Robert Redford, one of the best actors ever to come across the screen, has been MIA from the movies for nearly five years. His last film was back in 2007, Lions for Lambs, a film in which he directed and co-starred. Since then, he has quietly disappeared from the eyes of his fans and admirers, and many of us are wondering why such a prodigious talent, an icon of the movies, has removed himself from the field he so wonderfully commanded. I'm a huge fan of Mr. Redford. Two of my all time favorite movies he starred in: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Natural. When I was a young man, these movies inspired my imagination and contributed to my desire to want to be an actor, a movie star, on the big screen. The latter film, made me believe that we all have a natural talent at something where we want to be the best, and the true at heart, those who believe in themselves, eventually get the opportunity to share it with everybody and fulfill their dreams. The Natural epitomized to me the courage of a man to follow his passion, his truth, no matter where it took him, and in the movie, his character disappears for awhile before he resurfaces again, much like the theme of my post. It also taught me that you must love what you do, whether its playing baseball, acting, or some other endeavor, and to never give up, even when the odds are against you, because life has a way of bringing you what you want in a way more amazing than you could ever have imagined.
My own life has had its many ups and downs and twists and turns. After my time in the military, I followed my passion in the arts, and disappeared from the scene of society, as I worked to mine my talents, and discover the inner workings of my own nature. I experienced a very traumatic experience about a year ago which left my life in shambles, my future uncertain, and the hope of a bright future nearly extinguished. I suffered from a severe case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and for many months I was caught in the nightmare wondering if I'd ever get out. As a consequence of the event which happened, I lost a lot of weight; I couldn't sleep at night; I was having nightmares; at work, I was barely able to function and though I was there physically, I was not there at all mentally or emotionally; and, I wept constantly without any warning; for months, I would stare at my apartment walls for hours and then break down into uncontrollable sobs. The pain was so excruciating, I never thought it would end, and my thoughts would wander to the point wondering if life was even worth living.
PTSD is a major crisis in a person's life, it is not to be taken lightly or looked at as a weakness. It is a debilitating disorder that impairs the normal functioning of a person so much so he or she becomes trapped in a routine of life where safety of oneself is primary, and anything or any person who threatens that safety is avoided at all costs. There is no joy in this life in this state of mind, only the desire to get through the day, and maybe fall asleep so as to no longer feel the pain one carries with them throughout the day. But then, the dreams come to haunt him in his sleep, and thus, there is no escape.
Fortunately, through the grace of God, I found a way out, and my days are brighter and better than they've ever been. I hadn't realized how sick I was until recently because I feel so good now, the best I've felt in my whole life. For the first time, I feel like my life is opening up to me in a way that has never been possible before this moment, and that I'm on the brink of living the life I was meant to live. Part of my process of recovery was to find out from Veterans organizations the numbers of people coming back from the war who were suffering from the effects of PTSD. I thought maybe I could help others find a way out of their nightmare since I was able to find a way out of mine. I contacted a couple of organizations, in particular the National Veterans Foundation, an organization who has built a reputation as one of the most sought out experts in treating PTSD for our veterans, and I learned some very surprising and shocking statistics. I spoke to Rich Rudnick, Director of Operations, and he told me when I asked him what the needs were of the organization and what they were seeing, that besides money (which all the Veterans organizations need), there exists an inadequate screening by the military of those suffering from the effects of PTSD. He informed me that the soldiers in the field were being given tranquilizers in order to reduce hyper-awareness and take the edge off of the soldiers' anxiety. Rich said they were getting calls from people who were in Afghanistan right now seeking help, and that between 20-35% of all of our military members returning from the war were suffering from some form of PTSD, from mild to severe.
That is a staggering number! Let's put that into actual numbers of people. According to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Of America, the first and largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, there are 2.4 million veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. If 20% of them were suffering from PTSD, that's 480,000 people. If it's 35%, 840,000 people! So, if the statistics are correct, and I have no reason to believe otherwise, PTSD is being experienced between 480,000 - 840,000 people as a consequence of going to war! There is an unbelievable amount of pain in this community. Besides PTSD, soldiers returning from the wars are experiencing an increase in tense family relationships, physical and emotional pain, psychological problems, drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, and suicide. A recent New York Times article titled 'Suicides Outpacing War Deaths for Troops', dated June 8, 2012, stated "the suicide rate among the nation's active-duty military personnel has spiked this year, eclipsing the number of troops dying in battle and on pace to set a record annual high since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan more than a decade ago." And Time magazine in July reported in an article that the military suicide rate had spiked to one a day!
Lives have been shattered and broken as a consequence of these wars, and we must do more to help these brave men and women. They sacrificed their lives to fight for their country, and we must do everything we can to bring them back home, not just physically, but their minds, hearts, and souls as well. Everyone deserves to come back home and live the lives they were meant to live.
If you feel compelled, please look at the links to the websites of these organizations, and if you approve of the work they are doing, then I ask you to donate what you can to help their efforts to treat these men and women overcome the effects of PTSD and other psychological problems, and help them to re-integrate back into society. No one should be left behind. They deserve our love and support and I hope you find it in your hearts to reach out to those who have sacrificed so much and are in so much pain.
I'm happy to say Robert Redford is returning to the big screen this November, and has another film completed and set to be released in 2013. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing one of my favorite actors return to the big screen. Robert Redford is no longer MIA, and neither am I.
National Veterans Foundation
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America