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By Pat Lisi – Southern Utah Vets Aid

When I got back from Vietnam in September, 1969 I was angry all the time.  PTSD had dug its ugly nails into my head, and I would be infected with it for the rest of my life.  I was pissed about everything.  Nothing was too great or too small to cause me to go into a rage.  As I grew older I had to fight like hell to control it.  I still get angry at the dopiest of things, but I’m doing a lot better at decompressing than I was back in the first couple decades after returning from Nam.

One of the problems I think was that you could be on the battlefield on a Monday afternoon, and then back to the US, sitting in your favorite tavern getting stewed, by Friday evening that week.  There was no chance for decompression; you were like the Germain shepherd pictured here.  Unruly, vicious, ready to frickn’ kill anything or anyone who got in your way or tripped your trigger.

My first night back in town I was with my fiancee’ out on the town, celebrating the fact that I had made my way through a dozen months of combat with a highly decorated Marine Corps Regiment (the 5th).  It was late in the night and I was drunk, she was not.  But, that didn’t stop me from taking the wheel of my Ford Galaxy 500 with a souped-up engine that powered the rear tires with the ability to ‘lay rubber’ in all four gears.  It was like riding a bomb, and I knew how to set it off which I did, frequently.

We didn’t wreck (not that night, anyway), but I remember just yearning for the feel of the power from that engine.  At intersections I would put that bitch in first gear and just stomp the living hell out of the gas pedal and listen to it scream.  Smoke would billow up from the rear and the car would actually ‘march in place’ for a few seconds before taking off, due to the speed at which the tires were simply melting off another layer.  When it headed forward it was like a rocket, and I’d wait for the perfect moment to “pop” the clutch and send it into another fishtail when the tranny took second gear.  It was wild, it was fun, it was dangerous, and I was as out of control as my Ford Galaxy was.  I was so damned angry!

It was like that most of my waking hours, unless I was with my Nam buddies sucking down beers.  Even during the drinking binges there would be anger at some point, because I loved to fight.  I didn’t punch any of my vet friends, of course, but sooner or later I’d pick some loudmouth out of the crowded tavern and pick a fight with him.  Sometimes, I’d invite 2 opponents to step outside and I’d fight them both.  This didn’t always produce a favorable outcome, of course, but sometimes it did, and the ‘rush’ I got from pounding some non-vet MF into the sidewalk was like reliving my days back in the Nam when our unit would shoot the shit out of the VC or NVA.

Anger management wasn’t a concern of mine back then.  I didn’t want help, didn’t seek it, and basically didn’t give a shit.  Eventually, it ruined my marriage and my kids grew up with an angry bastard in the house who was unpredictable and always ready to blow up and go into a fit of rage.   I’m quite surprised that I was never arrested by the cops for domestic violence.  There were holes in the doors and walls at our house where I had slammed a fist, and I was loud enough for the neighbors to hear me when it got ugly.  Lamps were broken, dishes smashed, food was thrown, kids were abused.  I did consider suicide, many times, which probably would have helped the situation back then.  Suicide, of course, is just another form of anger — at oneself.

There are hundreds of stories and incidents that I could relate to back up my statement about being angry all the time.  But, eventually it subsided enough to start living a better life.  The marriage fell apart but I found a new woman who would understand me and love me.  My kids and I reconciled.  We’re all adults now and we communicate better.  It isn’t perfect, because one cannot erase the past.  But, with the help of a Vietnam Vets Group I attend in my town every week I have learned that PTSD can never be erased; but, it can be controlled.  My advice to any veteran from whatever era is to seek out a ‘group’ if you are angry all the time like I was.  It will only get worse if you don’t consciously do something about it.  Welcome home my brothers and sisters, and try to feel good about yourselves!

 

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