From darkness to light - A soldier's story

Phillip Davidson returned from Vietnam with post-traumatic stress disorder but eventually found healing in God. He is author of the book, Dreamer, which deals with PTSD, and tours to tell others about the transformation that can with God's help. He speaks here about his own experience with PTSD.

Published 15 January 2014  |  

When I landed in Saigon in 1972 I thought I knew about the dangers that were ahead. After all, I knew it was a desperate place. Fighting and dying had been going on long before I arrived there. As an infantry officer, a captain, I had been well trained. I could set ambushes, call in air strikes and shoot my way out of a gun-fight with the best of them. I had also hardened myself against my subordinates, and intellectualised that taking casualties was for the most part unavoidable. I also accepted that I might be killed or wounded, though I had made my mind up that I would never be captured. That was what my hand gun was for. But what I had not foreseen nor planned for was the 'darkness'.

I had just snuck into my hideout from a night ambush mission when I received a secure radio call from my Six from his lair near the Mekong to be ready to be extracted in two hours. Two hours. As the chopper lifted off leaving my little team waiving to me I expected to be back after receiving another one of 'those' missions. Instead I was put on a plane and sent home. Arriving in America a couple of days later I was a man from space. Seventy-two hours earlier I had been in a fire fight. Now I was picking ghostly insects from my meal at home. Two weeks later I was a ski instructor for the Northern Warfare School in Alaska.

It was there during those cold clear nights that I began experiencing the 'dreams.' They came at night, like an ambush team, while I was weak and vulnerable, while my ego was resting. Images of the jungle, the people I knew, the things I had done. And after a while, I began to have waking dreams. Yes, the 'thousand-yard stare'. While I was driving, while I was talking, while I was eating, while... I fought the dreams with things I don't want to write about. I left the Army. But the dreams never left.

They accompanied me while I was driving in my patrol car after I had become a police officer. They took the place of script as I studied my law books. When I would walk down the street a car backfiring or some loud noise would invoke an embarrassing response from me wherever I was and with whomever I was with. I trusted no one and everyone and everything was out to get me. I even joined the National Guard to be able to act out my subconscious desires. I was at a point that I was at the end of myself. I couldn't form personal relationships and felt alienated from everyone and the society I was in. The darkness had taken me. I was alone. And suicidal. I had no family left to fall back on and the institutions I had made myself a part of were not set up for understanding the human condition of their employees.

As a small boy I had been a member of a church, a small group that met in the basement of a larger house. One of the deacons was leaving, a plain man with a friendly smile and solid voice, he gave the children - there were three of us - Bibles as parting gifts. That was when I was twelve. I still had the Bible. My grandmother had kept it for me and when I left home after joining the police force she handed it to me. She didn't say anything but she knew.

One night for some reason, to this day I cannot tell you why, I thumbed through it. My eye was caught by the story of David. I read it. And in my mind his story was similar to mine. Over the days I formed a bond with David. If God loved a man like David, a man that he said was of his own heart, then there was a chance for me. After a while, when the darkness came, David drew his sword of light and cut it away. David had put himself to the task of being God's servant. He didn't run from evil, he faced it. I decided to find out what the darkness was. I read everything I could about what I was experiencing. And I found out it had a name - delayed stress syndrome.

I took a real hard look at myself in the light of day and I realised that I had been saved from death and disaster so many times by God. If God wanted me to survive then my life was worth something. The darkness would not win the battle for my soul. Each time I felt myself losing control I remembered that I was not alone. Like David, I could use the armour of God to defeat what threatened me. That is a point of healing for anyone suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Your life has value to God and he will help you to fight your darkness. God is a warrior and he knows how to win battles. He will help you to cope.

Once I focused my life away from my problems I began to see that many of my fellow police officers were showing symptoms of the darkness. I was now an instructor at the police academy and had recently received a Master's Degree in clinical psychology. I began teaching officers how to cope with the darkness, now labelled post traumatic stress disorder. Thus began my journey of teaching others to defeat this malady.

In 1982 I was appointed to President Reagan's Vietnam Veterans advisory committee, where I centred on PTSD. In the years to come I knew that I wanted to write about PTSD and what it had done to so many soldiers. But I also wanted to write about what had happened to me, not my experiences but my being saved from the darkness by what I know was God's grace. Some would call it redemption.

But how would I do this? I wrote Dreamer. Dreamer is novel about redemption. But not redemption in the classical sense that has been written about many times. How would God redeem warriors? Warriors who had been sentenced to live in the darkness for questionable conduct. God would come to them as a warrior. I knew that this concept might be foreign and perhaps offensive to many religious readers. But I felt it was a story that I had to tell.

My central character is a man named David. I patterned him from the Bible's David. And like King David, Dreamer's David was a failed human being. David and his team were called upon to carry out Phoenix missions in Vietnam and all had left the service in disgrace. Years later God comes to them and brings them together to accomplish an impossible task that will redeem them and let them stand in the light of men once more.

I used as a background for the novel's action, the Falklands War. I'm not sure if there has been any fiction written about the Falklands War. Dreamer is gritty. There is rough language, scenes of violence, but also tales of bravery and sacrifice. I wanted to take the Christian and other religious readers to a real world, a world where evil lives and to show how it can be defeated. Christ never flinched from entering places of evil men and danger. I hoped the Christian reader would find Dreamer a little dangerous but worth saving. Because Dreamer's David's dreams were not a product of PTSD but rather messages from God. Those messages brought him from darkness to light. God's power will lead you into the light.

Phillip Davidson is now a practising attorney in Nashville, Tennessee.  His book, Dreamer, is available to purchase here

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