Monday, November 11, 2013

Veteran's Day

Veteran's Day 2013 - and I'm walking around really, really angry.

Why? I haven't been really angry for a while. Much less angry than I was a year ago this time.

I think it's because, when people see me, a woman, they assume that I'm the military spouse. Unless I put on my Wounded Warrior Program hat, they will have no idea I'm a veteran, or that I am wounded. I'm invisible to those who don't know me.

I've always hated being invisible.

It really pisses me off.

That's why I'm walking around angry today.

I've seen a few comments from lady vets recently that they feel the same way, too.

There are a lot of us lady vets out there. Don't overlook us today.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Which me came home?

Without being aware of it, this poem flowed from my fingers, through my pen, and onto the paper over the weekend. I thought I was writing about something else.

This is my first foray into "War Poetry," however accidental.

Which me came home?
By Colleen Dixon

I get so angry
when others tell me
"You're still the same, you haven't changed."
I HAVE changed, I want to scream.

The moment the transport aircraft disgorged me,
squinting, out of the darkness
into the cold air of that far-off land,
I changed.

The first time I heard
the alarm which meant that
bad guys had fired a mortar meant to kill us,
I changed.

The first time I watched
a Hellfire missile scorch the earth
where bad guys had been standing,
I changed.

Would it make a difference if I
had come back missing a leg?
If I had horrible burn marks on my skin,
Would you believe I had changed?

I might have all my extremities
But things will never be the same.
I am not the same person who left.
When will they believe me?
 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Anniversaries, bad stuff, and good stuff



I’m approaching two anniversaries: two years since I mobilized and one year since I left Afghanistan.

I’ve been dealing with some tough stuff lately, which made it hard to muster the focus to update my blog.

First, what was probably my last, best chance for being selected for Captain has come and gone. Once you’ve been passed over twice, your chances of selection are extremely slim.

When I saw the short list of selectees, I had to work through several layers of emotions, bad and good.

First there was something similar to the grief process, with denial and anger eventually yielding to acceptance. Then I thought of the fact that I’d made my family my primary focus rather than my Navy career. I thought of how I’m the only female officer in my family history, and the most senior officer at Commander. My dad also pointed out the fact that I outranked 95% of all the military members in the world. That was a sobering thought.

Gradually I came to a place of acceptance. I have impacted many sailors through my leadership in the positions I have held. I’ve had a good career. And, most importantly, I wouldn’t trade the family I have for O-6 eagles.

Other events have uncovered triggers for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Two funerals in three weeks triggered a crush of memories from Bagram.

I remembered going to the flight line with hundreds of other soldiers and standing in formation as caskets were loaded onto an Air Force C-17 for the final flight home.
I recalled memorial services on our compound for soldiers who had been killed, and standing in the cold as the sad strains of “Taps” echoed through the night air.
Another thing I had not thought much of before, which has now flooded into my memory, was seeing photos hanging on the wall of all those who had been killed. I passed those photos several times every day as I went to and from my workspace at our compound on Bagram. Some looked no older than teenagers, and sometimes I would stop and contemplate a face and pray for the family.

Things haven’t been all bad; there have been good things that have happened also.

I’ve started working with an equine therapy group geared toward veterans. It’s not learning to ride, but instead working with a horse on the ground. I’ve been surprised at how quickly I react in frustration or anger when a horse does something other than what I’m asking – similar to how I react in my human interaction. I like that all the participants are veterans, because we can all relate to each other in a way no one else in my community can. I'd mentioned before that I’ve always loved horses  so, even when they are frustrating me, I really enjoy being around them.

I’ve also adopted a dog, a beagle named Charley. We already have two rescue dogs, but I wanted a small dog who was well-behaved who would be all my own. I learned about a program under the organization Fetch a Cure called PenPals, in which inmates train dogs rescued from shelters and those dogs are then made available for adoption. Another organization, Vets Adopt Pets, paid the adoption fee for Charley. I’m grateful to those who donated money to that organization to allow me to adopt this sweet little dog.
Working with the horses and with Charley has been healing and calming for me. I’ve enjoyed being outdoors more, the sunny days make me feel better, and I get to be around animals I love.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Spring is coming; time for an update

My last post was from a dark place--I felt like I had fallen into a hole.
I'm in a better place now, learning more about things that are triggers as well as things that help me feel more like myself.

Instead of having to go to the VA Medical Center in Martinsburg, WVa., I can go to a local VA clinic in my city. I've gotten a few med checks to make sure things are getting into balance. I've also had some visits to the social worker to talk things over.

The hardest thing I had to do was walk into the room where the Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan Veterans were meeting. I could hardly get in the door, much less open my mouth. The others seemed to understand how hard it was for me, and they pretty much left me alone that day. The second time I went, I actually spoke a little. These veterans are the closest ones who would be able to understand how I feel, because they went through stuff too, but it is still hard for me to be around them, and let down my guard. I'll keep going back, though.

I have a new friend named Jackie. She's an Arabian, my equine companion, and her owner invited me to come and help take care of Jackie. We've worked together a few times, getting to know each other. I've always liked horses, but have never been around them much. I can count on one hand the number of times I've ridden a horse. I've learned to "catch" Jackie in the pasture and lead her to the pen. I can brush her and make an attempt at picking her feet. And we've worked a little bit in the arena with me guiding her and leading her. I'm still a bit afraid of her because she's so big. But with the guidance of my friend, Jackie's owner, I'm learning and gaining confidence.

On almost a whim, I signed up as a volunteer at the SPCA. I initially thought I would work with dogs and perhaps cats. I've actually worked more with the cats and small mammals. I'm a cat cuddler, socializing cats that are up for adoption so they are more adoptable. Same with the bunnies. I didn't even know that there could be bunnies or guinea pigs at shelters! One of the cats I saw the night I attended training had just come in and was really scared. His name was James (I don't know where the names come from, I would come up with a more kitty-cat name than that, I think). My first time cuddling, I went looking for James. He was still pretty scared, so I cuddled him a lot. A few days later, the change in James was unbelievable. He had been cuddled and loved so much, he had become a social butterfly! I had him out petting him, and he was adopted right out of my arms! I was happy for him, and snuggled him before saying goodbye. Cuddling the cats is not only good for them,but it also makes me happy.

Working with Jackie and cuddling cats make me happy. Finding things that make me happy has been important to my feeling better. It has taken a while for me to find my way, but I am on a good path, I think.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Struggling through the end of 2012

Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas.

Spending this Christmas at home. It doesn't feel much like Christmas because of what's been going on in the country in the past few months--first a huge storm that wreaked havoc over a stretch of the Northeast, and then the unspeakable horror that took the lives of so many at a school in Connecticut.

Plus, I'm feeling so much anger and resentment that it's hard to feel joyous.

I've had anger welling up within over things that are going on right now and that happened within the past year of my deployment. Beyond that, however, this has dredged up long-squelched anger, held in for decades, with the results being an ugly spewing of anger, venom, hatred, and resentment over people who have been living their regular lives. From out of nowhere, they've been deluged with this tornado and, naturally, they have lashed out in response.

I've come to the realization that I have no idea how to properly express anger.

I've also realized that I've alienated extended family members and am unsure how to go about making amends. I'm still angry, and still need to deal with that anger. But not like I have been.

As I celebrate this Christmas, happy to be home with my family once again, my heart hurts.