Paths without Glory: PTSD and The Neverending Now

Now you cannot escape.

You are trapped Now. Now you have no past. Nothing exists before Now. All your life is the inescapable hell of Now. You cannot remember when Now began. Now is with you when you wake. Now continues when you sleep. Now you cannot remember ice cream. Now you cannot remember the ocean. There is no vacation from Now. Now you cannot remember a smile. Now you cannot remember kindness. Now you cannot remember peace. Now you cannot remember love. Now you have no friend. Now is the inescapable foe. Now you cannot recognize the dead from the living. Now you forget which you are. Now you howl to no one. Now there is no one to hear. Now you are forgotten. Now you are utterly alone. Now is deaf. Now is dumb. Now is The Nothing stretching before you. That holds you fixed in its gaping stare. Now is The Nothing behind that pins you pitilessly Here in Now. Now is The Nothing of repeated repetition. Now is The Nothing that seeps into your soul, your being, the marrow of your bones. Now has no meaning. Now you are Nothing. Now has no past. Now has no future. Now never ends.

This is my experience of PTSD. And while the untouched have always struggled or refused to understand what has been called “The Soldiers’ Disease,” “Shellshock,” “Nam Flashbacks,” “Battered Wife Syndrome,” and just as often plain cowardice or an inability to “get over it,” I know this thing exists. I have seen it in films like “The Hurt Locker.” I have read stories of the Roman soldiers attempting to literally bury their heads to escape the slaughter at Cannae. I’ve read of the morphine addiction rampant among veterans of the Civil War. The alcoholic nihilism of Post-WWII Film Noir is rife with it. I have seen the homeless veterans of the countless savageries of war from Vietnam to Afghanistan living on the careless streets of the country they gave their youth for. Heroin, opiates, and alcohol have claimed more soldiers’ lives than any “enemy.” I have watched my Father carry a fly-swatter with him at all times. And when I asked him why bother over a fly, I heard his endless refrain. “Have you ever seen what flies can do to a dead man’s body?” I have heard my Mother tell of how her uncle, who cleared the tunnels at Iwo Jima, and her brother, who was wounded in Vietnam, break into tears at the mention of tunnels and pits and caves. The humor of the TV show M*A*S*H is the humor of the trenches. In Vonnegut’s “Slaughter House Five,” as the Germans and prisoners emerge from hiding into the rubble of Dresden, a bird challenges the meaning of human suffering with the call “Poo-tee-weet?” And Ahab chased the blind, dumb creature that took his leg and humanity around this circling world, a danger and a warning to all who witnessed his pain and rage. And, of course, there is Tolkien’s Frodo, closest to my heart. The author’s elaborate creation begun in the trenches, and so painful he constructed new languages just to speak of it.

I have never been to war. But I watched my Father wither from a robust, vibrant, keen and caring man into a skeletal mockery from cancer. I endured his final opiate-hazed days when he returned in his mind to Korea, and issued orders to my Mother, my sister, and myself. I remember how we pretended to obey his commands, lifting imaginary boxes of medical supplies that were desperately needed on some godless hill in the Frozen Chosin. That was how he earned his Bronze Star as a logistics Sergeant. Saving men no one remembers from slaughter in a war no one mentions on hill known by a forgotten number.

And I watched my Father die. And I had moments when I looked in the mirror and did not recognize my own image. I stole his drugs to kill my own pain. And when those were gone, ten dollars would buy a bag of mainlined oblivion for a day.

And then there was Him. Dark haired and dark eyed, tragically lost to the romance of the poppy, yet full of artistic promise. I thought I could save Him. But when he exchanged the needle for the bottle, well I wished he were back on dope. He never threw me down the concrete stairs in front of our apartment in the snow, half clothed, front left tooth broken by the gum line. Me with never a cavity. Those beautiful teeth. He never did that when he was on dope. He never pulled me from my bed by ankles and the long hair I will never wear again. Repeatedly pulling me from bed, slamming my face into doorways and tile bathroom floors. Right front tooth shattering with the tile beneath my face as he threw my head again and again and again against the cold surface. He never did that on heroin. I learned not to lock myself in the bathroom.

He’d have a beer or six and a drop of alcohol. And I would see his eyes lose focus. And rage rage RAGE at the world that he felt rejected his genius, and all fell on me. Sometimes I would hide outside. And he would scream and look for me. Sometimes he’d find me. Sometimes I’d sneak back into the apartment when it got quiet. Sometimes he’d wake up and again I’d be torn from bed or the closet or kitchen cabinet under the sink, which was spacious for a girl whose driver’s license says 5′ 1”. Again the beating, the sleeplessness, the bruises. Begging my landlord not to call the cops again. Lying to the police in Spanish somewhere in Central America that by all outward signs was a paradise. The safest, most stable and enduring democracy in Latin America. Full of Pura Vida and 90 year olds who loved to dance. Dinosaurs lived there. And monkeys! Real monkeys in the wild, swinging from tree to tree like one imagines monkeys would do. That I lived in Paradise at this time is probably the reason I am still alive.

But Paradise had a lot of cheap, pure cocaine, and cheaper alcohol. I don’t mind thinking of heroin, or seeing it on TV or in movies or in the news. It has no hold on me. But cocaine. No. When you carefully open tampons and roll your rent money up and hide it in the applicator tubes, then carefully hide the broken seal on the wrapping, and he bangs and berates you until you give it up. When your debit card and credit card are stolen enough that no bank wants your money. When you keep calling out of work. When the makeup can’t hide the bruises from your students, colleagues, or bosses. When you are just tired, and curl in bed with your dog and hordes of benedryl that you keep hidden but ultimately he finds and flushes anyway. When you’ve tried cutting with the razor but cannot. When you stop going to work. When you are unable to move. When you sit with your father-in-law and his “girlfriend” at a Christmas/birthday dinner you have prepared to please the in-laws, as it were, and he, Him, keeps leaving for an hour, two, more. And you sit ashamed before a white-haired, white-toothed, twinkling, blue-eyed Irishman wanted by the FBI and his expensive, young female companion whose tits he paid for. I say, when you sit at that well-prepared table in that company and feel shame burn and twist inside of you: you will feel the same about that “party” drug.

And when you’ve mastered playing ‘possum on the floor while a man with 12 inches and a hundred pounds on you spits venom in your face: worthless, useless, talentless, unfunny, stupid, fat, ugly, friendless, unloved, unloveable, a shame to your father’s memory, and “just like your mother.” It doesn’t matter how untrue those words are, or how tortured your mother has been, when all you are left with is the churning emptiness between your heart and gut. When you hold and rock yourself like a child, and howl like a street dog with a broken leg to no one. To silence. To nothing. When your only recourse is to beg money from your mother, your little sister, again, this time for a plane ticket home. To January in the Northeast. Freezing outside of PHL airport waiting for your mother who brought you a winter a coat. When you have to leave your dog. Your dog! With a man who’s sold your rings and necklaces and has bashed out your teeth. When you’ve been cheated on more times than you care to know. And yet you’ve stayed loyal in word and deed. When you leave him, and run from not your home to not your home. When you are drugged and sodomized by a “gay” couple renting out a room. And even still he chases you. Corners you outside of a drug store and tries to steal your prescription anti-anxiety medication. Hounds you when finally find someone new and good, and have a new apartment, and a job. When he waits where he knows you walk that same dog which you finally rescued, and greets you by saying “I see you’ve chubbed up.” When he uses your social security number to buy six iPhones, and you spend a year trying to fix your credit. I say, when that happens to you, you have experienced war, and it becomes your Now. And it will remain your Now forever. It may ease. It may improve. You may learn to adapt. But you are marked. Touched. Changed forever. As much as Ahab was broken and torn by Moby Dick. As much as Frodo lost his finger, himself, and received his wound that never healed. Your Now becomes and remains that moment you broke. The moment that meaningless, blind, begging, scraping, pitiful, lonely, raging suffering and violence that took the last of what you were. That becomes your Now, and as with Frodo or Ahab, your End.

I’ve been in some sort of therapy or counseling, and on psychiatric medications since I was about nineteen. I had some other troubles in my earlier life, and I don’t speak of them because the man involved is physically/mentally unable to understand what he did. And I’ve been mugged so many times I’ve lost count. But I recently appeared before an adjudicating law judge who began to ask me if there weren’t “some way, some therapy…because it’s been so long…” I wanted to scream at him that there are still Vietnam Vets, men in their sixties and seventies, living in VA shelters because their 18th year is still their Now. That to speak of “getting over it” to me is as monstrous as the French who shot men who would not “go over the top,” or Patton striking a soldier who had followed him from Africa through Italy, and then just broke down.

I don’t want what I have. But every time I wake up in a pool of cold sweat, from another dream in which He has taken all my money, spent it on drugs and booze, is with some other girl. And I am alone. Without a home, wandering the streets in the rain, unloved, unliked, unwanted, forgotten, useless, worthless, trying to navigate my way through mazes of bureaucrats and Nurse Ratcheds just to receive something, anything to help me continue to survive. I know my Now has not changed much. I will carry that weight and wound forever, as Frodo did. I may never find peace in the Shire again. And I will bear my eternal, mad, maniacal rage and pain as Ahab. A constant threat to the peace of those around me. A worry. A burden. Broken. A wary animal ruled by instinct. For if my chest were a cannon, surely such unholy madness as mine would burst from it and take all those who tried my patience with me. Save this blog where I told my tale in public first.

I have not written much lately here. I still struggle with accepting my new Now in my bed in my home. I still worry that I will lose everything. I worry about eviction. About losing utilities. About the time He lost the rent money betting on the Eagles. Who bets on the Eagles?! I horde food in bulk. I know what I can substitute for butter or eggs. And I lose sleep over when I only have one box of buillion or forget to plant or buy or dry parsley. I plant food. I pickle and can food. I carry at least one knife on me at all times. I have rebar wrapped in duct tape, and hatchets and machetes and baseball bats stashed around my house should there be an intruder. And I all of these items have names like The DiNero, or Killary. I can’t be in places with one exit. Ikea is my worst nightmare. I get nervous thinking of going to the supermarket, and rarely use ear phones. I have violent fantasies of taking down hostile men with some sort of Kung-Fu I obviously don’t know. But I know this house and the land it is on. And I know just how many doors I can lock behind me and still have an escape route like a roof. I check locks. I keep my house cold to keep the bills down. I spend hours throwing a pick ax to clear room for food gardens. Tear muscles raking. I diverted a stream with a shovel. I carry my weedwhacker like I’m Ripley or Vasquez or T2 Sarah Conner carried their weapons. I pack my backpack with first aid and mylar blankets and granola and fishing tackle, maps, and at least a liter of water. I purposefully overpack it and hike with it to build my endurance should I need to GET OUT. I instinctively note exits, and seat myself in public so as to have a clear view of the entrance, but behind the way the door swings should I need cover. Should I need to run. I can’t leave my house for long because my lack of a car and money leaves me feeling trapped and vulnerable. I have changed my appearance so as to not look inviting to men, and ensure I look and speak as white as I can with my mainly Mediterranean/Hungarian heritage. I live in the Appalachian foothills, and even if you knew my address, you couldn’t find me even with GPS.

But most of all, I hate my teeth. The bonding is old and beginning to crack on the first broken front tooth. And the bonding on the second tooth stains and needs replacing. And every time I see that stain, I want to put my fist through the mirror and his face. But life has punished him. And I have finally proved the medical necessity of crowns to my insurance, which is Medicaid, of course.

This is my Now. This is how I have adapted. But my family and long-time friend and love SP, and my therapist, have encouraged me to write again. My Mother gave me the money to renew this site and my domain. I was unsure what to write. Until this morning when I woke up more grateful to wake than any day I can recall. I woke up screaming and crying in a pool of sweat as I often do . He had spent all the money on drugs and was hanging out with some chick who was shooting up crack(?). I was living in my usual, lovely but changing cottage, by the landscape that is either near the ocean, or an old mill that has a good fishing spot, which he had destroyed. And the cottage was full of junkies and low lifes he’d brought around. And as I was crying and begging and pleading with him to leave me with something, he laughed at me. Laughed at how pitiful and pathetic I was. So I knew what to blog about today. Because I knew what he was laughing at. Now he had me trapped. This is my Now. This is my lonely path without glory. This is the story of my Neverending Now with PTSD.

-JL

While you’re here: Please check out the wonderful work done by the people at The National Alliance on Mental Illness and donate.

Check out my Instagram! There are pictures of stuff I like and hate.

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About JLakis

Jessica Lakis - Writer/screenwriter. Geek & mental health blogger. Conqueror of the Useless. NERD INVICTA! View all posts by JLakis

4 responses to “Paths without Glory: PTSD and The Neverending Now

  • Barbara

    You’ve come a long way, baby. This was a harrowing account. PTSD is no joke and all we can do is work like mad dogs to overcome and move on. My usual refrain, I love you, Jessica. ♡♡♡

    Liked by 1 person

  • Neil R Friedman

    This is a very powerful story that people “need” to read. PTSD is no joke and it effects many more people then we know of. I am glad that you have decided to write again. I know from my own experience that writing is a potent and effective tool that helps mitigate the adverse effects of trauma. I look forward to reading more from you. Thank you fro sharing. I know it wasn’t easy and it took a lot of courage

    Liked by 1 person

    • JLakis

      Thanks Neil. It wasn’t so much bravery as necessity that drove me to write this. I just had to. And I hope it helps people understand my moods because I am tired of being hurt and hurting others. There is already too much pain in this world. And I know that you’ve been through your own personal struggles and pain. I promise I’ll keep writing so long as you do. Thank you so much for leaving a comment. It feels good to just be “seen.” If that makes any sense. Keep on you old hippie. 😊

      Like

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