02 April 2012

There's a Better Life for Me and You

It's been a tricky past few days, which is to say I've invested a huge amount of emotional energy trying to render my black and white perception of reality into a full color tour de force. And in classic fashion, it only made sense to me that such an undertaking would consume no longer than one weekend, or perhaps three weeks of my life at the absolute most. It's now been three weeks and one day and I'm nowhere close to done...in fact, it feels like I've hardly started. Luckily I'm here five more weeks (and unluckily patience is my weakest virtue).

Deciphering the monochrome is daunting because the shapes are perplexingly intertwined, making my task of injecting a bit of color into particular sections feel much like a game of Jenga. Under routine circumstances, it may be possible to inspect each individual block, determine the structural significance and act accordingly. But under the current conditions (and given the perceived time constraints), my game of Jenga has been repositioned from the stable dining room table to the San Andreas Fault, the 54 wooden blocks infested with termites, and the object of the game is now to remove the most critical rotting pieces before time runs out. Along the way, I need to start some type of extermination regimen, prevent future decay by laquering the newly freed blocks with a brightly colored waterproof paint, and gingerly re-insert them into the tower.

The purpose of group therapy is to play this impractical game as a member of a team. As I look at the tower and start to consider which block to pull next, there are ideally five other players ready to help me see the three blind sides of the tower. But lately, I think I'm all alone (by choice or by chance), and the more isolated I let myself feel, the more willing I am to start tugging on one of the weight-bearing blocks just to see who (if anyone) will stop me, hardly considering the traumatic impact of such a choice.

I pulled one of those critical pieces out last Thursday, and told a story to five near-strangers that before that day was known to less than five people in the world, if I include the Air Force Colonel who taught me early in my career that such things would be normal (and therefore acceptable). What I didn't consider was my audience...at least my in-person audience...that morning. I had dropped a grenade, pulled the pin, and ducked for cover. It took about five hours before detonation, and by the time it hit that afternoon, I was extracting shrapnel from unmentionable places...a process I continued throughout the weekend.

The decisions leading to my personal disclosure last week were a profound lesson on why my journey through Landstuhl, triggered by post-traumatic stress, applies in every aspect of my life. It's taken me 32 years to sketch this picture, and I've relied primarily on a thick-lined black Sharpie. I now see how perhaps drafting first in pencil may have been more, well, practical, and how shading would have also been appropriate.

Last week, I trusted five people with one of my most haunting memories, which could have been okay, except I'd distanced myself from said audience since the day I arrived here. I came into the program with the flawed notion that our group table is a community landfill, where organic and non-organic trash would decompose at the same rate. It's not that I tossed in a plastic bottle and everyone else has been dumping banana peels. The flawed quantum leap I made was thinking the mere act of sitting six people in a room automatically builds a community under these circumstances, knowing full well (through hard-earned experience) that such is not the case in the real, non-treatment world.

Somehow, and I'm still not sure how, I decided that I deserved access to the landfill without paying the requisite taxes. And that, right there, is the perfect metaphor to explain the combustion of so many things in my own little reality since my return from Afghanistan.

I came to Landstuhl three weeks ago, proud of myself for claiming eight weeks of "me" time. In truth, what I'd signed up for is an eight week exercise in laying the foundation then framing my dream house...and helping five other people do the same. I assumed, and wrongfully so, that I could contract out the difficult parts, watching from the sidelines as the "experts" did all of the heavy lifting. What I know now is the very thing that makes my new house so special is the investment of blood, sweat and tears. Not only my own, but also those shared by five fellow warriors who have also been to hell and back, each in his own way, and each returning with his unique perspective.

It's taken three weeks to see the three blind sides of the Jenga tower. Just now I'm starting to see similarities between the blocks erroding in my tower and those in the towers of the guys on my left and on my right. So maybe...no definitely...the best way for us to start to transform these termite-infested time-bombs into liveable homes is to take it one small step at a time.

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