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For 38 years, Ron
kept his Vietnam memories to himself. When stress brought on flashbacks, he
dealt with them by drinking them away.
"I didn't realize I had a
problem," he said. "I run a very successful program with a great staff. I
considered it recreational drinking, but really I was self-medicating."
But on one blazing summer day he couldn't get the flashbacks to go away,
no matter how much he drank. He kept drinking, and he passed out.
When he came to, he knew it was finally time to get help.
Ron went through an alcohol treatment program. That led to counseling for
PTSD and treatment to help him think about his memories in a different
He believes it helped him finally talk about what happened in
Vietnam. First he told a psychiatrist. Then he told his wife.
told them about one assignment behind enemy lines.
Ron was an aircraft mechanic. Because he knew how planes fit together, he was
sent once to pull bodies out of a C-47 that had crashed into the side of a
While soldiers guarded the crash site against attack by
the Vietcong, Ron crawled into the wreckage. For 2 or 3 days, he pulled out
pieces of bodies and put them in body bags.
The smell, the
sounds, and the images are what he relives in his flashbacks. He figures he's
never been able to talk about it because he couldn't describe the horror.
He always thought that only combat soldiers got PTSD.
"I thought it happened to guys who were in battle, guys who saw action,"
he said. "I always felt like I should get a grip, it was just one assignment. I
felt like a wimp."
Even when he was diagnosed with PTSD, he
denied it. "I said it's not PTSD. I'm just having trouble with a memory."
"I spent a lifetime trying to avoid admitting it was bothering
me," he said.
Ron's therapy is working on changing his thought
patterns. The desire to drink is gone, he said.
"I thought I was
being brave by ignoring it. But I was really being brave by facing up to it."
Ron's story reflects his experiences as told in an interview. The photograph is not of Ron, to protect his privacy.
January 9, 2013
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Jessica Hamblen, PhD - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
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