How did I learn to cope with my life-changing injuries after getting blown up, twice?
“You are a success when you have made friends with your past, are focused on the present, and are optimistic about your future.” – Zig Ziglar
Zig Ziglar’s inspirational message of hope saved my life. I suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and chronic pain. I served in Iraq and Afghanistan as an infantryman.
“I learned some very valuable lessons in war: War is a nightmare. War is awful. It is indifferent, devastating and evil. War is hell. But war is also an incredible teacher, a cruel teacher. And it teaches you lessons that you will not forget. In war, I saw humanity at its worst, but also at its best.”
– Jocko Willink
One morning, in September 2008 my world literally exploded. There was no sound, just a rush of air and heat. There were five men in my truck. Three brave men died. I awoke amazed to find myself alive, but my life was forever changed. I was over my physical injuries in a couple of months. It took me years to realize that my brain was not getting better.
Making Things Worse
I made terrible and life-changing decisions. I started drinking. I dated the wrong women. I didn’t want to deal with what had happened. My situation got worse. I knew that if I opened my Pandora’s Box of issues, I might not be able to close it. And I may not be able to deal with the things that come out.
I had to accept my old life was over. I didn’t feel like a good leader or even a whole man being back home. I spent a few years feeling completely out of place. I pretty much stayed away from people. I felt my life slipping away. I could walk, talk and move, but nothing seemed to be going right. I realized that what I was trying to do myself just wasn’t working.
Having TBI is like a stroke on steroids. I had a ringside seat to my own destruction. Over the years I watched as my brain functions shut down one by one: motion, speech, memory, and self-awareness … I have many pragmatic deficits because of my TBI. I am hyper verbose- I talk too much. I became tangential- I can’t keep track of a topic.
Before the injury, I could connect the dots. After the explosion, I would hit one dot, skip a dot and see a dot way out in the distance. I have difficulty concentrating, keeping track of time and memorizing names. I spent eight years recovering my ability to think, walk and talk. In my case, although the explosion damaged the left side of my brain, my recovery unleashed a torrent of creative energy from my right. I started writing.
Potential and Possibility
The Polytrauma team at the Indianapolis Veteran’s Hospital made a difference in my life. It allowed me to look back at my life. To look at the good and bad experiences, to allow me to grow and to learn from what I’ve seen and done.
I know that war is life’s severest school. I also know those who experience war, endure it, and thrive in it have the ability to return home. I found out that if you are willing to learn and grow, you can be successful. If you don’t, you won’t be.
The Polytrauma unit used an interdisciplinary team approach. With cognitive and speech therapy I slowly began to rebuild my brain to reconnect the connections it made before I was injured.
During therapy, we practiced scenarios using an “artificial reality.” We practiced talking to strangers, withdrawing and managing money. We practiced scenarios to put our new coping skills to use. We were in a safe and secure environment to get better. The Polytrauma unit gave me a new lease on life. It was an important part of my reintegration and socialization into normal life. I was free from the shame of my disabilities. I recognized I was not in this alone.
My injuries weren’t just TBI. I had multiple injuries both skeletal and emotional. Multiple parts of my body system were impaired and injured from the explosion. In three tours of Iraq and Afghanistan, I was exposed to a dozen explosions- two of those were massive roadside bombs that injured and killed other soldiers. I got at least ten concussions in those three years.
The area of my brain where my memory and attention are centered were injured. The part of the brain that relays functions became impaired- one part of my brain didn’t talk to the other part of my brain. I could recognize objects, but I couldn’t name them. I would recognize people, but I couldn’t tell you where I knew them from.
I had to develop new strategies and coping skills to keep myself on track. This allowed me to compensate in areas where I was weak. Going to the polytrauma program allowed me to go back to school. It gave me time to reflect, to remember and to leave it there. I had a new family, a family of disabled veterans just like me.
Enter Zig Ziglar
The first time I listened to Zig I was hooked. Zig was the most interesting speaker I ever heard. His message of success was simple and positive. I was spellbound with enthusiasm. The more I listened and read the more motivated became. I found myself happy, motivated and ready to conquer the world. Zig’s message of positivity and personal achievement was a summary of all the positive stuff I had learned in the Polytrauma unit.
I know the Lord put Zig in my life for a reason. I am excited and anxious to share with you what a positive impact Zig’s message has had on my life. His “system of success” has renowned my commitment to God, my family and made me try to be a best man I can be.
The Polytrauma unit taught me that life is more than a physical challenge, it’s the realization that their goals are achievable, one step at a time. I want to become a spokesperson for TBI recovery and for the possibility of coming back from brain injury stronger than before. I want to my experiences with PTSD, TBI and chronic pain to offer a message of hope for others struggling with these life-changing issues.
With Zig’s message I was reminded that my past is not my prologue. Attitude makes all the difference. I am grateful that I am alive and have continued to thrive. I made friends with my past, I am focused on the present with my wonderful wife and my beloved grandson Jack, and I am more optimistic about my future than I have ever been!