By John Wayne Smith
John Wayne Smith is a 52-year-old, fifth generation native of Colorado. John was diagnosed with severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder six years ago. His difficult life and the work he has done to adapt and survive has given him keen and unique insight into P.T.S.D. He is determined to raise awareness of P.T.S.D. and to foster support for lay counselor training and to multiply human resources to meet the demand for assistance for those who suffer from this condition.
As I packed my truck to get off the ranch for a while to visit my parents in the city, I felt the burden of the constant demands of my job begin to ease. I had no indication that I was particularly vulnerable to a “bad funk,” and was actually excited about something for a change.
I had been in a deepening depression for several months since the death of my best friend and the end of a 5-year relationship with a wonderful woman. I had taken the plunge and had begun a serious run of self-destruction through alcohol and lack of self-care—physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.
The route I had planned was a northern passage, through the mountains and then down into the city. The road winds through a national park above timberline, a place that has always inspired me.
On the way, I bought some beer. As always, I had weed. My 30-30 Winchester was under the back seat, and, as always, my 3-year-old Malamute, Bode , was at my side. I felt good and was able to relax.
Earlier in the week, I had met with my psychologist friend. I asked her to pray for me to stop drinking. I had been drinking for about 7 years this time, after being a die-hard “AA’r” for about 7 years.
Sober was better. When I was sober, I was into sports and biking and skiing…alcohol didn’t work for me. I medicated with exercise, adrenalin, endorphins, and all the goodies that come with being fit. I was still an addict. I just managed it differently.
On the upside, I was terribly productive in most areas of my life and was highly functional. I was smart enough to stay out of trouble most of the time, and maintained an orderly life.
On the downside, I was manic most of the time, bringing a host of annoying side affects—sleeplessness, rabid thoughts, scattered and overly analytical thinking. Repetitive rhymes and songs played constantly in my head. I was often a bit too much for a lot of people to take. I would talk constantly and couldn’t sit still, couldn’t focus or organize my thoughts without great self-discipline and effort.
In my ongoing depressed state, I was much more vulnerable to being triggered, reverting to that child-like thinking. Fear, lack of peace and lack of rest left me unable to track my thinking and unable to keep my adult mind at the helm.
All this was playing in my mind as I prayed for my own deliverance from alcohol. I figured that if I could ask someone else to pray for me, I should be able to pray for myself. As I held up the green bottle of beer to ponder the irony, I faltered. “Who am I kidding? I am such a fake and hypocrite.” And off I went down the rabbit hole again. This time, however, I hit the bottom, hard and sudden. I can’t quite recount the rapid descent in my thinking, but it felt like the floor just dropped out from under me.
I was going to drive up to a spot near the top where I could disappear into the woods with my 30-30 and not be seen. I would leave a note with Bode and leave the truck unlocked with keys in the ignition. I rationalized that no one could possibly harm him but would want to take him home. He would survive without me.
I cried long…until it hurt. I opened my eyes. Bode’s concerned look might have served as light at the top of the pit, but it only compounded my despair. The plan had come quickly and my resolve was set by the despair that gripped me, even as I was shaking uncontrollably.
But I faltered. Once again I thought about all the people that I would hurt. Suicide would devastate them. I couldn’t leave them with the stigma.
But what if it was an accident? My friends know that I keep the 30-30 under the back seat, and the hammer could easily be caught on the seat frame. It would be partially cocked, and then as it slid past the obstruction, the hammer would recoil and fire the gun. I would position myself as if I was leaning over to grasp the barrel and pull the gun toward me, being sure that my heart was in the line of fire.
That’s plausible enough.
When I got to gate at the entrance to the park, I was still working out the details. I composed myself and inquired about entry. The road was closed due to heavy snow fall. I could not pass.
Something went off in my chest and I was enraged at God! I cursed him and reiterated my standing complaint about being brought here to Earth with unintelligible bursts, rants and sputters.
I flipped him off as I dove away, pointing toward his fucking roadblock as I made an abrupt U-turn and sped to whatever was next. I didn’t know what I wanted.
I saw the lights and then heard the siren. I thought of my prayer, as the park ranger pulled me over. I knew exactly what was going to happen to me, but what I didn’t comprehend at the time, was that this was my salvation.
I cried a lot my first few hours in jail. I was grateful to be placed in the “good guy” pod for minor offenders and compliant inmates. The fellowship with the six other inmates revived my soul. I was there, sober and with the guys. I wasn’t alone. They were my peers and I was accepted immediately.
My cellmates were intelligent and articulate, and we enjoyed each other’s company. They were all troubled souls in one way or another, but hopeful and mostly circumspect. I loved them and will never forget our time together.
The hardest times were when I was isolated in the transition cells, sometimes for hours, with just a mat on the floor, a table and two chairs. I would cry and then be moved to pray. What I could feel was the revival of joy that had been so foreign for so long.
I felt hope and gratitude. I had lived without a vision or a real purpose for so long that I felt like I was experiencing joy for the first time.
And then love…
That same down comforter was gently placed across my back and shoulders as God had done the last time it came to this. I remembered his voice and I cried uncontrollably. It’s what I relived every moment in prayer.
I remembered our discourse about why I was charged with the particular burdens of my life and where my passions lay. By these stripes I am healed and revived to help others, to share their troubles and burdens, to be a brother and friend to all men, a lover of men’s souls.
This is the only thing that makes my life bearable and brings meaning to the trials endured. As the Apostle Paul said, “It is for your sake that I remain. For me it is better to dwell with Christ above.”
In gratitude to God, I choose to serve him and the cause of love…always the cause of love.
Email John at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on the P.T.S.D. Project, as well as with inquiries about purchasing his artwork.