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Infinite Progress

Afghanistan War Journal  November 20 2011
 — By CJ Grisham
Infinite Progress

I met with my social worker today for a counseling session and to give him a sense of where I am. We came to a few conclusions that I want to share. He helped me understand why I made a few decisions that I made in seeking out another deployment.

As many of you know, part of my PTSD comes from an artillery strike in the early days of the war in 2003. The Iraqis were able to walk artillery in on us by virtue of our convoy stalled on a high road and unable to turn around expeditiously. As such, I had the pleasure of basically having to sit there and hope it didn’t hit me. It did.

Throughout the war, numerous explosions and detonations occurred near me that led to my symptoms. RPGs whizzed literally inches from my head. 7.62 AK rounds cracked the surrounding air, violently shoving their way towards their target. The sounds of war are unmistakable. If you’ve never experienced it, the closest thing to reality that I’ve seen are the opening scenes to Saving Private Ryan. To fully gain perspective, though, you’ll need a good surround sound system. You probably also shouldn’t live in a townhouse. Turn that sucker up just enough to make it uncomfortable and you’ll get an idea.

Anyway, I had explained to Doc one of the reasons I wanted to deploy was to, I think, gain some closure. I felt like I needed to come back and experience combat again in order to deal with the experiences of last time. My initial intention was do what I’m currently doing and eventually weasel my way back into the fight. By fight, I don’t necessarily mean actually having to pull the trigger, but to just be able to walk the streets and conduct my normal mission.

Even without coming under fire, my job can be a stressful one because it involves walking through the neighborhoods and speaking to people that may or may not want to kill me. There is a heightened sense of attention to detail out there. Every day is a thrill and Doc said that many folks with PTSD want to relive that as a way to overcome their anxiety issues.

It made perfect sense, even though I may not have recognized it. In order to cope with getting shot at, blown up, and barely surviving I had to get shot at, nearly blown up, and fight for my life. Turns out, I came to the right place anyway.

In the first few nights here, I heard the sounds of combat I came to expect from my experience. Bombs exploding, A-10s rocking the Gatling, and jets streaking across the sky. The first few weeks weeks were rough.

Kandahar is the birthplace of the Taliban so it made sense to me that there would be sustained and heavy combat around me. Turns out that our living area is near a major range where AC-130 gunships, A-10s and other aviation assets sight in their weapons. Controlled detonations also occurred on this range.

The sounds I thought were combat were coming from a range, not a real threat. But, before I recognized that, I was able to learn to process the sounds of combat and put my anxiety control methods to work that I had learned over the past two years. I no longer grab my rifle with the expectation of a phone call to man the perimeter – though I’m always ready.

Another good thing about living on Kandahar – if it can be called that – are all the indirect fire attacks we have here. The Taliban are good at lobbing 107mm mortars and rockets at us. But a 107mm mortar has a much different sound than a 155mm artillery shell. But, the explosions that I’ve been near when they landed (not unsafely near) also added to my recovery.

I don’t know if that makes sense or not, but it does. The Lord has a funny way of helping us. Initially, I was complaining at having to be stuck at KAF for my entire deployment. However, it turns out that being here has actually been quite therapeutic. I’ve been able to face the very things that have chased me since 2003 and resolve them in my head.

Doc explained that what I’m experiencing professionals call “prolonged exposure therapy.” Many hospitals are using this method to treat Soldiers with PTSD across the country. Since many Soldiers have already left military service, they don’t exactly have the opportunity that I have to come back and face those experiences. So, programs have been created using scenarios in virtual realities to approach those same trauma-related thoughts, feelings, and situations that may have been avoided due to the distress they cause.

Another treatment is called “cognitive processing therapy.” In essence, this type of therapy helps you to understand and cope with those feelings and thoughts that won’t seem to go away. It provides an alternative rational for dealing with what are essentially irrational thoughts. One of the problems of PTSD is the feeling that threats are everywhere. CPT helps to train your brain that these threats don’t exist and how to handle those feelings when they pop up.

Through both types of therapy, I’ve come to recognize nearly instantly when I wake up to a perceived attack every time I hear an explosion that the most likely cause is training. I usually take a few minutes to make sure and listen for any alarms. If none are sounded, I’m able to convince myself that there is no threat and actually fall back asleep.

This progress didn’t happen overnight. It’s taken me nearly two years (and about 60 rocket attacks since arriving in theater). I still get anxious during a rocket attack, but that is a natural reaction. I also understand that my life is in the hands of God. If it’s my time, it’s my time. I can’t shoot a rocket out of the sky and I can’t redirect its path. So, I have to do whatever I can to stay alive.

Another good thing I’ve done is that I recently fired Doctor Grisham. He’s the guy that keeps telling me it’s okay to stop taking my anxiety medications. My other Doc made the suggestion and I took his advice. I even had his “license” revoked so he doesn’t try practicing his destructive medicine on others. ;) The medications have helped to regulate my moods, especially anger and frustration. And contrary to some ignorant people’s ignorant ramblings, this anger and frustration doesn’t make me violent.

On Thursday, I will restart group therapy as well. This is a necessity that I sorely needed in Ft. Hood, but never found. Not only do I need the camaraderie that comes with meeting with fellow veterans that have faced similar experiences that I have, but I think it’s the responsibility of survivors to share their stories and methods of success with others still struggling. That is one reason why I’m working on a proposal to develop a new program within the Army that focuses on using survivors to help the struggling. I also refuse to allow certain individuals to affect me emotionally, personally, mentally, or professionally in spite of their best failing efforts.

The bottom line is that progress is again being made. I’m dedicated to getting better and being there for my family. I think the military is doing it right with the programs available in theater to assure this progress for me and so many others. We’ve learned something over the years.

(25) Readers Comments

  1. I continue to be in awe of a God that moves His hand to put things in our lives for our good, when we don’t have a clue to how or when He does it. Bad things happen, but we are never alone to go through them. We are very aware of that now with my brother in law.

  2. Nicely written and logical. I think you should collect and transfer your thoughts into book form. Also are you familiar with the life and work of Viktor E. Frankl (book – “Man’s Search for Meaning”) and “Logo Therapy”? I believe in your case, my perspective only, it becomes quickly clear that your life and future has great meaning and purpose. You experiences, your foundation and your mind’s eye on this would help many others.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this. So glad you are making progress and have such a positive attitude. Sharing will help so many others..as you always do!
    Your proposal sounds wonderful.
    Keep up the group therapy, the meds and anything else that helps YOU and don’t listen to others.
    Best you to and the “guys”.

  4. incredible. thank you for sharing something so personal.

    i love that photo too.

  5. About 10-15 years ago, prior to joining the military, I read a book called “The Gift of Fear”. I does not totally apply to what you went and are going through CJ, but has merit. Fear can be a powerful weapon and asset if used correctly. When deployed I was never in the situations you describe but never the less can relate to.

    I am glad that you are finding your way through the maze of feelings that have become tangled and have been able to process them in logical ways. I would never describe you as a person of anger or frustration. I see you as a person of great talent and ability that gets frustrated at people who do not have the insight that you have. In the years that I have known you, you have the ability to cut through the “crap and BS” that cloud others better judgement.

    Thank you for sharing, as always.

  6. As usual CJ, marvelous post. Very inciteful and just a marvelous post. Always praying for you!

  7. Research regarding programs like you’re proposing is just starting to come out and it’s all very promising so far. The “experts” are finding that the loss of connection and no longer feeling like you’re contributing to something worthwhile are two big hurdles for troops with PTSD to overcome. By giving back to the next guy, it also helps to heal the first guy. It’s very similar to what AA sponsors do and something I hope to incorporate in my practice once I finish my military social work Master degree. So, uh, if you ever need some help implementing or doing program evaluation, consider this me volunteering. ;-)

  8. CJ, thanks for sharing it send me into deep thoughts about myself and how I can overcome. Thank U again.

  9. CJ… it’s great to hear the you’re making progress with PTSD!

    Thank you for sharing some of what is helping you with this, while it’s good for some like myself who hasn’t experienced combat to learn more about your progress, it’s even better for those like my brothers to learn about. One in an Iraq vet during the surge, the other an Iraq vet currently deployed with you in Afghanistan.

    God bless you and your family.

  10. CJ,

    I’m so glad that you are finding help with the PTSD and I’m glad that the military is finding the right ways to help all of you guys. My prayers as always are with you and with all of our troops and we so appreciate your service to our country! Stay safe and continue what you’re doing to help yourself with the PTSD. Bless you always!!

  11. Your article was truly an education and I thank you so much for being so open. CJ, I believe it is going to take people such as yourself to make up the experts who will eventually be able to understand what you all go through. I pray this process will become easier for you and all who suffer with PTSD as more is learned and used to chase the demons away. God Bless You!

  12. I’m so very humbled when I read or listen to the stories our men and women in the Military share. Thank you and best wishes in your journey. Keep going.

  13. CJ – bless you. I have been (mostly silently) following you for a few years now, and applaud your journey so far, and your honesty. For seeking out the support you need to be the best you can be, and for sharing your journey with others so that they can see that it does help; that there is a solution; and that the brave ones are the ones that go and find that solution, that support – thank you.
    You say you are working on a proposal for a new peer support program (pardon my paraphrasing). I am sure you are already aware of the Canadian Military’s model OSISS – (http://osiss.ca/engraph/index_e.asp?sidecat=1 ). There is peer to peer support for both the member suffering, and also a similar spousal support group from other spouses who are or have been in the situation. I can tell you first hand it is an invaluable resource.
    I wish you all the best on your journey, and thank you for letting us tag along.

  14. You have reached the infinite progress. Indeed hearing the real story behind of what you have been through would be an inspiration not only to your colleagues but also to civilians like me. These things are just trials for you to discover your real strength and you’ve faced your weakness and fear with faith and full trust. Continue to be an inspiration . Your story is a good recommendation to other soldiers who experienced PTSD.

  15. Dear CJ,
    The first thing i would like to say to you is thankyou for being in the war and fighting for our country. I appreciate everything that you and all of the other soldiers do for everyone. You are so strong, to go through the war and be traumatized with some of the things you must have seen. For you to have PTSD and go back to conquer your fears all over again, thats the strongest thing you could do for yourself. Im glad to know that you go to therapy and talk about it as well, it takes a good person to do that, unlike some other people who don’t have thr strength to do it, to go back or go to therapy. Keep it up CJ, everyones so proud of you.

  16. I am so glad that I found this blog. I have read almost all of them and every single one has touched my heart. My cousin was deployed to Kandahar Afghanistan just last week. I dont even know if she has made it there yet. She will be there serving for 12 months. She left behind her new husband and 7 month old son. It amazes me. Everything our soldiers do and sacrifice on a daily basis for us. Us who are safe at home and tucked in at night with our families. I try to imagine what life it like over there and it frightens the hell out of me. Thank you for your service and your bravery. And thank you for having courage to share something so personal.

  17. OK I’ll give some advice that a rabbi once gave me that did me great good. Stop staring at the wall, meaning focusing on myself, turn around, meaning deal w the world. Part of the PTSD is remaining isolated and repressing your emotions. Seek support groups and others who know what you went through are very valuable.
    If you get home and want to pursue your own business, maybe w/ your soldier buddies and friends, or your wives or girlfriends could do this to. The company has been in business since 1920′s and has 9 million members. It offers immediate benefits, plus 100% commissions, and potential great retirement wealth.
    This is no scam. Open up the link and you’ll get my phone number. Follow your economic dream! Good luck!
    http://www.chaimgold.makemoneyonlinenowusa.com/

  18. Incredibly proud of you, CJ. So glad you fired Dr. Grisham, he was a real destructive QUACK. By the way, I’m posting a link to this on Taming the Fire Within, and also over on High Ground facebook pages because I think they will be of some help. When you get back –let’s talk about getting you into an Outward Bound Expedition, or hooking you up with Sierra Club Mission Outdoors for a little mountain climb.

  19. You’re a dam fraud….you have no shame do you “CJ”?….its people like you that deserve all thats happend and is going to happen to you….

    • Yawn…

    • How do you know this is fraudulent? I know there are alot of pieces of shit out there stealing valor. If you have any proof, would you mind sharing it? If this guy is a fraud, prove it. If not, he deserves the gratitude and recognition he’s getting.

  20. CJ,

    My concern is that of your openly being treated for PTSD and being medicated, and being public about it. This is in regards to your hometown case, but also your life in general (assuming you never had a local police encounter). So many vets are receiving letters to be VA evaluated, and later lose their 2nd amendment rights simply because they are being treated and/or are on meds for PTSD. Letter –> Evaluation –> Judgment –> Adjudication –> Confiscation. You’ve probably already thought about this, and your treatment and mental health is more important in the long run… but I WANT vets like you to KEEP and BEAR ARMS for years to come, and not lose those rights. So in all you do and share, keep it “smart”.

    Watch Your Six Bruddah. -CV

  21. As an army vet, I didn’t go to any battle. I ETSed right before Desert Storm. But I did go to Afghanistan in 2008 by choice. I went as a photojournalist. I am a writer and use the military as my setting and especially military engagements. And as such I decided I need to give back to the communit that feeds my creativity. I enjoyed your article and have experienced PTSD second hand, my boyfriend was in Iraq. I contacted the Jeremy Staat Foundation which specializes in Vet Suicide Awareness. I will return to Bagram in 2014 to donate book to our fighting force, school supplies to the local orphanages and bring back gifts for family memebers of those deployed. In reading your blog I began to think about how many service members don’t take the steps you have to get help so many self medicate with either pills or alcohol. There is no group in my area for Vets to get together and help one another when I return from Bagram I hope to change that. Thanks for sharing Tori Montes

  22. Is there anyone here that would know more about helping out a Vet in need of a wheel chair?
    http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/wounded-army-ranger-veteran-needs-a-new-wheel-chair/x/5173519
    Thank you for your time, it’s really appreciated
    Tim

  23. Thank you so much for fighting for our country! I appreciate everything that you have done for our country. You really are strong for going into the war.
    .

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