Ptsd & The Blues

Comments: 48

From the snow in Alaska To The Middle Of The Desert.

I was supposed to be there on a peacekeeping mission that would take 6 months. However the deployment was extended for another six months. We had been taken from the snow in Alaska to the middle of the desert. It was a completely new environment.

Keeping the peace.

This was the late 1980’s just before the invasion of Iraq during desert storm. It was supposed to be a peacekeeping mission. We drove around taking strategic locations and trying to help the locals. We offered them food, water, and even medical care if needed. Despite our wonderful intentions they were not so happy to see us. They did not want Americans there meddling in their affairs.

We had to expect hostile intentions and were even prepared for this but were on strict orders not to instigate anything. You went out on patrol not knowing what you would find. We were in a constant state of stress and anxiety.

Expecting something to happen you became tense – your pulse quickening as your reflexes readied you for the unexpected. You mind is coiled up like a spring or a cobra. Ready for action but never knowing when it would come.

Expecting possible danger that never came was probably worse than the danger itself. The feeling of unease kept building as you waited but never acting so the tension could subside. Some were not able to keep it together. This constant fear and anticipation wore them down till they snapped. We were all feeling tense. I would hear these stories about other units that went out on patrol and all the crazy shit that they saw and did.

At night you would need to wind down before you could even attempt to sleep. This was a process in itself and could take hours as you lay awake at night staring at the ceiling waiting for sleep to take you.

Between guard shifts you would get an hour to sleep or two before it was your turn again. For me it would take at least an hour trying to wind down enough to sleep and then it would be my turn again. Some nights I didn’t manage to get any sleep at all.

Being in the military is not like having a job. You can’t just switch it on and off. When you go in the person that comes back out will never be the same. The life becomes automatic without will or volition. It becomes muscle memory.

You can’t just leave it all behind.

Not really anyway. Your body may come home but your mind gets stuck over there. The bad stuff never stops happening. It lives in its own kind of dimension. You keep playing it over and over in your mind.

Your friends and family are asking if you are okay and you say, “I’m working on it”. There’s no good explanation. The truth was worse. Maybe not as much for them but it was for me. You just hide it all beneath the mask of composure.

Because to say it out loud was to admit to yourself that your were losing it. It was both fear and shame. Fear of losing yourself in all the noise and shame that you weren’t strong enough.

I was just an actor. Playing out my scripted lines. Irony mixed with tragedy. Sometimes you just make yourself laugh. The repetition was an act of poise. A balance between the line of crazy and not crazy.

Right and wrong was indistinguishable sometimes. Before I went into the military I felt that I new knew the difference. What’s right moves over into what’s wrong and before long you just don’t know if what you are doing is something you ought to be doing.

I’m telling this story in hopes of relieving some of the pressure in my dreams. Even now it makes me squirm. As a confession does. If you don’t care for obscenity then you probably don’t care much for the truth.

When guys go into the military they come home talking dirty.

You come over clean and you leave dirty. Some make it intact and others don’t make it at all. There are times when I miss the danger and adventure though. It’s hard to explain it to someone who hasn’t experienced it.

There is this untamed fear and untamed pleasure as you lose yourself when you know you are risking something.The endorphins and adrenaline begin to flow as you become more intimate with danger. Becoming in touch with the far side of yourself. Discovering new possibilities inside yourself.

Coming home.

Over the 4 years I was in the military (1988-1992) I only saw my family 10 months. I was used to being gone. What I wasn’t used to was being a husband, or a father. Picking up the pieces of an old life I almost didn’t recognize wasn’t as easy as it sounded.

The first few months I was home was not an easy transition. It’s exhausting to view the entire world as a potential threat. I would just start sweating and couldn’t turn it off. There was whole days like this. I would take a shower mid afternoon and change my clothes because they were soaked in sweat.

Rubbing holes in the sheets.

I couldn’t sleep because I couldn’t lie still. At night I would toss around in bed. Rubbing holes in the sheets. Half awake and half in a dream. I had gone over the edge. There was no telling up from down.

Lying in bed, I saw these bizarre pictures spinning around in my head. I couldn’t get my breathe. There was this tightness in my chest. Even now I can feel it and I want you to feel it too. I would just lie there and squirm around half nuts with frustration at not being able to still my mind enough to sleep.

I remember there was this fear. The kind of fear that squeezes you inside yourself. It cuts you off from the outside world. As imagination takes over your mind starts to roam. Tiny sounds get heightened and distorted.

I began feeling this electric tingle. I coiled up and held my breath. Tightening my muscles. My pulse is ticking in my head. It was hot and heavy sleep for just a few hours before waking with sore eyes and a foul temper.

My thoughts just kept racing. The sleeping pills had not worked. During the day I would spend most of my time daydreaming. My mind just slipping away without me even realizing it.

Have you ever been so lost in thought that you lose all sense of your surroundings? You go about your day doing the mundane tasks that are required of you almost mechanically. Not seeing or hearing anything.

Everything becomes part of everything else.

It’s a dullness of the mind. Unconscious of everything. I felt hollow and unattached with the numbness that followed.

The hardest part by far was making the bad pictures go away. Like a stone in my stomach it would come back to me every night to haunt me in my dreams.

For many years I lived in depression. But the time came for me to move forward. After taking some actions to improve my life the limbo subsided.

After my time in the military came a newfound appreciation for life. With intimacy with danger comes a corresponding intimacy with life. I would notice things I had no time for before. A blade of grass at my feet. A small round pebble. Jokes were funnier. Green was greener.

Everything that might be lost or never even happen starts to creep into your mind. You convince yourself of these strange ideas. Or maybe they are just fantasies. Like going to the doorstep of Lynda Carter’s house and asking her to marry you.

I started to appreciate even the smallest of things.

An ice cold beer. Or even just the feeling of kicking off your boots, freeing your toes to move about in the fresh air. You can’t help but to love.

The blues is my prescription.

I have been treated for Ptsd. Costing thousands of dollars. Some of it worked but nothing worked as well as the blues. The blues is my way of talking about what happened to me over there.

I loved to play music since I was a kid but didn’t try to pursue a career in music till after I left the military. Playing and writing songs really helped me in transitioning back to civilian life.

It’s the vehicle by which I tell my story.

And I want to share these stories with you and in doing so to become part of the same tribe. Sharing the same blood. You can now listen to the latest milestone of this journey by clicking the link to my latest album, “Live @ Bluesberry Cafe”.

You can learn more about the album here.

As a thank you for taking the time to read my blog post I want to give you a free track of mine. I want you to have it as a thank you. You can get it right here by clicking the link. It’s called, “Erase The Pages”.

This song is about my experience returning home and trying to forget what I experienced on deployment. I used alcohol and meds – anything I could think off to erase the pages of my mind. Talking about it and especially putting the experience into a song helped me greatly. I hope you enjoy this song.

If you are unable to download the music to your device I have posted a video that will show you how.

Apple device download instructions.

​​​​​​​Android download instruction video.

Just follow the instructions provided in the video and you should have no problem downloading the track directly to your device.

Let me know what you think in the comments below.



  • Debra Spangler says:

    I loved your song. The blues is your gift to express to everyone. I hope your successful. I’m one real listener for one real player!!

    • Johnny Riley says:

      Thank you so much! This really made my day.

      • Terry says:

        Putting your thoughts into words to describe your feeling into the blues work it play it sing it . It will relax and let you breathe and i breathe with you listening to your music

      • Robert Penny says:

        Like you and many others have stated already, Blues is your prescription to help battle your PTSD. Keep taking it brother because it’s working. I believe that nothing can stop us when we put our mind and especially our soul into accomplishing any task. Only GOD knows what we can handle and he never burdens us with more than we can. Personally I fell 32 feet off a roof back on 26 Nov 1997. Breaking my back in two places and exploding both of my heels ( I landed on my feet ). I have undergone 39 surgeries since then culminating in losing my left leg below the knee on 18 Jan 2018 to stop the agonizing pain I my ankle. I’ve learned to deal with the pain in many different ways, mostly by telling myself “it’s mind over matter. I don’t have a mind so it don’t matter” lol. But like I said before GOD never gives us more than we can handle. Keep up the good fight.

        • Johnny Riley says:

          Thank you for sharing your story Robert! You have been through a lot. I do believe there is a bigger picture that we can’t understand. Part of the reason I started singing the blues was because it can help anyone going through a rough time.

          Stay safe and God bless!

          • Kim says:

            Hi Johny, I like your music. Music is a universal language and it makes us feel something that we can relate to.
            I was a pedestrian when a drunk driver hit me in his truck. I was 24 years old. It was a long road back to even being able to walk again…thank goodness.
            I have ongoing pain and problems because of this accident but I don’t let it run my life.
            It’s the small things that matter by practicing gratitude and wanting what you already have in your life.
            Take care and
            keep on keeping on:)

          • Johnny Riley says:

            Thanks for sharing your story Kim! I’m glad to hear that you are not letting that hold you back. That’s a wonderful thing. Stay safe and god bless!

    • Sharon F Loper says:

      By opening up with your struggles you help yourself heal while you help others!! I just found you and your music yesterday but I am a fan forever!! Sharon

      • Johnny Riley says:

        Hey Sharon thank you for reading my blog! I hope that my music can help others as it has helped me. I’m glad to have you on board. Hopefully I’ll see you down the road.

      • Todd Layton says:

        Thanks for sharing your story. It shed a new light on something I didn’t have to experience because folks like you did. Thanks for your service. I appreciate the music. Good stuff!

    • Darryl Scott says:

      This DevilDog knows exactly how you feel Brother ???
      It’s all good though ? Just like Jimi said we let the feelings drop from our fingers!
      And the Blues get You through another night.
      Keep hanging and Banging Brother!
      Maybe someday We’ll jam?

    • gene Wilhelm says:

      Love your music-I’m also a fan of John Prine for many years

  • TerryG says:

    You’ve been through hell and you made it make back! Music is medicine for the soul and the brain. Blues/BluesRock/Rock/Country/CountryRock…I JUST LOVE MUSIC!!! I am going back to give your free song a listen. May peace with you!

  • TerryG says:

    Just listened to John the Revalator…thumbs up!

  • Jeff McWhorter says:

    Just listened to PTSD Blues. Bravo!!! Very good song! I wish you all the best.

    • Johnny Riley says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed it. Have a great day my friend!

      • Richard Baham says:

        For me it the tones the minor tones the thirds and 7ths it just does something for me,I can hear a strong southern tone in your voice but the blues is even stronger like a foundation that’s sturdy enough for a skyscraper dude you got it keep up the good work enjoying the music.

  • Francois Gingras says:

    Hello from Granby, Québec, Canada.
    I love blues and been listening since I was a young teen. Today I’m 71 and still got the blues in my heart, my soul, my life. Really your songs speak to me and I’m sure they do the same to all blues fans. Here in my town we have blues once a month in a small place at the Palace of Granby. We had last week a blues woman in the name of Barbara Diab. She opened the night with ”John the Revalator”. What a great song. Finally Johnny, I wish you all the possible luck in this music world.

    • Johnny Riley says:

      Hi Francois! That’s great, I really enjoy Sun House myself and even made two covers of his, John The Revelator and Death Letter Blues. One never out grows the blues.I think that it is just as relevant today as it ever was. Your support means the world to me! Take care my friend!

  • Rick says:

    Thanks for the additional song
    I play the blues in the band I’m in.

  • I enjoyed the two tracks and am downloading the cd.

  • Steven Dornan says:

    Love your music Johnny.. I’ve loved the blues for a lotta years now. I’m starting to get back into playing guitar again after a lengthy hiatus.. I’m on disability now so I need a hobby.. So I decided to pick up the guitar again.

    • Johnny Riley says:

      Thank you so much for supporting us! Sorry for the late response. We had some technical difficulties on the site. That sounds great, I like what you did there.

    • Tonya Merchant aka Ma T says:

      The Blues have way of opening emotions we normally keep bottled up! It allows em to flow free and in turn cleanses the soul! Glad you found a way to release and heal those raw built up emotions in order to heal! I love all the old great blues men as you do so check out my friend/brother from another mother Sean Chambers! He will rock your world be sure to become one of your favorites! Keep Rockin em Blues dude!! Sincerely Mama T

  • Raymond Birkemeier says:

    I really love both free tracks of yours,the blues is from the heart&soul! You truly are what the blues is about.

  • Brian Ruiz says:

    Thanks for taking time out of your life to give to others through your service and thanks again, for doing it now through your music.

  • ralph nazarian says:

    I always loved rythem and blue temps four tops and so on , but when I went to our lacol blues society wow did I fall i9n love with the blues so much so that after a1year I became a director for the Santa Clarita Blues Society after three years of that I ran for vice president for the society it was work for free but we put on some great showes erery month and we had a couple of great blues festivals also became a lifetime member of the Ventura Blues Society and work their blues festivals as well all around great people with the blues

  • jerry says:

    The “Blues” says it all, happy, sad, crying, glad. No other genre can say that as well as the blues because the blues are transition, everyone has or had the blues no matter who you are. PTSD is not just military related although the #1 talked about, Ptsd can occur from trauma, illness, or abuse. I applaud your music and your talent for relieving people from their impression of they are the only ones. Kudoos to you sir.

    • Johnny Riley says:

      Yes I agree. Everyone has their own demons to work through. The music has been a gift for helping me through certain things and it helps a lot of folks. Thank you so much for the support brother! Stay safe!

  • Audrey Handfield says:

    I am lucky! I live an easy happy life. Ups and downs but…
    I thank you for your story and helping me to be more aware. I’ve always cared with intuition but not always with understanding.
    I’ve been a Blues fan most of my life, it reaches my soul. As your songs that I’ve downloaded do to me.
    An addendum
    I am Canadian, which matters like a hill of beans. But the US of A, with so many people and wars (within and on the ground) have so much more to deal with. We have many friends in your great country, a few with your experiences. I admire you ability to rise up and conquer

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