Training = Maze

“Training a service dog is like…”

While walking Tank this morning, I thought of how to best describe service dog training to people who’ve never experienced it. The closest thing I can compare it to is a maze.

Just think about it, your view of the maze is like life with PTSD. You try your hardest to navigate the many jagged, twisty paths to get through to the finish but the tools you have just won’t work. You end up getting worried, bad anxiety attacks, and flashbacks just thinking about trying it on your own. There needs to be a new tool to help you navigate through the complicated maze.

Stick with me now, here is where it gets interesting.

Someone very kind walks up and hands you a pen, a new tool to help you achieve your goals of navigating through the maze. I’d like to think of a service dog as the pen, a companion that keeps you calm and focused on achieving your life goals.

Instead of getting freaked when thinking about the maze, you are able to calmly use your new tool to start navigating through the many different obstacles.

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Tank

When I think about Tank, he did just that. I was practically a hermit, not leaving the house unless I needed to because of flashbacks. Just thinking about going out would be a struggle because I kept thinking of all the obstacles that may present themselves while out. When I received Tank from Project Delta and we were able to start public training, I felt better about going out. I actually wanted to.

I was able to use my pen and focus on calmly navigating through life. I got further with the pen than I did trying to depend on the tools I had.

But like the maze, training a service dog can usually lead to a dead-end. You have the right tool, but you can’t get past the road block because the tool ended up malfunctioning.

In my case, Tank ended up being way too overprotective. At home I couldn’t get him to stop barking at neighbors and dogs that walked by. Out in public I couldn’t sit down without Tank freaking out on people walking by, barking and snapping his jaws at them.

It was a side of Tank that I never saw coming. It’s a trait that’s hard to break, I would never be able to get him certified as a service dog. I love Tank to death, but I still had goals to accomplish, I still need to get to the finish.

Just like starting over on a maze, I have to try to find a different dog to help me finish my goal. I’m starting down the same path with the same tool hoping for a different outcome.

That’s just what it’s like, ask anyone and they’ll agree.

Three more days until Tank goes to his new home. He’s helped me overcome a lot of obstacles I would have never been able to do on my own. It’s hard letting him go, but he’s served his purpose.

Maze

Don't be bitter. Forgive!

Forgive! Don’t Be Bitter.

I remember how messed up I was back in 2011, living day by day thinking death was right around the corner. Seven years after war and it felt like I was stuck in hell. One moment I’d be fighting in a cemetery taking mortar rounds, the next moment I’m driving to work with chronic back pain speeding through traffic having flashbacks. Some days I just called into work because I was, quite frankly, scared to open the door because it might blow up.

In those dark moments my mind led me to believe that nothing in life was real. For some reason I believed that I had died back in Iraq and that I was in hell. That’s the reason that suicide was constantly running through my head.

“You’re never getting better, just let go of the steering wheel and it’ll all be over.”

I hated the military for making me this way. I hated my parents for how I was raised. I wanted to seriously hurt my ex-step-father for the years of abuse he put me through. He once beat me so hard, an ink pen somehow got stabbed through my ankle. I had this overwhelming urge to kill because of the random flashbacks I was pushed and pulled from.

I wouldn’t sleep for days at a time. I was used to it you know, from the 24-48 hours duties in the Army. I wished I was back in the Army in Iraq fighting on the front line again so I could feel normal, Someone important again.

My anger turned into bitterness which always led me back to suicidal thoughts, descending down a dark path.

I’m lucky that I found Jesus Christ or I would have followed through with something I could never come back from. I was saved by the scriptures I read day in and day out. The subject of bitterness  is all throughout the bible and the answer to finding peace is so simple, but so hard to grasp.

Forgivness

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Matthew 6: 14-15 ESV

As soon as I softened my heart to the people that hurt me the most and tried my best to move on, life started getting better. I started talking to loved ones again and I served in my church as much as I could. I started slowly remembering the person I was before the war.god is salvation

Things didn’t miraculously change in a week or even a month. I had to learn how to live with my pain as well as my PTSD symptoms. Since I started actively working on re-building my life in 2014, I’ve become happier with the fact that I’m alive and I have a loving family that gives me support and things to look forward to every day.

Bitter

Descend

Being Panicked

Panicked – Not in My Vocabulary

It took awhile for me to adjust to civilian life after the Army. The whole world seamed to be out of place. There wasn’t an order to everything like the military and people ran around like little kids doing and saying whatever came to mind.

The one thing that really stood out the most is the way people would become panicked whenever something serious happened. Being panicked isn’t in my vocabulary. After 14 months of being mortared, shot at and receiving blown-up patients  in the middle of the night drove fear right out of me.

I’ve learned that nothing good comes out of being panicked. You don’t think straight and nothing will get accomplished as you’re running around like a chicken with its head cut off.

I’m not saying that I don’t get a little scared in sticky situations, I’m saying that I don’t let it control me. I have faith that God will tell me the right thing to do and that basically drives the fear right out of me and allows my brain to function properly so I can think straight. My wife and daughter sometimes think that I care about them because I don’t get panicked when they hurt themselves.  I care about them, I just know that they will be ok.

I’m pretty sure every medic who has a CMB (Combat Medic Badge) can think calmly under bad situations because of practice. Next time you find yourself in a panick just remember to take a deep breath, say a quick prayer and try to deal with it the best you can.

Panicked

Loving Tank

What Tank wants

It’s getting down to my final weeks with Tank. I still remember the first day we met and the immediate connection we had together. Ever since that day I’ve tried my best to give Tank what he needs so that he’ll be a happy, loving dog.

I’ve lived day in and out with him for the past four-month and I have to say that Tank is a very picky, sensitive dog. I don’t mind it though because that’s what makes him special. He has a personality that I’ve never seen out of a dog before. There are certain things he needs done for him to be comfortable; so, I decided to make a list of all the special things I do for Tank so that he can feel at home with his new owners.

First and foremost it is extremely important that Tank gets let out in the morning for a long walk or run so that he can poop and his anal glands can be expressed. He poops at least two times during our mile walk. If he doesn’t poop at least twice he will feel uncomfortable and in turn will start whimpering and licking his butt uncontrollably because his glands are swollen. It took me two months of being in the winter when it’s too cold to walk far to figure this out. I was taking him to the vet every month for them to express them.

Second, he loves his sleep in the morning and he doesn’t usually eat until after 1 o’clock. Speaking of eating, he is extremely picky. I buy Nutri-Source dog food, any flavor will be fine for dry food. He also needs wet food or else he will starve himself until he has to eat the dry food.83F5ADFA-5C36-4028-A248-AF5BAC114CAA

He was on a wet food only diet, 3 cans a day because of a large pancreas that the vet found by x-ray and I haven’t been able to break him from it. He is stubborn sometimes, especially with food.

I usually give him a cup and a half of dry and mix in half a large can of the wet food in with it. The mixing is important because he’ll just eat the wet food and leave the dry food and stare a hole through your head when he’s hungry until you give him something enticing.

The third thing that he needs is some solid attention every day, an hour at the most or he’ll whimper and start rubbing his head   On the carpet and start rolling on his back trying to itch. I usually call him over and start scratching his head, he loves it when you rub up and down from his forehead to his nose as well as the corners of his eyes.

He’ll eventually plop down onto his side then raise his leg to get his belly rubbed its his favorite thing on earth. A good belly rub paired with his wildly kicking leg equals a happy Tank. He’ll even thank you by pressing his front paw into your chest or he’ll try for your face. He turns into the biggest baby in the world when he’s on his back getting his grey and white-haired belly scratched.

The fourth thing is that Tank loves to chew on raw hides. I usually give him 1 or two a week. They have to be basted in beef or chicken, he won’t touch the plain ones. I bought the plain ones before and spread peanut butter on it. He licked off the peanut butter and left the rawhide. I found good ones on Amazon.com by Digestez, the chicken, beef, and pork filled rawhides. He’ll chew one up in less than two hours. And don’t worry, he chews the rawhide until its small enough to swallow.

The fifth thing that Tank needs is a car ride. He loves car rides just as much as a belly rub. He sticks his head out and likes to get a big wife of the air around. He looks like he wants to fly off or something, he’s too funny.

The last and final thing that Tank needs is to sleep on the ground next to the bed, he likes to be next to someone at all times of the day. He gets scared being by himself. He sleeps through the night if you take him out to relieve himself before going to bed.

If all of these needs are met, than Tank will be a happy camper every day. I’m so jealous of the next couple who has the privilege of having him in their life.

Gray

combatmedic.org (happy Tank)

Accepting the Inevitable

Happy easter everyone! First off I want to say thank you to Jesus Christ for everything he did for me, without him I’d still be struggling with life.

I really had an eye opening experience these past few days, something that I’d like to share because I think it will help people struggling with PTSD or any painful experience that was felt in life.

As you know there has been an active search for a family that can welcome Tank into their home. A great couple came along that thought Tank would be an awesome addition to their home. Tank had a play date with their dog Jack, it was like they knew each other from a past life they got along so well.

This past Friday I met with the couple without the dogs there. They were an awesome couple, better than I’d even thought they’d be. We shared stories of our dog’s antics and I told them as much as I could about Tank and his needs. They both work from home half the week and they are just know buying a three level house were Tank and Jack can run outside from the main level or down the second level deck.

It sounds like he’s going to have a better life than he’s had here. I’m so happy for him. I’ve been hoping that he’d find a good home so I won’t feel as guilty for giving him away, it makes it a lot easier on the both of us.

We hope that after they have Tank for a few months and I have another dog by my side, we can have visits. It’s good to know that I won’t have to say bye to him forever. Who knows, this couple could become good friends and we can see Tank for years to come.

I can’t say that the whole experience left me happy. I left the meeting with an actual time when Tank will be leaving. Walking out of the Starbucks into gloomy rain felt appropriate for the mood I was in. Something inside of my chest was tingling as I walked slowly through the rain towards my car.  Getting drenched wasn’t a concern, I didn’t even notice my pants were soaked until I sat inside my car.

Thoughts weren’t pouring through my head like normal, images of the whole meeting circled around instead. I imagined Tank in their home, the life  he’d have with Jack running around playing and digging holes.

I think my heart was the thing tingling, because now it burns a little with every jolt of my heartbeat. I guess I was really sad, I’m not that in touch with my emotions anymore, that’s why I can only describe the feelings that I get because they come on so sudden and leave abruptly.

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He’s cool just laying there.

I think the only times in my life I’ve felt like this was when I left someone or someone left me. I remember when my mom moved out and divorced my dad. We were on a trip with my dad and came back with all of her stuff gone. I remember not being able to talk to her and crying curled up in a ball on my bed for days. The same feeling of my heart being burned and torn from my chest… it almost that close.

Did I make the wrong decision to keep looking for a service dog?

Will I find a dog better than him?

I can’t stop those thoughts even though I know the answer… No, I didn’t.

Everything in life happens for a reason. Every struggle that I’ve faced has made me stronger in the end. I know that this feeling will pass and I know in my heart that it’ll work out for the best.

One day I’ll have a service dog by my side everywhere I go, a tool that will help me travel around to talk with people about how to live a better life with PTSD.

Tank has served his purpose for me and I hope his future is filled with love.

Jolt

Sleep- Not That Overrated

When I first joined the military the one saying that I hated the most was, “Sleep is overrated.” Well you know what, it’s not. I’ve had trouble sleeping since my 14 month tour of duty in Iraq back in 2004. Thirteen years I’ve struggled to stay asleep because of nightmares and cold sweats. When I wake up my body has so much adrenaline running through it that it takes a few hours to get back to sleep. That’s why I have to be drugged up to sleep or I would lose my mind thinking I’m trapped in a nightmare or worse, dead and living in purgatory for the thinks I had to do to survive.

They diagnosed me with Bi-polar disorder when I got out of the service  because of the episodes I’d have of not sleeping, drinking heavily, and fits of anger and rage. It wasn’t until 10 medications and three doctors later that they started testing me for PTSD. That’s when the stories of war, the ones I’ve drank away and tucked back deep inside my mind, came rushing back like an untamed fire.

I couldn’t stop seeing dead people, hearing blood curdling screams for a medic, thinking that everyone that surrounded me in public was looking to shoot me or stick a knife in my back. It felt like I was seriously crazy and couldn’t stop thinking of the what if’s in life.

“What if I don’t ever fall asleep and die?”

“What if I tell someone what I’m seeing and they throw me in a padded room?”

“What if this is all a dream and I’m still fighting on the front lines?”

In my sleepless, intoxicated state I would go days without leaving the house believing that I would die if I did.

Everything in my mind was about death, so naturally my thought went towards ending it all. With one shot I could get some rest, I would never have to think again. I had bought into the idea that things would never get better because no one could understand, I couldn’t even understand what was happening.

Something inside of me knew that my actions and current state were leading up to consequences that would have an immeasurable impact on the lives of people I loved the most. That part of me cried out in exhaustion and brought me face to face with Jesus and our father God.

From that moment forward I put all of my efforts into finding a path I could walk down happily without worrying about the demons tormenting me about my past. As soon as I gave it all to God my outlook on life has done a total 180 degree turn.

I’m so much for my life and other veterans lives that struggle with the same issues as me that I’ve made it my mission to find ways to live with PTSD so I can share and hopefully save lives.
Measure

Blind Leading the Blind

I want to take some time to explain a part of scripture in the Holy Bible that’s had a huge impact on what comes out of my mouth when talking to other people and changed how I viewed myself.

In the NIV version Matthew 15:1-16 Jesus teaches about Inner purity:

10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. 11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”
12 Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”
13 He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. 14 Leave them; they are blind guides.d]”>[d] If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”
15 Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”
16 “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. 17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”

What I took away from this scripture was that the foul language that came out of my mouth everyday defiled me. I was forced to view myself through Christ’s eyes and all that I saw was a heart full of anger, regret and resentment.

I never used to be as foul-mouthed growing up. Yeah I said a swear word now and again and talked bad about people, but that was nothing compared to how I was in the military at war. I blindly said  Fu**, Sh**, As*, Bit**…. you get the picture almost with every sentence I said. It felt good getting all that stuff off my chest at the moment, everyone in the military has a foul mouth. It became normal to me.

After I thought about how my heart used to be so innocent  as a kid and now it’s torn and dark because of my actions, I wanted to change. If I didn’t open up my bible to find answers to the situations in life I would have never been able to wrap my head around why I felt so dark all the time.

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The word that you speak comes from the heart. Keep it healthy.

It’s taking some time to eliminate crude remarks from coming out of my mouth, because it takes time to soften a hardened heart. I’m trying my hardest to let my light shine instead of spreading the darkness around. That’s why I say it is extremely important for anyone with PTSD to seek out God as best as you can to figure out how to cope in this world ran by sin.

“But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.” Deuteronomy 4:29 (NIV)

Blindly

Never Give In

Tank and I are doing as wonderful as ever. Now that he’s just a house pet and isn’t forced to be in public, he has been calmer.

He doesn’t like being caged up during the day while I’m at appointments. He whines, cries and pants hard after I close the cage locking him in. I think he’s just so used to going everywhere with me and never having to be alone that he feels like I’m going to leave forever.

My trainer said that I could bring him around with me and leave him in the car with the windows rolled down when I have to go inside somewhere. I started doing that just to make him happy. He likes to put his whole head out of the back window to get a nose full of the fresh air. He’s too funny, sometimes it looks like he wants to jump out and fly through the air… I bet that’s what he thinks, or he likes all the different smells. Either way he is too cool when he does it.

It’s going to be hard letting him go within the next couple of weeks. I’ve thought long and hard about the time in between giving Tank up and my next dog. He’s like my crutch, it’s easier for me to get around with him watching my back. How will my mind be without having him next to me to keep me in the moment?

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Tank and my baby girl!

I know that my PTSD symptoms have been kept in check because of our constant interaction. He’s the only live being around me 24/7, how will I be able to leave the house on a whim like I do with him?

I have to keep moving forward even though things are going to change. I have a mission from God to save as many lives as I can from this horrible suicide epidemic that’s plaguing our nations veterans and families. As long as I have a tenacious grip on the goals that I’ve set when I first started my quest, God will provide for me to fulfill the mission he has given.

The good people over at Project-Delta are working relentlessly to find a new dog that can one day be by my side for years to come. I love that the path God has laid in front of me has connected me with so many loving and like-minded people. I have nothing but hope for the future to come.

Tenacious

In Constant Denial of Taking Medications? ( Short read )

Too Many Prescription Pills

I’ve been fighting with myself for the past couple of months over my use of prescription medications. I’m in constant denial of the fact that they help me. One day they could quite possibly kill me from one of the many side effects.

Being a veteran from the Iraq war, I struggle every single night from nightmares and cold-sweats.

I’ve taken at least 13-18 different medications the past twelve years for sleep, PTSD, anxiety and depression. The other dozens I’ve been on are to treat anxiety and depression. In total I take 5 pills a night and 2 during the day. I’ve been doing this for twelve years with little help.

Suicide was always in the back my mind. I was downing medications and still having problems with my mood and sleep. There were days that I thought I had died in Iraq. My mind was so messed up I believed I was in purgatory.

Acceptance

After accepting the fact that I needed help from medications, I’ve been able to focus and accept the fact that I’ll always be hunted by my past, but I don’t have to let it get in the way of my goals and values.

The only way I’m able to enjoy going to live sports like the Twins and the Timberwolves is if I take Clonazapam. I wouldn’t be able to sleep without medication either. Trust me, I’ve tried everything from herbs to diets and nothing else works.

In constant denial of taking medications
At the game yesterday! Twins vs. Royals

So if I will have to take medications my whole life, should I expect to die from some sort of side effect?

I believe God will take me when it’s my time, but I also know that he respects our choices so I don’t want to shorten my life on my own accord.

I know I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. Since I started opening up with my doctors, they were able to get me on the right meds to keep me stable, but I still have my days. I know that everyone who has to be on medications the rest of their lives  feel the same way as I do.

So I wonder, is there going to be a point that I won’t need medications?

I have to remember to ask my doctors. I think this is a valid question for everyone. The pharmaceutical companies creates thousands of drugs to make us feel as though we need to be dependent on them so they can milk money out of  insurers and our pockets.

We should make it a priority to see how these drugs affect our bodies before taking them without question.

Click Here to buy a copy of Combat Medic on Amazon

Combat Medic
A soldier’s story of the Iraq war and PTSD
In constant denial of taking Medications?

In Constant Denial? ( Short read )

For the past couple of months I’ve been fighting with myself over my use of medications. I’m in constant denial of the fact that they help me because I feel that one day I could quite possibly die from one of the many side effects that’s given to me on a 7 page print out every time I pick them up from pharmacy.

Being a veteran from the Iraq war, I struggle every single night from nightmares and cold-sweats.

I’ve been on at least 13-18 different medications just to get something that helps with my sleep. The other dozens I’ve been on are to treat anxiety and depression. In total I take 5 pills a night and 2 during the day. I’ve been doing this since getting back from Iraq in 2005.

So twelve years I’ve been off and on medications with little success. Before I had Tank suicide was always a thought in my mind, I was downing medications and still having problems with sleep.There were days that I thought I had died on the front lines; that time when mortars were landing on the roof above our heads and I blacked out. My mind was so messed up I believed I was in some sort of purgatory.

After accepting the fact that I needed help and the medications, I’ve been able to focus better and accept the fact that I’ll always be hunted by the war of my past, but I don’t have to let it get in the way of my goals and values.

I wouldn’t be able to sleep without medication, trust me I’ve tried everything from herbs to diets and nothing works. Same as the anxiety; Tank helped with it a little, but I wouldn’t be calm in public without medication. The only way I’m able to enjoy going to live sports like the Twins and the Timberwolves is if I take Clonazapam.

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At the game yesterday! Twins vs. Royals

So if I will have to take medications my whole life, should I expect to die from some sort of side effect? I believe God will take me when it’s my time, but I also know that he respects our choices so I don’t want to shorten my life on by own accord.

The only thing I do know is I’m at the happiest point in my life than I have ever been. Since I started opening up more with my doctors, they were able to get me on meds to keep me stable, but I still have my days. I know that everyone who has to be on medications the rest of their lives  feel the same way as I do.

So I wonder, is there going to be a point that I won’t need medications?

I have to remember to ask my doctors. I think this is a valid question for everyone. The pharmaceutical companies creates thousands of drugs to make us feel as though we need to be dependent on them so they can milk insurance and our pockets.

We should be champions and make it a priority to see how these drugs affect our bodies before taking them without question.

Denial

Champion