Grace in Falling; ACT II, SCENE 1
SETTING: December 2018. Friday night. Veteran support group.
AT RISE: A typical dingy office room converted into a veterans’ support group. The floors are carpeted in drab colors and the walls are painted likewise drably. Cheesy motivational posters are on the walls. Against the wall is a pop-up table with a coffee pot, creamer, sugar and paper cups. There are eight pop-up chairs in a semicircle. DEVIN, JEAN, BETH, TODD, JOSE and KYLE are seated in the chairs.
I yearn for a safety blanket. In the shadows I envision dark and evil deeds, mostly of my own making. In the light I feel exposed; as if on my back rests the crosshairs of a finely zeroed scope. I feel like a marked man, and I’m not sure whether I fear living in the shadows more than I fear dying in the light.
I’ll choose dying in the light, as all I know consists of shadows. I do not sleep. I cover my windows in foil and I turn and I broil, but I do not sleep. My eyes close in onthemselves but never truly close. I do not sleep but I am never really awake.
These trials are our bedfellows as if a bed were to ever comfort us. We struggle with paranoia and insomnia yet still attempt to present an image that is calm and ordered. We die with every death dealt. We hurt with every injury inflicted. I refuse to say that we lack fault but we did what we felt was right to do at the time we did it, and as a beam of light guides the ship to shore we can find our way back home.
Way back? There is no way back. My body may be here but my soul was buried beneath the sand in that far away land. I’ve been torn, damaged and thrown away. I was forced and fed daggers and darts day in and day out and passed to the next. I saw the same pain and death as all of you but I was inflicted with it as well. How may I face the faces of my family and friends? How may I face myself?
With a mirror
Will we ever be like everyone else? Probably not; nor do I think we should, but we can come to terms with what we have done and with what has been done to us. Our paths may be steeper and more jagged than the paths others walk, but it is still a path, and, as such, has a beginning and an end. Our paths have a conclusion. It is up to us to decide what that conclusion is. Will we be crippled by the hurdles on that path or will we leap over and continue?
(In a thick Cajun accent)
Wuz the point, mon ami? I fear being around others so I avoid dem. As time passes I’m more afraid to be around dem. Dis makes me sad. I’m sad so I avoid others. Dis creates a cycle that lasts only so long before I’m forced to be around others. When I’m forced to be around others I drink because it makes it easier. Eventually I drink enough to be around people again but den I always drink. Eventually I feel scared and depressed all da time unless I’m drinking. Wuz the point?
I guess the point is that there are no shortcuts. Alcohol makes it easier to associate with others. It inhibits the anxiety and depression but eventually the anxiety and depression exist because of the lack of alcohol. It may take longer to associate with others outside the influence of alcohol or drugs but then, and only then, is that association genuine. Believe me, I walked this road for many years and I assure you, whether you believe me or not, it slowly got better when I quit using.
What if I don’t wanna quit? What if I’m fine with finding a bottle of booze and diving deep into that bottle? I have no wife and no kids. I have no one. So what if I drown myself in my pain and my misery? The bodies I have laid to ground haunt me in the night. So if I feel I must, I’ll drink whiskey, snort coke and smoke weed as much as I want.
This isn’t AA or NA, and I am not the police so it isn’t my place to tell you whether you should use if that is your decision. This is a veteran support group. We’re here so we can share our stories with people who know what we’ve been through. While I advocate leaving alcohol and drugs behind as the only way to recover from these issues, you can do what you want. We are here for you regardless of what you do outside of these meetings, and it’s not like this is not a common issue amongst us vets.
Is anyone else having issues with alcohol or drugs?
(Shrugs her shoulders)
I’ve talked to counselors about the death and pain I have seen and to counselors about my repeated rape by my supposed brothers in arms and have had no relief. I have been prescribed Zoloft, Welbutrin, Celexa and on and on. Nothing worked. I drink so I may feel to weep. When at last my emotions overwhelm, as they are oft to do, I pop Vicodin so I can feel no more. I am told that this is wrong and only hurting me, but what of me is left to hurt any longer? I am a shell of dead or dying skin. There is nothing left.
You were betrayed by a system that you implicitly trusted. I felt betrayed by the same system as well, but hardly to the degree in which you were betrayed. I can understand how you feel there is nothing left of you, but…
(Nods his head)
Nothing left of me as well. I have moved a couch and a refrigerator to my garage so that I may avoid my family. It is a dozen or so beers deep before I can trust myself around them. My emotional wiring seems misconnected and faulty. The serenity of a setting sun makes me want to burn the land to the ground before me. A lovely smile upon my own child’s face makes me wail out in shame and grief. The gentle touch of my wife turns my stomach. I float upon a tide that cycles from misery to apathy, from anger to fear; then from sadness to sickness. By the time I am drunk enough and numb enough to be around them, my wife is angry and my son is in bed and I’ve wasted the time I could have had with them.
It don’ madda, brah. Drink too much, don’t drink enough, at least you feelin’ sumpen. I look at my girl; I feel nuttin’. I look at my kids; I still feel nuttin. I mean, I remember what it used to be like. I remember luvin’ dem an wantin’ to be around dem, but it’s more like remembering a story in a book. Da people in da book felt love and hate and all dat, but it’s not like you have dose same feelin’s. I mean, you understand the feelings you just don’ have ‘em.
What you all are describing is loss of affect. It is more common amongst us than you might think and I promise you that everyone in this room has felt it to some degree or another. When first I got back I found it difficult to care about anyone around me, as well as myself. I will tell you; however, that drinking does affect this, as do drugs. They numb us to the process of making or reinstating meaningful connections. Without forming those connections we will never care. The connections I have made over the years have proved more important to my progress than I could have ever previously imagined. I hope only that all of you will be so lucky.
(END OF SCENE)