• Chapter 96: The Storm Within

    April 27, 2016
  • Have you ever found yourself slowly waking up from a dream but just hadn't opened your eyes yet? You knew you were sleeping and what was going through your mind was just a dream, and then you opened your eyes to see that you were safe and sound in your own room. Well, that's how it was for a while. My dreams seemed so real that I really thought I was still over there. I fully expected to open my eyes and see the sky.

    One particular dream I had was a fire fight that I somehow got myself into. Our convoy was ambushed and our radio was down so we couldn't call in for support. Everyone around me was getting shot one by one until I was the only one left. Even though it was just a dream, I'll never forget the feeling of being all alone and about to be killed as my position was being overrun. It seemed like every time I killed one of them, they just multiplied because there was an endless supply of Iraqis coming at me. I'm not sure if I was shot or what, but something knocked me out. After coming to, I opened my eyes and saw Iraqi soldiers all around me pointing their AKs at me. They were talking in Arabic and I just knew they were either going to shoot me there on the spot, or capture and torture me. I closed my eyes and then opened them again only to see the ceiling of my room. It was only a nightmare but it seemed so real that my heart was beating right through my chest.

    Another dream I had was that I made it home alive but Iraqis had kidnapped family members and I had to go back over there to rescue them. There were other dreams, some I remember vividly, some I don't remember much at all, but this would go on for at least a couple of months before things seemed to calm down.

    One of the reasons I call this blog "My Desert Storm" is because of the battles that took place within in me. One of those battles had to do with mental health. For years I denied having PTSD, but that was because I knew nothing about it. I've recently learned that I suffered from acute PTSD, which is normal for combat veterans to experience within a few months of experiencing trauma. Desert Storm may have been over, but the storm within my mind was not.

    The other reason for the title, which was really the main reason, was the spiritual battle I fought during the war. It was a battle of faith over fear. Faith has to do with believing, and having a strong faith means having confidence in what you believe. Doubt and fear is just the opposite. The Bible says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). To live in fear shows a lack of trust, whether that trust is in yourself, others, things, or God. In my case, I tried not to trust in my own ability, my weapons, or fate, but to trust in God. This is not to say that I could not trust my fellow Marines or our leaders. I did trust in them, but my trust in God supersedes everything else.

    Is it wrong to experience fear? Not at all. We were created to experience all types of emotions. Where we go wrong is when we live in fear. We must bring our fears before God in prayer so that we learn to rely on Him for all things. Quoting from Dr. Collins, “According to the Bible, there is nothing wrong with realistically acknowledging and trying to deal with the identifiable problems of life. To ignore danger is fooling and wrong. But it is also wrong, as well as unhealthy, to be immobilized by excessive worry. Such worry must be committed to prayer to God, who can release us from paralyzing fear or anxiety, and free us to deal realistically with the needs and welfare both of others and of ourselves.” (Dr. Gary R. Collins, Christian Counseling, p. 66.).

    So I experienced battles that no one even knew about. I lost some of those battles over there, but learned from my mistakes and ultimately gave my fears over to God as I witnessed Him answer prayer after prayer. But after returning home, I experienced a new kind of anxiety and I couldn't understand why. Like I said before, I knew nothing about PTSD so I had no explanation for what I was going through. I never shared this with anyone until earlier this year, but I contemplated taking my own life at one time. I drove to a parking lot late one night with a loaded gun and tried to think of reasons not to do it. The main reasons I came up with had to do with my faith in God and that I didn't want to disappoint Him or my family and friends. I kept my faith in God. I became more involved with my church, and through prayer and faith, slowly overcame my struggles. The only question that remained was, "What would happen If I shared my story 25 years later?"

    "And once the storm is over, you won't remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won't even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about."

    - Haruki Murakami