Therapy for PTSD

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In 1965, the Marine Corps did a great job of preparing me for jungle warfare. In 1968, I returned to the states full of bewildering feelings such as survivor’s guilt, and an insatiable appetite for endorphin flow. In 1968, there was no such thing as post traumatic stress disorder. Some called it battle fatigue, but the term generally was reserved for WWII veterans who fought in a real war.

In 1980 I discovered the Vet Center in West Los Angeles; a place where clinical psychologists helped Vietnam war veterans understand things like intrusive thoughts and feelings. Two years of good counseling saved my marriage, and, in turn, literally saved my life.

Now it is the year 2015, and I am returning to the local Vet Center in Modesto, California. I have been working on a new book entitled, “Wings of Valor.” As much as anything else, it is a project that revives memories of my experiences as a combat aircrew member with a helicopter squadron in South Vietnam. The downside is that working on the book has caused unpleasant dreams, intrusive thoughts, and survivor’s guilt to resurface.

The main thing a combat veteran suffering from PTSD must learn is that there is no cure. It is a condition I will carry with me throughout the remainder of my lifetime. But there is hope by means of good therapy. Learning how to cope with the condition is a good thing. Knowing you are not insane is a good thing. Believing you can take the pain and live a meaningful life is a blessing.

While this all may seem sad and unfortunate, my PTSD counseling has taught me that writing this book is good for my mental health. Keeping feelings bottled up inside can have devastating effects on me and my family. So, I simply set my emotional pressure relief valve at 1,500 PSI, and continue on my merry way. My book will be on my editors desk by March of 2016. Then I can reset my pressure relief valve back to 1,000 PSI.

My First Pancake

I consider myself something of an closet chef. As an adult leader with Boy Scouts of America since 1979, I have charred more than a few “first pancakes” while camping. Even at home – in my own kitchen – getting the griddle perfectly prepared for pancakes is a challenge. Experience helps, but the first pancake often becomes a sacrificial lamb.

Thus it has been with my very first book, “Boyhood Adventures.” I enjoyed writing it because it was so reminicent of my early childhood in Texarkana, Arkansas. But, I made the mistake of rushing it into publication. I failed to employ a professional editor. I made goofy mistakes incumbent on first-time writers. I struggled with a re-write for a year, trying to correct typos and enhance character, all in an effort to get it just right. And … I think I was finally close to finishing it. Notwithstanding, a kind mentor, Beth Hill, sympathetically laid her virtual hand on my shoulder, and said, “Let it go, Aaron. It’s time to move on.” Hmm; seems like my wife has offered similar counsel … more than once.

So, while it wasn’t a ceremonious burial at sea, and while there was no playing of TAPS; no honor guard detail firing a 21-gun salute; I decided to follow good advice, and chalk it up to a lengthy practice exercise. And, surprisingly, I feel okay with it. I learned a great deal along the dusty, rocky road to oblivion. Above all, I have learned to accept a charred pancake when I see one. And, I have learned to listen to good, sound advice.

I’m not sad, actually, to see my first pancake tossed into the literary garbage can. I’m not elated … but I’m not sad. Finally, I’m released from flogging a dead horse. I’m free to be fully engaged in my next project. And this “second pancake” will benefit from all I’ve learned as a fledgling writer. With new hope, I strive for a pancake better than the first; golden brown on both sides. At least, that’s the plan. It will, no doubt, fall short of a best sellers list – again – but the lessons learned on my first book will enhance the second. Truly, I have come to find joy in writing, free from fear of imperfection.

Now I embark on a book much more important to me: Wings of Valor. I have aspired to writing this book since I returned home from Vietnam in September of 1968. And, even though I lived the experiences I’m writing of, I am nonetheless deeply engaged in historical research.

My deadline for submitting Wings of Valor to my editor will be 13 March 2016. I hope, once it’s published, the few fans/followers I have will receive it well.

Beth Hill

In a former post, I expressed my feelings about the eternal nature of study for an aspiring reality fiction writer such as myself. In my pursuit of books I consider essential to my continuing education, I have had the good fortune to acquire a book entitled, “The Magic of Fiction,” by Beth Hill. Beth is a free-lance fiction editor, dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. She recently offered a free copy of her book to members of her blog (The Editor’s Blog).

I’ve only just begun my study of her book, but I feel edified already. Though “self-editing” scares me to death, I believe her advice will lead me to make decisions, and take action that will be in the best interest of my career as a fiction writer. For the moment, I really don’t trust myself to self-edit. I believe I’m far too passionate about my work to be sufficiently critical. At this moment, I feel certain I will be seeking professional editing services. But that’s one of the reasons I feel her book is so important to writers like myself. Notwithstanding my skepticism about self-editing, she offers solid and useful advice, worthy of serious consideration.

For my friends who are writers themselves, I recommend Beth’s book as a study guide. If you study it yourself, please let me know what you think of it.

Surgery: The Ultimate Block

On Friday 5 June I checked in to Valley Care Medical Center in Pleasanton, California, for back surgery. I had no idea how recovery would effect my creative flow as a writer. Throughout June and July I found myself bereft of inspiration or even desire to write. All my energy went to physical therapy.

Only recently have I begun to feel my creative flow return; what a relief. The excitement of writing has returned. When I’m really on a roll, I find myself having dreams about the projects I’m working on. I may see one of my characters do or say something I can’t wait to put in print.

In the end, I’m very happy to be writing again. It feels great.

Physical Therapy

On Friday 12 June, i underwent back surgery for spinal stenosis, and a few related ailments. Since then, I have been laboring through the challenges of physical therapy. Being a Marine, my mentality on the subject of physical therapy echoes something once said by Sir Stirling Moss after his Formula One crash at Goodwood, England.

“No exercise is any good, boy, unless you push it to the absolute limit.”

Pursuant to our mutual philosophy regarding the subject, i am finding that physical therapy / exercise is arduous, demanding, and takes the wind out of my sails in a big way. Yesterday, I was determined to attend my church meetings. At first, i was full of energy. It felt so great to see friends I hadn’t seen in weeks. The meeting began at 1:00pm. But after less than thirty minutes, the room began to spin around. I was sitting perfectly still, but the room wasn’t. My wife had to drive me home and I missed the second speaker.

Everyone keeps telling me to SLOW DOWN – TAKE IT EASY – DON’T PUSH SO HARD. It’s not the Marine way but i’m trying hard to reach a comprimise. Thanks to all my supporters for your encouragement.

Aspire: having a desire to achieve, or obtain something

Today, I’m reflecting on the definition of the word, aspire. When I was sixteen years old, I aspired to owning a car. I needed a car so I could get a better job. I needed a better job so I could buy food to eat and clothes to wear. So, I put together a plan, and worked to earn $25.00 a week to buy a 1946 Ford coupe for $100.00. The car didn’t run, so I had to work another week to earn another $18.00 for a starter motor. I still remember how excited I was the first day I drove my very own car to school.

At age seventeen, I aspired to join the fight against the world-wide spread of Communism. So, pursuant to that aspiration, in August of 1965, I joined the United States Marine Corps. By March of 1968, I had learned to be much more cautious about the things I aspired to. Being shot down in a helicopter can be a bone-jarring experience. Being shot out of the air eight times is not only bone-jarring, it’s downright sobering! My time as a combat helicopter aircrew member did, however, earn me a title of respect. I became know by the nick-name of Shaky Jake.

For several years after returning home from the Republic of South Vietnam, I aspired to develop a closer relationship with God. I had compelling questions such as, “Who’s in charge up there? Who decides who gets killed in action and who gets to return home and live with survivors guilt? “How is it that I can get shot down eight times and live, while some other poor slob gets killed on his very first mission?” Those were questions only God could answer, and – guess what – He did.

In 1972 I aspired to earn my FAA certifications as a commercial helicopter pilot and flight instructor. I accomplished the goal and worked for years as a charter helicopter pilot and flight instructor.

In the year 2012, at the age of sixty-six, I aspired to retire and begin the final career path of my lifetime. I aspired to be a published writer. I self-published my first book in October of 2013: “Boyhood Adventures.” By October of this year, I will have published the revised edition of that same book; this time, to be published by a traditional publisher. Following achievement of that goal, I will complete “Wings of Valor,” a project I’ve been working on for decades. After publication of Wings, I’ll begin working on a fictional story I’m calling, “The Troubleshooter.”  I’m very excited to get to work on this project. Inspiration has played a huge part in development of plot and character elements. I have high hopes for its success.

Today, as I reflect on the definition of the word, aspire, I’m compelled to recognize the effect of its counterparts on outcome. Things like planning, action, and diligence are key elements in achieving any objective, except – maybe – standing under an apple tree waiting for fruit to fall. But I don’t believe much of anything of real value, comes so easily. Anyway, diligence comes into play in that few worthy goals are achieved without negotiating hurdles. Typically, I believe, the greater the value of the objective, the more a person must plan, work, and be perseverant. Anyway, that’s been this humble writer’s experience.

I’m Having a Blast!

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Creative writing is fun. One of the things that makes it so much fun for me is that it’s challenging. The learning curve is substantial. The climb to reach my personal pennacle of achievement is invigorating. There seems to be no end to all I must learn to be the best I can at writing. And I love a worthwhile challenge.

In August of 1988, I began working as the technical training instructor for Hyster Company. My job was to provide training for mechanics servicing powered industrial forklift trucks at Hyster dealerships throughout Southern California. I conducted classroom and shop training on subjects such as hydraulics, electrical systems, fuel systems, cranking & charging systems, etc. I enjoyed the work very much for the first few years, but by 1990, the work was getting stale. After having taught countless classes on Delco-Remy electrical systems, I increasingly felt like I was stuck in a humdrum pit. Fortunately, in 1990, Hyster began to get in step with technology, requiring technical training to do the same. I loved it! The job surged with new and wonderful challenges. To me, challenge is the spice of life. I love it when today is more challenging than yesterday.

I love it that there is so much to learn about my final career as a creative writer. And, the best part is that my work is a “learn by doing” experience. To say the least, I am having a blast!

“Sixteen Men on a Dead Man’s Chest”

No … I’m not quoting it wrong. I know it’s supposed to be fifteen men. I’m just superimposing my lifeless body among the other carcasses on board the ship’s deck. The image came to me this morning as I slithered into my daily regimen of formatting, proofreading, and editing a book I seem to have been working on for a decade.

Now, Mac lovers, please don’t be offended, but I’m finding my Macbook Pro somewhat different from the Microsoft PC I’ve known since the advent of the IBM 286 of time long past. YES. I’m aware of it! I just dated myself by many decades. But let it here be known by all and sundry that an old dog CAN learn new tricks. It’s just painful, that’s all.

So, trying to get this dog-gone book to the publisher, all the while moving ahead at a snails pace with my brand-new Mac PC, makes me feel like I’m lying among the corpses of other aspiring writers whose best efforts ended up on the deck of an over-run pirate ship.

A Writer’s Wordometer

Certainly, writing is about words: artfully arranged; interestingly choreographed; painting a verbal picture that evokes emotion. I’ve seen it suggested that a writer should add 1,500 to 3,000 words to his / her manuscript each day. That’s a lot of words! And, no fair including the stuff written on Facebook or the blog. It’s good to have goals, and, I suppose it’s good also to measure creative flow with a virtual yardstick. I’ve learned that some writers feel slothful if they’ve penned less than 5,000 words in a day. Who are these people? Still, something to consider, I suppose.

Conflict is Fun!

Boyhood Adventures is replete with conflict. The most redundant is between Frank, Dennis, and Lee. Frank wants to be the best of pals with Dennis and Lee, but find them constantly engaged in sorties that would frighten a Kamikaze pilot. Frank wants to be “one of the crew” but he feels as though every mission puts him in great peril.

Conversely, Dennis and Lee are annoyed by Frank’s skittish nature, but they seldom plan a nocturnal adventure if they know he will be unable to accompany them. His panicked response to anything he perceives as even remotely life-threatening is so predictable as to lend comic relief to otherwise mundane moments.

The conflict between Lee Farmer and Bobby John Deacons is palpable. B.J. once listened intently to an adventure story told by Lee; something about an excursion to an abandoned asylum. The next day at school, Lee learns that B.J. is telling Lee’s story, claiming it for his very own. Not only does Lee see this this as an ethical infraction, he considers it a most dishonorable and deceitful act; one deserving of harsh retribution. This conflict is like a rubber band being stretched to its limit. The reader can sense that there will soon be a climactic eruption between the two characters; the question is: how soon?

Writing conflict into a story like Boyhood Adventures is a great deal of fun. I’m enjoying every minute of it. I hope my readers enjoy it too.