The Heart of Darkness

Years ago, unfortunately many years too late, I read an article by Jeff Cooper in which he talked about the different states of mental alertness. He gave each state a color. (Note: the colors in this article differ somewhat from what I remember but the meaning is the same.)

Based on painful, personal experience, I add to his taxonomy Code Green: when you completely relax because you are in a known-to-be-safe environment. Without Code Green you get PTSD.

For years I operated in Code Orange. All the time. I saw so many people in Code White. I had been in Code White but I learned the hard way that combat gives no warning. Then I had been in Code Black, startled, surprised, and completely frozen. It almost cost me my life.

I was determined to never let that happen again, to never be caught unaware. Better to be too prepared if that was even possible. So at first I consciously chose to be in Code Orange. But after too many days living in the same environment, always under the threat of attack, Code Orange became a habit, the default setting. People thought I was a loose cannon.

And, to them, I was. They were in Code White where nothing was amiss, where there was no need to be ready to defend yourself. They saw people in Code Yellow as being paranoid. Me, I was just nutty. People don’t screw around with Nam vets. But I didn’t have any medals or surplus fatigues. I just looked like the chubby kid. So they were surprised when I wasn’t.

I was ready to go to Code Red in an instant because I had to be. I didn’t want to live like that; what child would? But I had to be and, because I desperately wanted to live, I was. I saw everything and everyone as a potential threat and I maneuvered to protect myself. Needless to say, that interfered with all of my relationships. I wanted a better life, I hoped that a better life was possible, but I resolved to do whatever it took to survive.

Most people live in a Code White fairy tale. In that fairy tale, people do treat each other poorly but nothing permanent really happens. The victims take their abuse stoically but come back the next day for more abuse. The victimizers keep victimizing, avoiding punishment by never hurting anyone too bad.

But I know that world is a fairy tale. I have lived in the real world, where good people die and bad people play for keeps. I have been through Code White into Code Black and out the other side into Code Red. I respect anyone who has been on the same journey and I envy those who haven’t.

I was lucky enough to stumble onto an extremely talented yogi (who I now call a friend) who helps people recover from combat trauma. After a couple of years talking with him, I learned to spend my time in Code Yellow. I have rehabilitated my injuries, psychological and physical, to the point where I can lead a relatively normal life now. I retain hope that I can see even better results with continued work.

But the damage has already been done. I still see people as threat vectors. I still check their hands and eyes, their clothing, their posture, everything for evidence of an impending attack. Large crowds wear me down, not just because I’m an introvert, but because it’s hard work keeping track of that many threat vectors. I don’t like surprises or being touched without my permission, especially being touched by surprise. I can still get to Code Red in an instant.

To be blunt, for me this is just a cease-fire. My worldview has been irrevocably skewed to see things from a combat perspective. My fore brain knows that the hostilities have ended but my hind brain knows that they will resume. I can’t see how that wouldn’t affect the way I perceive and am perceived. It colors the language I use and the choices I make.

That is the third, and deepest, reason they call me “Sarge”.

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One Response

  1. […] our caravan to the event and in part to calm my nerves after the close call. I was already in Code Orange; when I saw the pickup pull into the parking lot I went to Code Red. A woman in her thirties got […]

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