I’ll tell you what a gunfight is like – scary, real scary.
I found it helped if I worked up a rage against someone who was set to kill me, and then forced that rage into a tight ball buried deep in the back of my mind. I remember thinking the first time I pulled a weapon with lethal intent was, ‘what am I doing here? This isn’t what I signed up for.’ But in fact it was. Not easily admitted, but that awful potential for excitement was why I signed up. There is nothing quite like living on that adrenaline infused high. Those of you who have seriously gone in harms way, then again and again, know of which I write. It is horrible, awful, and tremendously exhilarating, all at the same time. This feeling was once part of the human experience but now relegated to the few – and the rest live Thoreau’s life of quiet desperation, and hope, well wish, that they were alive – and play violent video games and dream of that life not lived.
Me, I don’t watch crime dramas, real life cop shows, or war movies. My dreams each night are vivid enough without stimulation and that is what the recruiters never tell the young. What it is like to live each day knowing that all innocence is lost and then if you age, living with the horrible dreams that lessen but never go away. My dear wife sleeps in a separate bed and awakens me by wiggling a toe, less I strike out an hurt her as I wake. No, they don’t tell the young that sort of thing, they never do.
I remember returning from Columbia around ’90. Wife picked me up at Dulles. The day before I was living a wild life in the jungle. When we went into Bogotá or Cali one never closed on the vehicle ahead and always left room to clearly see the gas tank. The slowest we drove was as fast as possible and here the wife and I were headed into Washington, DC with vehicles crowded all around us. I wanted out – I seriously wanted out and was literally climbing the sides of our vehicle. Part of me knew this was foolish but that animal part of me was still living on the edge and would do so the rest of my life.
Working travels eventually took me around the world many times, literally pole to pole and that awesome draw of potential excitement never lessoned. What I learned was that it took more and more excitement to generate that rush – and eventually that excitement was ramped by increasingly risk taking behavior. The youngsters thought the Old Dinosaur was crazy and they might have been right in assessment. They would never run those wild risks, they would never laugh with abandon in the face of danger. Of course, they were young and didn’t know what they would become. Another thing I discovered as I aged, was that judgment came increasingly fast and action sudden. The young around me were still vexed with life draining uncertainty.
Back in those days, seeking professional help was unheard of as it would jeopardize high security clearance and accesses. The outfit had its psychiatrist but no one I knew would ever take the risk. You see without the clearance the job was forfeit – and then what would one do to support the family? Later people started talking about PTSD and by the time it became an accepted ailment of the warrior, I had retired, come to grips with it on my own, and was at least on the path to becoming ‘normal.’ Just wake me suddenly and see. No, the recruiters never tell the young about how a life full of ‘excitement’ changes a person. One becomes cautious and as reflexes slow and endurance lags with age, one becomes careful, exceedingly full of care, and perhaps even a tad, well treacherous.
There is no romance in killing another human being, no not any – not even if that action increases the good quotient on this mortal coil. By so doing, you become inalterably changed and I daresay not for the better. I think the same is true of torture. It changes both the tortured and the torturer.
I write this for those of you young in your careers and more so for those of you pondering that career – ‘of excitement.’
If you even think you are becoming an adrenaline junkie, get help – get help right away. Seek friends of like experience and talk, seek professional help. Do it right away, if not for yourself, then for family and friends.
My father’s WWII generation seldom spoke of their wartime experiences. I had to pry and pry to get dad to talk even a little about what it was like to be in Paris when the Boch marched under the Ark de Triomphe. And I only thought he was keeping secrets because he was so sworn. I do a lot of thinking on the experiences of my father’s generation and those of mine. Why didn’t they experience PTSD – or did they and if so was it the ‘combat fatigue’ of that era? That generation has passed and with it their coping secrets. I suspect one of the big differences between the generations involve speed of travel. My father and his friends returned to the US on the Queen Elizabeth. They probably had all the time they wanted to talk amongst themselves about their common experiences with horror. Today’s troop may be in combat one day and back in our country the next – and without that needed time to talk with peers and decompress.
For those of you who have seen the elephant, your comments would be appreciated.