Naval Air Crash PTSD
PTSDebriefing.org -:- Case Narrative: Naval Air Crash PTSD
Copyright © 2013 ASC/ Articulate Management, ntc.
Narrative by Allen Hacker
On Sunday, February 11, 1968, a U.S. Navy training aircraft crashed into the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Both officers aboard were killed instantly, and most of the wreck fell into the water.
The next morning, among the many personnel present, was a young sailor who was standing watch when the wreck was recovered. What he saw at the moment the tangled heap broke the surface ended his life as suddenly as the previous evening's impact had ended the lives of the crumpled T2V SeaStar's pilots.
No, he did not actually die. What happened was much worse. Life as he knew it, and his own life as he had experienced it up to that point, ended.
The young sailor went on to complete a career in the Navy, and then another in business. One might say that life went on. He got married, had a family, owned a nice home, his wife and children loved him, and he was considered successful by all who knew him.
In the early 1990s he ended up across a desk from me at my business consulting firm. He had signed up for some general business process and goals clarification because he was dissatisfied with his business. He did not feel the satisfaction of accomplishment that he thought he should long since have achieved. He wondered if he was missing something, some unnoticed thing that would make all the difference in reaching that final goal, of feeling truly successful. Of feeling professionally fulfilled. He was worried he might be in late-life crisis.
My consulting is done by asking questions. I don't tell people my theories, or what I might guess is going on with them. I use the Socratic Method to pull their own reality out from the unseen dark, from behind the places where their beliefs, expectations, misunderstandings and confusions hide their truth. Before too long it became apparent to me that this man did not have a business problem. He was doing well, making above average money for his industry, and had no public relations or personnel difficulties.
Yet as his story unfolded I had noticed an almost-spoken but unrealized subtext. Although he was telling me about a life that was much better than most, something was not right in his experience of it. I decided it might be a better idea to look at him rather than his business.
So I asked him a few questions about some things he had said about how he usually felt about his business.
Then I asked him whether any of those things applied to how he felt about other areas of his life. As we rolled the parts of his life around in this new light, he realized that it seemed he had never been happy. Not about anything. That he had just gone along to get along, doing the things he was expected to do.
Of course, he had been raised with a strong and moral work ethic, so he did everything as well as he could, and was rewarded well. In the Navy, his promotions had come on schedule or sooner. In life, he met and married a wonderful woman, and they raised a secure family. In business, he did well and made more money than he needed to make everything good by everyone's standards.
Yet there was no joy. No excitement. No fulfilment. Nowhere. His inner life was secretly bleak.
I then offered him a completely different type of consulting service. A service I had developed to help people work their way through and beyond major upsets in life. I told him that it did have a high success rate in guiding people to discover the hidden elements that had become sliced into their everyday thinking as a result of unfortunate things that had happened in their lives. I explained that he did not need to know about any particular suspicious incident to give it a try, and I asked him if he was game. He was.
I then told him that it would be very important for him to tell me exactly and everything that came to mind as we worked through the procedure. He said he could do that. He asked me to go for it.
I did, and so did he. And before too long, in his mind's eye, he was standing on that barge again, watching that wrecked airplane come out of the water. And re-experiencing that moment's terrible lesson that everything he knew about life as a youth was wrong. In a moment of shock so powerful, so overwhelming and so unacceptable that he had never even once thought about it since, he lost all his illusions. His sense of youthful immortality, and his beliefs in the goodness of existence -- vaporized into an unnoticed void.
In that moment of horror, he had lost himself. And from that moment forward, never noticing that anything had ever been different, he proceeded through life an empty fragile shell.
We then worked our way through an intricately structured examination of the factors and content of the offending moment, and an analysis of the several relevant facets of a person's inner world.
At the end of the day he was alive again. Through smiles and tears he told me how wonderful his life, his wife, and his children were; how great his friends were; how incredible some of the things he had seen in far-off lands and right here in the USA are. And how his business was the rock in his life upon which all his success and pride in himself lived.
But the best was yet to come, in two parts. The first was just a moment later, when he looked at me as though I were a cobra poised to strike, and told me that he had just felt a huge sense of self well up within him and that he felt so huge and blessed that he could not even begin to think of the words for it.
The proof for me was when he came in the following week for what would be his final visit. He told me that he wasn't even sure why he had come to me in the first place, but he did know that his life was wonderful, that he had a strong urge to tell me how fulfilled he felt, and that his family and friends would not stop asking him what had happened to make him seem so different. Different in a good way: calmer, happier, warmer, more outgoing... different.
I followed up with him after a few months. Of course he remembered me, but he wasn't sure why I was asking about some of the things I was checking on. Life B had slipped so far way, and he was so deeply back into Life A, that he just didn't recall how things had been for so many years. The emptiness, the fatalism, all of it, was just gone as though it had never been. And his life was good.
"Whatever you did," he told me, "and I'm sorry but I have no idea what it was ... it must have worked, because there is nothing wrong with anything in my life!"