TAMPICO – It took Jim Seeley Jr. nearly half a century to get another shot at a life without post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Navy veteran was always the funny guy. The band’s frontman. Then he'd wake up the next morning, freshly tortured by dreams of his capture and abuse suffered while he was stationed in Hawaii at age 18.
“I’d wake up in the morning just pissed,” the 69-year-old said. “I’d take things important to me, like my guitars and and stuff, and just bust it into a million pieces. Instead of hurting somebody, I’d hurt myself. I’d cry. Didn’t know why. I wouldn’t play music for months at a time. And this is my love. This is what I do.”
His captors were three civilians in a Buick convertible who offered him a ride back to base from a music shop, then pulled a gun and a knife on him before abusing him six ways from Sunday over the next 2 or 3 hours.
He buried the memory and served 4 years, never seeing combat. He didn’t need to end up with PTSD.
‘I was done’
Seeley was ready to kill himself 2 years ago, and he told his sixth wife, Bonnie O'Neal, just that.
She took the dogs to the groomers, and he walked into the bedroom and stared at the gun rack on the wall. He decided against it, but today, he knows it would’ve just been a matter of time.
A deputy sheriff showed up, asked Seeley what he was doing, whether he was armed, and then frisked him.
Seeley asked him what was going on.
“He told me, ‘Someone called and said you were going to hurt yourself,’” he said.
“I lost it. I was done. I just crumbled, cried and blubbered.
“You know what that cop did? He just gave me a hug and told me it was going to be OK.”
He doesn’t remember the ambulance ride to the hospital, but he sure remembers his time at the psych ward in the VA clinic, where he’d spend 5 days.
“I didn’t want to be there. That psych ward was the worst place I’ve ever been,” he said. “But you find out you’re not a freak. Everybody’s got something in the closet. You might not even know it’s there, things that have happened to you that you’ll never tell anybody. But it’ll eat you alive. It’ll eat you to death.”
He was diagnosed with severe depression and PTSD. His medications have improved his life 20-fold.
“I’m, like, 2,000 percent better,” he said. “The worst best thing that ever happened to me was going to that psych ward.”
‘Even more funnier’
Anyone who thinks being medicated stops someone from being the life of the party hasn’t chatted with Seeley in the past 2 years.
“I’m even more funnier now,” he said with a grin acknowledging that butchering of the English language. “Now, music heals my soul. It heals my heart.”
He runs karaoke a couple of nights a week, plays from 4 to 6 p.m. every Thursday at Soldiers Lounge in Bazaar Americana, 609 W. Third St. in Sterling, and he’s on the air from noon to 3 p.m. Sundays on 105.5 FM-WQUD.
In fact, he’s getting his own show from 3 to 5 p.m. Sundays called “Slow Walk Down Memory Lane with Seeley Dan.” He’ll play '50s, '60s and '70s tunes – Motown, country, rock ’n’ roll and the blues.
He plans to bring in old bands to tell their stories, and to feature folks from all walks of life – including folks in the know about PTSD, in hopes of spreading the gospel that he’s learned, and that is available at Soldiers Lounge.
He hopes his story will help wake up those in denial about – or who don't recognize – their PTSD and the rage he used to share with them.
“Deep down inside, my cup was empty,” he said. “I didn’t have anyone to fill it, and I couldn’t figure it out. You’ve got to be honest with yourself. It’ll eat you up. It’s worse than cancer.”
No hard feelings
His assailants, he said, were black; one forced him to perform oral sex. They dumped him in a gravel parking lot and beat him within an inch of his life, until one suggested they “just shoot him and get it over with.”
“They kicked me in the ribs some more, and another guy said, ‘He’s already dead,’” he said.
He crawled to the road, caught a ride back to base and nearly was court-martialed for getting into a bar fight.
“Except, I didn’t have any marks on my hands,” he said. “I was black and blue from my nipples to my toes. I couldn’t get out of my rack for a couple of days. I was in another world. I couldn’t believe what had happened."
He harbors no resentment against blacks or homosexuals.
“Not at all,” he said. “It could’ve been three white guys. Race didn’t matter. I’ve got friends who are gay. I’m not prejudiced at all.”
His two sons have inherited his musical genes – Joshua, 35, has the tattoo to prove it. It reads “Thanks for the music genes, Dad.”
Jonathan, 33, shares some of dad’s struggles, such as depression.
“I think I’ve helped him,” Seeley said. “I’ve helped a few people.”
His parents went to the grave not knowing about his demons. A few years ago, when things started resurfacing, he began revealing his horror story to Bonnie, also a veteran – she served in the Army from 1974 to 1994.
But he never told her about the oral sex, because of shame. Now, he’s an open book.
“If I can help one more person with my story, it’s worth it.”
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs runs a toll-free crisis hotline called the Power of 1. Whether you're a veteran or not, anyone in dire straits can call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1 to speak with a trained suicide prevention specialist. The hotline is available 24 hours a day, every day of the year.