How My PTSD Wrote an Accidental Novel

Mental Health America says, “Writing down your thoughts can be a great way to work through issues. Researchers have found that writing about painful events can reduce stress and improve health.”

That is why I belong to two groups of combat vets that meet each week for an hour and a half. We share our writing as a form of therapy to deal with the PTSD that followed us home from Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia. The Marines, Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Special Forces, and the Airforce are all represented at these two tables located in two different locations on different days. One is located at a VA facility and the other group meets at a Vet Center.

“Vet Centers are community-based counseling centers that provide a wide range of social and psychological services, including professional readjustment counseling to eligible Veterans, active duty service members, including National Guard and Reserve components, and their families.”

When we meet, there is no pressure to write and share. It is okay to just listen. We can write just about anything we want in any form and each week at the end of each session, there is a prompt to help any of us that are blocked. What we share through our writing often results in healing conversations. Poetry, non-fiction, and fiction are all acceptable. Through fiction, we can deal with our personal issues through our characters.

One of those prompts gave birth to The Patriot Oath.” At the time, I didn’t know the prompt “heads or tails” would end up becoming a novel. It wasn’t until the second prompt, “If I could go back and do it all over again (must be a military theme),” that I decided to challenge myself and keep the same characters and story going from prompt-to-prompt.

The title for this novel wasn’t born until much later. Even the characters names went through changes. I never planned to write this book. It came about organically one week and prompt, at a time, but somewhere along the way, the story stopped being driven by the weekly prompts and the characters took over and made the prompts fit their story.

Thirty-five weeks after the first prompt, I had a novel that I named “The Patriot Oath”, and here is the first chapter that was written for the prompt “heads or tails”.

The Patriot Oath
Chapter One (written from the prompt “head or tails”)

Josh Keagan was on his way home for the first time in twenty-three years, because his younger sister had been raped.

When Josh joined the United States Marines at eighteen after graduating from high school, he didn’t plan on returning home to Montana. Growing up on a ranch had been a hard life, and he’d resented it. It didn’t take long to discover the Marine Corps was tougher, but he excelled at it. When he retired a few weeks earlier, he’d just been promoted to O-5. His first year out, he was going to earn more than $5,000 a month, and every year he’d get a pay raise of about two percent. And then there was the contracting business he’d started with his mentor and old friend LG. That venture was bringing in good money, too.

Josh was the oldest of four siblings, and the youngest, Susan was his only sister. She’d been three when he’d left for the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, California. Knowing his father’s stubbornness and temper, Josh suspected his name had been banished from the dinner table and he would not be surprised if Susan didn’t know she had an older brother.

Without a car, he’d spent hours sprawled on the back seat of a Greyhound Bus from Denver, Colorado to Billings, Montana where he’d hitched a ride with an eighteen-wheeler that dropped him at Great Falls. With his duffle bag slung over his shoulder, he’d hitch-hiked along route 87 and caught rides that carried him to Stanford where his brother Samuel, five years younger than him, was supposed to be waiting.

When he climbed down from the eighteen wheeler’s cab, he spotted a familiar 1942 blue Chevy pickup parked on the far side of the gravel lot. It was the same one his grandfather had cherished, and Josh was willing to bet it still ran like a Swiss watch.

“How is she, Sammy?” Josh asked his smiling brother, who was leaning on the pickup’s hood watching him approach. As kids, Samuel had always preferred to be called Sam or Sammy.

Sammy was all smiles as he tapped the hood with the tip of an index finger. “This old dependable sexy Chevy keeps on running.  I’ve been rebuilding it, and it’s better than the Energizer Bunny. Grandpa would be proud.”

“Good to know, but I’m not talking about the fucking truck,” Josh said. He tossed his hundred-pound duffel bag in the open bed of the truck and slid onto the cab’s worn passenger seat. “I’m hungry. Let’s have lunch first. We’ll talk after we eat.”

They ate in silence at a local spot. After lunch, when Sammy climbed in behind the steering wheel, his expression had sobered. He said, “We never leave her alone. Today, my wife is with her. Wednesday, Cousin Betty will come from Eddies Corner and stay for a few days.”

“You know who did it, right?” Josh asked.

“Yea, it was an asshole whose dad is a billionaire. It’s the same old shit. His dad brought in a hot-shot lawyer that made her look like a whore.”

“How are the small farmers doing locally?”

“Not so good. We’ve been lucky because of what Mom earns from her books and because the ranch is nestled in a small valley surrounded by hills, but too many of the local farmers have lost everything because they were talked into planting and growing Frankenstein Food and when the monster seed blew onto the land of farmers that refused to grow that shit and sprouted, the corporation took them to court and screwed them bankrupt with court costs. Then to keep their farms, they agreed to become paid corporate slaves. Once a farmer signs, it’s impossible to get out of it, and most of the consumers don’t want to eat that poison.”

“Tell me something I don’t know,” Josh said.

Sammy glanced at his brother’s craggy features. “You look older than forty-one,” he said. “You never wrote about what you did in the military. What happened to you in there?”

“Nothing I did is worth talking about and most of it’s classified,” Josh replied.

“What do you mean, it ain’t worth talking about? Everyone knows about your Purple Hearts, the Navy Cross, the three Silver Stars, and the Bronze Star. What we don’t know is what you did to earn it all?”

“Like I said, most of it is classified.” Josh was chewing on a wooden toothpick he’d picked up at Dauna’s Deli in Stanford where he’d had his favorite French Dip Sandwich for lunch. Every bite had come with a flood of memories from his youth. He’d been so bitter when he’d left home, he’d forgotten that there had been good times, too.

“Can you at least tell me what you did in the Marines?”

“Once I graduated from boot camp, I became a Scout Sniper. A few years later I left the Marines to become a Navy Seal.” He stopped talking and a moment of silence slipped by.

“That’s all?”

“That’s all I’m willing to talk about. That life is behind me now. What happened to Susan is more important then what I did for the last twenty-three years.”

Sammy’s eyes widened. “Jesus,” he said. “You don’t like talking about what you did in the military, do you?”

Josh grunted. “I got better things to do then jaw about old news.”

“You were a blabbermouth when we were kids. What changed?”

Josh switched the toothpick to the other side of his mouth and said, “You’re kidding, right?”

It was quiet for the next few miles before Sammy asked, “What are you planning to do now that you’re back?” He was keeping his eyes on the road and worry lines had appeared around his eyes. “Dad and mom don’t want any trouble with Charles Tweet and his youngest son Darwin. We talked it over and it has been decided that we want to put this behind us and forget about what happened to Suki.”

“Suki?” Josh asked.

“That’s the name she prefers. Don’t call her Susan.”

“I’m not going to forget about what happened to Suki.” Josh dragged out her name longer than necessary. “You do not have a need to know the details of this operation, baby brother.”

“Operation?” Sammy said with a shaky voice. “You can’t leave me out of this. They crippled Mel and gang-raped Suki. After the way that fancy, fast-talking corporate-bought lawyer trashed her in court, she’s almost a basket case.”

Mel was the youngest brother who had been ten when Josh left. “So you do not agree with mom and dad that we should put what happened to Suki behind us and pretend it never happened?” he asked.

“If you are going to get revenge, I want in on it.”

“You don’t have the training or experience for what’s coming,” Josh said.

“Fuck that!” Sammy slammed on the brakes and brought the Chevy to a screeching halt by the side of the narrow, worn, two-lane road. He face was blooming with anger.

Josh sighed. “We are not going to argue.”

“You can’t do this alone.”

“I’m not alone.” His voice was crisp. “My Semper Fi brothers are already in the hills above the ranch waiting for me. We’ve done this type of shit dozens of times in too many countries to count. When we’re done, this billionaire and his family will leave Montana and never return. I plan on teaching them a lesson they will never forget, and you don’t want that crap in your head when you try to sleep at night.”

“How is this going to help Mel or Suki? You are underestimating Charles Tweet. He is a fucking brutal monster that thrives on getting even with anyone that crosses him. What if you make things worse for her?”

“I’ve got a counselor friend from a vet center in California that has agreed to use some of her vacation time to come to Montana and work with Suki and Mel and help them rebuild their lives. Dr. Tate is an expert in dealing with this kind of trauma.” Josh took the toothpick out of his mouth and faced his brother. “As for Charles Tweet and his evil heart, he has no idea what’s coming. As for his son the rapist, I have something special planned for him.”

“What do you mean by something special?” Sammy asked.

“No more details,” Josh said as his eyes bored into his brother’s face. “I’ve already told you too much. It’s been a long trip and I want to see the ranch before the sun goes down. I’m back to stay. Our family and neighbors need me more than the US of A does, and I’m not in this alone. Some of my Semper Fi friends grew up on small farms, too. In fact, I convinced a few of the retired ones to buy some of the local farms that went bankrupt because of the Frankenstein Food thing.”

Josh smiled for the first time as he shifted his gaze back to the view in front of the windshield. “Tell me, baby brother, is it true that my high school sweetheart hasn’t changed and she divorced that asshole she married?”

“The night she kicked him out,” Sammy replied, “she had the locks changed and her dad and brother were there when he came home drunk, as usual. That was seven months ago. A week later, he kicked in the door and attacked her, but she was ready and broke his right shoulder and a couple of ribs with a baseball bat. The next day Rachel took out a restraining order on Luke.”

Josh pressed his lips together and twerked them back and forth as he thought. “What she did was pure her,” he said. “She would have made a great Marine, and when we were kids, she was a better shot than me.” Then he lifted his butt off the seat and stretched his torso. With two fingers, he fished a quarter out of the tight watch pocket of his faded denim jeans. “Heads, I take the cowards way out, write a letter, and mail it.  Tales, I show up at her place unannounced and knock on the door and hope she blows her lid.”

Sammy glanced at him like he was nuts. “What are you talking about?”

Josh flipped the coin and grinned when he saw the results.

“What is it?” Sammy asked.

“Tales,” Josh replied. “I’m going to enjoy getting my ass kicked.” He closed his eyes and rubbed his face with the fingers of both hands. “At least I hope she does.”

“What did the Marines do to you?” Sammy asked. “Who in their right mind wants to get their ass kicked?”

Josh’s eyes sparkled. He pinched a thumb and index finger together and pretended to zip his mouth shut.

“Damn it,” Sammy said. “Tell me what the Marines did to you.”

“It wasn’t just the Marines,” Josh said. “I served in the Marines, then the Navy, and then the Army and I returned to the Marines to finish up.”

“Why?”

“It felt like the right thing to do at the time.”

“Was it?”

Josh nodded. “Yea, I got exactly what I wanted.”

“And what was that?”

“Enough talk. Just drive.”


“Try everything because something will click with you.”

My goal is to publish “The Patriot Oath” before the end of this year or early in 2020. The finished novel is now going through revisions and editing. In the meantime, the story of the characters that were born in the first novel continues with the sequel, “Never for Glory”, and I am still fitting the weekly prompts in chapter-by-chapter. The prompts for this week (August 4 -10) were: “horse” and “I’m a believer”. I haven’t started writing that chapter yet but plan to have it done before the first meeting next week so I can share it with both groups.

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine, Vietnam Veteran, retired public school teacher, journalist, and award-winning author.

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The Strongest Tree Stands Alone

“There it is, girls,” the teacher said as his group slipped through the narrow space between two large granite boulders.  Mr. Jasper heard some of the girls gasp in awe and murmur at the view spread out below them. The valley with its city stretched toward the ocean.

“It looks like purple soup,” one girl said of the carbon haze hiding most of the distant buildings and highways.

“It feels like we’re standing on another world,” a second girl says.

“Mr. Jasper, how old is it?” the youngest asked. Tiffany was fourteen and instead of staring at the view, she was looking at the bristlecone pine clinging to the steep slope near the peak of this 9,400-foot mountain. Tiff weighed about ninety pounds and stood five foot, three inches tall.

“I’ve read this tree was here before Jesus Christ was born,” Jasper replied.

That caught the attention of the others six. “No shit!”

“For being that old, it doesn’t look like it’s that tough.” The oldest girl, Crystal, was twenty-two. Her arms were covered with colorful, artistic tattoos. After being repeatedly raped by her stepfather and three half-brothers starting when she was eleven, she cut herself. After she stopped, the scars embarrassed her explaining the recent body art. She’d been in Mr. Jasper’s English class for four years and was on track to finally graduate this year.

“Mr. Jasper, even you look sturdier than that tree, and you are really old,” one of the other girls says.

Mr. Jasper grinned. He was seventy-four and had been a teacher for forty-three years.

“How long can one of these survive?” Tiffany asked as she frowned and glared at the girl that called her teacher old.

“The oldest one has been around for more than 5,000 years,” he said as he made eye contact with all of them. “You know why I brought you here. These trees are not only long-lived but they are highly resistant to harsh weather and bad soil.”

“They are survivors,” Crystal said, “like you are teaching us to be.”

Mr. Jasper nodded. He taught at an alternative high school that only worked with the most difficult students. All of these girls had been abused and bullied. Some were victims of rape. They all had PTSD just like Mr. Jasper. Before going to college on the GI Bill and teaching, he’d been a Green Beret and served in Vietnam for three tours.

When he discovered some of his students had PTSD, he decided to do something about it and back in the late 1980s formed what he called a survival club. This year there were no boys. He taught everyone that joined how to manage their PTSD and defend themselves when bullied. He also took them on trips into the wilderness and taught them how to survive there too.

“Well, well, look at this,” a raspy, gravel voice said.

Mr. Jasper was the furthest from the narrow passage between the boulders. He saw the girls turn and stare at the three muscular young men that had appeared in the gap. It was obvious from the gang tattoos that they belonged to one of the more violent gangs that plagued the poorest areas of the city. He’d seen them sitting in their car at the dirt parking lot at the base of the trail that led to this mountaintop. He’d also been aware that they had been following him and the girls.

“I’m in love,” the largest, muscle-bound gangster said and he was staring at Crystal who appeared to shrink as fear blossomed in her eyes.

Tiffany, who was the smallest in every way, pushed through the pack to stand in front of Crystal. She put a hand on Crystal’s arm and felt her trembling. “I’m not going to let anything happen to you. I’ll take care of this,” she said.

Tiffany was not only Mr. Jasper’s student, she was also one of his five foster children, currently three boys, and two girls, and she’d been with him since she was eight.

The three goons had flesh-eating grins splitting the evil looking tattoo covered faces. “I’m going to have me three of them,” one of the gangbangers said.

“Like hell you are.” And Tiffany launched herself. She took out the biggest one first with a flying leap and a foot to his groin. Twisting off of his falling body, she sliced out with a fist and hit her second target in the throat and then spinning she bounced to her feet and with her legs like coiled spring slammed into number three with the top of her head breaking his nose. Rolling off of him, she landed prone on the ground and spun knocking his legs out from under him causing him to fall hard.

Her attack took Tiffany less than three seconds.

Back on her feet, with a toothy smile splitting her pretty face, she turned to the others and said, “See what you can do to jerks like this if you listen to Mr. Jasper and learn what he teaches you?”

“Shit, girl, I want to learn moves like that,” one of the girls said. ”When do we start, Mr. Jasper?”

“Tiffany was my last hand-to-hand combat student,” he replied. “I’m too old for that anymore. She will teach you but I feel it is my duty to warn you Tiffany will not put up with laziness or smart mouths. If she says her class starts at five in the morning, don’t be late. She isn’t as patient as I am.”

“No shit, Sherlock!” another girl said.

“And you will call me Ms. Bristlecone,” Tiffany said.

That drew laughter from the others.

The three gang bangers were still on the ground writhing and groaning in pain.

“Can I hurt them, Mr. Jasper?” Tiffany asked as she narrowed her eyes. “I mean, really hurt them!”

“No, Tiff,” he said. “Just take their shoes so they have to hike back to their car barefoot. … Oh, and take their car keys and throw them that way.” He pointed toward the valley and the city hidden beneath the purple carbon haze. “If they want to drive home, they’ll have to risk climbing down the steep slope to find the keys.”

“I like that idea,” Tiffany said. She pointed to two of the other girls who were currently learning what she already knew about defending herself. “Watch my back while I take their shoes and find those keys.”

Note: This post was written from a VA writing group prompt, a photo of what looked like a single tree in a purple mist growing on the side of a steep slope.

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine, Vietnam Veteran, retired public school teacher, journalist, and award-winning author.

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Which one is the Dream

Note: This post was written by me from a writing prompt in my Vet Center PTSD peer support group. The Prompt was “Dreams”.

When his daughter told him she wanted to go fishing, he didn’t know if he was dreaming or not. She was supposed to be dead, but he didn’t want her dead.

“How am I going to teach you to fish when I’ve never done it?” he asked. “I don’t own a fishing rod.”

“Look, Dad, I’m not going to be around much longer.” Amie was nine. “Everything the doctors tried has failed. The treatments have been worse than the Leukemia.” She covered her bald head with the spread fingers of both hands. “I hate being bald. I want my hair back. I want to live my final months without the treatment pain, and I want to start by learning how to fish together. Then we can go skydiving or go skiing in South America when it’s summer here.”

“I’ve never skied,” he replied.

“We’ll learn together,” she said and took his hand in both of hers. “This is going to be fun and you’ll have pleasant memories of us doing things together after I’m gone. That’s what I want.”

Warm tears flooded his eyes. He didn’t want to lose her too. He’d already lost his wife to a hit-and-run driver when they’d been out riding bicycles together as a family. He’d witnessed it happen. He’d also seen the car’s license plate before the driver sped off, but he didn’t report that to the police. He wanted to execute the murderer himself, and he knew who’d help him. They were all in the same Marine Corps unit and had been deployed together several times to Iraq and then Afghanistan.

Wait, how could they help him? They’d all been killed in the same ambush in Afghanistan where he’d been taken prisoner by terrorists.

“Don’t go, Dad!” Amie said. “You can’t leave. We have to go fishing again.”

But her voice faded and was gone, and he opened his eyes to darkness. The air was frigid and stuffy. He tried to straighten his legs but couldn’t because the space he was in was to small. He explored it with his hands. It seemed he was in a rusty metal box that was about a foot high, two feet wide and five feet long. He tried to scream but his tongue was swollen, his throat raw, and his lips scabbed. His rectum also hurt and then he remembered how they had stripped him naked, and tied him face down to a metal rack before taking turns sodomizing him.

He heard metal screech and then the top of the metal box opened letting in blinding light. He blinked but couldn’t clear his vision. He felt rough hands grab him and drag him from the cramped box. He was slapped. He was punched. He felt blood running from his nose.  He wanted to fight back, to resist, but he was too weak.

Then they were tying him to a metal lattice and lowering him into a pit full of a brown slop that smelled like shit. Once his body was immersed, he had to lean his head back as far as possible to keep his mouth out of the crap so he could breathe.

“Dad, Dad,” he heard Amie’s voice say. “Do you hear me?  It’s okay. I’m right here with you. I’m not dead. You were rescued. You’re in a military hospital. You aren’t a prisoner anymore, and leukemia didn’t get me. Remember? And I’m not nine. I’m twenty. We’re going to get through this together. I want you back, Dad. You’re all the family I have.”

He hoped Amie’s voice was real.

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine, Vietnam Veteran, retired public school teacher, journalist, and award-winning author.

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Subscribe to my newsletter to hear about new releases and get a free copy of my award-winning, historical fiction short story “A Night at the Well of Purity”.

Music Therapy for PTSD from a 13-year-old singer-songwriter

I’m a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam combat vet that has lived with PTSD since 1966 when I returned from the war, and recently I have discovered that music helps me cope and sleep better.  And not just any music but the songs were written by and sang by child prodigy Grace VanderWaal. For me, no other music has worked to give me a sense of peace from the demons of PTSD.

But why does it work?

Brainwave Power Music reports, “Studies have shown that music can trigger the brain to release chemicals to distract the body and mind from the pain. Music, as well as binaural beats and isochronic tones which augment the effects, reach the brain’s auditory cortex, which causes the communication between the cortex and the sections of the brain that govern emotion, memory, and body control.”

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says, “Findings suggest that the music therapy was effective in reducing depression symptoms and improving health-related quality of life. Investigators are developing a multi-center study to test if their findings are generalizable to a larger and more diverse group of Veterans. Also, in coordination with local Guitars for Vets chapters, the music therapy program has been successfully taken up by several VA sites …”

A Frontiers in Psychology report: Music and trauma: the relationship between music, personality, and coping style.

“Survivors of violence have also benefited from participation in music therapy programs. In one project working with survivors of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City (American Music Therapy Association, 2011), 33 music therapists provided over 7000 programs to children, adults, and families. The programs were designed to reduce stress, improve coping, and process the trauma associated with the crisis by drawing on a range of techniques including musical improvisation, songwriting, singing, sharing stories, and relaxing with music.”

However, “While the benefits of the arts therapies discussed above are multiple, there is some evidence that people do not always respond in the same way to music or other creative arts in dealing with trauma.”

Maybe the following pull quote from a post I found on Reddit.com explains why Grace’s music works magic for my PTSD but not just me. I’ve heard from others living with PTSD that her music works for them too.

Grace VanderWaal, Classical Composer of Contemporary Popular Folk Music said, “Grace’s music is, as far as contemporary music goes, singularly unique. Her songs are complex works of artistic inspiration – musical genius. If you break any of Grace’s songs into their component melody sections, there are three, four, or even FIVE distinct movements; and the way ‘I Don’t Know My Name’ closes cleanly, fully resolved both musically and lyrically, with a stinger, is pure artistry.

“Most works by modern songwriters are two movements, three at most. Two would be verse and chorus (Blowin’ in the Wind [Dylan], Hallelujah [Cohen]); three would be verse, chorus, and break strain (many songs by Jim Croce and Elton John had break strains). But,… four or FIVE distinct portions, arranged to sound like nine or more?! Very few contemporary popular music composers do this — Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Mannheim Steamroller come to mind as examples, also The Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) and Queen on several works. This is the kind of thing Mozart and Beethoven did, centuries ago.”


Grace was named the MTV Push December Artist of the Month and she is only 13. I listen to Grace singing the cover of “River” by Leon Bridges several times a day. I think her performance is that powerful.

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine, Vietnam Veteran, retired public school teacher, journalist, and award-winning author.

Where to Buy

Subscribe to my newsletter to hear about new releases and get a free copy of my award-winning, historical fiction short story “A Night at the Well of Purity”.

 

The Alleged Promise of “Healing” Drugs – legal or illegal

The New York Times published this misleading Op-Ed crap called The Promise of Ecstasy for PTSD, and said, “The F.D.A. approval is a beacon of hope for the roughly eight million Americans believed to suffer from PTSD, a group that includes victims of abuse, refugees and combat veterans.”

My response, “This is more Bullshit from the corporate kleptocracy, a government or state in which those in power exploit national resources and steal; rule by a thief or thieves, that wants to profit from our suffering.”

I have lived with PTSD since I returned from Vietnam in 1966. My first step to manage that PTSD was to stop drinking excessive amounts of alcohol in 1982. I haven’t been drunk or hungover since, because I know from sixteen years of experience that alcohol makes PTSD worse.

DrugPolicy.org answers important questions we should all know and consider before leaping off a cliff into a pool of mind-altering drugs. For instance, “What are the most common adulterants in what’s sold as ‘molly’ or ‘ecstasy’ (in other words, what chemicals is it commonly cut with)? …

“Due to being one of the most adulterated drug markets, the impurity of molly in different regions and at different times varies quite a bit – that is, there’s no such thing as the ‘most common adulterants’.

“Besides MDMA, ‘ecstasy’ or ‘molly’ may contain varying levels of: Psychoactive substances designed to mimic the effects of MDMA like MDA (methylene-dioxyamphetamine a.k.a. ‘sass’) or ‘bath salts’ (a general term for synthetic cathinones, a class of amphetamine-like stimulants); Stimulants like amphetamine, cocaine, caffeine or methamphetamine; or, more rarely Anesthetics such as ketamine (‘Special K’) or dextromethorphan (DXM – an ingredient found in over-the-counter cough medicines).

“All of these can significantly amplify potential harms. The most important thing for harm reduction is to know what you’re getting. According to Ecstasydata.org – an independent laboratory testing program of Erowid Center – among 250 samples they analyzed in 2014 that were sold as molly, 40 samples contained MDMA with adulterants, and nearly half (124) contained no MDMA at all!”

Every one of these mind-altering drugs, legal or illegal, causes harm to the body in one way or another.

DrugPolicy.org says, “As with all alcohol and other drug use, taking MDMA carries risks, albeit comparatively lower than most other drugs.

“For example, a 2010 study published in the prestigious Lancet journal was conducted to gauge the relative potential harms of drugs to both consumers and to society, and MDMA was found to be among the least risky.”

But what does “least risky” mean when every drug comes with a risk even if there are alleged benefits and if you clicked on that last link to DrugPolicy.org, you will discover a chart that compares those risks, and the one with the most risk is a legal drug called alcohol.

I think the only way to deal with PTSD and other mental challenges is to learn to manage it on your own, and if you can’t or won’t, you are just fucked. Legal or illegal drugs all have side effects that are often worse than the mental or physical health problem we want to fix. And all of those drugs profit someone like President and malignant narcissist and psychopath/sociopath Donald Trump.

There is another choice and that choice is called mindfulness and/or meditation. Mindful.org says, “Mindfulness. It’s a pretty straightforward word. It suggests that the mind is fully attending to what’s happening, to what you’re doing, to the space you’re moving through. That might seem trivial, except for the annoying fact that we so often veer from the matter at hand. Our mind takes flight, we lose touch with our body, and pretty soon we’re engrossed in obsessive thoughts about something that just happened or fretting about the future. And that makes us anxious.

“Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”

Psychology Today says, “Meditation is the practice of turning your attention to a single point of reference. It can involve focusing on the breath, on bodily sensations, or on a word or phrase known as a mantra. In other words, meditation means turning your attention away from distracting thoughts and focusing on the present moment. Meditating is deceptively simple. A cartoon from The New Yorker sums it up: Two monks are sitting side by side, meditating. The younger one is giving the older one a quizzical look, to which the older one responds, ‘Nothing happens next. This is it.’”

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine, Vietnam Veteran, retired public school teacher, journalist, and award-winning author.

Where to Buy

Subscribe to my newsletter to hear about new releases and get a free copy of my award-winning, historical fiction short story “A Night at the Well of Purity”.

PTSD is a Never Ending Challenge and when help arrives “Don’t Let Go”

I turned twenty-one in Vietnam. There was no cake with candles, no presents, no party, no happy birthday songs, but I remember the tracers from thousands of armed Marines lighting up the night from the 1st Marine Division’s perimeter, and that display of destructive, brutal power was not a celebration of me turning twenty-one. It was from combat.

When I returned from Vietnam in 1966, I had no idea I came back with a permanent illness that later in the 1980s became known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Combat vets aren’t the only victims of this disease. Rape victims, child abuse, domestic abuse of women, someone who grew up the target of lying, cruel bullies and trolls just like U.S. President Donald Trump (Trump is not the vicitm. He is the bully. He is the troll.), victims of muggings, survivors of accidents and brutal acts of nature.

Imagine my surprise when fifty-one years later, a twelve-year-old girl sang her way into my life through YouTube and offered me a lifesaver that helped me manage my PTSD better, and she probably will never know it.

PTSD is all about how our body reacts to fear.

From 1966 to 1982, I never talked about the combat, the snipers that almost took me out, our own troops firing on a patrol I was with on our way back to base camp, the mortar rounds that rained down on our tents, the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and grenades that maimed and killed others in my company, the ambushes, the recon missions, the rocket attacks that left one Marine in my unit headless, and the regiment/division sized field operations.

I was a field radio operator and in the field, through that radio, I carried on my back, I passed on orders that killed hundreds of armed Vietcong. Marine Corps training is intense. When we leave boot camp we are different from the child that arrived.  When we leave, we are trained killing machines.

When I was honorably discharged from the Marines and went to college on the GI Bill, that PTSD I didn’t know I had was behind the heavy drinking. I often say that between 1966 and 1982, I drank enough hard liquor and beer to fill a swimming pool.

My first step on the road that led me out of the darkness of PTSD managing me was an accident. I was thirty-six and my health was falling apart from all the booze, beer and bad food. Someone I worked with was a vegan and her husband, raised a vegan, helped me get off the liquor and change my lifestyle. Once the booze was out of my system and I was eating better, the vivid flashbacks of combat lost some of the intensity that woke me at night drenched in sweat and ready to fight with an unsheathed, razor-sharp USMC KA-BAR that I kept under my pillow and a loaded 45-caliber automatic pistol in an easy to reach drawer.

I came to the conclusion that the booze and bad diet made the flashbacks worse so I stayed sober and stuck to the healthy vegan diet Greg and his wife helped me transition to.

Decades later, after I retired from teaching high school English and journalism, I discovered that the VA offered counseling to help combat vets manage their PTSD. I’m in a group now and most of my friends are combat vets who also work hard to manage their PTSD.

I’m seventy-two and a thirteen old girl I’ve never met and probably never will meet has helped my PTSD demons to take a few steps further back. By definition, this young woman is a child prodigy, and I wrote about What does it take to become a child prodigy? for one of my other blogs in an attempt to understand what was happening to me because of her and her songs.

When she was twelve, she won America’s Got Talent by singing songs she wrote. She was signed by Columbia Record and Simon Crowell to a record contract. Her first album has only five songs on it. Her next album, with more of her original music, will be out November 3. I already have a copy of her first album and have preordered the longer one.

Perfectly Imperfect, her first shorter album, reached #9 in the U.S. and #11 in Canada. This child prodigy’s name is Grace VanderWaal. Something about her and the songs she writes and sings is helping me manage my PTSD better, and I’ve been trying to understand what that is, and I think I’ve figured it out after watching her first almost hour-long concert a half dozen times. It’s the themes of her songs and her nonverbal language. Studies say that nonverbal language is 70-percent of communication. Her fans call that being genuine. Some critics and a friend of mine have called her an old soul. I think it is her nonverbal language that makes her genuine to some and/or an old soul to others.

I don’t think she is an old soul. Grace is unique because of a number of factors. One was the family environment she grew up in. Her mother, father, and I think especially her older sister, are a big part of who she is.  Genetics also plays a role in Grace being a child prodigy. Child prodigies are unique as I explained in What does it take to become a child prodigy? Another factor is that some of her songs are about bullies and in interviews, Grace has mentioned that she was a target of bullies in grade school. I was also a target of bullies when I was a child, and that is probably the reason I went into the Marines to make sure no one ever messed with me again.

In “Clay”, one of her original songs, she sings,

“Your silly words
I won’t live inside your world
Because your punches and your names
All your jokes and stupid games
They don’t work
No they don’t hurt
Watch them just go right through me
Because they mean nothing to me
I’m not clay”

In another original song, Gossip Girl, Grace touches on this topic again.

Grace is thirteen now and this month she went on her first concert tour starting with the Austin City Limits Music Festival. If the full concert is still available through Red Bull TV, you can access it through the next link. I tune in to this concert every evening because her songs and her performance help me sleep better. I think that is because of the combination of her genuine joy at performing for a huge crowd of fans that love her and the themes of her songs.

Austin City Limits Music Festival
Red Bull TV told me this video is only available for a limited time. If you click the link, I hope it’s still there.  Red Bull TV said they aren’t allowed to sell a DVD of this concert, so I sent an e-mail in an attempt to reach Simon Cowell and see if his record label will offer it on DVD soon.

Grace’s next video is a song called “Escape My Mind”, and Grace performed it live in Austin for the first time.

“Escape My Mind” is another original song, and I understand what Grace means because I can’t escape my mind either, but Grace is helping me to at least escape the PTSD demons tattooed in my mind for a few hours while I’m sleeping and that is a first. I hope it keeps working. I think the joy Grace feels while she sings and receives the love of her fans is the reason for whatever is happening to me, and I hope she never loses that genuine joy for her music and life as her career grows. If she manages to keep hold of that unique genuineness, I’ll continue to be her fan, but thanks to my PTSD, I’ll probably never attend one of her concerts, because crowds are a trigger for my PTSD, and I work hard to avoid those triggers. That’s why I want to buy a DVD of Grace’s first concert.

The Grace in this concert, and all of her previous performances is still the genuine thing, and that helps me feel better about life. It’s all about escaping the demons even if it is only for a few hours at a time. Like I said in the title of this post, if help arrives, “Don’t Let Go!”

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Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine, Vietnam Veteran, retired public school teacher, journalist, and award-winning author.Where to Buy

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Transitions from War, from combat to active living

Mike Ergo was a Marine rifleman with 1st Battalion, 8th Marines from 2001-2005 and deployed to Iraq twice. Coming home from combat was rough. His body returned, but his mind and spirit were still in Fallujah for many years. … Triathlons, trail running, and endurance challenges like GORUCK have help him to overcome the sadness, anger, fear, and anxiety that are a part of PTSD.

The Biggest Race of My Life by Mike Ergo

“Lindsey Schmidt from Ironman’s PR firm reached out a few months ago to say they heard my story. Ironman wanted to get me on a cool, new veteran podcast to talk about why I race. It would be a chance to talk about the Marines on my jersey that keep me moving towards the finish line. I agreed to do the interview.  I wrote an eBook  about the Mind, Body, and Spirit. Finally, a chance to talk to a larger audience about a great way to deal with PTSD!

1927897_52180045766_8469_nMike Ergo is on the left

The interview started out great (listen to it here). We talked about how I went into the Marine Corps, ditched the band and joined the infantry, and shipped out to Iraq. He asked me what house-to-house fighting was like in Fallujah. Chaps was there in 2007 and has walked the streets of the former Baath Party hub. And of course, we chatted about how triathlon has helped me deal with the demons of PTSD and turn it into something positive. So Chaps throws the verbal jab and I take the bait.” …

This post is continued on Mike’s Blog Transitions from War from combat to active living – Reconnecting with Mind, Body, and Spirit

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse, the host of The Soulful Veteran, is a former U.S. Marine (1965 – 1968), Vietnam Veteran (1966), retired public school teacher, journalist, and award winning author.

Where to Buy

Subscribe to my newsletter to hear about new releases and get a free copy of my award-winning, historical fiction short story “A Night at the Well of Purity”.