Army veteran speaks about PTSD at McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park
October 6, 2017
By Autumn Jarrett
When U.S. Army Major Marc Raciti returned from his deployment in the Middle East, he started to notice subtle differences in his life.
“I just didn’t feel like myself anymore. It was weird. I just attributed that to being more mature. I just didn’t think things were funny anymore. I felt different and I couldn’t pinpoint it. There was an overall lingering sadness, and I didn’t know why,” he said.
One day, he found himself standing in front of a very large tree, trying to decide which branch would best support his weight if he hanged himself. “That’s when I really knew there was a problem,” Raciti said.
Raciti was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). After struggling with suicidal thoughts for years, he finally found healing through cognitive therapies and now wants to help others heal. That’s one of the reasons he’ll be speaking about his life experiences and his book, I Just Want to See Trees: A Journey through PTSD, at the city of Scottsdale’s free Veterans Day event on November 10 at McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park.
Marc Raciti and his wife, Sonja, a military psychologist he met through a mutual friend, were invited to speak at this year’s event because of the strides they are making toward PTSD awareness, said Scottsdale public information officer Jan Horne.
“A lot of PTSD issues with veterans are sometimes not brought to the forefront,” Horne said. “Marc and Sonja have made nice strides with respect to that area.”
When Marc began writing his book, he did it to give something back, he said. “The story that I wanted to tell people is a story of hope. A story that there is a long abyss that you have to cross. Unless you get to the other side, don’t stop. Turn around, look at that trail and through that abyss, and start pulling other people through,” he said.
Raciti grew up living all throughout Europe because of his father’s career with government. He moved to the U.S. as a teenager and joined the Army in 1989. At that time, Raciti had a wife and two small children and a career in the hotel and restaurant industry. His decision to enlist was an adjustment for his family, Raciti said. “In the military, I was fortunate. It suited me. It was one of those environments I thrived in mostly because it had a good structure. There were consistencies, things that made sense to me, language I was familiar with,” Raciti said.
Raciti served five deployments throughout his 24 years in the military, including Operation Desert Storm and serving in Iraq, Africa and Kosovo.
Raciti said he realized there was a problem when he started to contemplate how he would be able to take his own life. He had been pushing away his friends and family. He said he felt isolated, filled with sadness, anger and hopelessness.
He sought professional help in 2007 prior to his deployment to Iraq. The experience was not helpful, he said. The psychiatrist did not make eye contact, turned his back to him while he typed and told him to be quiet because he was typing, Raciti said. “He reaffirmed my thoughts to begin with that there is really no help out there.”
Raciti would visit this psychiatrist three times, so great was his need for help.
Raciti’s PTSD worsened, and by the following year, he was ready to commit suicide. “You start making a plan, start writing letters explaining things to your kids,” Raciti said.
When Raciti went to Iraq for a second time, he thought that would be his demise, but when that didn’t happen, he thought maybe the end would be during his deployment to Africa. But when he returned from his Africa deployment in December 2009, he met his now-wife, Sonja, who served in the Air Force and the Army National Guard as a psychologist.
After Sonja and Marc began dating, she instantly knew something was wrong and urged him to get help. “It was easy to see right away what was going on. He wasn’t sleeping. Within an hour, hour and a half of falling asleep, he was awake with nightmares throughout the whole entire night. Any little noise and he would be up in arms. He tripled-checked his house constantly,” Sonja said.
Marc was resistant to get help because of his past experience, but through Sonja’s work, she was able to connect Marc to a counselor well versed in working with PTSD patients. Marc began treatment in April 2010. He underwent two cognitive therapies, prolonged exposure therapy and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), for 18 months.
In the beginning, he saw only subtle changes, but the changes were there, he said. “You realize you are sitting down and you don’t have to sit a certain way at a restaurant to eat and you’re just enjoying your meal, or you’re in large crowds and you aren’t freaking out,” Marc said.
Before his retirement, Marc said he began thinking of writing as a way to give back. He began writing here and there, organizing his thoughts and improving his ideas. Before long, the manuscript to I Just Want to See Trees: A Journey through PTSD was finished. Marc’s father-in-law helped refine the story and Sonja created the cover art.
Marc wants people to be able to read his book, get help and then turn around and help someone else make it through the abyss. He wants readers to know there is hope and there are resources and people who care.
The book also will help those who are connected to someone with PTSD. It will help them understand the missing puzzle pieces, Marc said. “(It’s) not just for those who have suffered from combat trauma, but for anyone going through any kind of trauma,” he said.
I Just Want to See Trees: A Journey Through PTSD won the Pinnacle Book Achievement Award and is also an International Book Award finalist.
These days, Marc and Sonja spend their free time enjoying the outdoors with their two children, Makana and Marc. They do “2 1/2-year-old stuff” with their son, Makana, Marc said. They play with toy dinosaurs, go to zoos and aquariums.
Through their nonprofit, Healing Wounds, the Racitis give a yearly scholarship to a therapist specializing in PTSD or trauma treatment. Along with hosting events, they do psychoeducation, speaking engagements and guide people to resources for themselves or a loved one. “It really fits into our ‘paying it forward’ motto,” Sonja said. “We want to help others to understand that there are resources. There is light out there. It is difficult. It is not an easy solution, but there is hope.”