Former army medic recounts his poetic journey through a PTSD minefield • St Pete Catalyst


It is common knowledge that the effects of fighting in wartime can be physically devastating. Epoch after epoch, war after war, Americans who return home from overseas deployment – those who make it out alive – are often maimed, injured, or worse. These are definitely scars that will never heal completely.

It leaves its mark on the soldiers who remain physically intact too. A staggering number of veterans return home with the stress, fear and horrors of their deployment engraved in their brains, haunting their thoughts both conscious and asleep in perpetuity.

It is post-traumatic stress disorder, and Col. Beverly Smith-Tillery (RET.) Has lived with it since returning from the Iraq / Afghanistan war in 2009. She retired from the military in 2011.

Smith-Tillery was a nurse anesthetist, a longtime Army Reservist called up to active duty in 2003. She spent the last three years of service at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where young men and women wounded in the Middle East were transported for surgery.

As she says too clearly in her book The Invisible Wounds of War: My Redemption, Smith-Tillery’s experiences were horrific. She has seen things that will never leave her subconscious.

It started a long journey in treating – there is no “cure” – his chronic PTSD.

Published by St. Petersburg Press, The invisible wounds of war chronicles the progress Smith-Tillery has made in writing poetry about his experiences.

“I figured if I put these thoughts on paper, it would help me deal with them,” says the Seminole resident. “So if I woke up and had a nightmare about a soldier I was looking after in the operating room, who couldn’t do it, I would sit down and write sentences to that. topic.

“And then, little by little, they got closer, and I thought, ‘I could write a poem about this.’ And I had never written poetry before, so it was a new way to deal with my PTS memories.

It turned out to be his own kind of fight – a way of fighting the demons that permeated his restless sleep.

“It made me feel this: If I write this, maybe tonight, when I go to bed, I’ll have a peaceful night.”

She won the gold medal in the VA National Creative Arts Competition in 2018.

Smith-Tillery and her husband Mark pass most of the year in Pinellas County; the rest of the time, they are in their second home in Kentucky.

She was a registered nurse in Bluegrass State for 20 years and raised three sons, before becoming a reservist in 1988.

The trauma began long before her military service – at 17, she was beaten and raped by someone she trusted.

She survived the death of two of her sons.

Over time, poetry has become its relief valve. His hope is that reading his book can be the first step in some kind of relief for veterans, reservists and active duty personnel: maybe my book can be of use to something, ”says Smith- Tillery.

“PTSD is not a hopeless situation. There is a journey you must take. And sometimes it’s so dark that you think of suicide. And I did.

“And there are days when you think, ‘It’s not that bad today. I slept last night and didn’t have a night of terror. So maybe there will be more days to wake up and not think that I can’t go on with this. And this is what I wanted to show any serviceman who suffers from PTSD, or even a young woman who has been raped, or even a high school student who has been in a school with a mass shooting … it’s not completely adapted to the military. There is hope. There is a faint light at the end of the tunnel, and if you keep walking towards it, it will get brighter. And the days will get better.

Each poem in The invisible wounds of war is introduced by a short story explaining the circumstances of its creation. These introductions put each poem in context.

Smith-Tillery, who received treatment at Bay Pines Veterans Administration Hospital (where she was formerly employed), has what she calls a “difficult history” with Bay Pines and with the entire VA system. She was not entirely satisfied with the results of her interaction with the VA administration.

Writing, she beams, has proven to be one of the most effective form of therapy. “You realize that there is a life not after PTSD, but there is a happy life with PTSD. And that’s what I want to show.

The book is available from local booksellers and through Amazon.

St. Petersburg Press is owned by the St. Petersburg group, parent company of the group St. Pete Catalyst.

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