Therefore, we started upon a personal inventory. This was Step Four. A business which takes no regular inventory usually goes broke. Taking a commercial inventory is a fact-finding and a fact-facing process. It is an effort to discover the truth about the stock-in-trade. One object is to disclose damaged or unsalable goods, to get rid of them promptly and without regret. If the owner of the business is to be successful, he cannot fool himself about values. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 64).
When I retired from the military, I sought counseling from the VA. At my first session the therapist asked me what it was that I wanted to work on…
I replied, “I don’t want to feel like choking the shit out of chuckle-heads anymore”.
Her eyes got wide and she blurted out, “Yeah, well I think we can work on that”.
Throughout the course of my therapy sessions I was focused on what this person had done, and what this person hadn’t done and how could that person be such an ignoramus? I was focused on what was going on around and outside of me, but I wasn’t aware of what was motivating it internally.
In January of this year – my world was rocked. After I served 27 years in the Armed Forces, 21 years on active duty, 3 deployments – two of which were to Iraq – my wife got cancer. It made no sense to me. I was the one who was supposed to get sick. I was the one breathing in the fumes from the burn pits. I was the one who was breathing in the dust laced with chromium-6. I was the one – not she. I could feel my grip around the imaginary chuckle-head start to tighten again.
In April of this year, I was asked to present at a Veterans’ seminar in Oahu, Hawaii. My brother who lives and works on Oahu, asked if he could make an appointment for me with a psychologist friend of his while I was out there. I said sure, but I was apprehensive. Afterall, I had been going to counseling now for almost a year, and I was right back to wanting to choke the crap out of knuckle-heads.
I met the therapist and we went into his office. We started the obligatory small talk you have when you first meet someone. He asked about my assignments to Iraq, my family, etc... He then explained the technique he was going to use. He said it was ART – Advanced Resolution Therapy. Through internal and external dialogue, clarifying questions and the use of REM (Rapid Eye Movement) he was going to take me through my last deployment to Iraq. The entire session lasted about 90 minutes.
When the session ended, I no longer wanted to strangle the imaginary chuckle-head, I wanted to embrace him. I realized that he was I. I had met the enemy and he was I.
From my deployments I had developed a Battle Mind mentality. With a Battle Mind mentality everything takes on a heightened significance because the consequences are life and death. Reports can no longer be late because they may contain life saving intelligence. People and things must be on time because to do differently could endanger someone’s life.
So, why maintain a Battle Mind mentality?
The Battle Mind mentality kept me and my team safe. The Battle Mind mentality kept us from harm. The Battle Mind mentality allowed us to achieve mission accomplishment. I had stumbled upon a winning formula. This way of thinking and behaving allowed me to survive and succeed. Not only was I going to employ it while overseas, I was going to use it at home. I could only see an upside. I couldn’t see a negative associated with it. I couldn’t see a downside, but there was a downside.
With a Battle Mind mentality, you compartmentalize your feelings of fear, loss, and anxiety because to get swept up in those feelings means that you’ll be defocused from your mission. To become defocused from your mission means that people might get hurt, or your men might die. So, you compartmentalize your feelings and you put them in a box and you tell yourself you’ll deal with them later.
But then the question becomes, when do you open the box?
Within my box I put the stress of deployments, working seven days a week, 16 hours a day, outside temps in excess of 130F, and all while you’re hoping a stray rocket doesn’t land in your midst. Post deployment I put into my box the stress of reunion and reintegration. I didn’t want to be around crowds for fear of something happening. I didn’t want to sit in a room without facing the door. I would get agitated when people were milling around preventing a flow of pedestrian traffic. And just when some semblance of normalcy and sanity started to creep into my life again, I would have to once more.
So why didn’t I open the box earlier?
I was fearful that it would turn out to be Pandora’s Box. Once I let those feelings and thoughts out, I was fearful they would begin to dominate and take over my life and I would never be able to close the box again.
Opening the box allowed me to lay down my weapon and turn off my Battle Mind mentality. My Battle Mind kept me safe, and helped me achieve, but it was time to come home.
What helped me put my Battle Mind mentality to bed and come “all the way home”?
I listened to that “still small voice within”. It told me to seek help and I did. I sought counseling, I spoke to my sponsor, I conducted another 4th and 5th Step and I relied upon the counsel and wisdom of those good and life affirming people whom I’ve come to trust. When my brother said I want you to talk to this guy, I said “Ok”.
Through the program, I’ve come to believe my Higher Power will guide me to the place where He, She, It needs me to be. Once I get to that place, I’m responsible for the footwork and my Higher Power is responsible for the outcome. My Higher Power speaks gently to me and nudges me. Most often I hear Her voice in the suggestions and offerings of others. My sponsor calls this a “God Consciousness”.
My God Consciousness was calling me to come home. Thankfully, I listened and heeded the call.