by Scott Stetson
I’ve got something to share and have been pondering exactly where to begin for a week. Like many veterans, I am in deep with the community and when I drop off and we lose someone to a tragic event I always have someone contact me asking me to pipe up and make a presentation. I guess that presence is what I am known most for amongst my peers and those who I’ve had the privilege to lead.
Over the past few years, I’ve been analyzing every situation that has happened in our community. Trying to put my finger on things that can hopefully bring to the surface legitimate methods to turn the tide on these tragedies. Perhaps the one commonality in every one of us is that we have become professionals when it comes to compartmentalizing events in our lives. In fact, we are so good that our lives appear to be artistic masterpieces full of incomprehensible events that we have somehow found clarity in. Our lives are sand art, with different layers at the bottom of a mason jar and the current moment being crystal clear water sitting peacefully on top. Sure, some alcohol gets added to the mix and a grain or two gets stirred up, but generally, a lot of us really look like we have our shit together. Hell, for the most part, we do.
There resides a hidden danger, a truth, a reality that we will inevitably face though. Tragedy will strike again. I’m not a fan of the whole “trigger” movement when it comes to things that stir up your layers; the reality is something shakes the living hell out of your jar and stirs it all up at once. When that happens you will have a meltdown…and that is what this is truly about.
A couple of weeks ago I had an event unfold that my brain somehow connected to past events. It was fast, it was bloody, and there was the smell of freshly discharged rounds in the air. Once the situation had been handled as best it could have, that is when all those layers hit me in the face like a freight train. There simply was no means of functioning. I couldn’t talk, every light, every sound, every follicle of hair on my body was overwhelming. Closing my eyes only brought nausea and history I have sought to bury. All I could do was lay on the floor and emit guttural sobs and it scared the hell out of my wife and young son.
I am thankful for my wife, she’s a badass and stuck by me as I fought through this event. She asked me if calling my closest brother would help, she asked me what to do. I couldn’t tell her. There was no way I could talk or dial a phone. The only thing that I could think of that would help me was to be put in a straightjacket and injected with anything that would knock me out until the dust settled and I could process what was happening. She was able to set conditions that lessened the immediate external stressors; turning down the lights, turning off the TV, and not pushing me to talk, but being there close. Within a couple of days I was back to a relative normal.
That is when the clarity came. Not about what happened, but what I needed to do to set my family and friends up for success when it came to helping me if I ever am in that state again. We all went through establishing a will and a living will when we were in to take care of things if something happened to us but many of us have not taken the same care of providing something to our friends and family should a meltdown occur.
The number one thing I have advised my family is to not call the police unless I am actively going to harm someone or myself. This is not a dig on the police, it is a reality of our environment. Many law enforcement agencies are not prepared to deal with this type of event. I have had close friends have family or friends call the police for help and they wound up dead. I don’t blame the officers as they were reacting to a situation and in a few cases, individuals may have used the police to achieve a permanent and ultimately tragic outcome. I acknowledge that I had shut down. That means I am already not listening well and I could be perceived as resisting even though I am actively fighting full-body contractions. Where does that lead if my hands are near or in my pockets? I don’t want to put anyone in that position unnecessarily.
The next step is equipping my family with the contact information and sequence of contacting people that are ‘in the know’ and can help. This is my new alert roster and it consists of local people I have spoken with in the past and facility contact information along with hours of operation. This requires significant footwork on my part, but it is the least I can do to ensure my family is prepared.
If you aren’t talking to someone I encourage you to do so. Go to a few sessions and at least establish a relationship with some professional in your immediate area. This could help you now, but the reality is you are setting conditions for the future. You are providing someone with historical information and establishing a relationship with someone that has their fingers on the threads that can get you help when you need it most. It is fine to rely on the VA crisis hotline and hand that off to people that are close to you, but ask yourself, ‘Am I setting conditions to achieve the outcome that will lessen the stress of those close to me and get me help?’ ‘Am I ensuring that when I need help it will be in an as efficient manner possible?’
I cannot convey just how important doing the footwork and establishing relationships is. Why? Well, if you don’t and you are in a community like the one we live you may not have an inpatient care facility readily available, and instead a plan must be made to get me to the ER until I can have the people that do know my history come in and get me to a facility of choice in a community nearby. If you call the police or the VA you will wind up in state-funded facilities that may exacerbate the condition you are in. Keep control over your treatment and find out exactly where you want to be if you have to get inpatient treatment and then let the people around you know.
Don’t get me wrong, the VA hotline is great, but survivability is and always has been about relationships. It doesn’t matter if you are on the battlefield relying on local support by fire or CAS, or at home relying on the relationships you have built locally. They mean the world and can prove to be the decisive factor between life and death. They will streamline the ability to get you help and safe until the dust settles and you can process what the hell just happened.
The last step in this process is once the dust has settled reach back out. Don’t be afraid of sharing your story, the hell you went through, and how you made it through. Call people, talk to them, gain their perspective on your situation and perhaps pick up a new tool for the self-aid process you are establishing. It doesn’t mean you are weak to have a breaking moment, it means you’re normal. Grow stronger, use your lessons learned, and stay connected through each ebb and flow you’ll experience, chances are your experience will help someone else.
This first appeared in The Havok Journal on April 22, 2017.