A War for Peace (Friend Post Friday #1)

I’m excited to introduce you to my cousin and very first Friend-Post-Friday author, Lee Waters.  Growing up mostly in New England, we only got to see extended family once a year; but Lee stands out as a thoughtful, peaceful soul in a sea of cousins, surrounded by big-laughing uncles, aunts (pronounced “Ants”) compulsively comparing cousin genetic similarities.

We’re all grown up now and just this past year I finally got to meet Lee’s amazing wife, Judy!  The two live in Georgia where Judy teaches and they both run Waters Art Studio.  Their photography and art reflect their travel, their style, and incredible creativity.  In fact, you can’t talk to them without being inspired to go create or restore something- it’s simply who they are.  I’m in awe of their work.

Lee was one of the first people I asked to share, after reading his vulnerable story.  I know this wasn’t something easy for him to share, but I know his deepest desire is that it reaches and liberates those of you who may feel a similar pain.  I’m so grateful that he shared, and hope you are moved or pass his words along to those who may need his message.

A War for Peace

A painful transparency for the sake of others

By Lee Waters

I am coming forward publicly for what I feel is necessary. This is not for myself but rather I offer what is hopefully some measure of help or service to others. Otherwise, giving such an account would certainly not be of personal interest. Life is far to short to sit on something that can be of value to others. I am tired of seeing others languish in silence, struggle for answers, or needlessly die.

For over a decade I’ve been struggling through life seemingly in every aspect. Approximately three years ago everything fell apart whether physically, spiritually, or mentally. Everything ceased to function. One day I found myself in the local Veteran’s Affairs clinic being treated for PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). (PS. I’m not going to give my military history pertaining to this, so please don’t make inquiries of me or my family.)

After the service I never really adapted back home. I tried to do the “normal” things i.e. college, jobs, the old home town, old friends, relationships, church, etc. Everything was as I left it, but small…..way too small. Life was way to slow, unstructured, and certainly no level of comradery and deep friendships once known. Nothing attempted had meaning, I certainly did not fit in this old life anymore.

Later, I found myself in government contract work. Working in a post 9/11 Uncle Sam atmosphere brought back a semblance of OPTEMPO lifestyle and sense of danger depending on the day. In hind sight, I suppose I was covering up old wounds with anything that would make me feel alive or perhaps fast enough that I didn’t have to feel. But as contracts go, they came to an end. A few years later, when that state of existence ceased, so did I.

Thusly, revealing my war. Fighting an enemy I can’t see, on a battleground where there is not a lot of intel. One can call for support but command doesn’t know the exact plan of attack or understand all of the parameters.

No matter the war, engagement, or experience, somehow and bafflingly so, the malevolent effects are the same. “Different stories, same war” is a phrase often heard. To the unknowing and assuming eye all is well, yet underneath a 24/7 brawl for survival ensues.

What I discuss next as a veteran is hard to bring to light or explain. Hopefully, and the purpose of all this is not only for a fellow veteran, but also for those in close relationships with the effected and what life looks like. Disclaimer, I don’t have all the answers. I’m living minute by minute most days in this hell of a journey. This will be raw and ugly. So please save any judgement for some place elsewhere. Again, this is purely to offer what I have and if by some chance it’s a help, than this exercise in exposing what I really don’t want to will be worth it.

When one has pulled themselves up by the bootstraps from trauma to trauma, event from event, next thing to the next, something has to give. Equate it to an engine. If one never places oil in the reservoir, eventually the engine will seize. Thusly, a costly chain of events will occur in the car. Sounds simple! Just take the time to add oil! Well, somehow it’s much much more complicated than that.

Getting counseling, prescribed medications, treatments, all have a valuable place and are necessary. Yet there is more that is needed. A quick “end all” healing solution, or the expectations of such to help with the torment eludes many. Ergo, many self medicate with drugs, alcohol, vices, and even suicide to end the incessant agony. On the other end of the spectrum, activities that are dangerous are attempts to feel again. For instance, a natural disaster such as a hurricane or tornado I feel at peace in. I’m apt to go as close to or experience the fury and as a photographer I want to capture it. Maybe I want to bottle it up that way and save it for later. Now I know that those events cause pain and uncontrollable damage. Believe me when I say I care deep down. Yet the onset of lightning, thunder, or whiteout blizzard conditions elicit a sense of feeling and belonging. The wilder the better. I can rest there. It’s the quiet that is deafening to me. I am hyper vigilant again. I often dread sleep yet I know that I need it desperately. I don’t want to go through another nightmare, wind up in a pool of sweat, or wake up screaming with my chest about to explode.

Day to day life tends to be very calculated. Places like Walmart, crowded places, large church settings are a no go. Too many people, too much vigilance, subconsciously scanning for threats or running scenarios, all of which are sensory overload on a good day. Restaurants and coffee shops i can somewhat ease in to so long as my back is not turned to the crowd. Not being situationally aware at all times is not an option.

So back to the car analogy and someone says “just add oil!” Or in these cases “you don’t have to be this way now! You’re home! You can stop it if you choose to!” First of all please never say that to someone going through this! You can rest assure that if it were that easy it would be done by now. The mind knows the right answers yet the rest of the being won’t follow through. What lies deeper is a whole other story.

Jumpiness, irritability, reclusiveness, depression, exhaustion, feeling misunderstood, feeling like a cancer to anyone especially family, embarrassment, numbness, an all or nothing attitude, everything black and white, are just some of the things I battle. Again, putting these things on paper in a clear moment is one thing, but when it’s time to take care in these areas is a whole other ball of wax. Day to day is Russian roulette.

So why am I being so painfully honest about all of this? Somehow knowing the things that are part of the territory with PTSD is a relief. Especially to loved ones. My wife and family have made lots of allowances and adjustments to be there for me. And I’m sure more than I realize. It breaks my heart that they have to. I lament that reality. Yet, I am ever so great full for them. Especially my wife Judy. Many are not blessed with a family support unit like this and I don’t take it for granted. Those who don’t travel the treacherous road alone.

Now for a brief moment of levity and truth all in one. Fellas, find you a tough Irish gal. You will have found your pot of gold with her. But seriously, I owe much to my bride and I do not take it lightly.

To wit, I am publicly taking the moment to tell my family and most of all my wife Judy, thank you. I love you more than words can express.

I went to a songwriting retreat back in 2014. Nashville songwriters came to Chattanooga to help veterans put memories, stories, etc. on paper and watch them get turned into music. I will discuss that program later, I want to make a point here. A few months after the retreat, we had a reunion gathering for the veterans involved in the program. This time Judy got to meet the people I was involved with. When Judy saw the common visage on the faces of the veterans and respective family members things became tangible for her. Seeing the tiredness, the fight, the love, support, survival, and a signature look in the eyes of a vet no matter the age or whatever they were involved in, made sense and brought relief. She was not the only one going through this story as a spouse. She was not alone.

I’m going to wrap this up with a summation and reiterate what I’m attempting to say. I don’t have the answers to this. What I am offering some information on some of what veterans with PTSD and families who care for them encounter. And maybe you’re reading this and have questions about your struggles or someone else’s struggles. Please go for help. Media and culture have created a stigma in which anyone with PTSD is a mark of weakness. Rather I submit to you as encouragement, if you’re fighting with this, I say you’re stronger than most. You are fighting and surviving an enemy that would force many to yield. I’m in the throws of my battle. Trying to build a business, and seemingly living in the VA. I’m learning. So is my family. Pray for us. Pray for the veterans. 22 veterans losing the battle everyday is a disturbing number that doesn’t seem to change. Some of us are home but can’t come home on the inside. By God’s grace someday. Offer support, not judgement of what you think you understand. That can be damaging at best. Please don’t pepper someone with questions. Just be there.. don’t avoid even if you don’t understand. Remember the veterans have been and always will be sheep dogs. Always watching out for you.

Thank you for your time in reading this. It means a lot if you did. God bless my country and the men and women who have and are donning the nation’s uniform.

Ps. As aforementioned, I spoke of the program I was involved with. It is called Operation Song Chattanooga. Nashville songwriters Steve Dean and Don Goodman come down every week and help veterans write music as therapy. Do you know the song “Ol Red” sung by Blake Shelton or “Angels Among Us” sung by Alabama? That’s Don. Or one of the most played songs on country radio “Watching You” sung by Rodney Atkins? That’s Steve. These folks care deeply and get not one penny in this 501C3. I am honored to be a part of the program and now work along side them. I have written a song with Steve and Don for my wife who loves me and stays by my side. It’s about how much I love her. “I thank God that you love me.” Once the songs are written, professional cuts of the songs are put on an album and given to the veterans.

If you know someone in the Chattanooga, Murfreesboro, or Nashville areas that can benefit from a program like this, please contact us. Check out Operation Song Chattanooga on Facebook. Follow them and pass the word along. It’s powerful therapy in a family atmosphere. Check it out please.

(Post written by Lee Waters)