Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms (PTSD)
Transcript from Video
I’d like to talk a little bit about post traumatic stress symptoms. There’s been much of it in the news lately about our soldiers coming back with all kinds of emotional issues. And they don’t seem to be getting anywhere. They seem to be just frustrated and out there with nothing for them.
I had some time as a regular soldier a number of years ago, and some time as a reservist. And part of what I found out along the way is that afterwards we have a lot of problems and we don’t really have a way of dealing with them.
And part of what I had found through my time, they train you to do all kinds of things. They train you to kill in many different ways. They have six months to kind of mold your mind to be just a basic soldier. I find what’s very challenging is you learn how to do all these things and then we get back to civilian life you don’t know how to cope anymore. They don’t “untrain” you, they just take this killer and send him back to the street and expect that he’s going to fit in and adapt. And we don’t. We have all kinds of problems. We have family problems.
I spent a tour in Cypress, and it was a real challenge to try and live that. You’re away from your family for six months and there’s all kinds of problems that arise in six months, but you could do nothing to help solve them. You’re just behind the eight ball, and you find out afterwards that your wife was unable to deal with things or fix things. And you’re just kind of finding out things; things that are going on that you’re not aware of. And it leaves kind of a void in you, that you have this family, but you can do nothing to help them because you’re away doing this soldier thing.
I found that being a soldier, that they give you a lot of training. They teach you certain ways of doing things. And those ways of doing things are not really fitting in with the way life is out here. They teach you how to shoot targets and how to react to situations, and the targets are a simulation of a person. So you spend a lot of time learning how to react to situations and how to turn a target into a human being, and shoot it or whatever you’re going to do to it. So after a while, you have this whole disassociation thing going on and you’re learning how to be this, but you don’t learn how to turn it off.
So you start dealing with people that you know in a similar fashion, you disassociate from them. So you end up changing a lot of friends when you’re with the military, and sometimes you change wives too. I think they just get tired of us not talking to them. And when we do talk to them, we talk to them like soldiers.
I think it’s a struggle there in itself. It’s really hard to explain some of these things. I was on an exercise one time, and I was a radio operator. And through the course of my duties, a message came over the radio, “Had the padre reached call sign Brave Location?” Call sign is something that assigned to a particular person, but they never use names. So this time they used the name, which was mine, and that the padre was coming. In the military, you know if the padre’s coming to visit you that somebody’s died.
So it took a few hours before the padre was able to find out where I was and get there. By that time I was wreck. And they had taken me off the radio because they knew the padre was coming, so we’d better isolate this guy. So you sit there like a bump on a log, waiting for something to happen. And the padre shows up and he tells me my son had died a crib death yesterday, in the afternoon. And here it is noon the next day and I’m just finding out.
So they gave me some tranquillizers and shipped me off to Calgary. And I sat in the barracks there for a little better than a day, overnight. Really, I don’t know what to do with myself. I’m alone. I’ve got no real way of getting in touch with my wife. And so I just sit there. I just there and veg for next day, on these tranquilizers. I didn’t bother eating or anything. I didn’t care about anything.
And then I get back to Winnipeg and my in-laws latch onto me. And we go there and there’s no end to booze. You know, my father-in-law just keeps pouring me drinks. So, for the next while and between tranquilizers and booze, I don’t know if I’m coming or going half the time. And I missed my son’s funeral. I was just so out of it that they kind of left me at the house.
And then you come out of that when you stop taking your tranquilizers and stop drinking. You come out of that and you realize you missed something. Maybe that was just an opportunity to close something a little bit. Not that you’re going to get over the grieving, but just to close it. So you do nothing. You just learn to live with that. You just tuck that away and just live with it for the next 30 or 40 years. That, you know, you kind screwed up big time, and you never really got to see your son off. I think it was just—I don’t know, maybe in my mind that’s a little like post-traumatic stress.
So I left the soldiering idea behind and became a policeman. They teach you how to be a policeman. You know, they teach you all this stuff and how to react to targets, and how to deal with issues like that; how to do your job. But nowhere do they teach you how to cope. Like being a soldier, there’s no coping with stuff. Stuff happens to you and you just react to it. That’s all it ever is, is reaction.
You can’t really tell anybody about this because they’d tell you you’ve got to keep this stuff quiet. And then wants to go ahead and tell their wife that the just spent a ton of time was some gruesome sights. Whether it’s bodies or badly wounded victims, or dead people. It just really starts to take a toll, and who do you tell?
You can’t really tell your buddies that you’re having all these messed-up ideas in your head because they’ll think you’re a goof. Because you’re supposed to be this tough cop. You’re supposed to be like the soldier, the tough guy, that this doesn’t bother you and you can handle it. And you just start putting all this stuff away, just tuck it down. And that’s all it is, again, it’s another reactive job where you just react to situations and just deal with the garbage that’s in your head as best you can.
I had a guy come at me with a butcher knife one time. You know, it almost seemed like a sword, it was that long. And he’s coming at me and I’ve got my gun out, and I had drawn my gun down on him. I can see him in my sights, and suddenly it turned into a man target. I could see the hammer coming back in my revolver, and it was just starting to come back. And I just saw a target. I had lost sight of the guy. I just didn’t see a person anymore. It would have been so easy to finish it off and just pull the trigger.
I heard a siren off in the distance, I thought, but it was maybe right behind me by six feet, where another police car pulled up. I lost the world. I was just right out of it. And I don’t think I was any different than anybody else, but you know, it’s such a disassociation that you learn. You learn that people aren’t people anymore, they’re targets.
So it was a similar situation. I had left the army and I just started drinking when my son died. I guess I started again when I was policeman. I had never been much of a drinker all my life, and then it just seemed like the thing to do. It gives you some peace. It just quiets your brain down and gives you peace and you feel good, initially. Then I think when we stop using, whether it’s meds or street drugs, or booze, or whatever it is. When you stop using, the pain starts. And now you’ve got a lot more pain to deal with. And I think it just starts eating you.
I went to counselling. And when I first get to counselling the counsellor says, “Well, you’re an alcoholic”. How could I be an alcoholic? I haven’t drank hard for years. Because I always thought that if you stopped drinking, you know, you couldn’t be alcoholic because alcoholics don’t stop. She just said, “No, you’re an alcoholic”. I didn’t believe that. So I went to counselling for quite a few years, and then I ended up joining AA, and through AA I learned some of the things I was doing might have been right off the wall. But after I’d been doing that for a couple years I thought, “I need more than this. I’m white-knuckling it, and I want to get better. I don’t want to be like this forever.”
If you’re an alcoholic, insurance companies don’t want anything to do with you because now you have mental problems. And people look at you funny. It’s almost like you’re a pervert. It’s like, “Oh, we have to keep our kids away from him because he’s a drunk”, and most people have a stereotype of a drunk as some dirty old man that wears a trenchcoat and has a brown bag in his pocket. So it just seemed like I needed more than that.
I had this workbook that the counsellor had gotten me to do. “How to Cure…whatever,” and it was the most painful thing I’d ever done in my life. It brought garbage out of stuff I never thought I’d ever have to deal with again. So between counselling and this workbook I was starting to hate myself. I thought it was almost as bad as it was before I started getting help. And it just seemed like there was no end to it. Finally I had to quit going to counselling. It was making my life too rotten. I didn’t want to know all this crap. I thought it was gone.
Then I met up with a friend of mine, George, who put on a workshop. And through this workshop, I learned that I can deal with some of these issues, like my road rage. I certainly had road rage. So I had anger problems, I had depression problems, and through this workshop I learned that you can actually change your mind or change your mood as fast as you can change colours in your head. Say I asked you to imagine red, then I asked you to change it to blue. You can also do that with anger and frustration and guilt; you name it, depression, anxiety. You can change your mind that easy.
It seemed like such a good idea, that I kind of hooked up with George, and now I do this kind of thing. But whether you think I know anything about post-traumatic stress or not would be another story, but that’s for you to decide. If you think that you’ve got these kinds of problems, we can help you.