Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Ex-British Special Forces Soldier Talks About His Experiences and His New Nonfiction Book

Guest post by author Theodore Knell:

My name is Theodore Knell. I am an ex-British Special Forces soldier who saw combat all over the world during my 22 years service in the military.

During my time I have served with, and met people from, all walks of life, from world leaders to subsistence farmers, some you wouldn’t follow in a bus queue or leave in charge of an empty pram. But there were others I would have willingly died for, and nearly did on more than one occasion.

It was suggested by my wife that I might benefit from writing about my experiences and feelings as a way of clearing my head, a sort of banishing my demons thing.

If only it were that easy.

The end result was a book entitled “From the Corners of a Wounded Mind” in which I have tried to honestly share my experiences. As such, all of the incidents portrayed within the book are true.

Some are so dark and painful that I often questioned whether I wanted to remain part of this thing they call the human race. Yes, in the really dark times I even considered that.

I have lost six of my closest friends to suicide (after they had left the service) to what can only be the prolonged exposure to combat and the resulting PTSD, and as such this is a subject I am very passionate about.

I also know how hard it can be for our wives and families. These enormously resilient individuals truly are the unsung heroes of the military world.

My wife and small son had to deal with me disappearing at the drop of a hat, sometimes for months on end, not knowing where I was or what I was doing, or even if I was coming back, never complaining and always supportive.

I remember going to work one morning, telling her I would see her at lunch time -- I returned six months later in a wheel chair. Her only comment was: "Your lunch is ruined."

I honestly believe that, if it weren't for her unflinching love and support, I would not be here today.

Along with helping me to address my own problems, the primary purpose of the book was to try to find a way to explain the reasons for my flashbacks, long silences, mood swings and nightmares to my wife without having to relive the pain and trauma of the events all over again.

Below are two excerpts taken from my book:

The first, “The Aftermath,” provides a short background to problems we soldiers face after the physical battles are over and the mental battles begin.

The second, the poem “Reflections,” illustrates how these problems can manifest themselves in everyday life once we have left the service.

The Aftermath

As soldiers we all carry scars; it’s an occupational hazard. Some of these scars will bring a smile to our face as we remember that night, the one where we were too drunk to stand, but still thought it would be a good idea to try and break the regimental assault course record while pissed and in the dark.

Then there are the other scars, those that will fill us with a strange sort of pride. The scars that will mark our right of passage, the ones earned on some distant battlefield. The same scars that over time will become so hard for us to look at or talk about, even to our loved ones, without having to remember the trauma and pain.

But the most damaging scars will be the scars that can’t be seen. The ones that become visible only to us when we are alone, in a troubled sleep, or in the darkness of night.

Such scars can have a devastating effect on both us and our families. It’s why we suffer the mood swings, the flash backs, the recurring nightmares and the enormous anger felt by so many of us even years after the event.

The feelings that, as soldiers, we learned to hide so well before the battle and then refuse to discuss with anybody, including our loved ones, in order to avoid having to relive the horror all over again.

I’ve heard people say: “Pull yourself together; it’s over now; you have to move on.”

These people have no idea what it’s like to be imprisoned in a deep sleep, a sleep you can’t wake up from no matter how hard you try, reliving every sound, smell and taste as you walk through a nightmare which you know will only ever end one way.

Finally waking, moody, angry and totally drained, or even worse, not wanting to go to bed and sleep, because you know what will come if you do.

As Special Forces soldiers we were actively discouraged from talking about our feelings and the personal effects of combat on our mental health. At the time even talking to a doctor could be perceived as some sort of personal weakness, a flaw in our makeup, one which may even result in being RTU’d (Returned To Unit) -- so you learned to keep quiet, bottle it up and crack on.


It’s just before the dawn;
they say it’s the darkest hour
and as I wander down these lonely streets
past houses with their curtains drawn,
I envy those warm and content inside
with their trimmed hedges and manicured lawns

The town center,
once a dark and empty place
slowly struggles back to life.
It’s where insomniacs and the tormented mingle unnoticed
amongst those just finishing
or starting their day

At the end of the precinct stands a Starbucks
its yellow lights flickering
like a welcoming beacon amongst the dark and empty stores.
Once inside I grab at my coffee
like a junkie with a long needed fix I’ll head for a corner,
any corner,
as long as I can get my back to the wall
and still see the door

Across the aisle sits a stranger
hunched over a large black coffee,
elbows on table
head bowed
pulling quietly at his unkempt hair,
he has those same smoky eyes
and that thousand meter stare.

There’s nothing on earth that can open up old wounds

like a mirror

Copyright © Theodore Knell 2010

Learn more about Theodore Knell and get his paperback book on Amazon or the Kindle version.

And for information on PTSD and its symptoms, see www.insupportofourtroops.com/ptsd-info/

March 22nd tweet from @VeteranJournal: Suicide hotline available for deployed soldiers: http://ht.ly/4jJve

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