September 11th profoundly affected my life in ways that I am still learning about. I had worked with a US Secret Service Task Force in 7 WTC and spent much of my time with different agencies that were in the World Trade Center. On 9/11 I was making my way to the WTC for an appointment in the World Trade Center with a friend who was a federal investigator with the DOJ.
I was late for the meeting. My wife and children, also running late to get to day care, were driving through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. If we had all been on time, it’s possible that I would have been in one of the buildings and my family would have been in the street near the World Trade Center when the planes hit. Instead, we were all spared.
As was the case with countless other people, the attack on my country became my life.
I spent the next few days digging and hoping to find survivors, bringing supplies, and doing whatever I could to try to make a difference.
Attempting to remember specific events, I get bits and pieces: on my police radio the voices of police officers trapped in a subway station and begging for help; a phone call from a friend at the U.S. Marshals in Washington D. C., telling me that more attacks were probably on the way; the dust all over downtown Manhattan; papers from tower offices blowing in the wind.
I experience these over and over in dreams and nightmares: I am standing near Ground Zero, the entire area white with dust, papers flying around me; I am by myself: no cars, no other people, just me in an empty street.
People with PTSD tend not to be sure whether their memories are real or compilations.
A few years ago at my parents’ house I found the helmet I wore during Ground Zero cleanup. When I picked it up, white dust came out of the inside. I couldn’t stop thinking that the dust might be the remains of someone burnt in the towers.
After 9/11, I was very much involved, going to funerals and award ceremonies and even helping counsel other victims through chaplain and outreach programs.
After about two years, however, as things “settled down,” I found myself withdrawing from everyone who had been important to me. I slowly began to push away my family, parents, and friends; I stopped going to the synagogue. I saw in people only the negative, never the good; I thought everyone around me was my enemy. I became obsessed with my work, spending more and more time at my office instead of at home with my family. Eventually, I just walked away from my responsibilities to my family and focused entirely on building companies and making money.
It serves no purpose to go into detail about the next few years of my life. The pattern is far from original: although immensely successful, I was extremely sad. Although doing well in business, I had few friends or long-term relationships. I tended to jump from one shallow relationship to another.
I traveled around the world, womanizing and drinking a ridiculous amount of champagne. On the outside I may have seemed to be living a perfect life, but it was far from perfect: I had no connections to anyone, no foundation or love or life.
It’s now 2018
I would like to say things are better, that I’ve recovered. I haven’t — PTSD is still a significant part of my life, medication and therapy is constant. I get night terrors, and sometimes wake up screaming and yelling.
It’s not all 9/11, and I’ve learned since I also have Asperger’s it makes PTSD worse as my brain is made for PTSD it seems.
I get really worried about the future: now I’m healthily, young-ish, and somewhat successful. I get worried that as I get older, maybe the crap I inhaled will eventually give me cancer, or my mental health will deteriorate.
Still, I have managed — I barely drink anymore, I have made connections, reconnected with others and have found some semblance of mental health. Being a single dad raising my son alone has helped: giving me something to look forward to daily, and having some joy in raising a beautiful son.
Things aren’t perfect, but day-to-day they are ok. And that’s good.