As I hope I made clear in yesterday’s post, my years of facing combat in Vietnam left me scarred. Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI) doesn’t go away. The memories never fade. It is up to the sufferer of the malady to find a way to go on living. Many don’t. The rate of suicide among veterans is roughly twice that for non-veterans.
I learned early on that if I suppressed my grisly recollections, they came back to haunt me in dreams and flashbacks. I had to face them, bring them into conscious memory, and accept them as a part of me. I forced myself to remember. I trained my emotions to constrain themselves. In short, I learned to cope. As I eventually came to understand, coping is the best a PTSI victim can do. It is the only thing he can do.
So now I live with my memories. They are just as vivid today as they were the day I went through the unspeakable events that caused them. I still can’t speak of some things I remember. But I force them into my conscious memory lest they stew in my unconscious and erupt when I’m not prepared to manage them.
So, as a matter of survival, I needed to understand combat and what it does to one’s soul. When I learned of the existence of the Grossman book, I bought a copy. Reading it, it turned out, wasn’t so easy.
Grossman’s portrayal of combatants fits me precisely. As I read his descriptions, I was stunned to see myself in every phase of reaction he detailed. That meant that I couldn’t read for very long. The emotions the book roused were too intense. So I read a dozen or so pages at each sitting. That stretched out the time it took to read the book, but it was the only way I could get through it.