I had no idea what a can of worms even was before I went to the VA. I was to spend the next year in pajamas going to group therapy twice a day seven days a week with a group of people who would not let me slip by with any bullshit. People who were as smart as me and had walked through the valley of death and survived, People who had been heroin addicts and mass murderers and had seen every corner of hell, and these were the therapist. If a person wanted privileges they had to make break troughs. Privileges could include going outside, wearing clothes, getting phone calls, and getting visits. I did not rate any privileges for most of the year I was there; I had a lot of shit to work through. When I arrived at the VA I could not remember ever crying, after being forced to look at my past honestly I spent a lot of time crying, so did the rest of the guys in my group. We were all tough men but the stuff we had buried deep in our souls that kept pushing us to do stupid things that we thought we could control made us seem like little children. Only by facing it could we exercise them and be free. Fortunately most of us found the courage to do just that. We had each other to lean on and that helped. There was a lot of shame and guilt and remorse. Different events for all but we came to understand all people feel the same feelings about different things. All people are moved and sometimes controlled by how we perceive events in our past. Looking at old events especially childhood ones through our eyes now allowed us to see what seemed a mountain then, something we needed to bury because it was too big to deal with, became easy to deal with with a new perspective of an adult mind.
When you look from the outside and someone tells you about one event, an event that consumed them, you say how such a thing can cause you to be this. What you don’t see is what this event meant to this particular individual at this juncture in their life. Only by going deep down and truly knowing a person can you understand, and only by understanding can you help this person see for themselves how it was the events that came before that are important and are what really need focus to have the light of day shine on them. Alcoholism drug addiction crime is not the problem they are symptoms. So often we focus on behavior instead of problems. The behavior is what the person does because they are out of control because of the real problem. Getting a person to the point where they have the courage to face these demons is the most difficult process. I was brought there by finding myself in isolation in prison. A man in my group was brought there by finding himself in a shootout with police in a grave yard at three in the morning, after never having trouble with the law and being a decorated Vietnam vet. One member got there after waking up from a diabetic coma and seeing his daughter crying afraid he would go back to living on the street as a heroin addict. Some people never get there, some people never need to. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to not need this. But mostly I feel fortunate that I know who I am and got where I got before it was too late. I have been able to help a few people along the way, when I was not in crisis myself. It is a lifelong process, something I did not learn till years after I left the VA. When I left I was a completely new person and I thought I was “cured”, it was not till I fell big time later that I realized I would never be cured. I could only improve.
I want to relate a part of a story of one of my fellow patients at the hospital. He went to Vietnam with the same intention as me, to do his duty and come home. He was told not to get close to anyone and this made good sence since he would be leaving in a year. But there was this young boy who adopted him and even though he did not encourage it the boy would not leave him alone and was always telling him where the enemy was and when he should say he was too sick to go on patrol. He saved him more than once and this man could not help but become close with this boy. One day on patrol this man found this boy strung up in a tree skinned and marked as a informant. From this day forward this man started collecting ears and shooting first and asking questions after. Latter just before rotating home on patrol again, this man was walking through elephant grass, a very bad scenario, and when a woman carrying a child jumped up he shot first and asked questions later. Such is the fog of war. But it left this man completely fucked and he was rewarded with good job soldier and cut loose when he got stateside with no questions and no answers. We did not provide any counseling for returning vets. This was 1969 and the country was spitting on returning vets. There but for the grace of god go i. if I had not chosen to leave seal training in boot camp that could have been my story, I doubt I would have dealt with it as well.