Trauma is defined as, "A deeply distressing or disturbing experience - emotional shock following a stressful event or physical injury, which maybe associated with physical shock and sometimes leads to long term neurosis." Of course as a war veteran I've seen and experienced trauma before, but this trauma was much different it was almost psychological warfare and I was not prepared to fight this battle. Now this fight would consume nearly 3 years of my life and these are times and moments I cannot get back. As human beings we like to act like we are versatile enough to adapt to any situation but that isn't entirely true. Because sometimes our own weaknesses and hopes are used against us, while we are unaware of the events unfolding around us.
Around May 17, 2014 I decided to enter my own personal black lodge - a personal hell where right and wrong ceased to exist. Now it's a very tempting place, dark and twisted but at the same time a very evil and cruel fun house where all your wants and desires can be fulfilled. But being in this places comes at cost; there is no version of the truth here, it is replaced with lies and distractions. The intent is to distract the mind long enough that it all becomes real and you cannot question what you are seeing. Eventually it all becomes self inflicted but at first you believe all the lies because we trust what we see with our eyes, but even our eyes lie to us.
There's a quote from Winston Churchill that I wish I would have known about back then, "When you're going through hell you have to keep going." For nearly 3 years I stayed in this personal hell of mine and I lingered and watched this cruelty slow dance its way across my mind. I do know that I willingly chose to enter this place, I had a moment of clarity and I walked away. But no more than 200 feet and I was fully pulled in by one simple lie. I call it my own personal black lodge because that day in 2014 I knew something was off but instead I walked in willingly and stayed.
(Pictured below is where I chose to enter this hell; first I was sitting on the concrete with a hot fudge shake. By the time I walked to that tree I was fully engulfed into this personal hell, my gut wanted me to leave but my black lodge just pulled me in deeper.)
Self inflicted trauma is very hard to stomach because it is much easier to blame someone else or something else for our problems. In this moment I know why I gave in to this personal hell, it's because I was given everything I ever wanted and sought out for. It felt pure and new but it was all a mirage, I thought it was everything I had been searching for - at times it was perfection, especially in 2014. The signs were all around me and I ignored them, I was enjoying myself and it was the most enjoyment I had in very long time. It was like drinking the finest wine while not realizing that you're being poisoned. So once inside this black lodge I was completely hooked on her, I couldn't get enough and it was intoxicating.
I've spent about a year now trying to understand why this disturbing event happened to me, I focused on all the wrong things. I was obsessed with needing to know why and constantly searching for the truth. But I was stuck in a place where there was no truth to be given, even the lies had lies and were all based on other lies. That's the trick of this personal hell; it would do whatever it could to keep you there and sometimes it barred me from leaving with the use of little emotional tricks. Always willing to give just enough to keep me around and keep me wanting more.
I do accept the role I personally played on walking into this personal hell, it was my choice and my fault. I became willfully ignorant of the evidence around me. By the end of 2015 I believed I was doing the right things, I had switched careers and thought the path forward was crystal clear. Just find a girl, settle down and get married; ah but there's the rub - that personal hell played the long con game. I couldn't see that I had been played since day one, the black lodge kept me from seeing what was really there. Once I could see past the darkness and peek through the keyhole to the real world it was way too late.
The damage was done and the red curtains lifted to show a very different world and landscape. This became a point of no return - a black abyss enticing me to jump in and take the fall. My toes were completely over the edge but before taking that fall the logical side of my brain kicked into over-drive and we began to deconstruct our personal hell and the woman. Traumatic incidents are a funny thing, our friends and families cannot always see the damage and scars it leaves on us. It messes with our interaction with the real world and the ability to think logically. Even when we know we are seeing and hearing lies our emotional side wants us to believe that no one is that cruel. But all you need is that one glimmer of real hope. As human beings we can do anything if we put our minds to it.
Traumatic events like this do not define us but we must learn from them and use them as a learning experience for the rest of our lives. I spent way too much time in this personal hell and my battle scars are deep from it, but I am a better man for surviving this. Not too long ago another interesting incident happened with this traumatic event, I am going to share that interaction.
I remember driving and I arrived at my destination, it was a house with a bit of yard next to it. I pulled into the driveway and stepped out of my car a bit unsure of where I actually was. As I walked up the driveway I noticed a group of people playing football in the backyard. At first I didn't recognize anyone and the people playing hadn't yet noticed me. Until I saw him...
I cupped my hands and yelled out his name, everyone immediately looked my way and the man looked puzzled but began to jog my way, while everyone else resumed playing football. As he came closer this wave of fear came over me, a feeling that I hadn't felt since my first deployment to Iraq. Now the man is in front of me and he looks even more puzzled, I ask.
"Do you know who I am?"
He responded with a solid, "No I'm sorry I don't know who you are."
I sighed, it was a slight relief but I also began to feel a mountain of pressure on my shoulders, I took a deep breath and decided to tell him everything, from beginning to end, all of it. It's all a bit of a blur now but I started out by saying, "This isn't meant to hurt you and I know it will, you need to hear the truth though." I went on to explain all of 2014 and how that led up to 2017 - all of the events that transpired and how it related to this man.
As I continued through all of the events, he stood there frozen - he looked shell shocked but he never interrupted. The beginning to the end and the worst of it, finding out about him and how that weighed on me. I apologized once more when I finished and told him that I never intended for any of this to happen. For a moment which felt like an eternity, he just stood there and I figured he was going to lash out at me. After sometime had passed he began to speak.
"I figured something like this had happened."
He still looked shell shocked and honestly I would be too if someone had just brought my life crashing down. I didn't know what to say next and he kept his composure but if it was me I would want to know the details. I apologized once more, I never imagined this happening and for some reason like an idiot I stuck my hand out to shake his hand. Instead he hugged me and said, "This is no longer your burden, it is now mine to bare." I was speechless by that.
I turned to walk back to my car and about 5 feet into my walk he said, "I appreciate you telling me this. I know it must have been hard for you too." He then turned and walked back towards the house and his friends, I started my car and drove away; but the look in his eyes stuck with me, it was a sadness I knew all to well. While driving away I let everything out, all of it; everything that brought me to this point. I thought about this incident for the rest of the day. I think the universe has a strange way of balancing out and correcting itself.
So here I am 3 years later, 3 years older and battle tested having survived the black lodge. That incident which was about a month ago now, fully pulled me out of this personal hell I had been living due to not only my own choices but those of another person as well. I have now picked myself up, tended my wounds and as I depart this black lodge. I straighten my tie and sport a devilish grin while Jack White lyrics play in my head.
"Sleeping with a snake like you ripped apart my soul."
There is no looking back and I will not let my time in hell define my future any longer. The scars from this will always be with me but with time they will fade even from my view. I will no longer be waiting or looking backwards.
Happy Three Year Anniversary