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Old 04-12-2009   #35
MikeF
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Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: Chapel Hill, NC
Posts: 1,177
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PROLOGUE

You never really know what is going through another man’s mind or the path that he walks. For veterans, the path is more obscure. He could be your grandfather, uncle, brother, or husband. He could be the homeless guy on the street. He may be the smartly dressed businessman in your office or the art collector downtown. On the surface, he tries to act like you wearing a mask to hide the horror and rage deep within his soul. He strives to be normal in American society, but his heart is numb. Normal is juxtaposed with the pain and suffering he has lived. He does not want his family to know what he has done. He suffers in silence.

I never thought I could heal. After all the killing and violence, I felt that I had a penance to serve. I felt condemned to a life with hope forlorn, faith no more; a life without purpose and without love. I was a shell of my former self drowning in an alcoholic sorrow along the river of the Sierra Nevada Pale ale. Sometimes, I wished that I had died in Iraq. At least then I would have had a hero’s burial.

Instead, I waded through an insufferable purgatory walking through your world but living in Iraq. I would stare at you on the street wondering if you could ever understand. I saw you everywhere, but you never saw me. You were distracted by your IPod and cell phone: measures of self-medication that provide distance from thinking about your soul, purpose, and nature. That is the American condition I suppose. We are so blessed, yet we are so cursed at times. I was angry, and I deflected my anger onto you.

Yes, I am gifted with exceptional intelligence, but so what? My anger thwarted any attempt to be productive. I was emotionally bankrupt. My process was skewed- all goal focused. I did not, could not live. I tried to fit into your society; I tried to conform. I tried to wear a mask of the good soldier, the good student, the good husband, and the good father. It did not work. I thought of running away to homelessness or hiding in an office being nobody. It did not work. I forced myself on a path to resolution. I would either heal, or I would die trying.

After my fourth combat tour and six years of perpetual war, I spiraled out of control. I searched for hope and love, and I found nothing. I tried to eat, love, and pray. I tried yoga. I tried the church. I thought that maybe all I had to do was get smarter. I tried to expand my creativity. I tried painting, poetry, rock-climbing, mountain biking, surfing, and hiking. I found nothing.

I found temporary relief with alcohol. Drinking 30 beers a night, I could forget for a bit. For a few precious moments, I was not haunted by the genocide, the burning villages, my soldier’s faces destroyed, or my soldier’s brains deteriorating. I found relief. I spent several nights in jail for public intoxication, and I kept falling.

The Army was very patient with me. They tried to give me space to sort through my grief, but it did not work. Finally, in a last ditch effort, they sent me to Kansas. What the hell is in Kansas?

In Kansas, a transformation occurred. Magic and miracle are the only words to describe what happened. I watched old, crusty Vietnam Veterans break weeping like young children. I let go. I am not angry anymore. I am alive!!!

Nancy understood. Once, she had walked in my shoes. She knew that I saw the world differently from most. She reminded me I have one of three choices to make: conform, walk away, or voice truth to power. I chose voice. I understand the implications of my decision with regards to the Army. With my voice, I am walking away. I will now be considered too rebellious, too different. I am okay with my decision. Furthermore, I made a decision to pursue my new life with the same audacity that I once pursued al Qaeda. This is my story.

After years of endless trauma, Ralph Waldo Emerson emerged anew. He produced definite works in American literature that defined the American spirit of self-reliance for a century. He challenged us to,

“Be not a slave of your own past. Plunge into the deep waters, dive deep and swim far, so that you may emerge anew. Return with renewed experience and deeper understanding.”

Let us tackle his challenge. Let us strive to be the next greatest generation. Let our children live. Follow me. I will share my story. It is raw, real, and true. It is interesting and important. It is a tragedy, but it is mostly a story of hope, acceptance, forgiveness, validation, and love. As the president proclaims, “The audacity of hope must transcend.”

Thank you for reading this. I am not sure if you are ready to hear it, but it is time. God bless you, and God Bless the United States of America. Tomorrow is a new day. Let us not forget our past lest we are forced to repeat it.
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