Archive for the ‘relationships’ Category

I’m not sure what happened, or maybe I am but I’m not sure how it got to that point. Too many things going on in my head, too many things happening all at once, a total feeling of helplessness and of being lost mixed with a whole load of beer, the best part of a bottle of Rum and a whole load of self loathing at what has happened and what I perceive myself to have become. That’s probably what happened and how I got to that stage, that’s probably how I reached the point where I hit rock bottom and found myself sat at my newly bought kitchen table during the early hours of the morning with an almost finished bottle of wine sat in front of me, an ash tray full of dog-ends and a knife from my Jamie Oliver kitchen knife set placed beside the glass tumbler staring up at me with a promise to an end to all that has been plaguing me for so long now. One small movement, one moment of pain and then maybe I could find the peace that I fucking crave so much.

As it happens it turns out that I am a total failure when it comes to committing suicide and after some attempts to cut into myself, which have led to some telling scars on my wrist, I found myself sat at the table in a total state of confusion with a blood stained knife laying in front of me and a series of bloody cuts on my arm. It was somewhere during them moments of total shame, between the spates of anger and the tears, that I realised that I couldn’t deal with this anymore on my own. I think that I already knew this, which is the reason that I have slowly but surly been letting a few people that I know and trust see what lies behind my game face. The thing is that even though more people know about my problems I have still maintained that this is something I can manage and deal with myself, it took this event, this moment of madness and me stepping over the mark and hitting an all time low to realise that I’m not as strong as I’d like to make out and that perhaps I do need someones shoulders to lean on when things get too much and to help me find my way through this darkness.

So now I find myself back at work, my wrist is healing well and easy enough to hide from my colleagues and despite the normal frustrations of this job I find myself more relaxed and more together than I ever am back in the ‘real world’. Everything here makes sense to me and I have a sense of purpose, this work defines me and who I am. I find it hard to comprehend the two different ‘me’s’ and wish that the person that I am here could be the person that I am at home. As I have said before, I am not stupid, I know that I am messed up and have lost my way somewhere along the line and that the end game for me is not where I take my own life but where I find my life again and I can take control of my problems and not have them control me. That’s the end game and I am determined to get there no matter what the cost, it just seems so fucking hard and at times it seems like I am fighting a loosing battle but I am sure that with the love and support of those around me that this is something that I will beat eventually or at the very least I am going to go down fighting.

A couple of things that we are taught in the Armed Forces are; no plan, no matter how good, survives first contact and that no battle is ever straight forward or easy. I guess that now, more than ever, I need to take note of them two bits of wisdom that I have heard said countless times over the years.

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My life has been a kind of a roller-coaster of events, a mixture of highs and lows, times of excitement and lulls of nothingness. I have struggled with despair and at other times have felt the kind of happiness that only a truly content man could feel. I’ve known love as well as hate, have risen to the top and have also felt the pain of being at the bottom. Sometimes I feel as though my whole life has been one constant battle and always will be and that any moments of peace that I experience are just lulls in that battle letting me catch my breathe before the next fight begins. Recently I have been pulling my way through a huge life changing experience, something that has a profound affect on my life and all of those involved and that has led to some hard decisions being made and also the self realisation of the kind of man that I am and in all reality will always be. I have had to open my eyes to a lot of things and also take stock of my past, my actions and the routes that have led to to this place that I now find that I am in. My life has been turned upside down and I have felt chinks in my armours starting to appear allowing things that I had pushed to the back of my mind to start seeping out and I have no real idea of how I am supposed to deal with this. So with that in mind I have decided to start writing again as a way of acknowledging certain events that I think maybe define me as a person and may give you and idea of what drives me, who I am and why I am the man that I am. I have no actual idea if you even read this anymore or even if you really care, but that is by and by as this is not for you – it is for me. What will follow will be a series of events in no particular order that have affected me in one way or another throughout my years, some good and some not. It will be an apology, an explanation, a story, a pouring out of my heart, a confession, a ride and most of all a look into my life that not many get to see.

So it has been a while since I have been here to leave a Blog and during that time a lot has happened. Old friendships have been rekindled, a new job started, a couple of life’s realities faced and accepted and more importantly a ‘new’ me has immerged from my time out. There is too much to talk about in one session on here so I think for now that I am going to concentrate on what has led me to use ‘A Restoration Of Faith’ as the title of this entry.

My time in Afghanistan, although not continuous, spanned almost a decade of my life. During that time it became my life defining who I was and becoming an obsession that took over everything in my life. I lived and breathed it day and night whether I was there or back in the real world. I dreamed about the place and during waking hours could see it in my mind. Smells, noises, a word spoken or a song heard could take me back there in an instant. It wasn’t just me that became affected by this place and my experiences. My family and close friends became affected by it, albeit in a different kind of way, as over the years they saw the effect my time away and experiences had were affecting me as a person. Through highs and lows they watched me, supported me and most importantly I think – kept on loving me. During my highest moments when the darkness receded and I could think about better times, remember the good things that had come out of my time there, appreciate what I have and push the bad times to one side for a short period they were there laughing and enjoying life with me. During my other periods when I was so full of rage, hate, anger and sadness that all I could do was cause pain they were still there, stood beside me, supporting me and helping me find my way back into the light. Without the love of family and friends, someone’s comfy arm chair, some witty and ‘intellectual’ conversation, a very understanding couple who patiently and without complaint listened to me during the early hours of the morning when I was so lost that I thought there was no turning back and a wife who through everything stays with me and is often my voice of reason I have no idea where I would be now. But what I do know is that where I am is better than there. It’s not perfect, nothing ever is, and I have a long way to go still but I am at least now tabbing in the right direction and the road looks good from where I stand. 

You see, what I am getting at I think is this: I lost faith in myself and to an extent everything else in my life. I couldn’t see a way out and was almost consumed by what was happening to me. I knew what was going on or at the very least I had a good idea of what was happening to me and it scared me. In fact for a long time I was terrified. I didn’t have faith in my own ability to deal with what was happening to me or feel that I had the strength to fight the battle that was being fought inside my head. Only a few months back, less than that even, I thought I had lost the fight but due to the reasons that I mention above I seem to have gained faith in myself again and through that the strength to fight and hopefully win this battle. I am restoring myself and like all decent restorations it will take some time and a lot of patience. No doubt there will be some setbacks as no job like this is ever straight forward and to get ahead I will need to face a few demons, some from a life before the Army, and beat them or at least find a way to lock them in their cage. I am a determined man and can rise to a challenge. And a challenge this is.

It is worth pointing out before I sign off that writing also appears to be helping me. I seem to be able to express how I feel and talk about what is happening in my life a lot easier like this than I do through talking face to face with someone. So it doesn’t bother me if anyone is reading this or not as I think that it is just a case of me finding an outlet through here to ‘verbalise’ everything that is going on inside of me. I need this. But if you are reading then thank-you for taking an interest.

And that is it – the reason behind the title.

‘It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day. It’s a new life For me’

Nina Simone.

Pipedreams. Everyone has them. Some of them are more wild than others, some of them practical and some not. Some are achievable and some are most definitely not achievable. But I guess that is kind of the point of a Pipedream – it is something that is personnel to all of us, a dream of who we want to be and where we want to be. Our very own personnel vision of the future where everything turns out just how we planned. Your very own ‘happily ever after…’.

One of my favourite Pipedreams is probably one of my more achievable ones. It’s one that involves my very own little corner of the world where I can forget about everything and just be at peace with myself and my family. I’m not really sure where this dream came from as the location is somewhere that I have maybe only been to twice and one of them times was just me passing through on my way somewhere else. Most of my knowledge of this vision of tranquillity comes from photographs, publications and television programs and I am guessing that between my brief visits and these other sources of information that something has appealed to my subconscious self and caught my imagination. The Lake District is that Pipedream. When I need to relax or I just need to get away from this place for a while I can sit myself down in my pod, close my eyes and imagine everything. It’s perfect for me and I wouldn’t change a thing. We live in a stone built cottage with a thatched roof that dates back a few hundred years that is set in acres of it’s own land. Surrounded by rolling green hills that are broken up by small copses of woodland and with the shores of a lake only a short walk from the front door it is everything that I have dreamed of owning. We have more dogs than what we once had now that we have the space and land for them that roam freely. Alongside them we have chickens and geese and more than likely have a cat lurking around somewhere. Our days are spent wandering and exploring the surrounding areas and in the evenings we sit back on the decking that I have built and share a bottle of wine while listening to some music and watching the lake shimmer in the moonlight. At weekends we are joined by family and friends who I cook for on the BBQ and as dusk comes we all sit around on the forever expanding decking drinking and chatting until the early hours. Our daughters visit with their families and we spend the days wandering around and just enjoying time together. In the evening we all sit around the open fire with me supping on a good whiskey enjoying listening to all the talk and laughter coming from my girls and their little families. Even though the cottage is secluded enough that we can feel like we are the only people in the world at times if ever I feel the need I can just put a pack on and disappear into the hills to wander to my hearts content safe in the knowledge that this is my own little corner of the world and that no-one can hurt me or mine here. My perfect Pipedream.

Of course I’m not naive and I know that nothing is ever perfect in reality. The Geese would always be chasing the dogs. The cat would probably eat the chickens. I have no idea how to build decking and even if I did the good old British weather would probably put a stop to us using it too often. A thatched cottage of that age would be so expensive to maintain that instead of spending my days wandering and exploring I would spend them working to keep up with the bills and no matter how secluded you are there would always be some tourist, with their map held upside down, turning up at your door lost. But what’s the point in having a dream if it can’t be perfect at least in your head. And like I said at the beginning this is my more achievable and practical one. The one that involves me being the first human to step foot onto the surface of Mars and promptly bump into little green men or the one where I find an ancient artefact that gives me super human powers can wait until another day.

“Pipe dreams are good, they don’t have to be practical and they often change. Its just nice to have some distant dream to think about when things get tough.”

A Wise Old Friend

 

Spending as long as I have in this country serving alongside it’s local nationals there is one thing that I have come to learn about them and that is that they love a good story.

Here are a couple of my favourites:

The Invisible Man

One of our interpreters once told us about his uncle that had the amazing ability of being able to turn himself invisible at will. This wasn’t just some cheap party trick used to entertain kids or some un-proven claim – it was an amazing and un-explainable feat that no doctor, scientist or even religious scholar would be able to explain. It was a superhuman power, the next step in our species evolution, that all of the family had witnessed including our interpreter. Intrigued by his claims and more than a little excited at the prospect of our very own X-Files story un-folding before us we made some brews, pulled up some chairs and encouraged our man to tell us everything about this now almost God like person to us that we had never met.

He explained that whenever the whole family gets together for some event and the festivities start to slow down a bit or the meetings start to drag that they  can rely on his uncle to perk everyone up with a display of his powers. Apparently the man will sit everyone in a room on some rows of chairs facing towards the end of the room where there is a closed door that leads to his sleeping quarters. Once everyone is settled down in their seats the music starts to play and the magic begins. The uncle performs a series of dance moves that are essential to him being able to get his mind onto the correct level of enlightenment that will allow him to fade into nothing. The excitement and tension in the room grows at the thought of what is about to happen – it doesn’t matter how many times that they have seen this miracle they will always be amazed by it and feel like they did the first time that they saw it. As the music begins to fade and his intricate dance moves come to an end the crowd holds it breathe in anticipation of what they know is about to happen. With a clap of his hands and a smile at the audience the uncle twirls his way through the door to his sleeping quarters and shuts the door behind him. They all sit there in silence waiting for it. All of a sudden they hear his voice from behind the closed door and he tells them that he has done it again, that he is invisible and that no-one can see him. The crowd goes wild, cheering and clapping as once again they realise that they have been present for a modern day miracle.

Our interpreter, part of the young breed of men and women that will hopefully be integral in leading this country forward when we finally pull out, finishes his story with a slight fanatical look over his face and sheen of sweat on his forehead. After a moments silence where we all sit there and contemplate the amazing story that we have just been told and the privilege that we should all be feeling at being allowed to know about it our section commander speaks to the story teller. He asks if our man genuinely believes that his uncle turns invisible behind that closed door and suggests that maybe this is some kind of party trick – and not the best one at that. The terp smiles and says that he is often asked this after telling this story especially by Westerners. What is so hard to believe about it? His uncle is a respected man in the community and has no reason to lie. He turns himself invisible behind a closed door because the finale process of making himself disappear would be too much for their minds to handle if they saw it. Our commander asks then why once his uncle is invisible does he not come out of the room so that they can all see that he is not there? Our man sighs and looking at our commander talks slowly and patiently as if talking to a child and says that this is because of the same reason that we do not see him turn invisible. Should he come out of his room and talk to us our minds would not be able to cope with hearing his voice but not being able to see him. He stays in his room to protect us until he become whole again.

We all finish our brews, put our chairs back and carry on with our previous task of getting ready for a patrol – all thoughts of super hero’s gone from our minds.

 

It’s a Wind Problem

Breaking wind. We all do it. You, me, everyone. Even those  that say they don’t do it. It’s natural thing for our bodies to do and we shouldn’t be embarrassed by it – we should embrace it and it’s humorous powers. Toilet humour (excuse the pun) has it’s merits and a well timed fart at the most inappropriate of times has caused huge amounts of laughs throughout time. And it was a well timed breaking of wind moment by one of my men that led to the next story and bit of insight into the culture of the people of this country.

At the end of a rather long and arduous patrol one of our interpreters approached myself and another commander to ask for a private chat with the two of us. It turned out that during the patrol, where the terp spends most of his time stuck in the back of a vehicle, he had come under repeated gas attack from one of the soldiers stuck in the back of the wagon with him who was suffering from a slight wind problem. Time and time again throughout the journey his sense of smell had been exposed to some of the worst smells known to man which had caused him some distress and a lot of offence to say the least and now he wanted to make a complaint and also to explain to us why he was so offended by the actions of this man.

The action of breaking wind in this country is not just offensive but it is almost sinful. It is accepted that people do break wind but it is something that must be done discreetly and far away from anyone else and is never talked about or done in jest. The worst things imaginable can and have happened to people who have made the unfortunate mistake of letting one slip in the presence of other people. When asked to elaborate in that claim he went on to explain about the recorded (no-one can verify where this is recorded) case of the son and father who both suffered because of one moment of craziness where one of them forgot themselves for a minute and accidently let a silent but deadly one slip. It happened in a village in the south of the country some years back during a shura that was taking place. Apparently toward the end of the proceedings the young son of the man, without thinking, let slip a small explosion of gas that he has been trying to hold in for the most of the meeting. The uproar that was caused from the resulting smell is the kind of thing that has been known to start wars and destroy communities. A second shura was called for the next day where the offence would be discussed and a suitable punishment decided upon. The father in his shame and embarrassment at what his young son had done sat himself down on the ground and immediately turned to stone adding fuel to the already burning feeling of anger that was rolling through the village. The boy was in trouble now. Not only had he shamed himself and his father in front of everyone but his father had turned to stone from that very same shame. There was no need for a second shura now and the son was banished from the village on the spot and told never to return. To give you an idea of how deep the fear of trapped gas goes over here the boy apparently returned to the village some year later, knowing that the Elders that banished him would of passed on by now and hoping that all would be forgiven and he would be allowed back into the community. He was met at the boundary of the village and stones were thrown at him until he left again and until his dying days he will be left to wander the desert by himself with the knowledge that his one little slip of wind caused this. If only he could of held on for a little bit longer.

With the story finished the other commander apologised as he broke wind and left the tent to go and talk to the lads about cultural awareness and the dangers of dropping one in the presence of locals which left me to sit there and contemplate what lessons could be learnt from this tale.

And that’s it in regards to the stories. There are many more and at some point I will write about them for you to read.

‘The Real World’. It’s a phrase that you can hear in almost any modern day war movie and see written down in some books that is in general spoken by a soldier in reference to anywhere outside of the warzone that is perceived as being a civilised place. The context in which it is used could be as follows: “When I get back to the real world…” or “I bet back in the real world they don’t have to put up with this shit…” I use the phrase myself as does just about everyone that I work with out here who is military or comes from a military background. It’s part of our language.

The thing is that despite using this word when in conversation with certain people to refer to my life back home in the UK I have come to realise with some certainty that somewhere along the line the ‘real world’ and this world have become confused for me and have traded places. When I am away from this place and back in your world I find myself feeling apprehensive, nervous, scared, on edge, hyper vigilant, un-able to relax and generally stressed. I am wound up tight, my spring is coiled and I am ready to launch and explode at any given moment. I accept that this is not how I should be feeling and that when back in this strange and foreign land that I no longer understand or fit into that if anything I should be feeling mainly the opposite. I am back there with my family and friends, people who love me and that I love back with more than equal measures and yet no matter how much I want to feel like I belong there I don’t. When my time comes close for me to be starting my journey back home for one of my leave slots I find myself becoming agitated, irate and start to struggle with my emotions. It’s almost like I am fearful of being back in the civilised world. The place has almost become alien to me and I wonder at times if this is because there is no real place for men like myself in your world and that somewhere on a subconscious level I realize this or maybe it is just because I am too damaged to feel anything but the above in the place where in reality I should feel at the very least my safest and most relaxed.

When I am back here, in this war, I still feel a lot of the before mentioned feelings but no-where near on the same scale. When here in my world they are just a quiet noise in the background of my life that are easy to control and stay on that manageable level unless I have need for them. They are natural feelings in this place and have their place in it. For reasons that are beyond me I feel relaxed here and even when in the most dangerous of situations I feel safe. I understand this place and it’s rules and it’s people better than I understand the ‘real world’. I can breathe when here and feel like I am in control of my own body and can function normally. I fit in in here and the thought of not being somewhere like this terrifies me. I will admit that it isn’t all plain sailing though when back in this home away from home and I think the reason for that is that I know that my ‘feelings’ are not how they should be and have become muddled along the line somewhere. Sometimes I will lock myself away in my room and only emerge for work or the gym as my head hurts and my thoughts cloud at the realization of what is or what has happened to me. I’ll sit here at my desk, upset and with feelings of despair for hours at a time as I try and think of ways to turn this around and to get myself back into your world. I may not be the most intelligent of men but I’m not stupid either and I know that this is not the way that things should be and I recognise the effect that this is having on myself and my life in general but I can’t see a way back. This is who I have become.

My wife told me the other day that she thought that I had become acclimatised to this lifestyle and this place and that I enjoyed being here more than I do at home. For certain I’m acclimatised to it but do I enjoy being here more than I enjoy being at home? I enjoy my job and have worked hard to get here but that doesn’t mean that I enjoy the route that it has taken me down. Of course I’d rather be at home with my wife and the rest of my family – I miss her and them. I want to be able to lead a normal life with her or at the very least be able to function like a normal human being when back there. I want to make her happy again. I want to be happy again. But I just don’t know how to be at the moment and need to find myself a compass that can get me back on track again before I become lost forever and can never get back there.

“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its stupidity.”

General Eisenhower

If I close my eyes and think back I can still remember the first time that I saw my wife. It was way back, almost 13 years ago that she walked into my life and me into hers. It has never been a relationship made in heaven and most definitely is no fairy tale. Like all relationships that last the test of time it has been an up and down thing, some would say even stormy at times. There was a period where we didn’t talk to each other and an even longer period where we were just friends and now here we are, still not perfect but happy, married and mapping out the rest of our lives together.

When I first laid eyes upon my future wife I was working behind the bar of what was then the newest and trendiest place to be seen on a night out in the small seaside resort that we live in. I was stood behind the bar that was located at the back of the building, probably cleaning or thinking about bringing some stock up for the fridges ready for the early evening rush to begin. At the front of the pub a few off duty staff were sat around one of the bay windows enjoying a few drinks before moving onto where ever the night led them. It was while I was stood there watching them and wishing that I could join them that I saw her: in she walked, my very own songbird. The sun that was coming through the bay windows made her shine and her long blonde hair glowed in the light that it produced. Even from where I was stood I could see her smile as she approached my colleagues and that smile blew me away. Her figure took my breath away and her eyes were the most amazing eyes that I had ever seen. Everything about her was perfect. Everything about her is perfect. I remember she turned to look at me and that look said it all as I tried not to drop the glass that I was holding from the embarrassment of being caught in the act of standing there, staring at her with my mouth open and a slightly dazed ‘I’m in love’ look about me while trying to look cool at the same time. It’s never a good look but at least I wasn’t drooling which is something I guess. And that was it as far as our first encounter went. Just after she caught me looking I was distracted by two other beautiful young ladies that had made their way to the bar intent on winning me over and getting me to part with my hard earned cash to buy them peanuts and drinks – but that’s a story for another day, one that can wait for now.

A few years after that, years that had bought us together and at one stage taken us away from each other there I was again, stood by myself, nervous and apprehensive at what was about to take place. A Beatles number was being played in the background by a fella with a guitar sat on a stool in the corner of the room. Behind me, seated in the pews, were some close family and friends who had travelled from near and far to be part of this day. My stomach was in knots and a sheen of sweat covered my hands as the doors at the back of the church opened and I turned to see my almost wife walk gracefully into the building. Every eye in the house was on her as she walked down the aisle towards me, our eyes locked together while the guitar continued it’s song in the background. Nothing could of prepared me for this – I didn’t believe that she could ever be more beautiful than what she already was – she was amazing, beautiful, stunning, elegant, everything that she already is and more. Here was my very own princess walking towards me with silent promises to make this commitment with me and of spending the rest of our days together. And there I was again, just like the first time that I ever laid eyes on her, standing there with my mouth slightly open and a ‘I’m in love’ look on my face. She reached me, we kissed, took each others hands and turned to face the Vicar so that she could start the ceremony. All knots had gone, my nervousness had disappeared and my apprehension had disappeared. This was our future and I couldn’t be happier.

So life carries on and almost four years later we are still married. Life hasn’t been easy and as we all know it never is. But what’s important is that we never give up on each other – marriage isn’t supposed to be easy, you always have to work at it because if you stop working at it that is when it stops. I never quite understand why my wife is with me or what it is that she see’s in me – she is kind, beautiful, intelligent, witty and sophisticated. I am a drinker, slightly scarred, a fighter at times, angry, have an odd sense of humour, no education and spend most of my time away from home. Our relationship kind of reminds me of the one that Princess Leia and Han Solo have in the StarWars films – the two characters come from totally different backgrounds,  have a lot not in common and at first you think that it shouldn’t work but as the films go on you realise that it should work and that they are perfect for each other. That’s how it is with us. Geeky I know.

Now the thing about these two memories that I have shared with you is this – as anyone who has read my previous Blogs will know I have a few issues that I am trying to work through, the main one being my Incredible Hulk impersonations that come out of me from time to time. A good friend of mine, a brother if you like, suggested to me recently that when I feel myself heading into that bad place and starting too lose control I need to try and picture in my head a memory that brings me nothing but joy and hang onto that thought almost as if my life depends on it. I need to use that thought to keep me from where I am heading and to hold me firm on the ground where I am now. The idea is that these thoughts, these amazing memories, will be strong enough to keep the darkness at bay. The two memories that I try to picture are the ones that I have mentioned above. The one of my wedding day is my happiest and has, just recently, worked as my friend said that it would. I think of it as being like my own personnel piece of the ‘force’ from the StarWars universe. That geekiness is showing through again.

My wife doesn’t read my blogs so she wont actually see this. But this is my way of saying thank you to her for all of her support and love that she has and continues to show me. She has no idea how many times over the years that she has saved me. I’m a lucky man. She is my rock.

“Love is like a flower, give it time and it will grow”

John Lennon.