You Survived But Are You Dead Inside?

In last article I wrote about surviving combat and how I experienced it during my year in war.

Today I write about the aftermath. Survival is not only hard on your body but can also kill you inside. So you survive but you are just empty shell. You all heard of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) but I call this just being dead inside. But this does not have to be like that. First let me tell you about Alek.

I know Alek for many years now, I met him during one hiking trip I did with my survival group here. He was something like outdoor instructor. Later I heard from other folks that he went through some crazy stuff during the war, and that he was member of one of the groups when he was just 15 years old.

We never talked about that before, anyway that kind of topic here is very unusual to discuss. Many have blood on their hands and it brings up bad memories. If we talk about that period we only mention some funny and stupid things like “do you remember the tree leafs we smoked as tobacco man?” and we laugh.

But in same time we are remembering in thoughts how someone gets killed or similar. You laugh because you don’t want to cry.

We were spending night in one of the mountain houses, some of us brought families, other were alone. During the day kids spent time in small amusement park in woods. He was there as something like park ranger.

Night time was for big camp fire, barbecue and drinking.

One night few of us were next to fire, people mostly went to sleep. Me and other guy talked about hunting, rifles and stuff like that. He was quiet.

Suddenly he asked: “Do you remember that smell of a wound when man gets badly shot in abdomen, or when he gets shrapnel in same place?”

Me and other guy went quiet. I remembered the smell, but I did not say anything, I could almost taste it, metallic taste of blood and some hard and sharp smell that stays in your nose, smell of piss and sh!t too.

And I smelled it few times. First time when I smelled it shell exploded hitting in one building entrance behind me and some men from neighborhood, and rain of shrapnel was flying towards us. Guy gets shrapnel, pieces of wall and steel fence in his stomach.

And all kinda mixed up at that point of his body, I mean it was just bloody mess, like if someone put blades from boat motor engine in his stomach and turn it on, all mixed up.

He was young and strong so he screamed a lot and yelled. Later I figured out that in fact that I was almost deaf (from detonation) for some time and that helped me to not listen to all his crying.

He grabbed one guys hands, and that guy had real hard time to get his hands free again.

In that moment you just want to get the hell out of there because you can die too, and nobody wants to look in a dying mans eyes who begs for help you can not give, everyone just ran and hide. And he did not die fast. He was screaming and crying, and asking “am I going to die?” and we all just wanted it to be over at last.

Yeah, people mostly do not die like in movies. No heroic last words, messages for fellow comrades, country or similar. Mostly they cry for mother.

After these pictures came back for seconds in my mind Alek continued telling us his story:

“I remember that moment when I first seen wounds, big wounds and mixed smell of everything, burnt flesh, blood, puke and sh!t and I think I smelled something else that I think was pure horror. In that moment my childhood was over, and suddenly I become man. I was 15 years old.

I lost my father during one of the shellings and local group took me as their member. In that time they called that “courier” (messenger) but it did not had too much to do with delivering messages.

I was something like mascot for a group, but very soon I went to do whatever they did and I did not see anything wrong in all that killing. Of course alcohol helped and drugs too. One by one gang members were killed, or “disappeared” but I stayed until the end.

Those guys were family to me. I did not even notice that most of them were pure animals, actually I did not even understand that they raised me into the same animal. They were great to me, cool guys. For everyone else we were something else. Monsters probably.

When all ended those from group who survived disappeared from the region in fear from revenge. I moved from that region and I did not come back for ten years, even then when I shortly visit the town I always look over my shoulder.

I become interested in hunting and weapons. For years I was searching for more and more “exotic” ways to kill animals, with different kind of weapons. I traveled all around the world in search for that.

Then I met someone, and I got kid. Suddenly I found or I thought I found out what is like when you have someone of your own, somebody that really belongs to you. And I really wanted to belong to them too, but it did not work.

She said that Im a “freak” and do not know feelings of any kind. And she left. And In that moment I lost all interest for hunting. I could not kill animal anymore. Even shooting at shooting range was too much for me. I hated it suddenly.

I found peace in woods. I am living practically in woods, without real friends and much contact with other people. I am spending my time in the city only for buying food, then again I am in the woods. I think I found God in the woods.”

He had one more beer and went away. I was thinking about his words.

Few days later I discuss everything with good friend and when I told him about Aleks words that “he found God in the woods” and how that gave me creeps somehow, he told me “he surely found something in the woods, but it is probably more devil than God”

I asked “why?”

He said that all his talking about exotic places and exotic ways for killing animals in foreign lands were lies.

Yea, after the war ended he left region and spent ten years doing what he learned to do best.

Killing, but not animals. And this time killing on contract and for serious money. Rumor was that he was quite popular in that “business”, with some terrible methods.

Everything else was true, he did have wife and kid. And yeah he did retire and found something in woods.

To survive some big SHTF scenario and continue to live later in a “normal” world is not so simple.

You can not just put clear boundry between some periods of your life and stop to think about bad moments.

Imagine earthquake hits your area and all plates in kitchen fall down and most break. You can quickly stuff them back into cupboard and keep them there but they are still broken. You can hide them and they are still broken. Putting things away does not fix them.

When we are born we learn to trust people. When you experience what people can do or even what animal you can be it destroys this trust and is hard to rebuild.

It often stays with you for rest of your life. You just try live as normal as you can and thats it.

But it is always there.

It is everyday thing. For example everything is cool and OK but then for example something “kicks” me back into that time. Some smell maybe or sound.

I was walking on street few weeks ago, and I heard sound, it was mixture of whizzing and humming noise that was coming closer fast.

I almost jumped behind one car, it was a sound of helicopter toy that 5 year old kid was “launching” some 30 meters from me, in my direction. But for me it was sound of one of the improvized rocket-bomb devices that was used often during the SHTF. I learned to recognize it and act in same moment.

“But it was 20 years ago” you gonna say. Well for me it was like yesterday, it is everyday.

When you are taking coffee in some coffee shops and you “catch” yourself that you are watching other guests and assessing them “how dangerous is that guy?” and “he has 9mm Glock in that small bag” (we have lots of concealed carry here, I do too) or “that dude in black jacket has butterfly knife in front pocket” and “that dude is guarding his back while he is reaching for change he left on floor – gun stuffed in his back-belt” etc etc.

You can say “get a life” I will say it is my life now.

Did you think that you can go through months of collapse and whole bunch of life threatening events and then come clean from all of that and have normal life? You cant. It is not romantic like that at all.

Telling others how it was and how it is gonna be again helps in a way that I find some sense in surviving all that other than having my life. Its a mission I feel good about.

Breaking some stupid ideas about how SHTF gonna look like helps too, everyone who wants to read this stuff is possibly one more man who is gonna be prepared more tomorrow when things get tough again.

When Jay visited me to record the interviews for my online survival course we visited places and talked for whole week. I felt very down for some time after that but he has background in psychology and said it can help. It does, I slowly glue my broken parts together again, also writing this here today.

Writing is my treatment and for you who read this it is what Jay refers to as “primary prevention”, that means exposure to real scenarios help to prepare you mentaly what can happen. It is win win situation.

Just never forget your mind on battlefield or one day you wake up alive but empty.

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