When the Nightmares Don’t End

By John Toth

After I returned home from Iraq, I had the same dream night after night.

In my dream, my detachment is on a mission to an Iraqi village and somehow I get left behind. I lose my weapon. My body armor and helmet disappear. I’ve lost all my security. I’m defenseless.

Through a doorway or through a crack in the shutters I see the bad guys closing in. I know they’re going to find me. I know what they’re going to do to me once they do.

But I always woke up before they catch me. My sheets would be soaked in sweat. My wife would be sleeping quietly beside me. I’d think a while, and slip back to sleep.

Not bad.

After about six months, that dream started to fade. The stress of a year in Iraq slowly left my body. I still have that dream, once in a while. But now, it’s more like a memory of a bad time. Not like I’m living it in the moment.

I have a friend who is a World War II veteran and fought in the Philippines with the First Cavalry Division. He experienced horrible things. He’d wake up at night hitting his wife, defending himself from an unseen enemy some 50 years later. She is a saint. He’s a hero to me.

I’m still reminded of my tour in Iraq. A sound. A smell. An image that takes me quickly back. Reminds me of painful memories I keep locked away — things I saw, people we lost and events for which I feel responsible. But for me, it’s manageable.

For me, PTS never reached the level of being a disorder. I woke up, lay awake for a while and slowly fell back to sleep. I was never tormented twice in the same night. It never severely disrupted my life.

Others aren’t so lucky.

While it’s hard for people to truly understand what veterans go through, we can all still be aware of those struggles. It’s a critical time for us to open our minds and hearts as thousands of veterans step back on American soil carrying burdens they didn’t have when they left.

No Barriers is proud to be the featured non-profit during the screening of the film “Of Men and War” at the Boulder International Film Festival. The film chronicles the lives of men and women who’ve known nightmares that come while they’re awake.

Join us at the First Presbyterian Church in Boulder, Colo., on March 8. We encourage everyone to attend. Bring a veteran friend you think may need a little help, or simply learn about what millions of men and women face.

After the movie, stick around for a panel discussion featuring veterans who’ve surmounted barriers in their lives and providers who’ve helped them.

Veterans can’t heal in a vacuum. It takes a community educated to the struggles they face.

There may be a day when all veterans can rest easy at night, but it won’t happen without your support.