How Could He Have Known…?

butters12 (1)It’s 2:53 a.m. and I’m wide awake…with so much on my mind. I step outside to smoke, clear my head, and Butters, my yellow Lab, follows me outside. I can’t explain it, but he knows when I’m upset or pensive…with something on my mind.

Post traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, is one helluva thing. Tonight, I was awakened by a message sent to me by a dear friend. The iPhone alert was enough to nudge me from my slumber. Slumber, I might add, which was riddled by yet another horrible nightmare; a rather vivid mental retelling of horrible sights, smells and happenings from battlefields far, far away.

Sadly, this nightmare is not solely a dream. Rather it is a transcript, a verbatim reliving of things many will only ever read about in books, or observe from the comfort of their own couch.

262073_10151333169257216_1123282382_nI’ve struggled for over 7 years with this insomnia, broken up by intermittent bouts of naps, sprinkled with the nightly reliving of loss, pain, heartache and conflict.

Sometimes I say I’ve grown accustomed to it. Other times I stop lying to myself and admit that it never gets any easier, nor does it simply fade away with time. Not in 7 years, at least.

My team of medical professionals has tried a wide range of medications which usually only leave me feeling dazed, confused and as though I’m walking in a fog. This doesn’t work for a guy like me with a zeal for life and helping and loving others. So I stopped the regimen of drugs. It is a never-ending cycle of pharmaceutical musical chairs. Indeed, it often feels like a cruel joke is being played on me. Sadly, it is no joke, but is the life which I now lead. It is a life lived by so many combat Veterans.

romanRegardless of the landscape and geography, Veterans spanning decades of conflicts march to the beat of this same drum, nightly.

Last year, I wrote a blog post titled, “Annoying Pets & Their Owners.” In it, I described a variety of types of pet owners, irritating traits, aggravating animals, etc.

You were annoying; your pet was annoying.

I had a secretly-held disdain for you both.

I never understood those of you who posted pictures of your animals, who loved on and kissed a dog, allowed him to kiss and lick you. I never appreciated a pup who met you at the door after a long and challenging work day, or who you took with you to every event. Where you found solace with your pet, I found germs, inconvenience and hair. LOTS of hair.

I met someone shortly after moving to Texas. A lot happened. Some positive; some negative. Nevertheless it happened, and it happened to me.

1620602_10152249314422216_1769294649_nShe had a beautiful yellow Lab named Butters.

Many of you have seen me posting pics with this big hunk of beautiful fur. Well, that’s how it happened. Through heart-breaking loss, Butters and I found each other. I remember the very first night that we bonded and truly connected.

She was gone, and Butters and I both had only one thing: each other.

I had never let a dog really sit beside me, much less sleep with me. But as I sat on the edge of my bed, broken, Butters silently walked over to me, sat back on his haunches and nudged my hand with his nose.

He saw the pain, heard the heartache and knew that I needed him, even when I didn’t know I needed him.

Later that night, as I lay down with the glow of the television dancing across the walls, Butters lay down on the floor bedside me. Every time I sighed, moved, stretched or turned … he was right there nudging me, letting me know that he was there for me.

1653797_10152250010072216_1612619116_nThe irony is that if I hadn’t been there, Butters himself would have had no one.

He needed me.

And yet, there he was, caring for me without any expectation of love in return.

He cared for me.

He saw my pain.

He wanted to help me, to comfort me.

I wept, deeply touched at the realization that this dog cared for me. Butters got it.

Even most of my family doesn’t “get” PTSD. It has severely crippled relationships with my entire family, relationships which were already strained. They never really tried to connect with me, nor have we ever even had much of a conversation about it. For over 7 years, now.

I put on a happy face most of the time. I try not to share the struggles and heartaches which I experience in my day-to-day life publicly.

You don’t want to hear that I haven’t had a full, restful night of sleep since that Blackhawk helicopter carried me away from that mountainside in the Korangal Valley, deep in the Hindu-Kush mountains, nearly 8 years ago.

You don’t want to hear that the reason I hate driving so much is because every single stray item on the side of the road resembles an improvised explosive device.

530892_10151333122412216_439185088_nYou don’t want to hear that in a crowd I can never relax and enjoy myself because I’m waiting for someone to pull out a weapon and begin to hurt others. So, I constantly scan the crowd for that threat.

You don’t want to read about the daily struggle that I have with simply swallowing all of the pills prescribed to me by some doctor who says he understands my struggles because he’s treated many, many Veterans…and yet, he doesn’t, because he never wore a pair of combat boots and he never had to kill in order to survive.

You don’t want to read that I’m scared to fall in love because I’m terrified that I’ll have no control over what comes out of my mouth and inadvertently I might hurt that special someone for whom I care so very much.

You don’t want to hear that I’ve been terrified of owning a dog because I was afraid that he’d do something like accidentally poop or pee in the house and I’d lose it and be incapable of providing the loving home which he so richly deserved.

You don’t want to read that I have such a tender heart that I retreat and withdraw because I’m overwhelmingly afraid of attracting someone who will only be hurt by me.

Even now, while sitting on my patio at 3:50 a.m., most of me cannot believe that I’m actually considering publishing this post. PTSD is embarrassing. Most of you don’t, and never will understand it. Some of you will try to do so because of a close friend or relative whose love and friendship you cherish. It is heart-wrenching, to say the least. For those of you who do try to understand, please let me say that you will never know precisely how much that will mean to your Veteran … even if we are unable to say or show it.1503972_10152143974452216_335129894_n

That night, as I lay there unable to sleep, consumed by my thoughts, Butters nudged me again, seemingly unwilling to allow me to lay there in fear, heartache and misery. Then suddenly, for once in my life, I just wanted that warm fur ball next to me. So I patted the bed and without a moment’s hesitation, he tossed his 115 pounds of cuddly love beside me. Since that night, he’s pretty much never left my side.

We completed a training regimen for PTSD service dogs and handlers together through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Butters has been a God-send. He often goes with me to work, even.

We grocery shop together.

We travel together.

We run together.

We laugh together.

We cry together.

We swim together.

We read together.

We play instruments and sing together.

And, since I’m a chef, we cook (and eat) together.

Now, apparently we blog and write together.

butters67As I type this, Butters is laying at my feet, doing that annoying thing where he licks his paws, and all you can hear it his tongue making this weird noise. And I can’t help do anything but smile. Nights like these, where the dreams are just a little too real, the flames burn just a little too hot, the gunfire pops just a little too loud, and the screams echo just a little too frequently…he knows.

How could he have known the pain which I felt?

How can he know that I need him to be exactly where he is at this very moment, licking those damned paws?

I don’t know, nor do I know why. What I do know is that I’m a proud pet owner, and completely in love with a yellow Lab.

Go ahead. Call me a hypocrite. That’s okay, because I am one. But the other thing that I am is man enough to admit that I was wrong. And, I’m man enough to eat my words every time I buy a new squeaky yellow ball to throw and play fetch with JoeJoe for hours on end.

Chances are, I still probably find you – and your pet – incredibly annoying. But now it isn’t because I hate animals; it’s simply because I have the best dog in the whole, wide world.

Lastly, I’ll say this: God sent Butters to me, because HE knew that this big ole pile of fur and happiness would give me the love that I needed.

That, my friends, is absolutely a blessing. One which I don’t think I’ll ever be able to repay.

For now, I’m just loving me some Butters.

The funny thing is Butters wasn’t a “rescue,” I was, because he rescued me.

Editor’s note: the original, unabridged version of this post can be found on Roman’s blog.

butters1234Roman Coley Davis is a disabled combat veteran who medically retired from the Army following a lengthy deployment to Afghanistan, where he served as a human intelligence collector/interrogator and linguist, in the Korangal Valley, made infamous by the National Geographic documentary entitled “Restrepo.”

After his retirement, Roman followed another passion by graduating from Le Cordon Bleu. Now a skinny, Southern chef, Chef Roman is a National Chef Advocate and Blogger for Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign, and serves on the national Social Council for No Kid Hungry, a campaign that aims to end child hunger in the U.S.

He is also an advocate for disabled combat veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, through his support of and advocacy for the U.S. Special Forces Association, The Fisher House, and the Military Order of the Purple Heart.

In his private time, Roman can be found somewhere near Houston, Texas, eating, fishing, flirting, traveling, and blogging about the “shenanigans” of his life…and playing fetch with a Yellow Lab named Butters, his PTS Service Companion!

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26 Comments to “How Could He Have Known…?”

  1. Alan Biesenkamp says:

    You’re not alone. I suggest you get with some Viet Nam vets and share your feelings, nightmares etc. We went through this,too.

  2. alan says:

    I know how you feel brother, I have a 150 pound black lab, named Rick.
    Rick was give to me from Vetdogs in NY. I don’t know what I would have done without him, we have been together for 7 year he is the best, all the love you could ever ask for, and ask for nothing in return.
    Alan

  3. ruth says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this. :) Cheers to you!

  4. Debbie Zamora says:

    My husband and I both have “rescue” dogs that understand us better than any human ever will. Butters was truly meant just for you. As a VA nurse, I care for our Veterans with all of my heart, but know that I can never know what terrorizes them at night. I hope that with time the nightmares will fade; although I know they will never go away completely. Thank you for your service in the military and your continued service through charitable organizations. By the way, not only are you a great chef, you are an incredible writer – thank you so much for sharing your story with us! I always say that I believe EVERY Veteran should have a service dog of his own! God bless both you and Butters!

  5. Nice piece about you and your companion.My friend Dennis is a combat vet of Vietnam.He has a full blooded German Shepard.Be Good

  6. Kathy Medel says:

    First, Roman, thank you not only for your service but for your courage in being open about this issue. And while I have the 3 second best dogs in the world I’m glad you have the best. I am a dog trainer and I hope to be able to provide dogs like Butters to others who need them.

  7. Michael Best says:

    I too am a DAV, and I understand your words all too well, My blessing stared when I brought home an eight pound ball of fur, 6 years and 94 pounds later I have a miracle that helped take me off a lot of the prescribed meds and given me back a somewhat normal life. Sam is truly a blessing to me, and your words ring so true, he knows when its been a bad night, he knows when were in a place we don’t need to be at, and I don’t question it I’m just thankful for it.

  8. Denise W says:

    Thank you for your service, and your sacrifice.
    I have non combat PTSD. I lived my own nightmare for years, until a 6 week, five pound puppy wormed her way into this cat lover’s heart. Sweet Pea became my service dog, and she is nearing 8 years old. It’s incredible how she knows when to wake me from a nightmare or flashback, or ground me in reality.
    You, Sir, have an incredible partner. Butters will always have your six, and you can rest easier knowing that fact.
    Anyone that doesn’t think God has a sense of humor doesn’t know him well.

  9. Marna says:

    I can’t imagine the hell you have lived through.

    What I can say is that my hell, though different, still has me waking up screaming some nights, 20 years later. When I do, there’s an 8-pound ball of fluff who quietly climbs on my chest and licks my face until I can go back to sleep. She is so in tune with me that she can give me up to 20 minutes’ notice before a partial complex seizure takes me out of my body. She stays with me, no matter, how frightening things may be, and she makes sure I can find my way back to myself after.

    You are not alone.

  10. Lawrence says:

    I suffer from PTSD and TBI , ALSO I SUFFER FROM SEVERE IMSONIA IM AWAKE 2-3 days straight and I have meds to help me sleep but it DOSNT work , I would like some imput from you viewers where and how can start to get a service dog …thanks..

  11. Leigh says:

    Thank you for writing so honestly, I know this will help others who are considering taking this step but have similar fears to yours; hearing how well its worked out can inspire them to reach for this special type of healing.

  12. andy thomson says:

    Thank you for your service.
    I too am a combat Vietnam vet dealing with PTSD.
    I also had a yellow lab, name Hunter who recently passed away, he was my best friend
    And I miss him everyday.
    Your pictures reminded me of the close moments Hunter and I had.
    I had to laugh about the paw licking, Hunter also would annoy me with his paw licking.
    It must be a yellow lab trait.
    What I would give for Hunter to be sitting beside me licking his paws.

  13. Liz says:

    While I was reading this I imagined my husband would be writing the exact same thing. He too suffers from PTSD and his life saver is a Blue Heeler called Whisky. Thank you for sharing your blog I really enjoyed it and have shared it as I am a big supporter of dogs for diggers (Aussie veterans!!) for all who have served and need that constant companion to let them know they are needed :) thank you

  14. Shirley Bristow, MSN, RN says:

    Awesome. Although I’m not a combat veteran, I was blessed to serve & care for freshly wounded ampute?es during Viet Nam. Now, so many years later, I have the privilege of caring for veterans in assisted living facilities and in home healthcare. I love my vets and advocate for them as much as I can. Your story & Butters story blend together as if it was meant to be that way. I’m a bit of a dog magnet. Dogs are the most unconditional love on the planet. Ever notice that dog is God spelled backwards? I live in the Houston area, too & hope to find you cooking when I go out to eat someday. Bless you & Butters.

  15. Jules says:

    One of the most heart felt stories I’ve read. I was truly moved. I also have two labs, very much like you’re own. I love them so much. I wish you both all the best. :)

  16. Robin Boltz says:

    The words which struck me as most poignant in this essay are “PTSD is embarrassing.” I look forward to a time when we laugh about mental health prejudices as old fashioned and ignorant.

    I too have counted on animals, primarily dogs, as companions and comfort all my life. I frequently witness what Roman illustrates for us – my dogs also summon me – annoyingly so – to check on my husband, another dog, or our grand kids. I believe their human insight is unsurpassed by most humans and other animals.

  17. Malinda says:

    Thank you so much for sharing. I know so little about PTSD, but your blog enlightened me and I will follow up with more research. Thanks again and God bless you and Butters.

  18. Diane says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story! I truly believe in the therapeutic value of dogs, as well. I am so glad that Butters is in your life – and that you recognize that he was sent to you from God. God is always with you, even when you feel alone. I wish you luck throughout your journey of healing. Keep hopeful, even in the difficult times! I’m sure Butters will help make it easier!

  19. Cilla says:

    Thank you for your story and your service. As a Mom of a vet with PTSD among a cadre of other mental ills, I hear your story clearly. I know I can never “understand” or “know” what she is going through. All I can do is be another Butters. Be there with unconditional love and comfort when she needs or wants me there. She starts training with her service dog in less than a week. I am excited and she is excited. She lost her pet of more than 8 years recently and feels the hole created by Mocha’s death severely. Hopefully her new companion will help her, never fill Mocha’s shoes…but help her.

    Those of us with friends and family who suffer from this debilitating illness, just need to remember to be constant, to be loving, to give space when needed and to give comfort when asked for it. Never judge and never even attempt to think you “understand”. Just love…unconditionally…forever. Best of everything to you, Roman and Butters!! And I LOVE your socks and shoes!!! xoxoxo

  20. Coleby says:

    First, I’d like to thank you for your service sir. The sacrifices our veterans have made for us have left a debt upon the American people that we can never hope to repay. Second, I’d like to thank you for writing so openly about your experiences with PTSD. I’m also glad you and Butters found each other. When the going gets tough, it’s nice to have a companion to help you without asking for anything in return. Stay safe, and love life sir. Thank you again for your service.

  21. Sarah says:

    I feel ya there battle. My best friends name is snuggles he is 110lb lab who has in every way saved my life!

  22. Art Spurr says:

    I also have suffered from PTSD since my tour in Vietnam 1969-1970, but my way of coping was to through myself into my work and by wearing the uniform of the United States Navy. When I retired after 26 years active service I went to work teaching NJROTC. This kept me wearing the uniform and again I through myself into my work. This cost me my first family and almost my second. After 16 years of teaching I retired and then the PTSD hit me like a lead balloon. I also went to the VA and found no help. But I found what I needed in two places. The first was my 130lb German Shepard named Hunter. He also became my PTSD service dog. He always gave 100% of his love and attention, which I sometimes could not return. We had to put him down on February 10th because of cancer of the spleen, which was not detected in this very happy friend until it ruptured and within three hours he was gone. We are getting another dog tomorrow, and my hope and prayer is that he will provide the same comfort as Hunter. The second thing that has truly helped me was Point Man International Ministries. This is a faith based ministry of vets helping vets. I have started Point Man Ministries Union County Outpost and it is a safe place to share or open up with others that have had the same dreams and nightmares, or other problems caused by PTSD or TIB. We have developed relationships with one another and not only to share but also to become the one to call in the middle of the night. Vets talking to Vets that have gone through some horrendous experiences helps with PTSD. I have also opened this Outpost to Law Enforcement, Firefighters and EMT’s because they suffer the same PTSD due to facing those same things we faced, but they do it every day.
    I pray that all of my fellow veterans find a way to get the help that is needed. Get an animal that love you unconditionally and check out Point Man International Ministries: http://www.pmim.org to find an outpost near you.
    Thank you all for your service to the United States of America.

  23. Bri says:

    All of our service men and women deserve respect and fair treatment. Unfortunately, their companion is sometimes the only one to give them what they deserve. My mom runs an animal rescue, and works with K9s for Warriors. They are a great group, doing a great service for service men and women suffering from PTSD.
    http://www.k9sforwarriors.org/

  24. Matt M. says:

    Good post brother.

  25. Tawana Dunn says:

    First and foremost, I want to thank you for your service to our Country and to my freedom. I, as a civilian cannot even imagine the pictures in your mind. My husband also struggles with PTSD and as his wife I wish I could take it away. I can’t though, so I try to offer him all the support I can by just being there for him. I have witnessed through my husband the miracle of how an animal helping him with his internal pain. God Bless to you and Butters for posting this blog. It has truly helped me has the civilian to have a different insight to a condition that has robbed many of our Veterans of a peaceful life.