I was living the dream, or so I thought, back in 1982 as a young nineteen year old soldier. I had just shot down a multimillion dollar fighter jet. The adrenaline surge was incredible; the small boy that played in his back garden with toy tanks and guns had achieved his dream to be a soldier, but the reality was that I had just killed another human being.
Not thinking about it then, those thoughts went into a box in a deep recess at the back of my mind along with the other horrors I witnessed in the Falklands War. Decades after the brief bloody war was over, my mind started to leak those guarded thoughts and they all came out like a nasty jack-in-the-box. And as I have aged, I have begun to self-analyse, a bit like defragging a computer. (The doctors tell me that it’s also the reason we have nightmares, which we all experience from time to time, as we process our experiences.)
I am a great believer in self-help. I have never been big on drugs, recreational or otherwise, although I have had more than enough reason to try. I have to have one heck of a headache before I take a tablet, however I have found writing to be therapeutic. If someone had given me a poetry book as a teenager I would not have been interested, and would have laughed at anyone suggesting I actually try to write poetry. Living in a very macho military environment, I would have been the subject of abuse and accusations about my sexuality if I had. I’m glad to say we have moved on a long way from those dark days.
There has also been positive movement in how people perceive veterans with PTSD. At one time, some could not grasp the ‘post’ part and wrongly thought it meant sufferers were somehow cowards; I actually received a small but unpleasant amount of hate mail and abuse from fellow servicemen and veterans when my PTSD was discovered.
I left the military not even knowing what PTSD meant. It was a civilian counsellor that told me about it and I even argued with her that I didn’t have it. I mean, I’m not a coward right? I would just not speak and clam up; I didn’t know where to start. She told me to go away and try to write down my thoughts and feelings. That’s when the floodgates opened and the words poured onto the page, scribbled with a pencil. It was the beginning of my career as an author.
Eventually the scribbling was edited and I wrote several books that were published, back in the days when you sent manuscripts by snail mail. I published a no.1 best-selling book about my life in the military entitled Watching Men Burn, then, after a dark period where I tried to commit suicide, I published my first poetry book, Screaming in Silence. These poems can be read by anyone, and they cover a broad range of subjects: Religion, divorce, murder, politics, and, of course, war.
What I want to leave you with is that even from the darkest painful times of your life, some good and positivity can come. I believe that my writing can help people to cope. Maybe you’d like to give writing a try yourself? We have amazing caring people around us, like those at CALM, and one of the main keys to recovery is communication; remember you are not alone.
Read more about life from a war veteran’s perspective in our interview with Fun Lovin’ Criminals frontman, Huey Morgan, in the June issue of CALMzine – out NOW. If you need help or want to talk to someone, please click here or call 0800 585858.
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