Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

I Tie Flies in My Sleep: An Autoethnographic Examination of Recreation and Reintegration for a Veteran with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

I Tie Flies in My Sleep: An Autoethnographic Examination of Recreation and Reintegration for a Veteran with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Article excerpt

Once I returned from Iraq, I spoke at various schools about my year in combat. Everywhere 1 went, someone asked "What was it like?" 1 struggled to answer this question each time; I often oversimplified by saying, "It was hot!" Believe me, it went way past hot! War is so dissimilar to what may be considered normal, it is almost beyond explanation. This autoethnography is my attempt to explain. I invite you, the reader, to "come close and experience this world for yourself" (Tillman-Healy, 1996).

This autoethnographic narrative is told through a collection of stories representing three interconnected themes in my life with PTSD. Each theme contains three parts: a wartime traumatic experience (or possible impetus for future symptoms), a related post-war traumatic interaction with a family member (the expression of symptoms following the war), and a leisure experience that helped minimize the impact of symptoms in my life (expressed as personal leisure, leisure ritual and family leisure). Although there were many traumatic experiences to choose from, only a small portion can be recounted here, as this autoethnography is not intended to be an exhaustive retelling of all my traumatic experiences.

This narrative offers lessons that may provoke potential conversations concerning the use of leisure in treating PTSD among combat veterans; however, my observations are not intended to question advice provided by medical professionals, nor are they intended to make positivist claims concerning leisure that can be generalized to all sufferers of combat-related PTSD. I do not claim to be an "expert" on PTSD; however, I offer an alternative view of the disorder that many professionals cannot. My story recounts what living with PTSD feels like through the lens of my personal recovery journey. I embraced both individual leisure and family leisure rituals, as a means of improving health, quality of life, and reducing symptoms of PTSD. In telling this story, I accept the emotional and professional risk associated with sharing the darkest and most painful secrets of my life. I expose my vulnerable self (Ellis, 1999) by revealing the complexities of my trauma and hope to encourage open dialogue regarding alternate viewpoints of this condition and its treatment by means of leisure.


I sought to gain some control over my PTSD symptoms. I believed the more I knew about my condition, the less fearful I would be. I devoured academic articles, books, and popular media about both the characteristics of PTSD and the events that could cause it (e.g., Demers, 2009; Evans, McHugh, Hopwood, & Watt, 2003; Feczer & Bjorklund, 2009; Guerra & Calhoun, 2011; Ciaglo, 2013). While I studied PTSD, I felt many of these authors were describing my life exactly. I found myself thinking

These articles and books describe an illness that is typified by persistent re-experiencing of trauma. Check. They describe a condition characterized by avoidance or reminders of trauma through isolation. Check. They describe an illness where sufferers demonstrate a high level of anxiety, psychological arousal, and emotional numbing. Check, check, and check. They describe an illness where sufferers' abuse substances, exhibit suicidal ideations, engage in domestic abuse, thrill seeking, and antisocial behavior. Check all of the above.

The more I learned about PTSD, the more I felt as though I were staring at myself in the mirror.

Episode 1: Flrefight on the Freeway

Near the end of 2004, my company was transferred to southeast Iraq. Due to increased daytime attacks against American troops, higher command mandated all convoys be conducted at night under strict black-out conditions (i.e., using no running lights, only infrared markers, and night vision goggles [NVGs]).

Our company was large enough to provide our own required convoy security. This meant that the first and last vehicle in each convoy were designated "gun trucks" and were fitted with either a semiautomatic grenade launcher or fully automatic, belt-fed, machine guns. …

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