by Wanda Sabir, Arts and Culture Editor
Wanda Sabir: Good morning and welcome to Wanda’s Picks, a Black arts and cultural program of the African Sisters Media Network. When I wake up in the morning, I usually try to capture my dreams and write. So today, this poem came to me. Just reflecting on Memorial Day weekend, reflecting on people who made the ultimate sacrifice – gave their lives for our country – and also reflecting on Mental Health Awareness Month, which concludes on Memorial Day.
And I’m also reflecting on this conversation with Dedoceo Habi, who is one of our veterans. So, good morning, Dedoceo, author of “Memoirs in the Moment.” We’re going to talk about your book and your walk through PTSD and wellness that you’re going to share with us.
Dedoceo Habi: Good morning and thank you for having me on the show. I’m honored to be here.
Wanda: So, the piece is entitled “Good Death.”
“The Vietnam War is one of those wars one never forgets – lots of young lives taken and other lives, other young lives ruined. Young families permanently impacted, lots of people returned to later end up incarcerated, on the street. We step over so many wasted lives. War is bad. Good for the economy – bad news everywhere else.
“Like pollution, it colors a nation’s horizon. The blues give way, too bloody. Some say war is bad, yet necessary. Some say death in battle is honorable, except for those whose remains are dust. A flag draped over closed tombs or folded and handed to a weeping mom or wife or sister or brother. Taps – the eternal heartbeat that marks the end of life before it starts.
“We don’t speak of trauma – the generational trauma that seeps into the pores of survivors. More insidious than Agent Orange, it contaminates the genetic pool, leaching into the fragments left of broken lives pieced together with glue, ill-equipped to hold suppressed memories at bay. The memories march forward on open landscapes, a gruesome promenade to darkness.
“Hawks circle, buzzards dive; beings tempt vultures, who pause mid-dive and retreat. Forks and knives scattered as clocks span and disappear on the horizon. The future, a much better place than now – the problem is, the two share the same road. What do we do with those haunting memories that assault us in our dreams? Alcohol, heroin, marijuana – nothing stops the memories, except death. And even then, who knows? Some say they see these dead still walking. Even with eyes shut, their souls pace barren battlefields – guilt a perpetual reveille.”
So, that’s what I wrote this morning.
Dedoceo: Just this morning. Wow, that’s great.
Wanda: So, you were born in 1963, and you served honorably in the US Marine Corps and the US Air Force. Wow!
Dedoceo: So, I enlisted in the Marine Corps when I was 17 years old. I graduated from high school when I was 16 and I was actually going to college at the time when I was enlisted and I didn’t like college at that point in time for two reasons: one because I was walking to school and it was quite cold and it was a long walk.
We were still quite impoverished at the time and so it was very difficult moving forward and the other reason was I went to college with expectation that I would be around more mature young folk. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. I was still a rather small guy, probably 5-foor-6-inches when I graduated, weighed about 120 pounds or so. I was a little fellow and I didn’t quite get along in the college environment because of course I was a little fellow and I looked like I was maybe 13, 14 years old.
So, it was interesting for me. Long story short, though, one of my best friends from school had gone into the Marine Corps, and I happened across him when he had come home on leave, and the difference I saw in him was astonishing to me. And the moment I saw him, we had some words and I realized that this was the path I wanted to take. So, I went to the Marine Corps – young, naïve, didn’t know anything about other cultures, other communities, about warfare, about service. I just knew it was a way out of poverty for myself.
Two years later, I’m 19 years old. I get sent on a deployment to the Mediterranean. The United States was serving as part of a multinational peacekeeping force in Beirut, Lebanon, in ‘83 to try and create enough space so that the local community could build itself up, support itself, defend itself. Our rules of engagement required that we were not allowed to fire upon any perceived enemy unless there was a direct, immediate threat.
That translated to: We were in the area with M16s but with no ammunition. The purpose of why we were there I thought was a noble and worthy one – try to help create space so that a country could grow and mature and support itself – but we got caught up in some bureaucracy then that ultimately meant we were thought to be sitting ducks.
So on Oct. 23, at 6:22 in the morning, the primary group was at the base landing team building – the BLT building – a terrorist drove in with the truck with about 22,000 pounds of explosives and pretty much levelled the building.
As a result of that I was exposed to the real commons of war. And as a result of that, I acquired PTSD. And of course, I didn’t know it; I wasn’t aware. We were just doing what we were supposed to do – we went in and retrieved fellow marines, any remains, any personal items we could find. We ended up getting fired upon.
So I went about my regular duty. I ended up leaving the Marine Corps maybe less than two years afterwards. The moment that all this happened changed me. By the time I returned from the crews from Beirut to my normal duty station, I was a different person. My demeanor had changed, I was angry, just felt like there were so many threats around I was always on alert. Which means I always had this really bad attitude.
I remember one time when I came home to visit and my younger brother was there, and he kinda watched me from afar, and I remember he pulled me out – I write about this in the book – he came out to talk to me one day. He said: “Something is wrong. You’re not the same person You’re acting like you’re crazy.” And at that point I was in complete denial – so my position was there’s nothing wrong with me, there’s something wrong with everyone else.
So 30 years later, going through many ups and downs – failed relationships, homelessness – there were good times too, but mostly everything was clouded by this sense of impending doom. This sense of fear, this sense of unmitigated anger that was completely running me, that was completely overwhelming me. And I had a nightmare one night, and my wife was able to convince me that she had noticed this before, and that maybe it’s time for me to go out and talk to someone to try and figure it out and get some support.
Which I reluctantly did, and I’m forever grateful that I actually did that – because now, 10 years later, after repeated therapy and support, I’ve come to understand what it is, how it has impacted me, and I’ve come to see a lot of the similarities that people have – even if you never served – with the trauma and how the trauma induces certain behaviors within people.
I’ve decided the other problem with PTSD or mental illness is that we don’t want to talk about it. We feel that there’s something wrong with having any discussions, that we’re showing our weakness. My experience has proven to me that when you talk about it, you actually free yourself from the bonds of quiet, of silence, and you actually liberate yourself and allow yourself to move forward in life.
People living with trauma – managed or unmanaged – are all around.
And that doesn’t mean I go out and talk to everyone about my personal information, but it does mean that after writing a book, I felt a certain liberation. And things I was afraid of sharing with other people – those fears went away.
So, what ends up happening is that now I’m speaking to other organizations and agencies about it, the book has been well-received. I try to be very honest, and I wrote it in such a way where I want to try and get people to actually feel the experience that I was feeling, that I was going through, so that we can connect at an emotional level. And I’m actually really honest about it.
As a result of PTSD and where I was mentally, I did something that I felt was a disgrace to my family, and I feel now my goal and my purpose in life is to try and recover that and fix that situation. So, the book is full of real-life examples of how PTSD has manifested in my life and, more important, how, as I began to work on myself, I learned to overcome the impact that PTSD has on me.
That’s not to say I’m free of PTSD – that doesn’t happen. Once you have it, you have it. So, the challenge we have is to figure out how we as individuals can learn to manage it in such a way that we are not preventing ourselves from reaching our goals.
One of the saddest things about it is that if you don’t manage PTSD, it will manage you. And it will put you in a downward spiral in life that will indeed cause you to have hardship. But the good news, again, is that with the right kind of support, you can learn to manage it.
Each person is different. One of the other things I’ve learned as I began this investigation and started writing a book is, by and large, women can suffer the most as a result of PTSD, either directly or indirectly. What does that mean?
Well, that means out of any group of 100 people, four men will have PTSD, while 10 women are likely to have PTSD. In any group of 13 people, at least one of these people are going to have PTSD. People living with trauma – managed or unmanaged – are all around, in stores, churches, schools, work. So, my purpose with the book is number one to eliminate the stigma associated with PTSD.
OK, I have PTSD. That doesn’t mean I’m a bad person; that just means I have PTSD. And so, my whole purpose is to eliminate that stigma and become the voice of positive and meaningful dialogue around this matter so that hopefully as we talk about it, we can build ourselves up individually – which ultimately means we build our community up.
I’m not a mental health professional – not a therapist, not a psychiatrist or psychologist – I am an expert on what has happened in my life.
I had a conversation with a gentleman a few days ago, and the question he asked was: Did I think there was any correlation between PTSD or mental illness and suicide? My response to him was: Absolutely. I would dare to say that anyone who commits suicide as a result of a traumatic event that happened in their life – that action is a PTSD-related action.
I’m not a mental health professional – not a therapist, not a psychiatrist or psychologist – I am an expert on what has happened in my life. I am able to speak truth about those things that have happened in my life and my reasons behind it because I’ve done the work to illuminate what’s going on with my own self and I’ve fortunately been able to write these things down where people can see themselves or their loved one and respond in a positive way.
Years ago, my brother – the first to tell me something is wrong so many decades ago – years ago he told me that I should write a book about my life, because that’s a story. Of course, at that time I didn’t see it as such. I wasn’t ready for that. I brushed it off.
So now here today, as to the written story, I’m finding that indeed he was correct. There is a thirst for the information I am providing. And I’m providing it in such a way that it really can help people.
And that really is the purpose. If I can help just one person realize: “Wait a minute, these are some of the same things that are happening to me – maybe I need to look into this a little differently or take the next step to get better.” If I can do that for just one person, then my job, my purpose, my calling will have been met.
And that’s what this is all about: helping to raise awareness, helping to encourage people to number one realize that, just because you’ve been exposed to a traumatic experience, that doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. That just means that a good person was exposed to a traumatic experience, and unfortunately now because of that we have to learn to manage ourselves out of the emotional duress and behaviors that seem to bring us further down in life once we’ve been exposed to trauma.
So that’s really what it’s all about. I try to be really honest, really open. I’m very interested in responding to questions that people ask about PTSD or mental illness. Ultimately, it’s about what people know: You’re not a bad person; you’re a good person, a great person; you have the potential of realizing any dream you have regardless of how long you’ve not dealt with or managed your PTSD or trauma-related behaviors. Regardless of that, you still can live a fuller life.
A good person was exposed to a traumatic experience.
That’s really what it’s all about – being able to articulate that in such a way that people can act or can start thinking more about their own behaviors and move forward.
Wanda: We’re definitely going to have a Part Two to this conversation; it’s so rich. So, can you talk about mindfulness? It’s one of the strategies you use to manage PTSD? Because from what I heard you say, it’s something that you’re never really over – these memories and how they sit in your psyche and come out in your body and your thoughts.
Then I had a question about your name. We didn’t mention you grew up in the South, but you are a Southerner. You grew up all over the United States. But your mother raised you and you came to know your dad out of choice. So, there’s father loss in there. We talk about the social traumas that get stirred into the pot of being an American and being a person of African descent in this America. Those are some things we’re not going to go into in any depth now, but maybe next time.
Dedoceo: So, my name is Dedoceo Habi. Dedoceo is Latin, Habi is English. Dedoceo means to cause to unlearn; Habi is short for Habit – so, to cause to unlearn habits. So, my calling in life is first and foremost to unlearn negative, derogatory or unhealthy habits that I’ve introduced or allowed in my life so that I can realize a fuller life. And of course, in the work I do in community – whether a book or bringing some people together to talk about a social issue – my whole purpose is to share information in such a way that they can unlearn derogatory, unhealthy habits they’ve held on to that get in the way of future growth or success.
The name that I was born with is Wayne McCoy. One of the reasons I changed my name – I did it legally, just FYI – as a result of PTSD, I did not like who I was. I did not like that guy, Wayne McCoy. He did not represent my best self. For that reason, I decided I had to find a name that represented who I was as a human being that would help me get to my destiny in life.
Quickly, with regards to mindfulness: One of the things I learned in therapy was that the best way to make sure you sustain your trauma-related behavior is to run away from it, to act like it doesn’t exist. What you’re doing is actually feeding it.
So, with mindfulness, when I realize I’m easily getting anxious, or I’ve already crossed the line and I’m very angry about something that I perceive as a threat, is to stop what I’m doing, find a place where I can get away from everyone, and sit still and start focusing on my breathing to start anchoring myself in the moment.
Once I can anchor myself in the moment, then I can ask myself a simple question: Is this fear of this threat that I perceive that has popped into my head – is it real? And 99 percent of the time, the threat is not real. It’s a perceived threat based on a fear that I had, based on a real threatening situation that I went through, that really has amplified within me and that I have to learn to recognize when it occurs so I can take the steps I need to take to anchor myself in the present and be able to focus on moving forward.
Wanda: Right. Great. Thank you so much for joining us today, Dedoceo. How do people get their copies of the book “Memoirs in the Moment”? How do they get in touch with you?
Dedoceo: We’ve made it real easy. You can go to memoirs.work, and on the website you will find helpful information you can use right now if you have questions about what’s going on within you. And towards the bottom we have a place where you can purchase your book. We also have an ebook version. There’s a contact form on that website as well. If someone needs to reach out to me, they can find me at 661-434-0730. We do also have a Facebook page, facebook.com/memoirs.work.
Wanda: Well, have a wonderful weekend, and thank you so much for the work on yourself that resonates with our community. Literally, your wellness is our wellness. And so, your story is our story. And, like your brother said – it’s important. We all have important stories, but we all don’t get a chance to put them to paper. So, it’s really great that you were able to do so. And since you’re a filmmaker, who knows? There’s probably a film in the works.
Dedoceo: Just quickly I want to say this: There’s so many different layers to this that I do think it’s worthy of having more conversations. You mention father loss, social trauma, racism – each of these different things can induce trauma, which ultimately can lead to PTSD, which ultimately leads to why we have a broken society – because trauma is driving us in the wrong direction.
Wanda: So, people: Be in your bodies and monitor your breath. You do have choices, even when you feel like you don’t have any.
Bay View Arts and Culture Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at email@example.com. Visit her website at www.wandaspicks.com throughout the month for updates to Wanda’s Picks, her blog, photos and Wanda’s Picks Radio. Her shows are streamed live Wednesdays and Fridays at 8 a.m., can be heard by phone at 347-237-4610 and are archived at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks.