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It’s Black Friday.  For me, it’s Book Friday.  Without any further ado.
Here’s an excerpt:

I didn’t start working with veterans right away. I had to start like anyone else. I went to undergraduate school, where I majored in psychology and sociology. I took a few years off, and then I went to graduate school, where I earned my Masters of Social Work.

I worked various jobs to become licensed (two years of clinical work). I ended up working for the Department of the Army as a Substance Abuse counselor and saw a common theme: young soldiers coming back from war, Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom (OIF/OEF), and drinking—lots of drinking. They were drinking to sleep, drinking to forget, drinking to numb the pain, and drinking to function.

I never related my dad to these guys. These guys were young. They were separated from their families for fifteen months at a time and seeing all kinds of horrible things. They survived when many of their friends didn’t.

Working with them was such a challenge. I wanted to gain their trust and help them, but as a non-veteran—the dreaded civilian—who had never seen combat, how could I possibly understand?

I began to submerse myself in Army culture, reading books like On Combat and On Killing, both written by LTC Dave Grossman. I listened to the soldiers’ speech and their acronyms. I learned of a brotherhood so strong that it could not be broken by death. I listened to them as they shakily recounted gruesome memories, many that kept them awake at night and on a slightly different plane during the day. Many nights, I’d cry on my way home from work.

Please don’t think that I had any illusions or disillusions that by doing these things, I understood my soldiers. Learning about their culture and their combat helped give me some perspective, but I would never be asinine and say, “Oh, I understand combat. I read some books and watched a few documentaries on Netflix.” I think my honesty and nonjudgmental attitude helped me gain their trust.

I worked for the Army for two years, and then I had some decisions to make. I was now fully licensed. I wanted to break away from the strict guidelines of the Army Substance Abuse Program, mainly the Army’s idea that ASAP counselors were only supposed to focus on the soldiers’ substance use/abuse and not any underlying causes. That was what the Department of Behavioral Health was for. (Army logic at its finest.)

An opportunity arose that I couldn’t refuse, opening my own private practice at a really low overhead rate. I leapt before I looked, and six months later, I was a twenty-nine-year-old with her own practice, two phone lines, a couch, a nice therapist’s chair, and no clients.

Luckily, word spread. Several soldiers that I helped at ASAP were back from deployment and found me in the phonebook. Several doctors on Fort Bragg knew me from my ASAP days and sent referrals my way. My mentor and officemate, Pat, referred clients. Former ASAP colleagues who still worked at ASAP or in other departments on Fort Bragg referred soldiers. My practice slowly grew.

About a year into the practice, I began seeing an Army wife each week. She was in her late thirties, had three children, and had weathered her husband’s multiple deployments. Her husband was showing all the symptoms of PTSD (per her report), and it was starting to affect their family life.

One day in a session, she said, “I know that {my oldest daughter} remembers what he was like before deployments, but my young sons will never know their dad pre-war.”

She went on to describe his harsh criticism of all the children, his intolerance of even the slightest infraction, and the constant arguing that went on. It was like all the air got sucked out of the room for me. It suddenly clicked. She was describing my dad. I didn’t know what my dad was like before the war. I knew the post-Vietnam shell of a dad that I had been given, however.

What was he like before two tours? What was he like before his twenty-three years of Army service?

Maybe he hadn’t been this mean, ornery, or demanding all of his life. Maybe he was just like the young soldiers I saw at ASAP, once full of life and freedom, but now with a certain haunted look about them. They had restless nights, no quality sleep, lots of alcohol, spice, or illegal drugs to function. They were happy to be alive, but angry at their survival at the same time.

Was that my dad? Seeing that we didn’t have the most loving and open of relationships, how was I supposed to find out? I thought it would be pretty awkward at the next family gathering to pull him aside and say, “Hey, Dad. How have things been? Really? That’s cool. What were you like before Vietnam?”

Growing up, he NEVER talked about the war. I was four when he retired, so my memories of his Army life are pretty vague. I remembered his retirement ceremony, mainly that he had to give a speech and that there was a huge cake. I remember watching planes land and take off at Pope Air Force Base (now Pope Army Airfield) with him on rare occasions. I saw pictures of him in Korea, in uniform, in the field, but all of that meant nothing.

And then, my dad began to drink.

Author: Joanna Nunez

Release Date: December 22, 2015

Publisher: Peaceful Musings Publishing

Genre: Nonfiction, Military, Military Life, PTSD

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