PTSD - My Shame and Regret
I recently started taking CBD oil, and am amazed at what I've learned about myself. I never realized just how limited I've been over the years - how many friendships I've let slip away, relationships I've damaged, and experiences I've missed because of this. Although I acknowledge I have some challenges, I also feel ashamed because I am not a combat veteran so how can my issues possibly be that bad? Besides, what's wrong with making sure myself and those I care about are safe?
My time as a police officer was short, but significant. I spent 11 years between the military and law enforcement, and those experiences shaped my identity. I didn't realize it at the time, but the anxiety that has limited me over the past decade actually served me well as a soldier and cop. Focusing on the threat and what could go wrong allowed us to plan for contingencies and protect lives. It kept us safe, and brought me internal feelings of heroics and satisfaction.
But as a civilian, such a mindset was not welcomed by those I cared about. It became an annoyance and I started finding myself excluded because of it. As a result, I missed so much. I allowed more time to pass between seeing friends until the only interaction I have with them is an occasional LIKE on FaceBook. I had arguments with significant others over the years over outings, and fought with my wife over vacation and travel because nobody seemed to be as concerned as I was over "what could go wrong." What once made me feel like a hero ended up making me feel isolated, paranoid, and ashamed. Yet it was everyone else who was walking in ignorance of how dangerous the world was. I wouldn’t be caught off guard. But I’d also find myself alone in an empty house while everyone else was out enjoying their lives.
2 weeks ago, after I starting taking CBD oil, I went out shopping with my family. My kids are aged 1, 4, and 6, which usually makes for a chaotic adventure of “oh my God how are we going to survive???” But this trip was different. I enjoyed our outing and my children’s exploration of their environment. Normally a trip like this ends with me feeling stressed and angry, sprinkled with some shouting. But during this adventure I just smiled and wanted to hug my children more. At realizing the freedom from anxiety I was having, my feelings of joy intensified, followed by a shocking realization: I have been living in my own prison for over 10 years… It was as if I had finally risen up for a brief moment to see above the clouds. I felt as if I had not seen color for many years, but suddenly got a glimpse of how beautiful the world is. I’m still trying to process this realization and have had some heavy mixed emotions over it.
I’ve often felt ashamed at my anxiety, and wondered if I was making it all up. After all, I’m not a combat veteran. My experiences, although challenging and terrifying at times, don’t compare to the stress of combat. So what right do I have to face anxiety over my experiences? The soldier in me talks down to me and tells me to suck it up. “Stay alert, stay alive!” I withdraw even more, especially from those I worked and served with. How can they respect me? I’m no longer enlisted and I’m no longer a cop. Inside I’m so worried about what could go wrong, but what I am doing about it? Shame. Shame on me for becoming so pathetic.
The mindset that once protected me from getting killed has been slowly killing the life I worked to create. The freedom my service represented has been hindered by my inability to let it go. I feel ashamed sometimes, and also confused. I never understood why those closest to me didn’t want to focus on the danger - the threat that a trip to the city could bring - or visiting a public venue, especially during the holidays! I thought the world was insane for not taking better precautions to protect themselves. But in reality, I am starting to realize, I was the one with the issue, for I missed out on so many wonderful things.
I don’t want to feel this way anymore, and for the first time since I enlisted in the military, over 20 years ago, I feel a sense of hope. Its not easy, and I still have challenging moments, but I’ve gotten a glimpse of what life can be like. I have hopes and dreams that aren’t hindered by worrying about the “threat” that lurks in the shadows of my mind. I am sorry for the frustration I have caused people in my life over the years. I am sorry for the memories I have ruined and the experiences I have missed. I hold regret and anger that, as a 22-year-old kid separating from the army after a deployment, nobody warned me that I might freak out at a bar and lock myself in a car while everyone else was inside dancing. I wish I had received as much training to re-assimilate back into the civilian world as I did to leave it. I wish I would have received similar counseling after separating from the police department as well. Unfortunately, as I said above, the thoughts and actions that served me in law enforcement only served to limit me as a civilian. But I wonder what I would have experienced had I not let my fear, paranoia, and anxiety get the better of me over the years…
It won’t be easy, but after glimpsing my anxiety for what it really is that day shopping with my children, I never want to go back to the way I’ve been. I made a commitment to myself and my family to work through these challenges and stop letting my fear limit the wonderful experiences that are possible. To my friends and family, especially those of you I’ve hurt or pulled away from over the years, I am truly sorry. Hopefully one day soon we can go out on the town, free from fears of the threat that may or may not be hiding in my mind…
I also hope that if you have someone in your life who is facing these challenges, that you will be supportive and work to get them the help they need and deserve. Life is too short and every-single-moment needs to be enjoyed.
Dennis Nappi II is a veteran of the Army and former police officer. He is an author and hosts The Seiker Podcast and is the co-founder of 6 Sense Media. Dennis hopes to inspire change in the world through his writing and exploration of topics dealing with human consciousness and energetics.