Just this past Veterans Day, November 11th, my writers group had our annual public reading. While I write about other things besides my experience with PTSD, I decided it would be appropriate to speak about my personal experiences of having lived with PTSD for many years, and continuing to recover from the illness.
It’s not always easy to share such intimate stories of what has happened behind closed doors. But I have learned through experience, of the value “in the telling.” I first started writing about my life after Vietnam, while I was in junior college. I had gone back to school after my divorce from a Nam vet.
I took a lot of prerequisites and did well, as an older returning student. Finally, I decided to take advantage of an elective. English and Composition had been my favorite class in high school, so I decided I might enjoy a Creative Writing class.
Much to my surprise, one of my first poems was about the heartache I’d been through, living with a combat vet, who did too much drinking, and was quite complicated emotionally. I’d also had many classmates who had been drafted and died in Vietnam.
I began to realize how deeply and negatively my life had been impacted by the war. I was surprised by the reactions of my fellow college students and my professor, to my work. They seemed to be amazed and curious about my life. They were very supportive and encouraging, as my deepest secrets were exposed through my writings.
That class was the catalyst for what I do today. Back in the 70’s, PTSD didn’t even have a name. We tried to keep our problems to ourselves. I only became aware of what PTSD was, back in 1987, when a crisis led me to the Veterans Outreach Center for counseling. I had to go alone, as my then husband refused to seek help.
I never dreamed then, that eventually I’d be speaking to groups about the subject. Dottie Walters, a famous speaker, has noted that when a person gives a speech, there is generally one person in the audience who desperately needs to hear what you have to say.
This was proven out to me this past Friday night. The last person who got up to the podium to speak, was a lovely young woman. She started out saying how much my speaking about my PTSD experiences had touched her. You see, her son is twenty years young, in the Army, and preparing to deploy to a war zone.
Recently, while on a training mission, the vehicle he was riding in, overturned and killed a fellow soldier. The woman’s son was unable to speak for three days afterward, due to the trauma. So here he is, not even at war yet, and he has been dramatically affected for life.
After she told us about her love for her son and her fears for his future, she broke into song; a passionate, awe-inspiring rendition of Amazing Grace. That was some ending to our event.
As we were leaving the room where we’d had the readings, she and I nearly fell into each other’s arms. We hugged for quite some time. There were a few words exchanged, (she told me I was amazing) but a lot was unspoken, while we basked in a feeling of mutual understanding. It was a beautiful thing for both of us.
Every time I share my story like I did that night, a piece of me feels like “it’s been put back together.” I’m telling you now, those who are suffering with the great pain that PTSD can bring, there is light at the end of the tunnel. You will be surprised how, each time you are brave enough to “bare your soul” healing can come in (often in unexpected ways) and start mending that which has been broken.
Shared pain can bring great healing. I know. I’ve been where you are. Trust me, it can get better.
In my next post, I’ll explore this topic even more. It’s one worth “talking about.”