I became a part-time psychotherapist in 1984. I have been asked this question many times, “do you think therapists went into the field to heal their traumas?” My answer until 1996 was that I didn’t know the answer. After 1996 my answer to that question has been, “in my case I know that is true for me, but I’m not sure about other therapists”.
Many people do not believe “repressed traumatic memories” are real. I have had two experiences where traumas showed up after being repressed for more than thirty years. Both traumatic memories were triggered by something happening that reminded my subconscious of a similar experience and it then became conscious to me. Both times I thought it impossible these traumatic events had happened. I was wrong!
The First Time
The first time was in 1996. My sixteen year old son and I were in a theater watching the John Grisham movie , “A Time to Kill”. In the very beginning of the movie a young black girl was being raped and I went into psychological shock. We left the theater! I found myself outside of my body and sobbing uncontrollable for over two hours. Fortunately for me, I had been trading therapy with a very skilled therapist and I was able to do a phone “Clean Language” therapy session with her.
In my memory I had been sexually molested once by my grandfather when I was between three and four years old. The most traumatic moment was when he told me, “if you tell anyone what I did, I will kill your mother”!
For weeks after the therapy session I was in denial. Then I started realizing that my grandfather’s behaviors probably caused my father’s alcohol abuse and his rages. I also realized that at least two of his three sisters were prescription drug abusers. My grandfather was also a proud member of the KKK.
Four years ago I went on the internet site “23andMe” to get my DNA test results. I found a 2nd cousin that had been unknown to me. Her grandfather was raised by my grandparents from ages one to twelve. He was my grandmother’s younger brother by twenty years. He told my cousin’s father that he had been sexually abused by my grandfather. He ran away when he was twelve year old after he was tied to a tree and bull whipped. He never returned and he became an alcohol abuser. He died at age 42. It was if he never existed. My father’s family secret!
My grandfather died when I was ten years old and I remembered feeling relieved, but didn’t understand why until I was fifty-one years old.
The Second Time
The second time I was working as a fifty-three year old FAA radar air traffic controller on a morning shift in 1998.
The ceilings and visibilities were very low in the area. I was very busy working fourteen jets inbound to Houston Intercontinental Airport when it was brought to my attention that a four engine jet cargo plane I was working was 500 AGL (above ground level), in the clouds, and still descending towards the city of The Woodlands (15 miles north of the airport).
After transmitting to the pilot four times, the pilot finally stop his descent at 200 feet. I thought this jet was going to crash into The Woodlands!
After I talked the pilot of the jet to a safe landing at Houston, I was relived off my position to write a statement. I immediately ran outside of my facility building and vomited -later you will see a pattern – a psychological one.
I was very unlucky in that I probably had more emergencies where I had to talk pilots down on radar than any air traffic controller in the FAA (bad luck & inaccurate Houston weather forecast). Even so, I never remembered vomiting after working a stressful emergency.
See the attached PDF for a more complete story on this DC-8.
PDF: DC-8 – Flight Assist
After the DC-8 emergency I went home and started having nightly nightmares of all things an emergency when I worked at the Joint Use USAF B-52 SAC Base at Amarillo, Texas in 1968.
In this nightmare I was twenty-three years old on my first 15 minutes of Radar training. I thought this dream was the most unbelievable aviation story that I had I ever heard of in my life! No Hollywood writer could dream up a story like this! H-bombs and me talking down an emergency with only 15 minutes of radar on-the-job -training!
After three nights with little sleep my wife asked if any of the other air traffic controllers that day were alive. I looked up Bobby Jones, my radar trainer’s phone number on the net and called him. What was unusual for me was Bobby Jones was a friend and I never called him after leaving Amarillo in 1969.
The first thing Bobby said was , “ why are you calling me after thirty years?” I asked Bobby, “do you remember a T-38 with the call sign “Brusk 11?” Bobby did! My dream was real and factual. That was the first emergency where I went outside and vomited! There is a four minute audio recording with Bobby Jones at the bottom of this post to verify this story.
Bobby was my radar training instructor that day, but was in the restroom when most of this emergency occurred. What is not on the tape is the only controller in the radar room (George) froze and wouldn’t talk to the pilot after he vectored the T38 (call sign Brusk 11) into a severe thunderstorm.
The pilot on emergency frequency was actually screaming, “mayday, mayday, lost the canopy, one engine out, student pilot injured, request vectors (headings) back to Amarillo AFB”. George just sat there screaming, “shit, shit, shit”. Unanswered the pilot transmitted, “we are ejecting!” I went crazy and transmitted, “stay in the aircraft you are over the city, turn right heading 270”.
When I issued the vector to the airport, the pilot screamed as if he was in pain ! He wouldn’t transmit after a few request, so I had him ident on this transponder (this was before we had altitudes displayed on radar). I gave no-gyro (telling the pilot to turn or stop turning) vectors for a left downwind to Runway 21.
George moved his chair next to mine and I smelled alcohol on his breath. He said, “good job Clint, but whatever you do, do not let him fly over Pantex ( Prohibitive Area P-47 at the bottom). He will kill us all if he crashes !” We knew Pantex was a Nuclear Bomb manufacturer; however, the public was not aware what the Pantex Plant manufactured – it was “Top Secret”.
A week before I had seen my trainer, Bobby do a radar approach and he lined up the aircraft for a 10 mile final. Now I had to vector the T38 on no-gyro vectors for a 4 mile final to avoid Pantex.
My belief was if he crashed into the Pantex plant and set off the H-bombs, the explosions could kill everyone in the North Texas area. My knees were jumping up and down uncontrollably against the radar console.
I successfully turned the T38 inside of Pantex, lined the T-38 with the runway and had the pilot descend the aircraft, The pilot reported by transponder when he saw the runway a mile out at 500 feet above the ground. At the same time a controller in the control tower was in my headset telling me that he saw the T38 come out of the clouds and Bobby Jones was behind me screaming, “What in the fuck are you doing?” I unplugged, ran outside the building, and threw up.
I took sick leave and went home. Bobby Jones called a few hours later and told me that he and another controller had driven on the closed runway to view the T38. He stated that the cockpit was exposed to the elements, no canopy, full of water, and hailstones the size of softballs. The student pilot had been knocked unconscious by a hailstone and that the pilot was suffering from hypothermia.
If the pilot had ejected he would have killed the student pilot. Bobby surmised the pilot was getting electrically shocked in water up to his neck when he transmitted, so that’s why he stopped talking.
The T38 had holes in the vertical stabilizer and in both wings. Both jet engines were missing turbine blades. Only one engine was working. The T38 never flew again. There was a coverup by the Air Force and FAA on this incident and I will leave it at that.
That day was the most stressful day in my life. Even controllers with decades of experience find doing radar approaches without the aircraft being an emergency stressful.
Today, very few controllers know how to issue successful no gyro headings or know how to do a radar approach. Add an aircraft with injured pilots, without a canopy, having to align the aircraft on a 4 mile final that might crash, and you have to avoid a Nuclear bomb plant is beyond comprehension!
Bobby Jones 4 Minute Interview:
This event prepared me for the many Radar Approach emergencies that followed me to retirement to include two aircraft without an operating engine in the clouds and a Boeing 737 with a total electrical failure at night. Unknown to me at that time, my future wife was a flight attendant on this Boeing 737. I retired from the Federal Aviation Administration in 2004 (See next post).
It wasn’t until 1990, after the “Cold War” ended did the public find out that hydrogen bombs were being manufactured at the top secret Pantex plant and only then was Prohibitive Area P-47 posted on aeronautical charts.