Thursday, November 12, 2009

Exerpt from: A War On Drugs; A soldiers account of addiction in the military

( I cut and paste this from a word doc and lost some formatting items such as italics and indents.
Chapter one: Iraq and Hard Place

The 12-foot tall angel held me flat, face down over the ledge of a skyscraper and told me not to fear. A black, feathered span sprawled from behind his flowing robes. Down below, people were doing the thing I feared the most, living.
I woke up and laid there for a moment staring a hundred yards through the ceiling. I wondered where I was and what had happened to the skyscraper as a woman in white walked through the door. Her footsteps, crisp like unexpected gunfire on an otherwise quiet drive through Baghdad, dominated my thoughts. Every other noise, even the beep-beep of whatever machine I was on, became the grumbling hum of an idle diesel engine.
The dark angel had been replaced by a woman in white but I was still afraid.
There was no force-field holding me in place, but my body felt heavier than a palette of sandbags. My eyes, the only thing I had the power to move, followed her as she circled to the foot of the bed. Helpless, I couldn’t even speak to ask her where I was or what was going on. So I watched her as she put her hands between my legs.

“Am I awake,” I thought to myself. “This is a pretty decent dream; she must be getting ready to give me a sponge bath or something.”

“…Like a Band-Aid….” her voice broke through the hum.

“O, Yeah, Baaaaaby,” I screamed, as the nurse pulled the catheter out.

My torso shot upward in the bed. For a moment I was definitely awake. I’m sure it should have hurt but the sensation between my legs felt more like Thorazine than pain.
As the adrenaline faded so did reality. I heard a beep-beep off on the horizon somewhere. No more gun shots, thank God, just the comforting hum of my truck. Alice, my truck, was interrupted when someone called my name over the radio; something about reporting to the front of the convoy.

“Where the hell’s the radio?”

“Say again, Over” I spoke into thin air.

“They just called you to the front desk,” replied a disembodied female voice from the vicinity of a nearby mosque. The beeping stopped and I was on a hospital bed again. She had turned off the machines.

“You better hurry, and sign out if you want to go home,” she said, not turning her attention from the storage of cables and cords.

“Home?” I thought “Huh?”

The smell of shit and diesel filled my nostrils as I stumbled from the hospital bed onto the stairs that led down to the flight line. I dragged my feet across the cold tile of the runway and lugged an M-16, two duffel bags, and a rucksack toward the check out desk.

“Iraq? This isn’t a tent. If I were in Iraq this would be a tent. Where‘s my truck and my rifle. I swear to God I was just holding my rifle.”

My wife was waiting at the front desk, looking down, shoulders low; holding what articles of my clothing hadn’t been kept as evidence. She wrapped her arms tight around me, hugged me, and held me with a strength I had never felt her use before.
Time stood still until for a moment until noticed a growing damp spot on the shoulder of my hospital gown. When I realized she was crying the hospital’s drugs turned to water in my bloodstream and Iraq blinked off the map, out of my mind.
No amount of delusion, denial, or dope could hide the reality that my wife was in pain. The worst part- I didn’t know why or what to do about it.
She was obviously worried about me because I was in the hospital, but that’s all I could figure out. I wanted to reassure her, but I couldn’t even remember how or when I wound up in the hospital. I had the sense that whatever happened, it had been my own hand that placed me there. Somehow my pain had become her pain. Then, even the Thorazine couldn’t ease the pain I felt when I snapped back to the reality that my wife was crying because of me.
I wasn’t in Iraq. I wasn’t at home. I knew where I wasn’t but I couldn’t figure out where I was. There was only her and me, her tears, our pain.

“You’ll need to sign this,” the nurse interrupted the moment.

“If this is about what I said to that other nurse, I’m sorry. Did you hear that out here? I wasn’t trying to be rude.”

My wife let out a chuckle and lifted my heart as she smiled through her tears.
“So I guess you heard me,” I smiled back at her.

“Everyone on the floor heard it,” the nurse interrupted again to hand me a pen. “Just sign it.”

As I put the pen to paper I noticed horizontal lines of irritated skin across my wrists and lateral scratches up my forearms.

“No stitches. I guess that’s good.” I smiled. “What kind of drugs do they have me on? They’re good too.”

When I looked up I was on the road again. The evening sun was in my eyes so I couldn’t see the truck in front of me. Our security escort wasn’t doing their job because there were civilians all over the road.

“What an odd convoy. What the hell am I doing in the Cavalier with my wife driving down highway 190?”

“They found you in a field near the college,” her voice was coming to me long distance from the United States. “It took five cops to...”

“Uh, oh,” I interrupted. “Am I in Iraq?”

“No, you’re on your way home. Were you trying to kill yourself?”

I guess it felt like a homecoming. When I walked into the house there was a sense that I had been there before and I had been gone for a long time, but I wasn’t sure if I was home. The living room seemed unfamiliar, corners stretched out for miles and all the furniture in the room was mammoth. A 3 foot tall squirrel scampered into the night from the patio in my periphery as I stared into the corner of the room.

“Am I home?”

“Home,” I thought as I laid on the couch and proportion returned to me.

“So, five cops, to do what?”

“To bring you into the hospital. When you didn‘t come home or call I got worried so I called the jails and the hospitals and they said there was a John Doe that sounded like you and he was talking about angels and Iraq and he was gonna die if they couldn’t figure out what he was on ,” she took a breath. “They thought you were on PCP or something. They had to put those zippy things on you because you kept scratching your arms when they cuffed you.”

“Did you call the jails or the hospitals first?”

“Jails, I thought maybe you were in trouble again.”

“How long was I in there?”

“Three days.”

“And how long have I been back?”

“We walked through the door five minutes ago.”

“From Iraq?”

“Honey,” She looked down. “You’ve been back for more than seven months.”

“Stop walking around so fast. You’re making me dizzy.”

“Am I back?” I asked myself. “I didn’t try to kill myself. Did I? Should I go to rehab? NO, he’s still in Iraq and I can go back and get him.”

I was not home. I was stuck somewhere between Iraq and a hard place, the hard place being rehab. If I chose to get away from the drugs by going to back to Iraq I would get pats on the back, handshakes and hugs for it. Of course, I’d get paid too. If I chose the hard place I’d have to face the shame of rehab and the fact that I had tried to kill myself. After all the things I had done I didn‘t develop a sense of shame until faced with the prospect of rehab.

Seven months prior I had been semi-sober. I returned from Iraq and expected what chaplains call the “Homecoming, Honeymoon phase.” Instead I went through a hibernation phase and slept for 3 months. There were no dinners out, shopping sprees, barbeques, vacation trips, parties or shame. I didn’t even leave the house to get groceries.

“It’s like living with a ghost,” she complained “You’re here but you’re not. I can’t get any rest when you’re in the bed. You kick and scream in your sleep.”

She had plenty of complaints and I had matching excuses. Every day, we raised our voices above the decibel necessary to communicate in our cramped one-bedroom apartment. She wound up in the living room and I in the bedroom, or vice-versa, before the point of yelling. We fought passive battles. We sulked.

When the money that was supposed to be used on vacations and parties dried up, I had to come out from under the covers and find work.

The National Guard is sort of like being a whore you’re only getting paid when you’re getting screwed.

I bounced from one shitty job to another for a couple of months. I’d get fired shortly after anyone with an opinion lit my fuse or quit when the month’s bills were paid early. I looked for night shift work that silently replied to my wife’s “restless sleep” complaints. I looked for overtime so that I wouldn’t have to go home. Something was wrong with me, but I didn’t know what.

In Iraq, Military shrinks had convinced me that medication was the solution for my problems, but they hadn’t been able to figure out which one was right for me. Weed served the same purpose as the sleeping pills I had in Iraq. Hold on, the sleeping pills, Iraq and a hard place the first time…

“Wake up.” a voice sounded off. “Grab your shit, time to go.”

“Uhggg,” I couldn’t speak.

“Grab. Your. Shit. Time to go. Bali-Bali”

The smell of foot and ass burned my sinuses and punched my gag reflex like a speed bag. I tried in vain to open my eyes. A couple hundred milligrams of Diphenhydramine weighed down my eyelids and 18 hours worth of eye gunk glued them shut. Something was happening. The sound of the plane’s engines had been replaced with the sound of 200 bodies hustling and bustling. Near the front of the cabin, a broken record played.

“Grab your shit. Move it.”

“Am I awake,” I thought unflinchingly. “Where am I?”

“Grab. Your. Shit.”

We had arrived, but I couldn’t remember where we were going. And then, as if by the force of some asshole, I was lifted from my chair. My eyes shot open to the sight of the same sergeant who had told me that taking sleeping pills during the flight would make me feel refreshed when we got there.

Foot and ass, very refreshing indeed.

“Grab your shit,” from the front of the plane again. “We’re leaving.”

I twisted my neck and pressed the side of my face against the chair in front of me to look on the floor for my boots. I made an attempt at tying all four at once before realizing that there should only have been two. I tucked in the laces and reached through the entrails of the plane, which had become a living, breathing thing. My carry-on fell from the overhead compartment as I reached for it, striking someone on the back. After accidentally assaulting a few people with my bag and nearly knocking myself out I patted myself down to make sure I had everything.

“I’m forgetting something.”

The guts of the plane began to single file out onto the tarmac through a wound near the front.

“Fuck, what am I forgetting?”

Before I could figure out what I had lost I found myself being pushed and pulled toward the hemorrhage. I will always remember getting off the plane in Kuwait and that step into my first taste of that nauseating atmospheric cocktail of Middle Eastern shit and diesel. Immediately, I longed for a foot and ass air-freshener. A hour long bus-ride and 4 hours of briefings later my eyelids still weighed about 50 milligrams more than they should have and I still hadn’t figured out what I had forgotten on the plane. We weren’t even halfway done with the briefings when people stopped paying attention and started to fall asleep. I hadn’t been paying attention at all. I was missing something and I knew it was important.

“Be sure to point the weapon into the clearing barrel for all steps,” said the solider giving the video brief on the big screen at the front of the tent. “Remove the magazine from the rifle. Place weapon on “safe”. Lock the bolt to the rear.”

“That’s funny. Wait, that’s not funny.”

“Visually inspect the chamber and remove any ammunition”

“Where is it?”

I couldn’t do anything past put the weapon in a clearing barrel and remove the magazine without a bolt in my weapon so I started looking around the tent for someone who might be sympathetic.

“Yeah these guys are all jerks, I’m screwed.”

From the moment I stepped off the plane I was wrong. I would spend the rest of the deployment dodging assholes and kissing ass for that. It took them two weeks to machine a new bolt, but at least there was no statement of charges. The same asshole who had told me to dope up on sleeping pills was the sergeant who told me to take the bolt out and put it in my pocket.
They blamed him because we weren’t actually supposed to put them in our pockets. but I blamed the sleeping pills for making me groggy. In my mind I swore I would never take sleeping pills again.
This was the first promise to myself concerning drugs I would break.

Despite being 18, getting married before I went to Iraq seemed to be the thing to do. I had been dating my wife for three years before I joined. I knew that I wanted to marry her eventually. I wanted her to get medical benefits while I was deployed and I wanted the extra BAH (basic allowance for housing) money, so it was as good a time as any.

I never thought about ending our marriage though. It was a fairy-tale compared to what some Joes in my unit had been through. One guy married a stripper that he met three days before we got on the plane. When he couldn’t get a hold of her, and his family back home couldn’t find his car, he punched the Sergeant Major. I didn’t have a car for my wife to steal but that didn’t make me immune to issues on the home-front. A month into the deployment my wife found out she was pregnant, and then tried to kill herself. I found out about it two months later from my mother, who had been admitted to a mental hospital again.
“You’re a liar mom, your fucking crazy,” I heard her crying as I hung up.

I felt like a traitor who had been betrayed when I found out my crazy mother was the only one willing to tell the me truth. My family said that they were trying to protect me from the stress by not telling me about my wife’s suicide attempt. I think the fact that my whole family had kept it from me was more worrisome. The unit wouldn’t let me go back to assess the situation on the home front because I didn’t find out about it until after the fact. Everyone I tried to talk to just sort of told me to suck it up. I started talking to myself, the only person who seemed to care.

“They’re conspiring. My family, the unit, the Red Cross.”

“No, that’s crazy. Why would those people single you out?”

“Not those people then, the world?”

“Yes. The world then. All of them, the whole lot.”

More often than not these conversations took place in the porta-jons, the only private place any soldier has in all of Iraq. While all the other Joes were taking spank mags to the shitter to beat their meat, I was taking my alter ego to thwart the plans of would be conspirators. After a long argument with myself I always came to some sort of agreement.
When my dad died a few months later, I was certain fate had it in for me and I had to take control. I convinced myself that I had the power to will people to do my bidding. There is plenty of anger in the ranks of a deployed unit at high mission tempos so I used it to affirm my delusions of grandeur. Getting people to fight was the easiest way to assure myself that I had control over something. Even if I lost the fight, getting someone to act in a predictable manner by engaging me was enough. Whether by superpowers, silver tongue or just dumb-luck, every time I got into a fight the other guy to get in trouble instead of me. This further concreted the belief that I had the power to control people. The command let me of because I entered their psyche.
Though I didn’t realize it, my sanity was slipping. Somehow I managed to stay out of trouble until it was almost completely gone.

It was hour thirty-six of some shitty convoy mission, a worthless hunk of metal sat on the back of my truck, on its way from some hole in the sand to some shit-hole. My eyelids were so heavy that if I had a stapler I might have tried stapling them open. I had fallen asleep at the wheel twice on this mission. I shouldn’t have been behind the wheel but the sorry excuse for a sergeant that was my assistant driver had bribed me with two cartons of Hajji-smokes to keep at it. It didn’t matter that Hajji-smokes were only $5 a carton or that they tasted like horse shit. The asshole wasn’t going to take the wheel whether I took the bribe or not. He hadn’t driven more than 5 miles during the months that we had been in country, at least this way I was getting 10 bucks out of his lazy ass.

I could see the gates of the camp where we would be racking out for the night. Up ahead the convoy had stopped again for some reason. It should have been a 4 hour drive; we should have been inside the wire the day before. We had spent half the day standing around on the side of the road waiting for EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) to clear the roads. Over the course of countless wait and bakes, the heat from the asphalt had melted half an inch or so off of the bottom of my boots. Between the mortars the night before and waiting to get shot at through the heat of the day, my soul was wearing thin as well. The sun had gone down; I was ready to do the same. I took my Kevlar helmet off to lighten the load.

“What are you doing?” sergeant asshole sounded off.

“Taking a break, the gate’s right there.”

“Put your k-pod back or I’m going to write you up when we get back.”

“Give me a sec.” I replied, rubbing the back of my neck.

“Why me?” I silently asked the roof of my truck as I looked up, and let out a sigh.

“If you don’t put it back on right now…,” his voice faded to a ringing in my head.

As I considered slapping that silly little, out of regulation mustache off his face, it hit me. A blast of sweet surrender hit me like the concussion of some distant explosion and a gentle breeze, all at the same time. This is the moment I stopped caring, I quit trying, and I gave up control. Fuck it all. I became an addict.
If I could have slapped him upside the head I would have, but it would have been physically impossible to even touch the man from across the cluttered cab of the truck. I poured every ounce of whatever had kept me going into my Kevlar. What was left of my soul flew towards the windshield. When the helmet didn’t quite get through, I did my best to put my fist through the shattered safety glass, but I didn‘t have enough left. Infuriated at the unbreakable windshield, I blacked out.

According to reports while my mind got some much need R&R (rest and relaxation), the rest of my person pointed a weapon at that punk-ass sergeant and threatened to drive the truck into a ditch.

“Record of Proceedings under Article 15, UCMJ (Uniformed Code of Military Justice)”
Omissions italicized.

“I am considering whether you should be punished under Article 15, UCMJ, for the following misconduct:
In that you , having received a lawful order, from SGT Asshole, a noncommissioned officer, then known to you to be a noncommissioned officer, to put your Kevlar on, an order which it was your duty to obey, did at or near Hole in the Sand, Iraq on or about your first deployment willfully disobey the same.”

“In that you, did, at or near Hole in the Sand b, Iraq, on or about your first deployment, without proper authority destroy by slamming your Kevlar against the front windshield of your truck, military property of the United States, of a value of about an eight ball of coke. This is in violation of Article 108, UCMJ.”

“In that you, did, at or near Hole in the Sand, Iraq, on or about your first deployment, without proper authority, willfully destroy by punching the front windshield of your truck with your right fist, military property of the United States, of a value of about an eight ball of coke. This is in violation of Article 108, UCMJ”

(In my account, this is where I blacked out …)

“In that you, did, at or near Hole in the Sand b, Iraq, on or about your first deployment, commit an assault upon SGT. Asshole by pointing a t him with a dangerous weapon, a means likely to produce death or grievous bodily harm, to wit: M16A2 Rifle. This is in violation of Article 128, UCMJ.”

In addition to paying for the windshield, I got two days of extra duty, during which I built a gazebo in the company area. I am still proud of that gazebo more than anything else I did on that deployment. I also got a ticket to the shrink. I counted my blessings that I didn’t get a ticket out of the military on a dishonorable discharge.

It must be hard for the military to find people crazy or dumb enough to drive over explosives all day.

The doc gave me some pills and put me back on convoy as soon as my extra duty was over. The pills gave me the shits and made me feel suicidal.
I didn’t want to go back to the shrink. I didn’t even want to deal with the flak everyone was giving me about having to see the shrink in the first place. I didn’t want to wig out or get in trouble again so I stopped taking their meds and started taking sleeping pills throughout the day to take the edge off. I didn’t point my weapon at anyone else.
I didn’t start anymore fights. I didn’t talk back.
I barely had the strength to talk to myself anymore.

I’m sure supervised medication would have been better. Who would have supervised?
The docs who were so eager to throw pills in my mouth and put a rifle back in my hands or the sergeants who laughed at my wife’s suicide attempt?

By the end of the deployment I was taking triple doses of sleeping pills through my waking hours.

Despite all that had happened, I didn’t want to go home when the deployment came to an end. I was frightened to find out how much had changed while I was away. How could I go back? Why was I feeling this way? When I wasn’t on sleeping pills, I loathed myself for being the only one who didn’t want to go home. As we washed trucks and inventoried equipment in the final two weeks before our homecoming, I found myself between Iraq. I deeply considered suicide as an alternative to staying there or going home.

“I’ll kill myself just before we go home, that’ll throw them for a loop.” I thought. “I’ll find a couple rounds, and as we’re cleaning rifles I’ll put mine on three round burst, look down the barrel and fix everything.”

This was the first time I found myself between Iraq and a hard place. I chose the hard place, home, over killing myself and staying in Iraq forever. My name is Specialist Sign on This Line, and I’m an addict.

1 comment:

  1. Apparently I lost the underline under Sign on this line as well.