Vietnam: My Life After

By Dan Rihn

At the age of sixty-seven, I’ve been fortunate to have lived what, by most definitions, is considered a pretty good life, even though I’ve been tormented from the inside for most of it. I do know that I am not who I started out to be as a young person. The innocence is lost, the line between right and wrong became blurred (what a load of crap – the line was totally ignored), although in these later years that line has once again been defined. Of my many dysfunctions through the years, I don’t know which can be legitimately assigned to Vietnam, but I suspect many of them.

When you spend a year living every day on the edge, you can’t just come home and live as though you never left. Although you were probably scared, and couldn’t wait to get out of country and back to the world, civilian life just didn’t offer the adrenaline rush you had become used to. Hence, part of the problem readjusting.

When you spend a year living every day on the edge, you can’t just come home and live as though you never left.

Vietnam left me with a constant inner agitation I can’t fully understand, let alone describe with clarity. I lash out at people. I lose my temper quickly. Little things upset me – things most people wouldn’t think twice about. There are times when I want to hurt someone even though that someone doesn’t have either a name or a face – it doesn’t matter, just as long as I can think about hurting someone seems to provide some level of comfort or satisfaction. I believe this inner irritation or agitation is the direct result of my time in Nam. For the most part, I haven’t acted on these because of some mechanism or filter inside me. I wonder how many veterans are in our prisons because they didn’t have such a filter.

This behavior and thinking scares the crap out of me, yet no one seems too concerned. I once described my inner road rage to a Veterans Administration social worker (after having requested to see a psychiatrist because I realized for years that I had a problem), and he simply blew it off. I guess if you haven’t acted upon these urges then a problem doesn’t exist. Wrong.

Vietnam left me with a constant inner agitation I can’t fully understand.

I arrived home from Vietnam a full-blown alcoholic, hell-bent on ruining my life and all others that I touched, and that is how I lived for the next twenty years. Don’t misunderstand me. I would have become an alcoholic without Vietnam, but I believe the Nam hastened it and certainly intensified it.

I’m forty-six years removed from Nam, and twenty-eight years removed from alcohol, but still lose my temper over little unimportant things. I lash out at my wife if she happens to ask me a question at the wrong time. I shout at my grandchildren over situations that don’t warrant that type of reaction. This is not who I want to be. It’s not how I want to conduct myself. But it is who and how I am.

I’ve written this in hopes that perhaps someone, somewhere, will recognize himself and realize he’s not the only one like this. I suspect there are many of us. I hope in some small way this helps.

 

Dan RihnDan Rihn is a writer and a Vietnam veteran who lives in western Pennsylvania with his wife of forty-five years.