Photography As Therapy.
The brain is quite the complex thing. It's able to handle so many things on its own - like "don't forget to breathe" or flinching as a result of a high stress stimulus. The brain affords a busy mom the ability to unload groceries, while keeping four rowdy kids out of the street, and on the phone scheduling a doctor's appointment, while she has to pee.
The brain also has a dark side. Things like fear, anxiety, and trauma can not only shut down the brain's ability to respond, but it has to power to shut down fine motor skills and exclude the senses like hearing (auditory exclusion) and sight (tunnel vision). Thankfully, there are things we can do to thwart this.
We lost our father this spring. He was a simple man in some ways, yet quite complex in others. As an Infantryman in the United States Army, Dad was a Vietnam Veteran. Because of the things he saw and experienced in combat, he came home with a case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. Growing up, I watched how PTSD made its way around our home. Whether it was in the form of arguments, outbursts, self-medication, self-deprivation, dark rooms, or a combination thereof, I was just a kid that wondered, "Why is Dad like this?"
Fast forward a few decades and here I sit, telling you that I have had my own bout with these demons. I avoided discussing this for a long time for fear of being stigmatized in the work place. We found a therapist in our area that specialized in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR, specifically within the fields of Military and Law Enforcement. I relied on the strength of a loving family to help me see that I was not permanently broken. Now being retired, I share this openly in the hopes that I might help anyone who finds themselves in such a situation.
So when Dad passed, we had a viewing and a service here in New Braunfels. Later on, we had a graveside service at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery. I debated taking my camera with me, but I trusted instincts. I packed my trusty Sony along for the ride.
As the Honor Guard brought Dad to the pavilion I felt the finality of it all coming over us. He had been gone awhile now, but we had to wait for a time slot for his burial ceremony, but now these were our last moments with him.
Over the years, I've learned to compartmentalize, to set things aside for the time being only to revisit them later, preferably in a controlled environment. I've had the "pleasure" of photographing crime scenes that I will avoid describing in this post.
I went into photographer mode. A camera body may only be a few inches wide, but it makes a mighty fine barrier. Something happens when I watch the world through the lens of a camera vs the naked eye. It's like I am are present in the moment, but I'm only there as an observer. I can still see and hear, but a lot of emotions are turned off to make room for functionality and getting the shot.
I made it though the ceremony. I've had some good cries since then; some out of sadness that he's gone, others out of sadness that his grandchildren (and great grandchildren) won't continue to get to know him. He was definitely a hoot.
So now I have these photos that I can sit and mull over....which I do quite often. I know he would have loved them.
This blog post is dedicated to the memory of our dad.
PFC Arturo Amalla Guerrero of New Braunfels.
Combat Infantryman. Loving Husband. Dad. Popo. Grandpa.