US Field Manual to Not Killing Yourself/13 Reasons Why Not
Conversations with my Beretta about Coping with Extreme Personal Adversity
Preface: I served a third combat tour in Iraq in 2007-2008. I was a senior Colonel and Chief of Surgery at a Combat Support Hospital and I had over twenty years of service in the military that included more than a dozen deployments. Three of these were combat tours. In 2007 there were unit related mission issues and I insured that the mission was successfully carried out. The unit had a broken leadership chain and was without technical expertise in trauma surgery. Eventually, I was accused of vague allegations and was subjected to being in Iraq without a job and in a non-contact status with my colleagues for five months. This was a period of extreme personal adversity for me. I was subject to two 15-6 investigations, an Article 32 investigation, an Article 15 Hearing and a Professional Peer Review of my clinical activities and a Command ordered Psychiatric Evaluation. When I returned home, I was investigated by the Veterans Administration where I worked as Chief of Surgery and by the State Medical Board. I was sixty three years old and possibly had more resources available to me than younger soldiers and officers to deal with this adversity. Still, I had to pass through many feelings of anger, depression, hopelessness, loneliness, fear, uncertainty, idleness, boredom and suicide. I have detailed some of the ways I survived the ordeal that came to me. I hope this is helpful to anyone undergoing a period of extreme personal adversity whatever the cause: family relations, problems with love and relationships, health problems, death, employment issues, financial problems, peer relations or problems of growing up or growing older. Everyone says, “Don’t kill yourself.” Here are 13 ways I didn’t kill myself and they will be presented is a serialized form.
4. Belief in Personal Mission: Each one of us is here for a reason. I think we all know this down deep, even if it takes us our entire life to understand and find out what that reason is. We are singing a song without knowing the words, doing an unnamed dance without knowing the steps. In my case, I was genetically programmed to take care of the sick and injured and to do this with my mind, my hands, and a knife. I was also here to bring up my two daughters, Jessica and Sara and to be a husband to Susan and a brother to Nancy. Yes, there were other missions; to fear God and keep his Commandments. And that was a lot and I was lucky to have these missions and even luckier to be aware of them. The Army had taught me to take care of the people under me and they would take care of the mission. In this case, once I was under the gun in Iraq, I was the person under me and I focused on taking care of myself. This meant making sure I ate properly, slept enough and kept myself physically and mentally active. Again, easy to say, hard to do. Eating alone in the mess hall, the one place for comfort from the heat, dust and grayness of Iraq was always difficult and never became easier. Still, I made sure I ate at least two meals a day. I went back and forth between eating very healthy and going for the comfort food. That was okay. And I grabbed a pocketful of snacks and drinks for a generous snack later on as I didn’t have the strength to come in to the chow hall alone three times a day. Sleeping enough? Without a job and with no social life on account of the no contact order, I had way too much time. Sleep was one way to pass the hours, but with my mind racing it was impossible to put together a full night’s sleep. Maybe it was the adrenalin flowing through me but I was up at least three times a night to urinate. And then I’d wake up with bad thoughts about the uncertainty and fear of what would happen to me. I tried to deal with this by doing yoga and meditation and exhausting myself at the gym. But it didn’t work. Next thing I knew, I was taking Benadryl pills to put me to sleep. But they didn’t keep me asleep. Then I was taking Ambien sleeping pills along with Seroquel to sleep. Seroquel is a major tranquilizer, but in low dose is used for sleep. Its side effect includes calming down a racing mind. This combination of medication took ten hours to wear off each night and it did give me relief. Eventually, I felt myself becoming paranoid and stopped taking the Ambiens with the Seroquels. Seroquels are called Suzie Q’s by the inmates in the LA County Jail where they are a favorite drug. If you are taking Suzy Q’s, you aren’t there! Sleep is good, even if you need drugs when compared to the panic of nighttime coming and knowing that sleep will not come. Physical activity was important to keeping me going. At sixty three years of age, I can only work out so much each day. I would vary my routine with long walks, yoga, light weight training and spinning classes on a stationary bicycle. However, I wasn’t able to have the physical break through that could have been possible with this much time on my hands. Anxiety and fear chews up inner energy and there was just enough energy left in me do my work out once each day. Mentally, I began to read fiction from the local lending libraries. Mostly this was what was available, but someone donated their New Yorkers each week and these lengthy articles in addition to the steady steam of adventure books let me know that my mind was still working. Fiction took me away, and “I wasn’t here” even without the drugs. It was a challenge to take care of myself so I could complete my mission which was to endure the uncertainty and delays of military injustice. But I was able to do this. Alcohol wasn’t available for me in Iraq, but upon returning home I returned to having a few beers with my friends, some wine with dinner and a shot before bed. I quickly came to realize that as a result of the stress I no longer handled alcohol the way I used to. More than two beers and I’d be out of it and would remain a little bit off the next day. Plus the alcohol hurt my sleeping which was tenuous at best. If I drank within four or five hours of bedtime, I’d wake up like a shot about two in the morning and would be unable to get back to sleep. If I really drank too much, I would wake up with a headache. I had to make myself pay attention to the change in how I processed alcohol and drink less and not drink at all prior to going to bed. Inside the wire, where there was no threat back in Iraq, I wore my Beretta, it was only a part of my uniform.