Annie Allenback has a message for all troubled veterans.
Help is available.
She should know.
In the past year, she is thankful that she has celebrated significant balance and improvement in her life after a debilitating decades-long struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder.
She will be among speakers at a Veterans Day lunch at noon Monday, Nov. 11 at the Long Beach Elks Lodge No. 1937.
The Long Beach Peninsula resident’s message to fellow veterans suffering from PTSD is to step forward and ask for help. “We have a tendency to mask some of the emotional iniquities that we are left to deal with,” she said.
Allenback grew up in the South and used to visit Ilwaco as a child. “My grandfather told me I have ‘sea legs.’” she laughed, when asked about her decision to enlist in the U.S. Navy. “I thought, ‘What better place to be?’”
She joined in 1978, serving on the East Coast-based USS Gallatin. A couple of years later, she transferred to the Coast Guard, working as an electronics technician on navigation systems.
“It was an extremely convoluted time, coming out of the ’60s and ’70s, the Vietnam era,” she said. “In the 1980s, there was a lot of confusion.”
For privacy reasons, she prefers not to discuss the exact trauma. But she candidly states, “The military didn’t have as much protection for women at the time, to protect women from physical assaults and violence.”
When she moved back into civilian life in 1983, she worked in government and private-sector jobs, most recently as a chef.
“I have had the privilege of experiencing various jobs that have introduced me to different ways of thinking about life and people as I have battled through own situation,” she said.
Nightmares and erratic sleep patterns were among her symptoms, as well as drinking. As the years passed, she sought help from the Veterans Administration and private health options, seeking to tackle what she calls “the trifecta” — medical, mental and emotional issues.
“I have had help from situations that have offered me some balance, sometimes successfully, mostly unsuccessfully,” she said.
“The VA has done the best that they can with what they have funds for. For some people they’re a great success, but for the majority it is not.”
PTSD affects trauma sufferers in complex and varied ways that affect their wellbeing. Allenback said this sometimes shows itself as wanting to escape from society or exhibiting suicidal tendencies.
She is critical of medication as a sole strategy and said group therapy often means reliving the trauma. Her experience, however, is that veterans savor camaraderie and can be empathetic with each other.
“There’s a survival guilt, there’s an action guilt and a lack of resolution,” she said. “What we try to do as vets with PTSD is hyper-focus on other people’s issues to try to make up for what we went through in the military. We can clearly see answers for other people that will not necessarily work for us.”
An entirely different traumatic episode several months ago, sent Allenback into a tailspin. Again, details must remain confidential, but she credits Milt Parham at Discover Recovery, an addiction recovery center in Long Beach, with connecting her with help. “I was like a zombie, barely existing,” she said. “I was going through the motions, but I was gone. I was checked out.”
It was arranged for her to have a place at the Brain Institute and Treatment Center in California for electromagnetic brain treatment.
“It took an entire community to get me there,” said Allenback, who is eager to express gratitude for those who helped. “It’s amazing how many hands were involved in this.”
She was especially grateful to Ron Robbins, then post commander of the Don R. Grable American Legion Post 48 in Ilwaco, who stepped up with discretionary funds the Legion has available to assist veterans needing help.
That meant her house rent could be paid while she was away. A dear friend took care of her schnauzer and a VA official secured a donated condo in Costa Mesa for her six-week stay. “That freed me up to face whatever I had to face,” she said.
Allenback said the treatment, in February and March, enhanced her life. It consisted of exposure to the positive properties of morning light and what she described as “relaxing” brain treatments using electromagnetic rays. “It was noninvasive, there were no needles; it was quite soothing,” she recalled.
The outcome makes the 57-year-old smile with satisfaction.
“I have a nice feeling of being very happy. It has been that way since. It has not gone away,” she said.
“Since treatment, I handle difficult situations. I have become more physical. I have taken up kayaking. I have more energy. I am not depressed or wiped out. My whole life changed. I became more creative. It was almost like falling asleep and waking up six weeks later a different person.”
She said she sleeps better and the nightmares have gone.
“I live in joy. I don’t break down crying. I used to drink a lot, now I don’t.
“I have a life of quality,” she added. “I don’t think about that part any more. It’s not there. The story is there, but I don’t have to go into the deep well and stay there any more. I don’t have to go home and wallow in a box of tissues.”
On her Facebook page during the past year, Allenback has sought to post a daily upbeat message. One read, “Don’t be afraid to share your story. It could be the key that unlocks someone else’s prison.”
Speaking at Monday’s lunch is only part of her pledge to fellow vets. She believes her specific treatment technique can help others with PTSD if word is spread about its effectiveness.
“I want every veteran to go through this,” Allenback said. “I will make it my job for the rest of my life to help every veteran. I will do what it takes. … They deserve it, we all deserve it.
“We risk our lives. We deserve to have a life of quality.”