PatientsLikeMe member Lucas (Freedom666420), or Sarge, as his friends and fellow soldiers call him, served in the Marines during two tours in Iraq and was injured while literally hoisting his entire squad up and over a wall to take cover from enemy fire. He recently spoke with Sarah, a PatientsLikeMe community moderator, and shared about his experiences in an interview. Lucas talked about his recurring insomnia and nightmares, and how quitting alcohol and speaking with fellow veterans has helped him cope with his PTSD. Read what he had to say below.
Will you tell us a little about your story?
I enlisted in the military right before I turned 18, graduated basic training about a week after I turned 18. I was in the Marine Corps for about three years total after all the paper work was done. I was discharged medically- honorable retirement discharge because I was injured.
I was on my second tour, about half way through when we were taking air fire and I was trying to get everybody over the wall and I looked back, after I got the last person over, I looked back to make sure everything was clear and that’s when I saw an RPG coming at us and I pushed the last guy over the way and I was blown up. I was hit by shrapnel and the explosion blew me about 61 feet past the wall and when I landed I shattered my right heel and I had shrapnel across my face and shrapnel in my right hip. I walked back to base.
You want to make sure, whenever you’re a squad leader, you want to make sure everyone is safe before you are.
How many people did you get over the wall that day?
I got 22 people over the wall that day.
Wow, you’re such a hero.
I don’t say I’m a hero, I was just doing my job. I like to be recognized for some things but I served in the military, I was just doing my job.
What are your experiences living with PTSD?
I have nightmares. Basically I have insomnia because I don’t sleep. Every time I do sleep, all I think about are my brothers that didn’t get to go home to their families. And the men that I served with all the way through basic SOI (School of Infantry) training and all my other training, there were several that I went with and I actually went to their families and gave them all the information they needed to know. I wanted them to know personally what happened and how everything went. Because most families never get closure from the military, they just get a statement saying your son (or daughter) has been KIA (killed in action) and they never give a reason of how they went. I wanted everyone’s family in my platoon to know how they went. I know my family would want closure if I were killed.
Are you currently treating your PTSD?
It’s something that I don’t know that I’m ever going to get past. There are things that are drilled into my mind right now that I don’t know that I’m ever going to get past.
That’s why the VA wanted to send me to a counselor and I told them I’m not going to go talk to someone who’s never been there before. There are people that I’ll talk to about some stuff, and there are people I won’t talk to.
It’s one of those things where you have to be very comfortable with the person you’re talking to. I had a horrible experience when I was younger with a counselor, so I don’t like counselors. I’ve been through ten of them.
I think I’m just better off going to the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) because there’s one right in my town. I quit drinking so I go and drink a non-alcoholic beer or soda and I talk to them. I quit drinking a couple years after the military because for the first two and a half years there wasn’t a day I went sober. I drank constantly. There were days when people worried about me because I was always drinking. But I was able to sleep. I needed to be able to sleep, so I slept. I’ve been sober for going on 4 ½ years now, but I just wish I could close my eyes and not see faces.
What helps you cope?
Mostly I talk to another Vietnam vet. It just seems like talking about it makes it a lot better. It’s very helpful when you talk to somebody about it. I feel like you have to talk to somebody else that’s been through something similar. If you find an older man who maybe fought in Vietnam, they give you great input on everything.
It’s better to connect with somebody who you can open up to because you’re able to speak about it and try to get some relief for yourself because if you keep it all bottled up inside, it just gets worse from there. You know before I started talking to the Vietnam veteran who I’m talking to, there were plenty of times that I thought about killing myself. But after talking to him for the past two years now, I’ve honestly begun to feel like I don’t want to anymore. I’ve started a family and things are going better for me, I just still have nightmares and flashbacks, but things get better when you actually talk to somebody that has been through something similar.
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