Poems-His Counseling, Uncle John

Credit- Amy Smith, Getty Images

His Counseling

As he searched for his

Truth

most everything he

                                                                                  Perceived

was turned upside down

                       and Mutilated.

It was necessary

so he could

            Rebuild.

But the Pain

was

                                Tremendous.

(C) John Steinmeyer


Uncle John

“Uncle John is that picture

really one of you?’

“yes said Uncle John.”

“I was once young too.”

“Uncle John you killed people?”

“Are you glad you had to do?”

“Uncle John?”

“Uncle John, we were winning.”

“We killed lots more of them.”

“Uncle John, in that picture,

is that guy still your friend?”

“Uncle John was it  a war?”

“We’re glad it had to end.”

“Uncle John.”

They sat beside their Uncle John

at midday for a meal.

Bratwurst, beans, and brownies

and fresh milk in the deal.

The questions of these innocent

help Uncle John to heal.

Uncle John.

Michael, Ralph, Gina, Paul, and Uncle John.

(C) John Steinmeyer 

John Steinmeyer served in Vietnam as an Infantry Sergeant with the 9th division in the Mekong Delta, then was transferred to the 25th Division and served the last half of his tour in a sniper team.

Thuy Smith’s father (Vietnam Veteran) and Vietnamese mother along with Thuy were friends of John and his family. Two poems from a collection that John wrote of his many experiences during his time in Vietnam. The collection is titled – The Rain. See other links below for more. Thuy Smith (TSOI) was given permission to share his poems on all of TSOI’s media platforms, etc.

More of John’s Poems

  1. Other Side
  2. Sniffer
  3. The Fish
  4. L.C, and L.C. 2 –Two gone, waiting for number three
  5. Sour (1) Sealed (2)
  6.  In The Grinder (1) The Teller (2) 
  7.  The Rifle (1) Turn (2)
  8. The Picture (1), Nothing (2)
  9. Not Me
  10. The Rain (1), There Are (2)
  11. More to come
  12. Our other posts on PTSD (Missing Video will return soon)
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Writers and PTSD

Mike Muller is on the Advisory Board for Thuy Smith International Outreach. He is a Vietnam veteran, has a Ph.D. in psychology, and has counseled veterans for many years.  He writes novels under the pen name of Michael FitzGordon. 

I was thinking about all the writers who may have had PTSD:  Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Erich Maria ReMarque, C. S. Lewis, Kurt Vonnegut, James Jones, J. D. Salinger, Ernest Hemingway.  PTSD can be very socially isolating.  One of my great- great grandfathers, who lost an eye in the Civil War, lived out the end of his life in a cabin in the woods.  Why do so many people with PTSD tend to become reclusive?  Is it because they have lost their trust in people, and so tend to be nervous and jumpy around them?  If you expect good things from people, then you will derive feelings of security, love, and companionship with them.  Or perhaps those with PTSD just get tired of the people around them not being able to understand or empathize with their point of view.  So those with PTSD often tend to become isolated.

It seems to me that writing can fit well with this syndrome.  Writing is most often a solitary profession.  Writers need to be able to tolerate and even enjoy long periods of solitude.  Writing is also a way of trying to sort out and understand the meaning of what happened to you, and the meaning of what is going on in the world.  Therefore, I do not think it would be at all surprising if we discovered that quite a few writers were people with PTSD who were trying to sort out the meaning of what happened to them and the meaning of human nature in this world.

I was recently viewing an old film of an interview with James Jones, and he was talking about writers as observers of society who were thus doomed to be outsiders.  This resonated with my own feeling of being an outsider.  Yet he clearly had PTSD, and had the cynicism and anger and protectiveness that so often accompany PTSD, and I wonder if his feeling like an outsider was as much or more from his PTSD than his work in life as a writer.  Perhaps it was the tsunami of war and PTSD that propelled him toward being a writer.

But each writer is different.  When I read Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Anna Karenina  I do not have a sense that he had PTSD.  He apparently served in a war zone, but he was from the upper classes, and I wonder if he served as an officer who was insulated from the action.  He writes beautifully, but there is no sense of inner devastation that comes with PTSD.  He unquestionably shows a profound sensitivity to social nuances and the psychology of the upper classes.  He describes with clarity and finesse the psychology of Anna leading up to her throwing herself under a train.  Why then is there not that same clarity and finesse in describing the psychology of men in combat?

I think J. D. Salinger clearly had PTSD, although he never wrote directly about his war experiences, which were horrific.  I think the cynicism and alienation of his young character, Holden Caufield in Catcher in the Rye, is actually the cynicism and alienation of a man with PTSD.  Salinger became quite reclusive, and drove around his property in a Jeep wearing a military jacket.

I’m very curious about C. S. Lewis.  When I was younger I liked science fiction.  But I tried several times to read Lewis’s science fiction trilogy: Perelandra, Out of the Silent Planet, and That Hideous Strength.  It was so stuffy, dry, and British that I always lost interest.  A few years ago I listened to a series of lectures about his life and work.  This led me to read Mere Christianity, in which he gives a lively, far from stuffy, non-denominational defense of Christianity.  In his earlier life he had forsaken Christianity and become an atheist who was very adept at debating and defending his atheistic point of view among the academics at Oxford University.   He was raised as a Christian, but his mother died when he was nine years old.  His father sent him and his brother off to a boarding school that had a hazing system in which the older boys tormented the younger ones.  Furthermore, the headmaster was apparently an overbearing man who was subsequently hospitalized for mental problems.  The young Lewis was miserable.  He had lost his mother and been sent away from his home and his father to live in a cold and hostile environment.  These kinds of experiences in childhood tend to make one more vulnerable to later traumatic experiences.  I wonder if these traumatic experiences led to him forsaking his belief in God.  He also served in WWI, and was wounded.  He referred briefly to the horrors of the trench warfare, but never wrote about it in detail.  He and his good friend had a pact that if one of them was killed, the other would care for the dead man’s family.  His friend was killed, and Lewis suffered another loss to death.  He kept his pact and took care of his friend’s mother for the rest of her life, bringing her to live in his home, and even calling her his mother.  Some have wondered whether he actually had a romantic relationship with this woman, while others have observed that she was difficult, and that there was probably no romantic relationship.  Yet there was no other romantic relationship during that period of his life!  After she died he fell in love with Joy Gresham, but she died of cancer a few years later.

Given this pattern of experiences in Lewis’s life I would not be surprised at all if had PTSD.  But as far as I know he never wrote directly about his war experiences.  He did write about his devastating grief.  He couldn’t seem to catch a break.  He experienced one death after another.  His mother, his friend in the war, his friend’s mother, and finally his beloved wife.  He had met and married his wife late in life, and was “surprised by joy,” but after only a few years she too died.  He developed a torturous relationship with God, and wrote about his attempts to try to understand why God had taken away
so many of his loved ones.

One of the patterns of PTSD is that of delayed onset.  A person in combat keeps a stiff upper lip, and dissociates from his fear and anger in order to function effectively and survive in combat.  After the war he continues to dissociate and function effectively.  “It didn’t bother me.  Those guys who get PTSD or become ‘nervous in the service’ are weak.”  Then, years later, the person is overwhelmed by the symptoms of PTSD and is forced to admit that in retrospect he can see that he’s had the symptoms all along, but has suppressed or hidden them, either consciously or unconsciously.  He thought it was normal, for example, to be so hypervigilant.  Then in later life he
had a brush with death or some other traumatic event that brought it all out.  I think we see this with C. S. Lewis.  In his late life he was devastated by the loss of his wife.  Was it just an excessive grief?  I don’t think so.  I think he was devastated in a way that was consistent with PTSD.  He was questioning God and wanting to know why this could be such a world as this.  Here is this man with latent PTSD writing so many books and providing so many answers for so many of the important questions in life, and suddenly in his late life he feels devastated, like a fool with none of the answers.  I’d be willing to bet that he had PTSD.

Other Related Posts by Mike:

Mike Muller:  MACV CORDS operations advisor, Binh Chanh District, 1970.  Briefing officer for DEPCORDS Ambassador Funkhouser to CG & staff, III Corps Vietnam, 1971.  In addition to briefing the staff I briefed visiting officials such as the Secretary of the Army.  I was in Vietnam for one tour.

Disclaimer: If you are needing more extensive assistance or counseling, we can supply you with a list of available agencies to assist you. No blogs are ever meant to substitute a person seeking help through professional counseling.

PTSD- Spirituality & Art

*Video returning soon

-A couple of reflections from two Veterans who represented our Veteran Panel at the 2012 Annual Vietnam War Era Symposium regarding question from audience member.

-Comment from Audience member regarding PTSD and Art

*We do not endorse any one political or spiritual view. We allow our guest presenters to share from their experiences / perspectives, one of many. Take what resonates with you, put aside what does not. We are merely a platform for various views, perspectives, and voices.

Disclaimer: If you are needing more extensive assistance or counseling, there are many available agencies to assist you. No blogs are ever meant to substitute a person seeking help through professional counseling.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to Post Traumatic Spiritual Disorder

From our 2012 Vietnam War Symposium (All Rights Reserved) TSIO

*Video returning soon

Allan received his BA from Syracuse University (1968), Master of Science (Library Science), Simmons College (1970), Master of Divinity, Bangor Theo Seminary (1977, Doctor of Ministry, Pittsburgh Theo Seminary (1996). Held pastorates in Weld, ME, Stamford, NY, New Martinsville, WV, Duluth, MN (16 years), then served as executive Presbyter of the Presbytery of South Louisiana.

Allan was in the US Navy from 1969 to 1975, 5 years on active duty – as an enlisted man in the Naval Security group, then as an officer – first as an advisor in VN then as a teacher at the Naval Academy prep School.

Other Writing from Alan Cutter-

The Journey from Hell to Hope

War as a Prayer

Disclaimer: If you are needing more extensive assistance or counseling, there are many available agencies to assist you. No blogs are ever meant to substitute a person seeking help through professional counseling. We are merely a platform for others to share their experiences and opinions.

Vonnegut: PTSD and Creativity

Mike Muller is on the Advisory Board for Thuy Smith International Outreach. He is a Vietnam veteran, has a Ph.D. in psychology, and has counseled veterans for many years.  He writes novels under the pen name of Michael FitzGordon. 

When I was a kid there was a lot of conflict in my house, and I developed my own retreats, hideouts, and escapes.  I loved to climb to the top of my favorite maple tree, higher than the house, and above the conflict below.  I was so high that most people would never even think to look for me up there.  I could feel the trunk bending under my weight as the breezes blew.  Everything seemed more peaceful up there.  I could also climb out a branch and onto the roof of the house.  On the other side of the house there was a hackberry tree that made a shady dome over the roof.  Here again, I was perfectly hidden and at peace.

Another escape was reading.  We lived many different places, but I was almost always able to walk or bike to the local library.  I read adventure stories, science fiction, fairy tales, physics, geology, biology, herpetology, chess books, dog books, and anything that grabbed my interest.  I had my favorite authors.  I guess my escapism made me into a geek.  Some people don’t really notice that I’m a geek.  But at the same time I can be a surprisingly formidable opponent if I am forced to defend myself or someone else.

My father was a hustler, bookie, and night club proprietor.  He ran numbers, and considered himself to be exceptionally sharp.  He could beat people at chess.  When he learned I was interested in chess at age ten he wanted me to play with him.  I was afraid of him and did not want to play chess with him, much less be in the same room with him.  But if he told you to do something, you said, “yes sir,” and did it.  We always did what he said.  There was no other choice, except to be cursed and knocked down.  So for a week or so my father and I would play chess in the evenings until he realized that my beating him was not a fluke.  I don’t think he ever liked me much after that.  When I was an adult I once tried to get back into playing chess, but my heart always started beating too fast for it to be fun.

We lived out in the country for a while, and there was no library nearby, so I joined the Science Fiction Book Club to receive books by mail.  I would also buy books on astronomy, because man! you could really see the stars out there.  I preferred “hard” science fiction, i.e., not fantasy, but fiction based on possible projections of the future given current scientific knowledge.  Star Wars is hard science fiction; Superman is fantasy.  As I matured, my interest in science fiction waned because most of the science fiction lacked emotional and psychological complexity.  Many of the adventures were nothing more than immature fantasies.  The main attraction of the stories was the sense of wonder at the marvels of science and the natural universe.  At this time in my life Kurt Vonnegut appeared as I was transitioning from simple science fiction into a world with more psychological complexity and ambiguity.  I read everything of his that I could get.  He had a wacky kind of Dave Barry or Carl Hiaasen humor in which the mindlessness of normal human behavior was seen as being quite ridiculous.

I don’t think I ever read Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, which was based on his experiences as a POW in Dresden during WWII.  It was published in 1969 when I was in the army and on my way to a different war.  In 1972, when I was back from Vietnam and enrolled in graduate school in English, the movie was released.  It seemed like a wacky blend of war novel and science fiction.  I enjoyed the movie tremendously, but I did not really understand it very well.  I just thought it was wacky.  A few years later, after I had switched from English to psychology in graduate school, I was reading a Vonnegut novel, and I noticed a passage that had a clinically schizophrenic  aspect to it.  I had that same sense of regret I had experienced before.  It seemed that once again I was losing one of my favorite authors as I matured emotionally and intellectually.

A few years later I learned that Vonnegut’s son had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and I thought to myself that I had been perceptive to notice a schizophrenic trend in his father years before.  Now his son, a physician, believes that perhaps bipolar disorder would have been a more accurate diagnosis.  When I was a staff psychologist at the student health center of a major university I worked with a psychiatrist who had a theory about working with the many bright and creative students who came to the mental health service.  Many young people will have their first psychotic break when they are of college age.  Perhaps this is due to the development of the brain, but perhaps it is also due to the stress of being away from home and at college.  The psychiatrist said that he tried to moderate the use of antipsychotic medication, to find that balance to “tighten up” the creative student’s concentration without going so far as to make them lose their looseness of cognitive associations, and their creativity.  If they lost their creativity, of course, it would be a major loss and crisis in their life.

I drifted away from Vonnegut.  But recently I watched Slaughterhouse Five again, perhaps in part because I remembered how sexy Valerie Perrine was in the movie.  Much had changed in me since the last time I read or viewed anything by Vonnegut.  I had spent several decades counseling veterans with PTSD.  I had conducted groups for WWII POWs for about ten years.  I also had come to the reluctant acknowledgement that I too had PTSD based on my childhood, my time in the war, and my many years of working with war veterans and the horrors of war.  I guess I was a very different person the second time I watched Slaughterhouse Five.  I was stunned! It brought tears to my eyes.  The movie had little to do with science fiction!  It was a stunning creative achievement in which the author made it possible for the reader or viewer to see the horrors of war without being overwhelmed.  The protagonist’s coming “unstuck in time” was a depiction of flashbacks.  The book was published in 1969; PTSD and psychological flashbacks were not well known until 1980.  The protagonist was frequently transported to the planet Tralfamidor.  This was his escape from the horror, just as I, as a boy, had my own escapes, and still do.

I subsequently watched the movie, Mother Night, based on Vonnegut’s novel.  A double agent in Nazi Germany must actually participate in the evil if he wishes to maintain his cover.  In doing good he is corrupted by the evil.  It is a brilliant depiction of the difficulty of not being corrupted by evil in this world.  A novelist can be like a double agent.  Graham Greene said that the plot was like a bone that you gave to the watchdog so you could sneak into the reader’s mind.  Joseph Conrad said that he was trying to make the reader see.  Creative artists can try to create works that are popular, will sell, and will appeal to the superficial.  They may think they are giving a bone to the watchdog so that they can sneak in with deeper meanings and vision.  But they may also be corrupted like the double agent, selling their souls to the devil.

Mike Muller:  MACV CORDS operations advisor, Binh Chanh District, 1970.  Briefing officer for DEPCORDS Ambassador Funkhouser to CG & staff, III Corps Vietnam, 1971.  In addition to briefing the staff I briefed visiting officials such as the Secretary of the Army.  I was in Vietnam for one tour.

Disclaimer: If you are needing more extensive assistance or counseling, we can supply you with a list of available agencies to assist you. No blogs are ever meant to substitute a person seeking help through professional counseling.