The single most important and powerful documentary of the year for all Americans is Ric Roman Waugh’s THAT WHICH I LOVE DESTROYS ME. If you see only one documentary all year, make it this one. Delivering a powerful, honest, eye-opening, and extremely humbling documentary on our returning veterans and the battlefield at home on which they fight the unseen enemies of PTSD and reintegration to societal norms, TWILDM hits home on all fronts.
Military related PTSD statistics are overwhelming. 600,000 veterans suffer with PTSD. 230,000 suffer from traumatic brain injury. Every 65 minutes, a veteran commits suicide; up from one every 80 minutes in 2012. 62,000 veterans are homeless on any given night.
Told over the course of three years primarily through the eyes of special operations soldiers Tyler Grey, 1st SFOD-D, Delta Force and Jayson Floyd, Army Ranger, 75th Ranger Regiment, Grey and Floyd open up to Waugh’s cameras with a raw candor that touches the heart and opens the mind, giving not only civilians, but more importantly, fellow veterans, insight into the very real traumas of PTSD. Grey and Floyd lay themselves bare with their recovery, explaining in great detail the process of how each identified that he had a problem, the inner confusion, the social weight of returning to a “normal life”, the stigma or embarrassment long associated with PTSD, the importance of finding the right medical and psychological help to deal with the problem, and then how they applied their own military training and expertise into fighting this battle and find their way to become the men they are now, not “who they were”. As each so aptly points out, war changes you, battle changes you, life changes you; and with those changes, you change and how you now face new challenges and battles in life is done by embracing the person you now are in light of life’s changes. Would you handle a situation at 35 as you did at age 5? No. And that’s one of the first steps in handling and treating PTSD. What do you have in your arsenal now to help you?
We first meet Tyler Grey via his personal video diary which he began in 2005. Back in 2004, Tyler Grey was severely injured in an IED explosion outside Baghdad. With much of the elbow area of his right arm gone and the remaining arm flayed outward in multiple directions, Grey was sent home from Iraq for medical care. As bad as the physical injuries were, mentally, Grey couldn’t cope. Still so “in the moment” of war, Grey didn’t even want his parents or then-girlfriend to see him in the hospital until after he was ultimately transferred to Ft. Bragg. Through his video diaries - which were done for his own personal catharsis and to record the physical rebuilding and recovery of his arm but which he now makes public as means to help other veterans - we see graphic images of the physical injury and hear the pain, confusion and loss within his soul. Interweaving interviews conducted by Waugh over the three year span of 2010 to 2013, Grey himself gives context to his initial journey as he then opens up about the emotional and psychological journey of PTSD, going so far as to talk about “funeral packets” soldiers must prepare before deployment. Heavy and heady stuff that sticks with you as watch and listen, giving more insight to civilians as some of the intrinsic issues with which soldiers must face as a daily part of life.
Joining Grey is his best friend, Jayson Floyd. As director Waugh intercuts between independent interviews with each man to tell one story with both voices, we learn of their friendship; an interesting one given when we first meet the two together in 2010, Grey is sporting a black eye compliments of Floyd. Grey calls it the result of a “little thing [I] like to call PTSD” while Floyd fesses up and says it was because of a “disagreement.” Jovial, it’s easy to see their bond. The two initially met in 1999 before being stationed at an outpost in Afghanistan in 2002 when they went out on their first patrol together.
Letting us into their psyches, Floyd in particular is passionate in explaining to the layperson, the mindset of a returning vet. What we civilians believe normal life is not so to soldiers. On guard 24 hours a day as each man is of the mindset of “just trying to survive”, soldiers - especially the special ops guys like Floyd and Grey - see danger in everything; in trash bags, under freeway overpasses, rustles in the tall grass, running footsteps on pavement or dirt. As he and Grey explain, those are the same sounds one routinely hears in everyday civilian life in the US, but when they hear them, despite being home in the US, the mind immediately kicks into defensive military survival mode, a trigger for PTSD symptoms.
In Floyd’s case, as panic attacks increased just on seeing a trash bag on the ground or hearing the wind rustle a tree, and until he was able to identify what was wrong with him and get the right kind of help and develop a “battle plan” for himself, even he hit rock bottom, sleeping in his car, drinking more than one liter of vodka a day. Grey, on the other hand, has had to face not only physical recovery and readjustment from a “righty to a lefty” for many tasks and skills but also additional issues of battling chemical dependency resulting from his 2004 injury which pushed him to depression.
With slow zooms and extreme close-ups, Waugh’s lense captures the emotional intensity of each man and each moment; he has a great gift for sensing emotional shift within a person and adjusts the lens accordingly, never intruding yet never obfuscating. Joyous are moments of triumph in the men’s journeys as the bonds of brotherhood between them and others are strengthened and encouraged with each accomplishment, each new emotional and physical mountain climbed. Heartfelt and poignant are the healing tears of pain as each man speaks from his heart. As time passes, their improved emotional and psychological state is palpable and never moreso than when each breaks into wide smiles and laughter at the simplest of things. A far cry from the men we first meet in 2010.
Hearing from people like Patricia Driscoll, President of the Armed Forces Foundation and Congressman Tim Murphy from Pennsylvania, a licensed psychologist and Lt. Commander of the U.S. Navy Reserve Medical Corps, we learn of how the current military rotations have impacted and increased PTSD within our returning veterans. Unlike WWII when soldiers had several months post-battlefield to begin to adjust, acclimate to start to wind down, since Iraq and Afghanistan, the men do cyclic turnarounds - months in a war zone on sensory alert, fly home, take the kids to school the next morning. There is no time for decompression. With this in mind, interviews with Tyler Grey’s ex-girlfriend provide valuable insight into where she “went wrong” in their relationship and the expectations of pre-deployment normalcy.
What we learn and begin to understand thanks to Grey and Floyd is that there is a new normalcy for returning soldiers that they must acknowledge and accept and adapt to, that friends and family must acknowledge and accept and use as a basis to move forward and help their loved ones move forward, and that our government and health care professionals must acknowledge and accept and for which they must adapt and provide appropriate treatment assets.
As Jayson Floyd so succinctly states, “I knew if I could understand what PTSD was and what I was going through that I could get through it.” TWILDM helps us all understand.
Tyler and Jayson are the definition of "heroes" - and not just for their military service and going to combat, but for waging their own war against PTSD, finding a way to win it and now reaching out publicly to help not only education the public but more importantly, extend a helping hand to their brothers in arms and help them draw their own battle lines and develop a plan of attack.
From the Latin quotation, Quod Me Nutrit Me Destruit, THAT WHICH I LOVE DESTROYS ME is the very definition of a soldier. As Grey reflects, “If you love it, you do the job until it destroys you.” Hopefully, through Waugh’s camera and the openness and honesty of Tyler Grey and Jayson Floyd, we as Americans can help our veterans change the psychological emotional destruction of PTSD into a life of hope and inspiration.
THAT WHICH I LOVE DESTROYS ME is the “Must See” film of the year.
Directed by Ric Roman Waugh
Featuring: Tyler Grey, 1st SFOD-D, Delta Force
Jayson Floyd, Army Ranger, 75th Ranger Regiment
For more information, go to www.TWILDM.com or follow the film on Twitter @TWILDM, #TWILDM.