Yesterday I talked about how I found ways to live with my Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI). By May of 1975, after escaping under fire during the fall of Saigon, I knew I needed psychological help. But I held top-secret-codeword-plus security clearances. Had I gone for therapy, I would have lost my clearances and my job. I had to handle it on my own.
One method of coping I described yesterday—writing down what happened thereby forcing myself to face the memories. The other method was helping others.
Some instinct in my soul guided me toward working with people a lot worse off than I was. During the AIDS crisis, I volunteered to be a buddy to men dying of the disease. I did everything for them. I bathed them, dressed them, fed them, did their laundry, accompanied them when they were well enough to venture out, stayed with them when no one else would. In short, I helped them die. Over five years, I worked seven patients. They were all gay; they all died. One result was another novel, No-Accounts.
When the AIDS crisis passed, I worked with the homeless for two years, spent seven years ministering to the dying in a hospice, and helped sick and dying veterans in a VA hospital.
I found that when my attention was rivetted on people who needed my help, my hideous memories faded into the background. I learned that compassion heals.
So I’ve come to terms with my PTSI. I know it will never go away. The memories will never fade. My grief and shock will be with me as long as I live. But I’m content knowing that I did the best I could for my country and especially for my fellow combatants. I’ve found an imperfect peace. I am at rest.