Veterans' Voices: Writing And Burning Your Story
This story originally aired on December 11, 2019.
In recent years, research has shown that post traumatic stress disorder can be helped with expressive writing. Marine Corps veteran Chris Bussler of Harveysburg tells his wife, Wendy, about a creative strategy he found to cope with the stress of his multiple deployments.
A warning that some listeners may find this story disturbing.
Chris Bussler (CB): My job there, on my third tour, I was a forward operating Mortuary Affairs Marine. So, what that means is, I was a forward operating body bagger. My job there being, at the collection point, would be if somebody who had gotten killed, they would bring the remains in, and then we would go through and annotate the wounds suffered, go through their pockets and try to collect all of their personal effects, and start the paperwork on them, and arrange transportation back to the States. There'd be some days that we may get one guy and then there’d be some evenings we may get thirteen. And being in an environment that was a high velocity environment with all these big IEDs that were going off, these big roadside bombs, that when you’d get these bags, a lot of them or is just, you know, parts. And out of my three tours, my third tour was the absolute worst.
Wendy Bussler (WB): It was the one that broke you.
CB: What broke me wasn’t so much doing the job, because I looked at it as taking care of those guys who were there. But what drove me nuts is when I came home everything that I had suppressed started to manifest, and it wouldn't go away. It was there when I opened up my eyes and I would sit down and eat dinner and stuff and there were things about, you know, the things that were on my plate that would remind me of them. And when you closed your eyes at night that, you know, that's all you saw was them.
WB: What helped you get through those times?
CB: At first, all I did was drink. I was what they call a functional alcoholic. I mean, I was drinking myself, hopefully, to where I wouldn't be able to remember anything. You know, I felt guilty for being alive when so many guys had gotten killed. And so, we went over to the VFW and there was an evening that I was talking to Mike, the Vietnam veteran. He was a Corpsman in Vietnam. He goes, “What you need to do is to start writing your story down and when you're done with a particular story, burn it.” And at first, I thought this is hokey, you know. This guy's hippy from back in the 60s, he smoked too much stuff, but I did what he asked me to do. Then I did it again, and again, and again, and again. Eventually I started feeling better. Because now I felt like I had power over those stories. Now I could get rid of that burden by burning that story.
Chris and Wendy Bussler's conversation took place at WYSO as part of StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative which visited the Miami Valley last summer. Veterans’ Voices on WYSO is presented by Wright-Patt Credit Union with additional support from CareSource. This story was edited by Seth Gordan and Will Davis and created at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.