Friday, May 6, 2011

Confessions From The Wreckage of a Tornado

Actual photo from my home

So I guess it's been a little since I have last posted.....a lot has happened since then. On April 27th, our state along with several others  in the South were hit by strong tornadoes. While you were probably seeing AL, VA and GA on tv and were high in death tolls, our small community was hit hard  and placed on the Federal Disaster declaration list by President Obama just this week. My area of the state of Tennessee was hit by eight tornadoes ranging from F1 to F3 back to back within a few hours that stormy night, three just in my area alone. While my home was by, the grace of God, spared.....157 of our small town residents lost everything they owned including dairy farms and farms period. Being a part of the EMS and Volunteer fire family pre-war, I pitched in where I could since last Wednesday helping to comb through our friend's and neighbor's debris of what once was their homes. Some of my husband's past co-workers/friends were among those homes that were lost. While my husband still had bitter feelings that no one helped us, when we needed them save but two...I didn't want to think that way as we are better than that.

I knew better than to be out there stepping on broken toys, bits and pieces of homes, and chided myself the whole time because I knew my mental stability probably could not handle such destruction and devastation. We have never been hit by tornadoes here and the last thing I can think of was my husband telling me before it hit was  "Baby, don't worry...we never get them out here below the valley. Those mountains cradle us and it would have to jump some high ridges to get here". Well, that's exactly what happened. It jumped those ridges like the hounds of hell were on its tail and battling to see who was coming in first. I knew I probably couldn't handle such things as I drove up the road, I teared up and had to cuss myself to straighten up before I got out of the car because why did I have a reason to cry? It missed our road and hit the road next to us. Quit being a puss I told myself over and over again.

A lot of emotions rushed through me out there listening to the silence and the wind blowing. It wasn't just the thought of "Oh my God..that could have been our home scattered over a five mile radius", but other thoughts  too. My mind was going off constantly and no matter what I did...I couldn't get it to turn off. Being the too big-hearted person I am, I jumped in, in search of anything salvageable. The mistress was on a mission and I tried, God knows I did. We looked for several hours for photographs, purses, prescriptions, titles and home deeds. Nothing. There were complete trailer frames bent and shifted into the size of a dishwasher. I saw women sitting in what was left of their yard, on the ground, heads held by their hands sobbing. There was no home, there was just nothing there. I experienced the choking down of sobs from an older gentlemen when I located his mother's antique postcard album she collected. All I could do was keep scrubbing off the mud and cow manure it had landed in, in hopes that maybe I could wipe away his pain. I walked where people had died and their bodies removed the day before. In all this, I could hear the crying of children blowing in the wind, and saw first hand the sure force of what Mother Nature can do to us all.

 To be sifting through all of that, and crawling through wooded areas where most of the homes ended up in, in small pieces...I kept trying to choke back the tears and not sob myself. I kept swallowing and swallowing it and it got to the point I just couldn't even breathe anymore out there. I literally panicked. I couldn't handle all of it and I wanted to run. I must have drove down to my home like a  bat out of hell. I came in, I got rid of the clothes, I scrubbed myself raw in a hot shower and sobbed. While my heart was breaking for those victims of the tornado, I was more angry. Yes, angry. Angry at God, angry at my husband, angry at myself, angry at the world, angry at everything. Just pure anger radiated off of me and then the shame set in. I panicked out there because I was thinking the whole time out there sifting through debris... how normal I felt.

Yes. Uncle Sam's Mistress felt normal in all the loss, destruction and heartache. What the hell is wrong with me? How sick and twisted have I become to feel that way? After I got out of the shower, my husband asked me if I was ok as he said I was pale as a ghost. I couldn't even talk to him and just went outside to sit by myself. I sat for a long time after talking to my mother in law on the phone and thought about everything. It didn't really sink in but I knew what I was thinking. I felt ashamed. I felt like I had literally just invaded those poor people's space, and couldn't feel heartache or shed those tears for them. No matter how many times I said to others "I am sooo sooo so very sorry", it didn't take their pain away. It felt hollow and insincere to me. Those words didn't mean anything to them or make it better. I wanted to feel something, I wanted to feel sadness and their heartache and instead...the Mistress felt normalcy.

In amongst the broken plates and shredded teddy bears, all I could think about was "no one really knows my family. No one out here knows my husband has such severe issues. No one will treat me differently or look at us like we have some God forsaken disease. No one will give us that "oh here he comes" look. No one will talk behind our backs because we are out here helping them. Maybe just maybe, they won't find out. I won't have to talk about the VA, or social security. I won't be asked how is it going when they really don't care but just trying to make polite small talk..maybe just maybe the next time I need help one of them will answer or pay it forward". It was just normal. It was me, out there giving a helping hand to my fellow neighbors and friends like my parents taught me to do when people are in need. I just could not cry for them. I could not cry for anyone but just myself because for that little was just me being normal me.

I was doing what I needed to be doing and have so much heart to give, but it seems the world has revolved around PTSD and TBI for the last four years. Our friends have turned their backs on us, past co-workers can't even look us in the eye anymore, and some of my family members telling me I need to cut my losses and file for divorce.It wasn't like that at all being out there with these people. They just needed help, sets of eyes to search and helping hands. I was fine for a while. I walked and walked, pulling up insulation, boards and ripped up floors searching frantically for anything. Then a gentleman who had also lost his home stopped me and said "Young lady, there is a cooler over yonder with cold water and I got coffee the Red Cross sent over. There are sandwiches too. You stop for a minute and help yourself." 

I stood there and all of a sudden, I couldn't breathe. At all. The world spun, there was silence and I just absolutely freaked the hell out. Here I was, I realized, in the midst of all of this and how dare I be thinking how normal I felt for just that period of time? I must have stared at him for a moment and think I mumbled a  thank you sincerely but I didn't deserve that man's cold drink or coffee. He just lost everything. His home, his cars, his farm and yet...amidst it all, he offered me something. I suddenly had to leave and come home. Like a dog with it's tail tucked between its legs, I came back to my PTSD inflicted refuge here at home and haven't left since then but just today other than to take my sons to school.

It's been eating at me since middle of last week. It has plagued me like I had committed the most offensive thing a human could ever commit. The act of selfishness. I realized over the weekend....I just have no compassion left. At all. I want to hurt, I want to be saddened, I want to cry and feel everyone's pain but am just incapable of it. Hell, this is a woman that cried over sappy commercials and sobs through love stories and movies! When my Veteran tells me I don't understand or have no clue on what it feels to not feel anything at all...I beg to differ. I do know. First hand...Living with PTSD and TBI has taken everything that was in me and turned it upside down.

So rather than be out there, I turned to my fellow Army wives on facebook and other places from my safe haven as I know it.  I knew that some of them could help me help these people especially since Red Cross was so small grouped. It took several days to even get people in here let alone start helping them get their lives back and cleaned up. My fellow Army wives have made me so proud and a group that I will forever be grateful to be a part of because they came through. All week this week, boxes from all over the United States came in filled with clothing, infant items, toys, books, personal items and gift cards for us to take to not just our friends, but to many many others.

We don't have a lot of money but I wanted to still help somehow. I reached out to these other spouses, asking for help and they did. Maybe it was to make up for my abrupt leave and selfish thoughts. Maybe it was to help me find my missing compassion in those boxes the ladies had sent to me to give out...maybe it was just a way to keep myself busy here so I wouldn't have to face those people that lost everything. Maybe just maybe it would make up for the horrible things I thought while out there and my selfishness. When you read about compassion fatigue or such things on other sites, you really kind of catalog it in the back of your mind for future reference. Now I think I have, in the past four years...lost my compassion period. I am not tired, it's just gone.

While I have been reading these stories of suicides and attempted suicides among caregivers/widows this past week, my heart did break because I thought those poor souls just could find no other way. I can also see why some Veterans look to that as their only way out. PTSD can be just as destructive and devastating as tornadoes can be on land. It will suck you up, twist and turn you, ripping you into shreds and drop you head first to the ground. All you can do is really hold on tight, and pray to God that you land on your feet. On Monday, the VA will start the application process for the Caregiver program which I think will have a lot of hidden "BUT's" in the qualifications. All I can think of is how this will really help me. How will this really help us to help our veterans cope with all they go through. You have these people that are sitting behind the safety of their desks thinking they got it all figured out. Print out another damn brochure, fill it with some empty words and educated guesses, and then fill us with pointless programs and worthless promises. Those brochures and failures of what little programs are out there for us, are similar to that of a tornado warning where you learned to go to the hall, get on your knees, crouch and cover your head. When push comes to shove, no matter how you try to prepare or what little you were ain't gonna help you that much if and when it hits.

I hate what the war did to my family, my husband and to me. I hate that I have lost my will to be compassionate. (Boy, wouldn't a therapist have a field day with me!) With the death of Osama Bin Laden, it should have been joyous news and it was just another bittersweet moment here. I couldn't rejoice, I couldn't say "Yay the bastard is dead"...all I could think of was "how much will this trigger much hell is this going to put on my husband and then me?". Most of the time, all I can do is grab my and cover, and ride the storm out.

This post probably didn't make much sense and my point probably lost in all these words...but I felt the need to confess and not sure how to find lost compassion or even where to look. Perhaps someone out there will find my words comforting and not judge me for all of this. For my Army wives who answered my call for help, you did more than just clean out closets or go to the store to purchase items. You helped some families that were awaiting help that came late, and most definitely will make them smile and relieve them of some stress.....most of all you helped me find some peace in my tortured and confused soul this week. I love each one of you very much and proud to call you a friend.

Still Riding Out The Storm,


  1. It is like that country song when the woman sings that her "give a damn" is busted or when the tinman feels he needs a heart. You feel that your compassion is gone, but I think it is just growing and getting re-defined. When our physical body grows quickly at the beginning of puberty we ache all over and some days even cry from the growing pains. I think the experiences you have had thrown at you have caused your mental/emotional entity to grow at such a rate that you ache all over. And like a preteen trying to become use to their new body, you have to adjust to your new reality. We all have strengths in very different areas and the best we can hope for is to surround ourselves with people who compiment our strengths and WEAKNESSES. Love to you and yours!!

  2. I don't feel any comfort in your pain and sadness, but I do feel comfort in knowing that I'm not the only one dealing with things like numbness. I've been told I have "secondary ptsd" and every day is a struggle. I think that you do feel those people's pain. Maybe you just have a wall up to protect yourself, but your compassion says so much. I hate that people treat you differently when they should be embracing you and your husband. Nobody better judge you for this, that's all I know! I hope you are doing ok. I know that you probably just take it one day at a time, because that's what I do. Always praying for you guys (hugs)

  3. I used the word indolence recently to describe something without really understanding what it meant. Going around now trying to figure out the meaning I realised my stupidity. I'm not able to do much because of ill health. Which has nothing to do with indolence and to do with lowering stress so I dont fall to bits from mental illness.


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