ourselves what had happened. We watch the funeral and mourned with the First Family and little John I remember my mother crying softly as we watched.  

They called it Camelot, we know now it wasn't but then it was, and we believed it. The Kennedy’s were America’s family. We rejoiced over them and cried with them when Patrick was still born. We laughed with them, I still have my First Family Album by Vaughn Meter. Finally we mourned with them. In many ways I believe my generation still mourns Kennedy’s assassination. 

Little did I know how much Kennedy’s assignation was to effect my life and the lives of millions of others around the world. Our whole family watched on live television as Linden Johnson was sworn in as President. My mother the wonderful naive positive woman that she was said that Johnson would be able to get all of Kennedy’s programs passed because he had great influence in the congress. She was right Johnson did pass a whole lot of legislation. Up to the Vietnam War Johnson was considered a great president by my family and most democrats. But after the Gulf of Ton-kin Resolution his popularity would slide. Yet, between November 1963 and November 1965 my life went on as though nothing had happened. 

As my high school years started to draw to a close I started to realize that I had very few options upon graduation. My grades barred me from college, not that college ever entered my mind. I was the son of a blue collar working man and other than graduating from high school continuing my education never entered my mind. I believed then my future was the factory and maybe a trade school but college… no way! My dad often talked of “college boys” and how stupid they were when it came to the factory floor. It was a class arrogance that still permeates our society today. Working men knew how to get things done while college boys only had theory. It wasn't that education was frowned upon it just wasn't pushed as a means to a good future for me.  Dad kept pushing me to learn a trade something, some skill that would make me valuable to my employer. He told me many times that being a trade’s man allowed him to earn a living throughout hard times.

My grandfather had worked for Electromotive and had pension after he retired. Most of my uncles were blue collar and union men. Often the discussions around the kitchen table revolved around being in the trades and learning a trade. Dad went into an apprenticeship program at the age of 40 to learn how to be a machinist at Union Carbide.  He attended night school over the course of his four year apprenticeship program to learn higher mathematics and took other necessary courses so he could become a journeyman at his trade. He was so proud when he finished the apprenticeship program.  

As I became more aware of who and what I was, as most kids do during high school, I realized that my future was not going to be in Dolton with my family and extended family. I instinctively knew that for me to become anything but a general factory worker I had to leave and get out on my own. I also knew that my options were severely limited. My grades in high school were about average; I failed some classes, I had to attend summer school twice for math, and did well in others. But nothing that qualified me for college. I had no interest in cars or the trades so my going to trade school wasn't going to happen.  

As with most young men in the early 60's if you didn't go to college or into a trade school or apprenticeship program you got drafted. I knew the military was in my future. The one thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to chart my own course after graduation. So late in the summer of 1964 while my parents and sister were on vacation I had my number for the draft moved up.  I didn't want my mother to know I would be going away especially into the military so moving up my number was a way to do it without her knowing it was my choice.  I wanted to go after my birthday so I selected November as the date I would go. My plan was to enlist after getting my draft notice.  I had no way of knowing it then but going into the military was going to change my life forever in ways I could never imagine.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Unexamined Belief System High School Part VIII


My First Real Job/I get close with my dad:

Late in my sophomore year at Thornridge my dad’s company Union Carbide went on strike. Dad believed a man was not a man if he wasn’t working. Dad needed to work, so after his time on the picket line he looked for a job. The job he found was to change his and my life.  It was a small hot water heater company was looking for a machinist and dad got the job. I remember him telling me, “I was honest with him. I told him we were on strike and that all I could promise was eight hours work for eight hours pay.”   

TETCO Metal Products was a small plant that made hot water heaters in Riverdale. When the strike ended dad stayed on at TETCO and worded weekends and evenings for several years. He dearly loved working at TETCO. I often wondered what it was about TETCO that made him so happy. Looking back it, TETCO gave him a place where he could use all his skills and intelligence. It gave him a deep pride in his work a pride he never got at his union job at Carbide. In fact he worked harder at TETCO than at his full time job. I think the reason for this was Carbide was a job he had to have and TETCO was the job he wanted.  TETCO also gave him something he needed desperately, respect.    

Right or wrong dad never believed he was loved or respected by our extended family. He felt he was always being put down and that he was not really wanted.  I believe he may have been partially right.  I obtained his military medical records and personal file after he passed away. What I found has helped me to understand his feelings.  I often felt the same way growing up and his records helped to validate my own feelings as well, at least in part. Growing up it seemed as if Dad and I were always a step behind and to the left of our extended family. Very often especially in my younger years I felt mom had some resentment toward me. It was one of those feelings that made no sense.  Growing up I always felt loved but also felt some unease on the periphery of my consciousness. 

Often during my sophomore and early junior years I would walk from1530 University Ave down Greenwood road the four or five miles to TETCO to visit with dad. Sometimes I would hop a freight heading to the freight yards in Dolton. The tracks ran the west side of Greenwood Road. I’ll never forget my first hop. I had just crossed Sibley Boulevard and was walking down Greenwood when I saw the slow moving freight train. It was going just a little faster than I was walking. I remembered old movies where hobos often hopped the freight and sat in empty boxcars. I ran across the road and started trotting alongside the train. Then with a boyish sense of adventure I grabbed the ladder going up the side of the boxcar I was running alongside and I was riding my way into Dolton.  It brought me less than a half a block from TETCO, neat! Hoping freight became my means of transportation to visit dad until I got my license to drive.  

Being with dad as he was working, seeing him creating something out of a block of steel and the joy he had in doing a job well greatly impacted me. My dad had no union at TETCO but he did have skill and a joy in doing a good job. As a result he was valuable to Mr. Teters who paid him well and gave him more and more responsibility within the plant. My dad had something Mr. Teters wanted and my dad was happy to sell his knowledge and ability to Mr. Teters at a good price. I remember my dad letting me run a milling machine and bringing the cut to within 1/1000 of an inch.  He showed me how to use a set of calipers to make measurements and a feeler gauge.  One night I visited him and he showed me how to use a me use a spot welder then gave me two pieces of metal to weld together. Another night he showed me how to use a welder and weld using a welding rod by “carrying a bead” down two pieces of steel. The more I saw my dad work using various trades he had learned over the years the more it hit me that the more you know the more you are worth.

In my junior year dad got me a job as a janitor at the plant. I was to work his hours and he would be my supervisor. Mr. Teters and my dad showed me around the places I would have to clean. It looked fairly easy until we walked into the workers locker room. It was a room that would inspire revulsion in the most hardened janitor. Too say it was filthy, dirty and gross would be an understatement. As we walked into the locker room we passed eight commodes. Each more gross than the other. It was like someone had purposely spread feces over the porcelain parts of the bowl. Used toilet paper lay on the floor evidently some people are so lazy putting toilet paper in the bowl is too hard.

The locker room itself was filled with dirty pictures and magazines, for me the only good part of the whole thing. My dad saw my revulsion and smiled. Later, when Mr. Teters left for the day dad found me cleaning one of the offices. He took me to the men’s locker room and gave me one of the most valuable lessons of my life. “Do the hardest job first and remember” he said with a smile, “you can always wash your hands and shower after work, and it looks like you’ll need too." he went on, "Remember you are here on my recommendation don’t let me down.” Then he showed me the best way to clean the locker room, a power hose, rubber gloves, strong cleaning solution and a long handled brush. I’m proud to say when I was done the locker room and commodes never looked so clean. Neither did the offices and break areas. Throughout the first night dad kept coming to check on me telling me how to best do the work and making sure it was done properly.  After the first night except for an end of shift inspection he left me alone. 

Over the next several weeks the complements started to come, “This is the cleanest the locker room has ever been.” It amazed me that the men actually started to clean up after themselves. The locker room still needed cleaning and the power hose was more than useful but as long as I kept it really clean they helped to keep it that way. It was the same in the break areas and in the offices.

As I got better at cleaning I got done quicker. Leaving me a couple of hours a night to do my homework my grades started to improve as a result. Working and the complements of doing a good job gave me confidence; confidence inspired me in other areas.  I was changing. More important I was growing closer to my dad than ever before. We were not just father and son anymore, he was my supervisor, my mentor but more we were actually becoming confidants. 

OTHERS NOT SELF Looking back over my life from the vantage point of my age, (72) I find that the happiest times, the best times were th...