The ocean has always been a place of deep respect and intrigue for me. It is the place I would go when I needed "time-alive".
After a brain injury, it's easy to feel that you aren't connected. Let me add to that, when you have PTSD, it's easy to feel that you aren't connected. The ocean offered me connection. I explained this to a number of soldiers a few years back and they asked me what it was about the ocean that drew my attention. I said, "It's the easy place to be for me. Decisions are simple. I have three choices. I can duck under a wave. I can ride a wave or I can get tossed on shore like a rag doll. It's a simple as that."
PTSD makes the many gray areas of life complex. There was nothing complex about being in the water. As I have come to understand it, this is sometimes why soldiers choose to return to war. Many over the years have shared that being at war was somehow easier than being at home. Being at war, you have a mission. The mission is clear. There is protocal. Decisions are made by a chain of command. Coming home to the "gray area" that is home, isn't so easy. Family members have many things that they juggle each day to keep life moving forward and much of that is based on emotional needs, schedules, their connections with other people, and the daily demands of life. It is hard to go from a strict decision making body to a place where you aren't sure what the rules are anymore. You don't know where the boundaries are or if you are ever doing the right thing. You can bet that if you aren't doing the right thing, there will be immediate consequences in the form of tears, fights, frustration, the silent treatment, you name it, it's a pretty instant turnaround. I never questioned soldiers who told me they wanted to go back to war. I understood why they wanted to return.
I was aware of my risks being in the water and although that certainly does not equate to war, it does equate to the same drive on the inside. You overlook the fear of the risks involved, simply to get back to the place of structured decisions. You know what your risks are and you choose them willingly because at least you know what to expect; good, bad, or indifferent.
There were no questions in the water. No judgments. Lost memories didn't matter. Cognitive deficiencies didn't matter. Flashbacks didn't matter. It was as if none of it existed, as long as I only had three decisions to make. This was what I call my "time-alive". I was able to exist in that moment. Whole, in-control, and feeling like I would always know the right decision to make when the next wave came. I would get immediate feedback as to my choice and based on that feedback from the ocean, I would know exactly what to do next time.
The shifting sands of the beach and the changing tides of the ocean have become representative of what it has been like to not only be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress, but to live through its' process, and to meet recovery on the other side of all of it. There is no cure for it because it is not a disease. It is simply a traveling partner on the road of life that reminds me often of its' presence. I welcome it because it always has a lesson to share and a new friend to share with me on the path. I never thought I would be thankful to have it, but I have learned to be grateful for the lessons it has taught me. I am even more grateful for the troops that have been a mirror to me and taught me the parallels between a civilian who has it and a soldier who has it too. They have never treated me differently than themselves.
Photo: Alan B. Photography