During a meeting with my life coach from Project Delta I got an assignment to write a letter to my younger self. The logic behind it is that it would help me put away horrible memories so I can get over the effects they have on my life. It’s not a magic trick that will make me forget what happened, it just helps me fill it away in the cabinet of useless information.
When writing the letter I couldn’t talk about an incident directly, I just had to write words of encouragement to let my younger self know everything will be alright in the future. I chose to write to my eight year old self right after my mom decided to move out of the house while her husband and three children were at Disney world.
I remember coming home and wondering where mom was, including half the stuff that used to be in the house. After my Dad explained what was going on, I can’t remember how long I cried for, I just remember the world being so dark uncomfortable. My chest burned in agony, that was the first time in my life I felt like my heart was being stabbed in pulled through my throat. I imagined my present self walking slowly on the creaky floorboards inside that sesame street wallpaper room toward the whimpering sound of myself crying through the cracked closet door. As I open the door, my heart starts pouring out to him:
“Hey mini me! What are you looking so upset for. It’s done, they’re gone; you’re going to have to grow up and start looking out for yourself. It’s going to be a long, tough road. At times your going to want to quit so bad that death seems like a gift from heaven, but I’m here to tell you that if you can do more than you can imagine. Death is never the option because death halts life experiences and believe me, God wants you to experience an abundance of life. Trust me.”
“One day your mom is going to leave you again. The pain and hurt that follows isn’t because of what you did, she is just human and we all can make mistakes to get out of a rough situation. God never gives you anything you can’t handle. After that heart ache your Dad is going to move you away with him and help you achieve a sound mind and body. You’re going to learn how to stay healthy and you will be as handsome of a man as King David was.”
“You will go to fight in hell and come back a changed person once you graduate high school. I can’t tell you if the change is good or bad, it always fluctuates. I can guarantee to you that it’s an experience that few survive and non-forgets. Just remember, when the world starts crumbling down around you and the war inside seems like it’ll never go away, it won’t, but it will get easier. You will become strong with the powerful word of God. You will go out into the world with an affliction to save the lives of veterans with the same wounds.”
“Most of all, keep praying like grandma taught you to. Prayer will get you through the worst situations. Never let anyone tell you that your relationship with God is false because he is the realist thing in this life. No one can save you in the darkness except for the great I Am. Never give up hope that life won’t turn out well, because you are abundantly blessed and your life has just begun.”
First, let me start out with some good news. A couple of months back when I was at the Minnesota State Fair promoting my book I ran into an old friend of my dads. While I was drinking a beer flight an older man asked if he could stand at the table with me, I told him sure and then I started a conversation up with a different guy standing next to us.
After I gave this guy my card and told him my name, the older man asked if I would take a picture of him for his wife. After snapping a picture he asked for my card as well so he could grab my book too.
A couple of weeks pass before I receive an e-mail from the gentleman. Come to find out about 25 years ago my dad sang at this guys wedding, CRAZY RIGHT!? His wife used to work with my dad at Pillsbury and he wanted to get in contact with my dad to catch up on life.
After giving him my dads info he sends me another e-mail two weeks later with actual pictures of my parents at their wedding.
He let me know that he read my book and he loved it then he invited me to speak at his organizations monthly meeting. I felt like this was the reason why we ran into each other, like God somehow orchestrated us drinking beer at the same place and time so I could share my story with more people. I accepted his offer and threw together a presentation for the Chaska Rotary Club which included pictures of me from war.
The speech went well to say the least. I felt more confidant standing in front of that group than I ever have in life. Having Tank next to me laying on the floor gave me the security I needed to get through my speech without heightening my anxiety. I finally understood what my trainer said about Tank being a tool and not a fix.
When the audience gave me a standing ovation, I finally felt like I was making progress in life again. With the tools that God has given me, I can start accomplishing the goals that are most important in my life. It was exactly what I needed to push out into the world to spread my testimony to help combat veterans who are struggling like me.
I was extremely proud of how calm Tank was with everyone clapping and walking up to shake my hand. Because of him I was able to sell out of all the books I brought as well as connect with multiple people who have friends and family in the military that need advice on how to handle someone with PTSD. The main reason why I wrote my book was to connect with other veterans to be a positive influence for them so they know they’re not alone in the fight and that change can always happen, they just need to want it more than anything else in life. Check out Rotary, Jan 12, 2017 for my feature in the newsletter.
I’m having good days more often than usual. I’m sleeping better because I’ve let Tank sleep outside of his crate at the foot of our bed. I really believe he doesn’t like to be in his crate when I’m in the same room so he can sleep outside of it as long as he’s sleeping all night.
Training went well today. Tank is making strides in his progress. He is showing me everyday how smart he is by memorizing cues I give him within a day. The only problem I can see that he has is with other dogs being in the same room with us. Josh’s service dog was in the room with us today and Tank wouldn’t stop growling at her and he barks at every person that passes by outside. I think he’s easily excited because he doesn’t see other people and animals much. We’re starting public training with in our next session so hopefully he will start learning to keep calm in those situations.
I gave Tank a break from his muzzle today when we were in the house alone. He still walked with me wherever I moved. He’s a really good dog, I think he is ready to start going out in public with me. I found that the only rawhide he likes to chew on has to have some type of meat flavor on it or he won’t chew it. I bought peanut flavored rawhides and Tank literally just licked the bone a few times then pushes it aside. I’m glad I only bought a pack of two so throwing them away doesn’t seem too wasteful. I gave him a beef and chicken flavor rawhide and he chewed it up in less than an hour. He is such a picky eater.
I have a sleep study scheduled for tonight at the VA hospital to test for sleep apnea because I’ve had trouble sleeping lately. The nightmares and night sweats have gotten so bad I feel like I’m not sleeping at all at night. Lindsay came to take Tank for the night. I spent an hour petting him and giving him lots of love before he left.
Driving to the VA was a challenge as always. I started having an anxiety attack halfway there which pissed me off. I felt like I was high because everything I looked at was in a haze. I tried grounding myself with breathing techniques , but I found it hard to even breath. I met with my psychiatrist when I first arrived at the hospital. I let him know I stopped smoking weed a few months ago because it was getting too expensive. Now that I haven’t smoked my PTSD symptoms have increased. He increased my medications to help compensate for what the marijuana was helping with.
I drove over to the Mall of America for dinner after that appointment. I tried a new sushi restaurant and it was pretty good. I drank sake in order to calm my nerves. I felt so different without Tank, sort of feels like being in a gunfight without a gun, super uncomfortable. I’ve noticed how bad I get without him which makes me anxious to get his vest so he can go everywhere with me.
Lindsay sent me a couple of pictures with Tank and her two labs. She said he was doing excellent and he was getting along with everyone. I bet he was excited to play with other dogs for a chance. He’s been stuck with me for the past month not receiving any attention from anyone.
I’ve been with Tank for just over three weeks now. I feel like our bond is growing stronger everyday. He is a very intelligent dog, picking up on new commands in less than two days. We had our training yesterday where Lindsay gave us two new Cues: Down and Stay. I started out having to hold a treat in front of his face while he sat, bringing it to the floor three times saying, “Down” before he laid down. Now, I just have to say down once and he does it. We’re working on stay. Tank stays where I sit him until he decides to sniff around the room when I walk away. He likes to grab Aleah or my wife’s attention to pet him. He’ll get it down soon enough, I have faith in him.
I’ve started noticing how my emotions are when I’m around Tank versus when I’m not. It’s like when he’s sitting at my side letting me pet him, my head feels normal, like a huge weight just lifts off. It helps with my anxiety and anger when I’m out in public. I’ve also noticed I’m not short tempered with my family and I’m able to talk to them without wanting to go off and be by myself. As soon as I leave the house it feels like a dark cloud comes rushing back into my head. Driving and being out in public alone or with my family makes me high strung and extremely angry. I don’t try to be, I hate it, but as soon as I drive out on the road I feel like smashing into every car that can’t drive. I can’t wait until I can bring Tank wherever I go to keep me calmer.
I can certainly say that I can tell a deference within myself when I have Tank with me and when he’s not. I was so used to being stressed out all the time with high anxiety; thinking bad thoughts about everyone and everything. I can’t actually remember a time before now that I was able to stay calm on my own. Now that I have Tank to keep me calm when I’m stressed, I feel mentally and physically ill when I have to go into public alone because of the anger and rage that rushes back inside of me. I hate it. I know that’s not the person I grew up being. I don’t feel comfortable in it anymore.