My Story As An Afghanistan Veteran

My name is Zackary Blake, I am a Marine and a veteran, serving three tours in Iraq and one tour in Afghanistan (2001 to 2007.) Through the Department of veteran affairs (VA) I was diagnosed with PTSD with a disability rating of 100%. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), once called shell shock or battle fatigue syndrome is a disorder that can build after a person has endured or seen a traumatic or horrifying event. CITATION Web16 l 1033 (Webmd, 2016) Through the media and teachings, the understanding of this disorder has increased remarkably over the last 15 years or so.

PTSD is now a readily accepted disorder in the military, but this was not always the case. I honestly believe it is underreported just how many people suffer from it due to the stigma in the military that follows it. Witnessing, living through, or being involved in a traumatic event that changes the way your brain operates in other stressful situations. PTSD is something that isn’t always talked about, even though it has been prevalent for years.

However, it may not have been diagnosed correctly each time. It is important that we have all the information we need regarding this condition, so we can protect ourselves and our loved ones. In this paper, I will attempt to put into words what it is like to live with PTSD. For every person who suffers from PTSD, it is a different chronicle for each, no two experiences are alike. This is only my experience and my thoughts on this condition alone, to speak for others is something I cannot do accurately enough to do them any justice.

According to the United States Department of Veteran Affairs, more than 5.2 million Americans suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD, every year. This disorder is a severe mental disease that can cause witnesses and victims of war, violent crimes, and other traumatic events to believe that they are constantly in a state of danger or send them into a deep state of depression. CITATION Dan20 l 1033 (Daniel Hochman, 2020) When you face trauma your brain shields you, it factually produces a new personality on top of the one you were born with and alters you. It enhances your sensations, it makes you more intelligent, but it changes your brain chemistry and that’s the big problem. If your chemistry changes then you’re not going to profit in ordinary average circumstances because your flight, fight and freeze part of your brain is now on overdrive, your hypothalamus is now stuck in hyperdrive and your prefrontal cortex becomes neglected and undeveloped and in a contradicting to making you more intelligent now makes you less able to learn by constantly injecting stress hormones into your bloodstream.

The chronicle of our kind is a chronicle of war, and the record of combat we have is a record of profound individual pain and affliction’s done onto others and ourselves. PTSD develops not merely as an anxiety disorder, but as a destroyer of the human soul. The human spirit is uneasy with issues of being, decency, and conscience. After a mind enters a battle or the combat fields, even if he or she does not actively take life, something within the psyche starts to fall apart and perish. Until recently Troops were often abandoned to deal with the remnants of combat all alone. Without assistance, some go on to suffer anguish and remorse for the remainder of their lifetimes without relief. Being unable to leave behind the battlefield, me and many others live stuck between worlds—post-war society and the never-ending shock of waking nightmares, causing us to see two realms at once.

I have heard or overheard every heartless, uninformed, and irritating comment imaginable. “He looks fine to me”, “get on with it”, “Come on, it can’t be so bad”, while I kept struggling in silence because I was unable to even put into word what I was feeling. At one point I lost all my friends, ruined my own support network, and was sent to many VA lockdown facilities for recovery. I was drinking a gallon of vodka every four days and ruined every romantic relationship I had ever known including a marriage. I was in a very bleak place gone within myself, lost all trust in humankind, eventually even quit working, I felt so alone. The war had not only destroyed me, it destroyed my entire family who tried to help and could not. That is the reality of the disorder, the slow self-destruction that comes with the horrors that cannot be unseen. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates that about 7 percent of U.S. veterans have a substance use disorder. Almost 20 percent of military men and women who have served in Afghanistan or Iraq suffer from PTSD, depression, or traumatic brain injury, all of which are conditions that predispose to addiction. CITATION Dan20 l 1033 (Daniel Hochman, 2020)

I have worked through counseling, groups, CPT ( Cognitive processing therapy), and CBT (Cognitive behavioral therapy) with all helping in their own way. “Trauma-focused psychotherapies are the most highly recommended type of treatment for PTSD. “Trauma-focused” means that the treatment focuses on the memory of the traumatic event or its meaning. These treatments use different techniques to help you process your traumatic experience. Some involve visualizing, talking, or thinking about traumatic memory. Others focus on changing unhelpful beliefs about the trauma. They usually last about 8-16 sessions.” CITATION Lau19 l 1033 (Laurent G. Taillefer II, 2019) I have been prescribed several different medications, and I currently still take the medication Zoloft. For me, my drinking was my biggest problem. I was self-medicating the anxiety to be able to Relax and I also drank to sleep at night. I would literally put the bottle to my lips and pull the trigger until I passed out. My drinking got so bad that I was day drinking and smelling of vodka constantly. Nothing anyone could do for me on terms of treatment and support would help simply because I could not stop drinking. Drinking and abusing illegal substances is the absolute worst thing someone suffering from PTSD can do. It takes all the problems and pain, magnifying it ten-fold a million times over. If someone ever asks me for advice on living with the diagnosis I would simply say “Do not drink or use drugs!”

From talking to fellow veterans and sufferers from PTSD through different groups and workshops I realized how similar we all were. The trauma was all different, but the aftereffects and the struggles were all remarkably the same. Some people had been living with symptoms of PTSD for literally three-fourths of their lives. I did not want to grow old like and I knew I had to take control of things if I was ever going to find any kind of happiness with this diagnosis. In 2013 with the help of AA and counseling I finally quit drinking. Once I stopped using alcohol as a crutch the skills and treatments the VA used for PTSD began helping. With the help of medication, my depression and anxiety became manageable and I began sleeping at night again.

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