Ron's Story: Therapy Helps
For 38 years, Ron kept his Vietnam memories to himself. When stress brought on flashbacks, he dealt with them by drinking them away.
"I didn't realize I had a problem," he said. "I run a very successful program with a great staff. I considered it recreational drinking, but really I was self-medicating."
But on one blazing summer day he couldn't get the flashbacks to go away, no matter how much he drank. He kept drinking, and he passed out.
When he came to, he knew it was finally time to get help.
Ron went through an alcohol treatment program. That led to counseling for PTSD and treatment to help him think about his memories in a different way.
He believes it helped him finally talk about what happened in Vietnam. First he told a psychiatrist. Then he told his wife.
He told them about one assignment behind enemy lines.
In Vietnam, Ron was an aircraft mechanic. Because he knew how planes fit together, he was sent once to pull bodies out of a C-47 that had crashed into the side of a mountain.
While soldiers guarded the crash site against attack by the Vietcong, Ron crawled into the wreckage. For 2 or 3 days, he pulled out pieces of bodies and put them in body bags.
The smell, the sounds, and the images are what he relives in his flashbacks. He figures he's never been able to talk about it because he couldn't describe the horror.
He always thought that only combat soldiers got PTSD.
"I thought it happened to guys who were in battle, guys who saw action," he said. "I always felt like I should get a grip, it was just one assignment. I felt like a wimp."
Even when he was diagnosed with PTSD, he denied it. "I said it's not PTSD. I'm just having trouble with a memory."
"I spent a lifetime trying to avoid admitting it was bothering me," he said.
Ron's therapy is working on changing his thought patterns. The desire to drink is gone, he said.
"I thought I was being brave by ignoring it. But I was really being brave by facing up to it."
Ron's story reflects his experiences as told in an interview. The photograph is not of Ron, to protect his privacy.
Current as of: January 31, 2020
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Jessica Hamblen, PhD, MA, NIMH - Psychology, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder