The National Council of Psychotherapists
(The author of this article, an ex-soldier, has elected to remain anonymous and this submission was translated into English by the editor - any mistakes in translation remain mine)
I had been through a few tough situations and thought I was pretty bullet proof. With the unit I served with I'd been all over the world - been shot at a few times, you know - no big deal really. I didn't get my wake up call until one of my own side got drunk one night and tried to shoot me in the head. It's funny how when looking back no one really took the incident seriously as it happened, we thought he was just mucking about, you know some pratts do that. You should never play with guns but it used to happen. Anyway he pointed this gun at me and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened but some of the other guys decided this was not funny and took it off him. Then they looked at it and saw that it was fully loaded and had not fired only because the safety was left on - when they took it off him he was trying to slip the safety off and try again. I lost it big time and had to be sat on while they took him away. I had some satisfaction when I heard that some of my friends got to him and gave him a real good beating before the military police locked him up.
A bit of history might help to understand why this situation happened - we had been locked up in the same cell after being charged with breaking some stupid military regulation whose sole purpose in the world is to provide a cheap source of labour to the army - in my unit prisoners used to look after the camp gardens and clean the rubbish and so on. No matter how well behaved people were sometimes they always managed to have a minimum number of prisoners locked up to do this work. Food in the cells was better than ordinary; at least there was more of it. This guy tried to count the chips on my plate one day to see if I was getting more than my share - he was considered a bit strange at the best of times and sometimes went on guard duty without bullets - depending on how well the officer in charge knew him. He was not very trusted. Anyway he started putting his hands in my food after cleaning the bins without washing them so I pushed him over and he skulked off calling me a food thief, even though there was always food thrown away because we always got more than we could eat!
Anyway - in the following few days after the attempted shooting incident this guy was transferred out. I was never asked what had happened, in other words the classic white wash job - as far as the army was concerned it never happened. I went to a chaplain to ask what was going on and he told me he wasn't a catholic and I would need to go into town and speak to a priest if I wanted to. This attitude was a bit strange to say the least. It was about this point that I found my trust in other people, even friends, going south pretty quick. I became paranoid about personal security and it also affected my job. Over the next year I had put so many people on charges for failing to meet my new high standards while on guard duty that a lot of people began to hate me. I also stopped drinking and going to drinking clubs and pubs - I associated alcohol with impending danger.
I became a civilian about a year after this incident happened - I'd refused to re-up and go for promotion, by this time the military had lost my trust - my eyes had been opened when they covered up an attempted murder. In Civvy Street I got a dead end job and my mental state started to go south - I was always ready to lash out and fight when I felt under pressure. My family got me to see a counsellor but what a waste of time that was. I was asked a lot of stupid questions and how I felt about things all the time - hey, I was asking straight questions and getting the run around. I thought - well if you don't know the answers just say so, don't waste my time or wind me up!
I knew for myself that I was traumatised - it took me a long time to admit this because it did not fit in with my tough guy image. Things got worse when some idiots tried to roll me one night - I saw them coming a mile off - as they tried to rush me I faced them off, they took one look at the expression on my face and ran. After this every muscle in my body felt like it had been pulled, I got serious diarrhoea and broke my hand punching a brick wall. This took about nine months of physiotherapy to put back in place so my hand worked right again. It still gives me problems today.
At about this time all I could think about was the mess my life had become and I could see no way of it ever getting better. I was right because after they tried to roll me I started having flashbacks to the other guy pointing the gun at my head - only this time I knew it was loaded. This brought things to a head. I contacted my veterans association and spoke to them about things. This was very good because they knew what I was talking about and when I asked a question I got a straight answer. I was called in for a Critical Incident Debrief with someone who had been in the same unit as me - I didn't know what that was exactly at the time but I cried the whole way through it. Part of it was being in contact with people who knew what was going on inside my head. Nothing I said surprised them and before I left they educated me what trauma was and what I could expect to happen next. This was good because when the things they warned me about started to happen I knew that it was ok, I wasn't going crazy. I went to the Debriefer for a lot of follow up sessions, he was also a psychotherapist and let me come for nothing because I didn't have any spare cash once I bought food and paid rent. I started to get myself together and learned a lot about stress and how to deal with it. After a while I was sent to a hypnotist and that really worked well. I get occasional nightmares and the blues sometimes but I'm in control of it now. If I need to I can phone my Debriefer for a talk and this always helps. I wanted to start helping other people who had been through the same thing as me but thy said no because I still had a few things causing me problems. They didn't want me to risk getting burned out.
Looking back if I'd have had the chance to talk to someone like this when I was still in the army I think I would have been okay, I think what hurt me the most was the betrayal. They ask everything from you and when you need them to play right by you they don't.
I'm ok these days, still have a few problems but generally I'm ok; I've got a job driving and this pay's better than the one I had before. I've also gone back to school in the evening to learn more about computers so all in all things are looking up. I still have occasional episodes but they are getting fewer and further between.
Trauma Aftercare Trust - Buttfields, The farthings, Withington GL54 4DF - 24 hour Helpline: 01242 890306
Disaster Action - 49/ 50 Eagle Wharf Road, London N1 7ED - 020 7251 2427
Surviving Trauma - 27A Church Street, Rugby, Warwickshire CV21 3PU - 01788 560 800