Managing my PTSD started with Poetry

“The term posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has become a household name since its first appearance in 1980 in the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-lll) published by the American Psychiatric Association, In the collective mind, this diagnosis is associated with the legacy of the Vietnam War disaster. Earlier conflicts had given birth to terms, such as “soldier’s heart, ” “shell shock,” and “war neurosis.” The latter diagnosis was equivalent to the névrose de guerre and Kriegsneurose of French and German scientific literature. This article describes how the immediate and chronic consequences of psychological trauma made their way into medical literature, and how concepts of diagnosis and treatment evolved over time.”  – US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health

Then the VA’s National Center for PTSD was created in 1989 by an act of Congress.

Even most of the Hollywood movies that deal with PTSD didn’t start to come out until the 21st century.

What about Life with PTSD?

I didn’t know what was going on about PTSD in the 1980s. I was too busy teaching in a community based public school district 1975 – 2005, often working 60 to 100 hours a week.  If I wasn’t teaching, I was planning lessons, calling parents, and correcting the school work my students turned in.

During those years, the PTSD was still managing my life in devious ways, playing a role in my first two divorces.

Maybe it was a survival mechanism that kicked in that stopped me from drinking too much booze on a daily basis and often being hung over the next day before I started drinking again. I crossed that threshold in 1982, the year I stopped drinking booze of all kinds and drastically changed my lifestyle from fast-food and alcohol to become a vegan.

Thirty-nine years later, I’m still a vegan and haven’t been drunk once.

During that drastic lifestyle transition in 1982 where I lost 60 pounds and turned orange from drinking too much  organic carrot juice, I was working days and earning an MFA in writing nights and summers.

The summer of 1982, I took a poetry workshop and most of the poems I wrote that year explored the  mental and physical damage caused by war.

This post is the first of many. I am going to dust off those decades old poems, update and revise them, and publish them here on my Soulful Veteran Blog.

Chocolate in the Mud by Lloyd Lofthouse

Dark is better
Magic black
Spiritual money
Treat yourself to a truffle
Buy a bon-bon

Discovered in the rain forests
Two thousand years ago
Maya and Aztec royalty
Drank it frothy
Spicy and bitter

Mom baked
Mouth-watering
Chocolate cakes
Along with pecan
Chocolate chip cookies
Heating the savory
Kitchen scented air

Hanging around like a puppy
Scraping the frosting bowl clean
Licking the spatula
Was more fun than playing
Front yard pirates

Rainy days still trigger
Left over memories
Of that long ago kitchen
Bringing desire
A craving for something creamy and dark
Like a chocolate fudge Sunday
Smearing lips with sticky
Lip clinging excellent mud

When I was a U.S. Marine
No longer a child
It rained hundreds of inches in Vietnam.
Slogging in from a recon patrol or ambush
Surviving another day after too many close calls
With mucky fudge clinging to our weapons

That mud was a reminder of younger days
Raised in a country
Where pampered children
May be a protected alien species
Living a fantasy life filled with
Chocolate treats

Today, when some turn eighteen
They join the military like I did
Take the Loyalty Oath
Washington was the first to take
Before shipping out to Iraq and Afghanistan

Will those troops dream of chocolate in the bloody Sand Box?

Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine, Vietnam Veteran,

retired public school teacher, journalist, and award-winning author.

4 thoughts on “Managing my PTSD started with Poetry

  1. I like your poem, Chocolate in Mud! One time in Vietnam, I returned from a recon mission to find two of the guys in my unit had just returned from R & R in Tokyo. They brought back a five-gallon container of chocolate ice cream packed in dry ice. Best ice cream I ever tasted.

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