How do you keep going when the battles are drawn out, each day feels pointless, and you are so, so tired? When the darkness feels never-ending and nothing seems to get better? How do you keep picking yourself up off the ground, and talk yourself out of fear and back into battle?

How do you fight for You?

Resolve.

The ability to keep going comes down to one thing: you have to resolve inside yourself that giving up or staying this way is not an option.

It has to be the undercurrent pulling you toward Life. And to get in the flow of that undercurrent, you have to surrender to your soul’s instinct to Live, to Grow, to Shed What No Longer Works or Supports You, to Transform, to find New Ways of Being.

You have to be willing to let those parts of you that are keeping you stuck, die.

You have to be willing to say “I don’t know the fuck where I am or how I am going to get there, but I am going to find a way to Live.”

And you have to mean it.

We discredit the power of decision. And we underestimate the power that comes from making a conscious, intentional decision.

We have, overall, as a society, dismissed the strength of willpower. Perhaps because we don’t like to face our own power, because if we face our power, we’re responsible to manage it in our lives. Perhaps also because there are some things that willpower can’t change, and willpower has gotten a bad rap for being a “quick answer” to dismiss the depth of someone’s situation.

But what if, we have more power than we think we do?

What if by making a true decision, one you feel all the way in your gut, one your whole being commits to… resolve…. we can change a great many things? What if instead of waking up feeling like life sucks and there’s no reason to get up, we could make a decision to fight for the day, to fight those negative thoughts, to say NO to them. And what if, by the power of your will to direct your thoughts and focus on something positive (like all the things you have to be grateful for in this very moment while life sucks), you begin to change?

Now, I realize that to get to that point you might need medication, you might need counseling, you might need to read an article like this that presents you with a new way of thinking…. but eventually, the only one who can decide how the life is going to be is YOU.

Decide. Not just wake up and see what life brings. Not just wake up and see how other people disappoint you again. Not just wake up and expect more misery and feel worse and worse.

But decide. Decide that you’ve had enough. That your repetitive negative thoughts have had way too much control over how your life feels now. That PTSD, depression, anxiety — are part of who you are, but they DON’T GET TO DEFINE WHO YOU ARE.

We waste years giving up our power because we don’t realize that we actually have the power to decide how we will be. Or what our mindset and attitude and perspective on life and on life WITH PTSD, depression, anxiety will be.

I am NOT being dismissive of how these diagnoses impact you, or of the fact that they make it very hard to think differently, or feel differently.

BUT, I am saying that there comes a point where you either let these diagnoses swallow you whole and control your entire experience of life — OR you take back your willpower and decide to control what you can. And what you can control is a decision to let these things defeat you and make you an utterly miserable person, or to accept these things as part of who you are, but to find every possible way to live your best life anyway.

That may mean going after alternative therapies. That may mean learning about new perspectives on life. That may mean finding religion. That may mean looking for every type of therapy, treatment, philosophy, spiritual practice until you find one that shifts your perspective toward Life.

What it will always mean is that you have to give up your identity as someone who has no power.

You have to give up your beliefs that life sucks, you’re doomed, nothing will ever change, people just hurt you, you are just stuck with this shitty life. You have to give up your beliefs that your diagnosis gives you an excuse to act like an asshole, or treat people like shit, or destroy everything in your path. (Yes, I know you have rage and anger to deal with, but you are responsible to find ways to deal with it — and there is help out there and there is a part of you that can resolve to find a way to heal the anger.)

You have to own your life and take back your power to change how you think.

There are so many resources out there. Books, speakers, spirit/mind/body leaders, people who can teach you how to see your Self, suffering, death, life, beauty, grief, joy, love differently. People who can teach you how to take what life has delivered to you, and change your attitude and outlook so that you aren’t controlled by the anger and bitterness and negative perspectives.

But none of this can happen unless you DECIDE that you are going to do whatever it takes to find it.

All it takes for change is one thought that you’ve never had before.

Just one thought.

Start reading and listening to authors like Mike Dooley, Mark Nepo, Wayne Dyer, Rob Bell. Start feeding your mind with thoughts you’ve never had before.

Make a decision to reclaim your life and then go out and do what it takes to do it. Yes, it may be slow. Yes, it may take time. Yes, it may feel as if you get knocked down and have to pick yourself up again… but you keep going.

You can’t change your diagnosis or what you have suffered; you can change whether or not it will define you or whether you will define your life.

It’s your choice. Until you realize that deep down within you, everything outside of you will control you and swallow you whole.

Only you can allow that to happen.

 

 

Gallery  —  Posted: July 6, 2016 in Courage, Healing from War, Post War Life

It’s that heaviness deep in your chest. That gaping void where part of who you were before is permanently gone. It’s the sense of having done things that can never be undone, a burden of being responsible for having taken life and for having lost it. A burden you know is yours to carry.

It’s being moved to tears by songs that invite you to grace and mercy because you know in your heart that for some reason it doesn’t apply to you. Grace and mercy? You want to believe, but they feel as if they’re for others. Not for you. For your brothers, for your family. Not you.

And your heart aches and contracts and your chest caves in on itself, your breath catches in a prayer you can barely whisper. You want to, but you don’t believe in redemption, even though it calls to you, like a far away home you can hardly remember. You feel as if you’re standing outside the circle, watching all the innocent ones, the ones who haven’t destroyed and killed, the…Others…receiving grace and forgiveness. Accepted. You know deep down you will never belong. You are… marked. The spiritual repercussion of being a warfighter.

It eats at you. Oh, not the killing. At least, not the ones that were justified. No, the decisions under fire, the split-second hesitations, the choice to go down one road instead of another. The feeling in your gut that warned you, but you weren’t in a position to heed it. Or you were, and you didn’t. And now they are dead.

Men you loved. Men who loved you. Men who died for you and with you and for whom you would have died. But you didn’t. And you’re pretty sure you should have. You would now if it would bring them back.

It gnaws in your stomach, replays in your mind, haunts your nightmares. Sits in you. And you move through your days forced to live with the knowing, with the overwhelming sense that there is nothing you could ever do that will ever unmark you. Ever undo what happened.

You move through your days held by the underlying certainty that you can’t belong. Always, standing outside that circle. Believers of all faiths invite you to step into their circles of salvation. But grace feels like a fantasy, like a far off wish that is fine for others, just not possible for you. At least, that’s what runs through your mind.

It’s that sense that you don’t deserve real love, real goodness, real joy, to have what your heart wants most in this life because you’re responsible for more destruction and devastation on this earth than anyone knows. So you just stand there, on the hillside, outside the circle… with your fellow warriors. And you watch the Innocents get the joy and love they deserve. And you’re glad they do. But your eyes fill with tears for the longing to belong and the seeming truth that you never will.

This is your reality. You’re strong. You’re a soul of courage. You know how to carry your own shit and it’s yours to carry. You know all the explanations and comforting words that your wisdom reminds you of. The chaos of war. The chain of command. The fractured nature of time in combat. The possibility of death even if you did it all right. The randomness that played into it all. You know good men die in war. You know that you did a hell of a job. You know you would do it all again. Even now. Knowing how it hurts. You’d do it all again. It’s who you are.

You stand among men who are rare on this earth. Those brave enough and human enough to deliver death and endure life. You can’t undo what has been done. It IS your burden to carry. But it’s not yours alone. Your brothers stand with you. Those who shoulder the weight of being the only group of souls on earth condoned to take life and heralded as heroes for doing so.

“Some things can’t be fixed, they can only be carried.” I read that recently.

The hell of combat lies in the silent aftermath. In the second-guessing one’s decisions. In the very real weight upon your soul that bears actual responsibility for the loss of human life. It is in what you should have done, what you couldn’t do, in the reality of your actions. In the unchangeability of what you did or didn’t do.

I don’t have an answer for you in this. I can only shoulder it with you. Perhaps redemption is found in the choices we make now, going forward, in choosing to remember and live with a sanctity of life, in giving back, in finding ways to be more truly alive. Perhaps there is redemption for you in a religion that makes sense to you. Perhaps there is redemption in choosing to let love break you open and risk feeling again.

I don’t know. I seek an answer as much as you do. What I do know is that the pain is real, the ache hurts, the sense of carrying something that only a few ever have to carry on this earth and even fewer will ever understand is sometimes overwhelming and always there. Underneath it all.

I do know that you are beautiful in your brokenness. You are beautiful in your pain. You are beautiful in your courage to be a soul who carries this weight. I know your heart is good and you are loveable. I know your heart has done dark things you have never told anyone. I know that sometimes all you can do is let the tears rise and fall, to make the pain just a bit more bearable, than gather your strength, get up and carry on. I know that you may be shut down and so numb that nothing touches you anymore.

I know that you are loved by those who understand you and by those who don’t. You are here for a reason and while the weight on your soul is so heavy, you have the strength and fortitude to bear it. And when you stumble to the ground under the heaviness, the rest of us will be here to kneel with you, give you water, wipe your tears, and hold courage for you while you find yours again. And when you are exhausted and can’t get up, we’ll carry you.

The spiritual burdens of combat are hard. There’s nothing easy about this. Few are willing to even address this issue. But I refuse to believe that there is no hope for less pain, for different perspectives, for wounds to heal. I also believe you find courage by facing truth in the face. Trying to make this less difficult only denies the reality of how complex and real this issue is. I will continue to go into this dark cave until my eyes adjust to the dark and I can see what my soul needs to see.

We may be outside the circle, but we’re here together.

 

Gallery  —  Posted: April 5, 2016 in Courage, Grief, Healing from War, PTSD, Spirit Wounds, Survivor's Guilt, Warrior Identity

I’m peeling back a layer here to go deeper into some of the issues close to heart. Why? Because the things I discuss with combat veterans are deeply personal, deeply human, and deeply spiritual to warfighters in nature. Not religious. Spiritual. Pretty much every topic I discuss can be tied back to spirit. So, let’s explore.

Q: You talk about warfighting being a “spiritual calling.” What do you mean by that?

I believe we are eternal beings of Love and Power. I believe we chose our lifetimes before we come to this earth, including our date and manner of death, and that when we die, we return to the Spirit World, but remain conscious of all of who we are and all of what we’ve experienced. We return to our purer innate essence of full Love and full Power. We come here to learn, to explore, to experience our Selves in ways not possible in the Spirit World. I don’t believe in hell or sin, in the sense of “separation from God” – because I believe we are all divine and you cannot separate us from the Divine anymore than you can separate hydrogen from oxygen and still have water.

So, when I say that being a warfighter is a spiritual calling, I mean that while you’re still in the Spirit Realm, you choose and accept to carry the weight and responsibility of being a death-bearer. Not all combat veterans are warfighters, not all combat veterans carry the spiritual calling. But those who do, know it deep down in their soul dna. Being a warfighter is who they are. It’s what feels the most natural to them, and while they can and do certainly live in peace among civilians, most always have a sense of “being among but not one of.” Something’s always off just a bit, missing. You’re never quite home.

In an unholy sense, think of a lifetime like a video game. You choose your role, understand the risks, don’t know what’s going to happen next, can choose to end the game early, and overall, do your best to complete all the missions and rank up or die trying. Now, obviously, life is far more sacred than this, but it gives you a context to consider. It also returns you to a sense of your own power in choosing this lifetime and that is absolutely critical to your future.

Q: So, if you carry this spiritual calling, then what?

Accepting and seeing it as a spiritual calling gives you ground to stand on, or fall on when it gets too heavy. Warfighters (warriors) have always spent more time out of combat than in it. For the most part, they have always had to find ways to endure peace. Bearing the responsibility to be the one who sends others back to the Spirit World is a sacred and heavy trust. It’s not one any true warrior takes for granted, it sits in your chest, it changes and shapes you, it lasts across lifetimes. It creates a sense of sin and pleasure, it is a position of power and grace. It makes you more deeply aware of the value of life, and strips away the lies, falsehoods, and illusions we humans use to deny ourselves the right to truly, deeply live. This is one reason why warfighters often struggle with feeling more alive when the Energy of Death is near. Because Death is real. And its presence, its energy, makes Life real. We often assume we are numbing out to avoid pain, when we’re actually numbing out to avoid our present life because a life that can’t be lived as real as we know it can be… feels depressing and void and pointless. (Until you learn to see with a different perspective, and you absolutely can do that.)

Q: What about the lust to kill?

It is in the nature of a true warrior to feel pleasure in killing an enemy. Even when the “enemy” gets broadened to define anyone who might put one’s self or fellow warriors in harm. The lust to kill is sometimes an actual lust, but often it’s that sense of exacting power and the satisfaction from defeating a worthy opponent. The satisfaction is not the same when the kill is too easy or the enemy not equal enough to you. When it’s unequal, you can start to feel guilt or a sense of shame (even if the fight was still just). Our modern world has lost the ability to see the appetites of the warfighter as natural. Now, does that mean you can just go out in the civilian world and do violence? Hell no. Being a warfighter is all about containing and controlling power, mastering it so that you are able to be the dark and the light. Kind, gentle, passionate, tender, respectful when appropriate. Lethal, dark, vengeful and vicious when appropriate. You are not “two different people” — but rather, a more whole one.

Q: You don’t believe in sin and yet, so many feel shame and guilt and deep remorse for things they’ve done and experienced. Does it ever go away?

No. It doesn’t. There are things we justify within ourselves, mostly destroying in order to defend and protect fellow warfighters or the innocent. And there are things you never get over. Not in this lifetime. Not in the next. (Because it’s all ONE Life, just different lifetimes. You remain You.) If there is no external “God” waiting to judge us, and if we are the very essence of Love and Power… then our sense of shame and guilt comes from believing that what we have done was wrong and should not have happened. There are some things we will always know in our soul dna that are irrefutably wrong. And when we violate those instinctive beliefs, it does something to us deep down. People like to call it “moral injury” now… and in a sense, it is an injury to our sense of morality. But more often than not, it’s a sense that we have violated an instinctive spiritual code among human beings. And so, we have to look at the bigger picture of this lifetime (and sometimes past lifetimes) to see how our actions are part of the bigger story of Us. And ultimately, look at how can we make choices NOW to impact the story. Because while past actions have consequences, so do your current ones. And some of the greatest love and goodness expressed in this world has come from those who chose to choose Life after they had previously chosen destruction.

Civilians thinks warfighters feel guilt over killing. Period. That’s not true. You may, but most often, it’s guilt over violating the Code. Some of the deepest wounds come from not having been able to save your own brothers (or sisters) in battle. From a personal sense of “your best not having been your best” because someone you loved died at the end. Even though you know, logically, that you truly did your best in that time and place. And sometimes, you know you didn’t do your best. You made a mistake. You let yourself get distracted. You failed to find the courage you needed. Tiredness and a depleted body made you fight just a little less harder than you would have otherwise. In other words, you were a human being being a human while in battle. So much is entirely out of our control and yet, the brain will gnaw at your wound with “if only I had” or “I should have” or “did I make the right decision?” until the pain is so great you shut down that part of you that feels anything or you think killing yourself is the only way to end spiritual pain. (It’s not, often being able to tell your story to someone who will hold it sacred is enough to begin to lessen its pain and help you find a way to carry it.)

What it comes down to, is that guilt comes from love. A general love for humanity (at least those we deem innocent among us) or from personal, relational love — the kind warriors have for one another. You break the spiritual Code and you are going to feel the weight and pain of it. But that doesn’t mean it needs to destroy you. You have choices. One of them is to accept your own humanity, to accept what happened and to let the pain you must endure help you make choices during peace that build life, that honor life, that teach others the value of life. And you can do that WHILE remaining a warrior. Again, contain the dark and the light. Wholeness.

Q: That sounds overly simple.

There’s nothing simple about it. You have to choose the courage to carry the weight on your soul, to own who you are in this world, in this lifetime. But the pain and sense of remorse, the tears that well up just thinking about it, the sense of a hole in your chest that nothing can fill because what happened has taken that part of you and it’s just gone — that’s reality. I think we confuse “healing” with “take away all the impact of trauma and combat from me and make me how I used to be.” And that’s what many warriors come to me hoping for.

That’s not what it’s all about. Healing is a natural process that restores life to our cells, and our Aliveness over time, when the conditions for it are supported, allowed, and chosen. But healing does not erase scars, does not regrow limbs, does not take the ache out of you that comes from the trauma, does not revert you at all to who you used to be. Healing moves you forward. You BECOME who you are not yet. Healing is a necessary part of being a warfighter, but it does not alleviate you from the weight and responsibility of being a warfighter. Nor does it change who you are. It may change your way of being and relating in this world when combat is no longer an option for you.

So, while healing is very much what I am here to help guide warfighters to experience, at the same time, it’s more like I have this virtual camp.  When warfighters are in my camp, they have a safe place to rest, to let their guard down, to feel protected in spirit, to refind their strength and refind their courage. It’s about living as a combat veteran and warfighter. Living the best life you can with the wounds and losses, with the scars and pain, with everything in you….allowing and choosing to carry the weight you have been so sacredly entrusted with in this lifetime, and often in past lifetimes as well. It’s tough, but you wouldn’t have chosen this lifetime and still be here if you weren’t going to be given the resources and strength and choices to grow and continue on your journey as a human being.

 

Gallery  —  Posted: March 29, 2016 in Healing from War

You were trained to be violent. That’s obvious to you, but it’s not to civilians. They see veterans who struggle with violence or violent tendencies as someone who has lost control (or never had it) and they fear you. Warfighters and LEOs are the only callings in life where you are trained to use violence as part of your role. Not only trained, but rewarded for it. So, let’s be clear on this. It is as much an issue of training as it is habit, now that you have been to war and back.

In a perfect world, warfighters would remain with other warfighters throughout their lifetimes, deployed away from civilians, where they are inherently understood and can be who they are. But our world doesn’t operate like that, you either get out of the military when you don’t re-enlist or you are discharged. Either way, you are separated from the culture, lifestyle and accepted norms of behavior that you’ve lived with, only to meet a world that has vastly different expectations of you. You come home displaced, with a ton of emotions and experiences that no one can see, you don’t really know this civilian world, and yet, you don’t want others to know you’re struggling.

And you are angry and you are used to having violence be a way of solving problems.

That doesn’t work in the civilian world. So what can you do about it?

1.) Don’t feel sorry for yourself. Man (or woman) up and realize that you are responsible for your life now. There is no one else to blame or hold responsible anymore. When you left the military, they handed ownership of your life back to you. You may not know what to do with it, but it’s yours. This is a new concept for you if you have spent your entire adult life in the military where someone else was in charge, someone else told you where to be, how to do things, how not to do things, and made life very simple (not easy) for you.

2.) Get a good understanding of PTSD and of the spiritual impact of combat. Know why you are angry. Learn why you react the way you do. Spend time thinking about the connection between how you were trained, what you experienced, what was acceptable in the military, why you react/don’t react the way you do. You need to look inward and understand the Why behind your tendency to lash out in violence.

3.) Don’t overlook the physical/biological reasons. If you have a TBI, it may be more challenging for you to control your emotions. The same is true if you are chronically tired and not getting enough sleep. Sleep deprivation makes it harder to control emotions (and so much harder to be in a good mood). It also makes you crabby and far more likely to lash out. There’s an interesting theory about OTS (Over Training Syndrome) where your body/mind/spirit is depleted from endless training/deploying/training/deploying. Understanding the physical/biological reasons that impact your emotions is essential.

4.) Decide to change. This sounds oversimplified. It’s not. There are many things you cannot control (having a TBI, PTSD, nightmares, etc.), but the fact is that until you decide to control the things you CAN control, you won’t change. I’m not talking about being a controlling person, I’m talking about showing up for your Self, owning responsibility for your attitude, perspective and beliefs in life, and taking action to live the best life you can. There is no room for a victim mentality in true warfighters, nor do you have the luxury of remaining stuck in a life that is not yours anymore. If you have made it home alive after being in combat, you are here to Live your life. You are here to honor your fallen by living as fully and deeply and joyfully and truly as you possibly can. You owe it to them. That means you have a future and you have a hope. And at some point, you are going to have to close the door on What Is No Longer and be here, right now, in What Is. But the choice is up to you. You want to change your life, you find a way to do it.

5.) To change your life, you have to accept What Is and surrender to the process of transformation. It’s your nature and training to fight to solve something, and if it doesn’t work, you fight harder. It’s necessary in battle, right? Most of the time. The only problem is, you are not in combat now and there is no enemy trying to kill you. When you take a “fight harder” approach, you turn your Self into your Enemy. But there is no one who needs your Love more than your Self. And you don’t need to be fought, you need to be acknowledged, valued, loved, heard, given room to change. Who needs to give that to you? You do. (I’m going to write more about this in another post, as it’s very very important and such a huge mindshift for warfighters that it deserves some true contemplation and exploration. But for now, realize that fighting may not be the way to transform your life. Surrender to being a learner of new ways of being is.)

6.) Learn how to master your power. Anger spikes violence, right? You can learn to manage anger. This is about power management. You are an intensely powerful being and unlike most civilians, you’ve been trained to control and unleash power that is lethal. You don’t get more powerful than taking a human life, right? Wrong. True power comes from mastering your own passions, from learning to control your power to be as effective as possible. Warfighters are the few who must learn to control immense power within themselves. You are not exempt from that requirement now that you are living in the civilian world. There are anger management classes, yoga, mindfulness, martial arts, there are leaders and authors like Mark Nepo, Mike Dooley, and so many others who have ways to teach you about how to honor your power while seeking inner peace and being who you are meant to be in this world. Start looking. Start searching. Do the work of finding the perspectives that make sense to you and open your mind to whole new ways of thinking about life and purpose. The more you learn how to Be Present with Life, the less anger is required to make you feel alive.

7.) Take it out on something safe. Get a punching bag, go to the gym regularly, learn how to box, burn off that extra tension and energy that builds up, find a physical way that is non-destructive to express that energy. Get off the PS4, put your beer down, and move your body. Dance! Get silly. Laugh. Just move. Physical fitness in the military is not just to keep you in fighting shape. It is to help you manage your energy and power. Put that practice to use now.

8.) Know that the desire for violence does not make you a monster. It makes you a well-trained and experienced warrior who hungers for what was once most fulfilling to you. It makes you someone who must learn to master that desire in order to retain your honor and protect your brothers’ dignity. It makes you someone who has been given great responsibility – the knowledge of how to use violence in this world – and that responsibility is one you carry to the grave and on into your next lifetime. If you struggle with fantasies of violence, consider writing fiction or song lyrics. You can express it safely in writing – whether you pen a novel, screenplay, song, or just write stories that no one ever reads. Try to find a way to move that energy out of you in a way that does not harm anyone. It’s the feeling you are craving, and those feelings can be created through story. The brain does not know the difference between what is imagined and what is real. (How else do you feel emotions from the films you watch?)

9.) Get help. You’re not alone. Sometimes the relief you find in sharing what’s really going on in you is enough to help empower you to feel more in control and take action.

10.) Safety has to come first. Repairing or addressing relationships comes second. If you feel that you are putting others or yourself in physical harm, or if others feel threatened by you, know that they absolutely must leave you and be in a safe place. They are not betraying you if they do not feel safe, or if they decide they need to live elsewhere while you focus on learning how to master your power. If you are suicidal, call 911 or go to the local Emergency Room and let someone help you to find a way through this.

Remember, you have to be the hero in your own life. Only you can save You. Others, like me, serve as guides, but ultimately, this is your life and you have to make the choices to find new ways of getting help, coping, being, adapting and thriving. You are here to support life now; not to destroy it.

Stand firm and have faith. You have the power to change your life.

 

 

Gallery  —  Posted: March 4, 2016 in Healing from War

It’s become almost intolerable. The fear, anger, dissension, distrust running rampant on social media right now. One look at my Facebook feed and I could easily assume that all the chaos there reflects how things really are. Yet, I know that social media spreads emotions more than facts. We share post after post of fear-based warnings and strive to get people to believe what we believe, to see what we see, to agree with our perspective and yet, at the end of the day, all it does is leave us feeling that our world’s gone to hell. And hope walks out the door.

I don’t have answers for the issues of our day: gun control, terrorism, corrupt government officials. I do have political opinions; but I will keep those out of the public’s view. Why? Because adding one more opinion to the chaos won’t make one bit of difference.

Calling you back to yourself might.

Our world is made up of sheep, sheep dogs, wolves and shepherds. I am a spiritual shepherd and in my world, sheepdogs, sheep and wolves all need to be attended to. They all exist in their own right.

This weekend I was up in the mountains at a farm, standing next to a pen that held a dozen sheep. They weren’t used to strangers and when I approached the fence to gaze at them, they dashed in fear to the other side. My kids took up positions around the enclosure and the sheep, scared and without thinking,  blindly dashed in one fluid motion from one end of the pen to the other. Not one of them stopped to think for themselves. When one sheep moved, they all moved. It was a survival instinct; the assumption that the crowd must know what is safe.

This is exactly how we are behaving on Facebook. And because we follow the crowd and assume it is with the crowd that we are safe, we get inundated in fear and anger and become outraged and everything grows vaster and scarier and out of control. And hope walks out the door.

I am not going to tell you that we don’t have a problem. We do. Every generation of Americans has faced divisive problems and enemies that killed us. We are not the first; we won’t be the last. The issues that divide us are not new; corrupt governments are not new, they go all the way back to our “founding fathers” (who, by the way, were a bunch of millionaires who wanted to create a place where they could evade paying taxes to their own governments and thus amass even more wealth. So they invaded a land, murdered the inhabitants, insisted that their religion was the only way, and forced everyone to live by their new rules. The intention of creating a land of freedom was not nearly as altruistic as we’d like to believe. Do not be blind to who we have been.). No, our problems are not new. What is new is that social media has us blindly dashing from one end of the pen to the other.

I am going to remind you that reacting from the energy of fear is not how we solve problems. I am going to remind you that as long as we move from fear, we have already lost. I am going to remind you that standing still while everyone else dashes, calmly assessing the situation and the actual level of threat, and responding with courage puts us back in our power.

Most of you are sheepdogs in our country and have been wolves in others. Stop trying to make the sheep into versions of yourself. Yelling at the sheep that wolves are approaching will not make the sheep into sheepdogs, will not make the wolves more real to them, nor will it stop them from dashing blindly from one end of the pen to the other. We have a responsibility to lead with calm confidence, not to get angry at the sheep for being sheep. Wolves exist. Wolves will always exist. They always have. We’ve been wolves ourselves more often than not. So, we don’t need to be surprised or angry at the fact that wolves exist. Wolves are a part of life. Human nature does not change.

We are beings of love and power. It is who we are. The value we assign to life varies as we move from being sheep to sheepdogs to wolves to shepherds. This is how it has always been. Figuring out the best way to protect the lives we value has always been part of being human.

I’m not saying that any of this is easy or simple.

I am saying that you have to live THIS day, right here and now. Which is why I’m writing this. To call you back to your Self.

I don’t have the ability to change the situation we are all in. I believe the best and wisest course of action is for me to not allow the situation to change who I am.

I believe this is true for each of us.

I believe we need to calmly remember that fear gives the enemy more power than he actually has. Fear gives our power away. Hatred only serves to empower our enemies and makes us weak. Not that we don’t all need to have more situational awareness and make wise and perhaps different decisions than we would have in the past; but that the best way to defeat an enemy is by living as if we’re not afraid of dying.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gallery  —  Posted: December 7, 2015 in Healing from War

This is an issue many of you, and especially me, are dealing with. I’m going to flat out tell you right now that I’m just beginning to truly understand the importance of true intimacy… I’m a novice at this, guys. Maybe we all are. God knows how many ancient walls guard my heart….or what it takes for someone to be let through. So, I know that this is a tough topic. It’s not easy for me…. but it’s important.

I’ve been thinking about how we can be surrounded by people who love us and yet we don’t “feel” the love. We blame it on our walls, right? And yes, our walls are a good part to blame. But I think part of the reason is also because most people who say they love us actually love how we make them feel. They love our energy. They love what we do, how we make life feel safe or good or easy or just better for them. They love their idea of us. Their love for us makes them feel good. To them, their love for us is as real as it gets. And their love is real. Love is love. All love is real.

So why don’t we feel it? Because being loved for how we make others feel and being loved for who we really are, are two very different things. Two different types of love.

If we don’t feel truly seen, heard or understood for who we really are on the inside, if we aren’t able to really talk to and confide in the people who love us, to feel perfectly safe sharing our selves — we aren’t known for more than our surface. We can’t FEEL loved unless we feel truly seen, heard and known BENEATH the surface. We can KNOW we are loved, but we won’t feel it. Or, at least I don’t. Why?

Because to feel loved we need intimacy. The deep trust and safety of another’s spirit that allows us to be vulnerable, that sets us free to fully be who we are, that makes us feel known on the inside, safe to express our real feelings and know we will be allowed to feel whatever we feel: our fears, our dreams, our hopes, our regrets, our desires. Intimacy makes us feel connected. Intimacy deeply entwines our roots together.

Being loved for how we make someone feel and intimacy are two very different things.

Being loved for how we make people feel is the love of basic friendship, fans, colleagues, teammates, followers, supporters, clients, it makes us popular among people who enjoy our energy or who need us in their lives in order to satisfy their need for safety or comfort. Being loved for how we make others feel is surface love. Surface love has roots but they are not entwined.

Intimacy is the love of marriage, deep friendships, parents and children, warfighters, life partners, soul mates.

Perhaps this is why relationships that require intimacy and don’t have it don’t last? The demands of these type of relationships are so heavy that unless intimacy is the foundation and maintained over time — unless our roots are thoroughly entwined — no other kind of love is strong enough to support the weight of it.

Because what we all really want is to be known, seen, understood for the broken, evolving, growing, scared, brave people we are.

We get surface love and intimacy mixed up sometimes. I have. I have accepted and given surface love instead of demanding intimacy where intimacy was required. We think that spending time with someone, living with someone, being around them day in and day out is intimacy when all it really does is let you get to know their behavior. (Think of two trees standing beside each other, they spend all their time together and know their surfaces, but their roots are not entwined. They are together, but each remains separate and alone.)

If you don’t have intimacy and if you aren’t sharing your inner worlds with a trust and shared, equal power and support — if you’re not talking to each other about your real selves (entwining those roots) — all you know is their behavior, their tendencies, how they react. How they react is often very different than how they feel inside. And if you don’t have their trust enough for them to share with you how they feel, you do not know them. You do not have intimacy. You have surface love.

Of course, relationships are complicated and there a myriad of factors that play into them, this certainly isn’t the only one. But at its most basic core, doesn’t the success of a relationship come down to whether real intimacy exists or not?

I haven’t been good at intimacy in this lifetime, not at requiring it nor in giving it. My walls are thick, I’m well armored. Only a couple of people have emerged in the last few years who have had what it takes for me to let them in. They taught me that it IS possible. Finding out that I CAN be vulnerable and truly feel seen, heard, understood and accepted for who I am, made me understand just how much it deeply matters. Life-changingly so. I’m not going to go into details out of respect for my husband’s privacy, but waking up to this (along with other reasons) has resulted in my decision to peacefully end the marriage, a process we’re still moving through.

I don’t have the answer to “how do you let yourself be intimate?” I will, no doubt, be writing more about my own discovery of that, and part of my own process is for me to be more vulnerable with you and write about my own journey in a way I haven’t done before.

But I will say, that even if you have walls as strong as mine, it’s not ONLY about your walls. We instinctively know when we are in the safe energy realm of someone who makes us feel seen, heard and understood. It’s about the type of love, the energy dynamics, the fears and maturity of both people. Because the right person with the right energy CAN come into your life and move past your walls as if they were paper-thin. I’ve experienced this myself (which, when you have walls like mine, feels nothing short of miraculous) and I experience the blessing of being that person to so many of you every day.

 

Gallery  —  Posted: November 5, 2015 in Courage, Families After War, Healing from War, Post War Life, Sex & Relationships

You miss warfighting. Miss war, miss your team, miss having life and death within your power. Miss the cohesion, the shared misery, the trust. Life was simple, fucking hard, and combat required all of you.

Now nothing requires all of you.

Warfighting is a spiritual calling, which means that tug on your soul doesn’t go away just because circumstances prevent you from continuing. I see so many combat veterans looking for a way to keep fighting — angst and anger at the government and system, hatred for civilians who just don’t seem to “get it” — there are justifiable reasons for the frustration, yes, but at the end of the day, it comes down to what demobilized warfighters have gone through for millennia. Not being able to accept that their warfighting days are done and not knowing who they are supposed to be now.

When your spiritual calling is to defend, protect, destroy, fight — not being able to eats away at you. Life goes on, much of your energy is spent trying to suppress the inner knowing that you’re no longer doing what you are here to do. Trauma from combat fuels much of the negative emotions and symptoms you have, but a good portion of the weight gain, turmoil, anger, feeling lost, reliance on pills and alcohol — comes from not being able to live your calling anymore. It takes a ton of energy to deny what your soul knows to be true for you. And many of you are killing your Selves because of this. Some of you with weapons, most by staying in relationships that no longer nurture who you are, accepting mediocre jobs that require little of you, overindulging in anything that numbs you out, and complaining and bitching about what’s become of “the country”.

This is NOT who you are. You are better than this. And you are meant for more.

You are people of honor, individuals who are willing to act with courage, and do what most people can’t. You know what true strength is, endurance, the fragility and value of life, you know power.

So, why is it that you get out and turn into whiny, disempowered people who can never be pleased? (sounds a lot like the civilians you rail against)

I know why. It’s because you are stranded out here without a fight that you know how to fight. You assume that the way you were trained to fight is the only way there is, and now that you can’t, you don’t know what to do. You feel disconnected from who you know you can be, who you feel you are, and what you can actually do about it in your life now. Some of you have been warfighters in past lifetimes as well as this one, it’s a role you feel natural in because it’s what you have known for a very long time.

So, where does this leave you?

Let’s look at things a bit differently.

What if your spiritual calling isn’t to the physical act of fighting, but to fighting for something, in general?

What if you can still find a way to live out that calling, if you realize that it still takes the same energy, passion, devotion, sacrifice and drive to fight for something on this earth whether the enemy is human or deeply ingrained beliefs that keep people stuck and small?

What if you are still meant to be a warfighter, it’s just that the way you fight has changed?

The blatant drive to destroy and kill is the basic level of true warfighting. It’s time you level-up.

The more advanced forms of being a warfighter shift you from extinguishing life to fighting the thoughts, lies, and beliefs that keep humans disempowered and disowning their ability to create a meaningful life that aligns with their soul. Advanced levels require spiritual, emotional and mental agility and stamina to recognize how fear deceives us all to destroy our belief in our own power. It is a fight that you have had a taste of now in this post-combat life as you have come up against thoughts that are powerful enough to convince a person to put a gun to his mouth and pull the trigger. This is not warfighting for the faint of heart or for the easily discouraged. You get to this level and the whole game changes. And life is on the line.

Maybe it’s time you up your game, retrain, and  fight for Life and true freedom, not political freedom? Maybe your mission now is to learn how to fight at the advanced level for your own Life so you can be ready to carry on the greater mission of this lifetime? There is no doubt that we need you here.

Warfighters are called and driven to serve the greater good. This self-based, poor-me life that you’re living right now doesn’t feel good, does it? Of course not. And it never will.

You are meant for more. You are meant to stand tall with the humility of true leadership among the rest of us, to carry the wisdom and weight of warfighting along with the wisdom of what living truly means. You have already proven your ability to face Death, you have already met your own strength. We need that from you still.

Shift your perspective. Own your sense of self and your calling. Stop trying to deny what is an essential part of who are. Realize that you don’t need to be less of who you are. You need to be more. Understand that until you stop fighting what is, until you stop denying the fact that the way you need to fight has changed, you won’t move forward and you won’t be of the value you can be in this world. Change, transformation, evolution is how Life works. A calling to serve, to stand for something Greater Than Ourselves may last an entire lifetime, but how it is expressed will and must change for us to be who we are meant to be and have the impact we’re meant to have.

Don’t let the fact that the game has changed convince you that you no longer have a vital role in it. In life, just as in war, you adapt and up your skills to be of maximum value to the mission.

Life is asking you to be more. Rise.

One of my Soldiers learned today that he lost a soldier to suicide. One of my Marines attended the funeral this week of a brother who went Home early. I’m sure there are many more of you who are dealing with this kind of loss right now. And many of you who are contemplating killing your Self.

Those of you who are suicidal often tell me that no one cares and that everyone would be better off if you are not here.

Tell that to your brothers and sisters. I wish you could see what this does to those you leave behind. Yes, I know you’ve lost people, too. You DO know what the pain feels like. And yes, you’re tired of it never getting better.

But as for that lie that others are better off without you? It’s a lie. It gives you an excuse to quit.

If no one cared about you, if it’s true that no one cared about those who commit suicide — then WHY the hell are my soldier and marine crying this week? Why is there a place in our hearts that feels hollow, that aches, that wonders why you didn’t reach out, that questions whether we could have prevented it, that leaves us feeling defeated, wondering how we can stop this thing called suicide from taking more of us?

Here’s the thing. Suicide is NOT the enemy. It’s not some force out there that’s killing our veterans. We can’t defeat it. It’s not an entity in itself. Suicide is a thought. It’s a lie that tired and wounded and lonely hearts that have fought too long alone choose to believe. It’s the lie that says because nothing has helped you get better, nothing ever will. It’s a state of being disconnected from your sense of power and ability to find healing. But it’s not some external force that steals in and kills you. Suicide is a choice.

If you’re thinking of killing your Self, and you’re reading this, then don’t you dare let the thought that no one cares and that others are better off without you be your excuse and your permission to take you from us.

You think about your brothers and sisters. You think about those people who risked their lives in combat to protect yours. Brothers and sisters who would have and did die for you. Are you really going to quit on them? Are you really going to let your death tell them that all of THAT — all of that struggle and love and suffering and risk — was for nothing? You survived all that just to come back and kill yourself?!? How dare you.

You know why suicide cuts deep for the rest of us? It’s not just that we miss you. It’s a betrayal of the Love and brotherhood. Yes, we are compassionate. We know your pain. We know you didn’t mean to hurt us, we tell ourselves all kinds of things to make it easier not to deal with the reality that you killing yourself feels like betrayal. It makes us angry. You chose to hurt us. You decided our love was not enough. You didn’t even give us a chance to help you change your mind.

We live in a time and age when there are plenty of resources to get help. If the VA fails you, we have private mental health providers. There are nonprofits galore out there ready to help, programs everywhere, chaplains, counselors, social workers, 911, the police. You have NO EXCUSE for not getting help. If it was your brother out there, in trouble downrange, you would have no excuse for not doing everything in your power to save his life. You have no excuse now.

The rest of us think it’s our responsibility to stop this so called suicide epidemic. But no one comes to a decision of suicide suddenly. It’s pondered for weeks and months and years. All of which during that time you could be getting help. And when you do choose suicide, it’s not the rest of us that have failed. It’s your choice.

Do I sound a little angry? Yes. I’m writing this with anger. Because this is where suicide takes me. I’m sick of watching my soldiers and marines cry for brothers and sisters they blame themselves for not being able to save. I’m tired of the lies you choose to believe. I’m tired of the lie that no one cares.

We care. Reach out. If your love for one another could get you through combat, it sure as hell can get you through this. Suicide is a choice. Choose not to. Choose life. Let us love you.

So much of life after combat is an identity crisis. Yes, there’s the emotional, mental and physical pain. The nightmares, rage, insomnia. The grief, the edginess, the isolation. Forced smiles, numbness and lack of connection. But underneath it all, there’s something else. There’s the questions: why am I still here? Who am I now?

Underneath them is the fear that you no longer have purpose.

There are two levels to purpose. The surface level — the kind of purpose that comes from what you do (your job, responsibilities, activities, etc.). And the deeper kind that comes from who you are (your personal values, the primary energy you operate from, etc.). For life to feel right, a good portion of what you do should be determined by who you are.

You get hit with changes to both of them when you separate from the military. And, unlike most civilian jobs, for warfighters, what you do and who you are, are often the same.

Nothing equals combat’s sense of purpose

I don’t need to explain to you why nothing feels as gratifying, important or as meaningful as combat. How you were trained and bonded to move as one with your team, how that trust runs so deep it cannot be compared to anything in the civilian world. How cohesiveness and unity created your sense of identity and purpose. And how the risk to your lives sealed it.

So let me just make this clear right now: there is no more engaging sense of purpose than that of protecting and defending each other’s lives in combat. Or of suffering together, not because someone forced it on you, but because you stepped up to walk among the chosen few. You will not find anything in the civilian world that will equal that feeling.

You can stop looking for it.

Lost in a civilian no-mans-land

You get out of the military and your whole life spreads before you. Wide open. You don’t know what you want to do, and you don’t know what you should be doing. There’s no one now to define what the shape of your days and nights looks like. And no threat to your existence that makes the future seem irrelevant.

You’re stranded out here with no clue what to do in this civilian world. You don’t want to be a civilian (you’ll never be one of them, don’t worry), but you DO have to live among them and find some way to make a life.

No, you can’t go back, but you don’t know how to go forward because all you long for is what you left behind. Every civilian you know assumes you’re relieved and happy to be done with the military. They don’t stop to think that you’re like a pro athlete who, at the height of his career, gets injured and will never play again. You don’t just face career choices, you face a void of purpose. It’s not that you just lost your job, it’s that you lost your whole identity. But even more important, you lost something very few people will ever experience:

What it is to be fully, deeply alive.

This isn’t about finding the right job or career path and hoping it will fulfill you. This is about the “who you are” side of purpose. And it’s spiritual, because you are an eternal spirit having an earthly experience. Until you solve the “who you are” side, nothing you do will feel like purpose.

The hidden purpose every warfighter forgets

Humanity looks to religion and meditation to find enlightenment of the soul. Well, guess what? No one knows spiritual enlightenment like a warfighter.

And you know what else? You aren’t just missing your team and your war, you’re missing feeling spiritually alive. Present. In the now. Surrendered to Life and Death, content to live now, live fully. There is no future to worry about when Death is trying to send you Home early. There is no past to regret when your buddy is taking fire and you are in a position to save him. There’s only now. And it’s beautiful, colorful and permeated with heightened awareness and simplicity.

But that feeling vanishes when you come home and before you know it, you’re reduced to bitching that civilians don’t have a fucking clue what life is all about.

Do you know why warfighters hate civilians? It’s not just that civilians have no clue about “the real world” – it’s that they are unenlightened. They spend their lives worrying over stupid shit that wouldn’t phase you. Their lives seem to have so little meaning, and they seem to waste them. It grates on your soul because you know exactly how precious and fragile life is. And they don’t give a shit what you know. So, you bitch about them and feel some sense of camaraderie in knowing that your fellow warfighters also hate civilians. It gives you something to rally around. A place to funnel the hate that you once would have directed toward your enemy. What it really does is distract you from what would be time better spent figuring out how to take your enlightenment and use it to do something productive and meaningful.

Because just because you no longer wear a uniform, doesn’t mean your obligation to live with honor and do something important is over.

All you will ever need to be happy and have purpose, you possess right now

So, what are you supposed to do? Or more accurately, what do most of you do? Whine, mope, bitch, lash out at everyone around you because they don’t understand you and you aren’t all that happy to be in these circumstances. You think you are special (and you are special), but you sure as hell aren’t acting like warfighters who were taught values. You’re not very likable this way, are you?  Yes, you say you don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks, but the reality is, you do. It hurts to be left out, to not belong, to be drowning inside, to lose your relationships, your marriage, your family. And your attitude just drives you deeper into the darkness. Alone. You know what? It’s time to man the fuck up and live for something greater than you. Yes, your life sucks right now. Yes, you are in a lot of pain. Yes, you have open wounds that burn like hell when anything gets too close. Yes, you don’t belong. I get it. I do. I ache for you. And I am here for you to help you fight your way out of this. But I am fucking tired of seeing incredibly good, strong, powerful men and women who know more than most people how beautiful life is (and are still blessed to be breathing) act as if they are powerless, choose to commit suicide instead of being willing to do anything to find wellbeing, act as if they got dealt a bad hand, or as if they didn’t sign up and step up to be the chosen few. You are better than this.

It’s time you remembered who you are.

Men and women of courage. Strong. Capable of enduring what most people won’t. Men and women who own their power, know their limits, and know that you don’t fight alone, you move and win as a team. You don’t endanger a teammate’s life by keeping your mouth shut if you’re low on resources. You put the wellbeing of your team first, and part of that means making sure you are well and supported. (If you are fighting this post-combat battle on your own right now, you are endangering a brother. You need to fuck that, reach out and rely on the support available to you. Stop believing the lie that you’re not capable of healing and rebuilding a life that feels good.) No, you don’t let someone defeat you. You own this fight. As a team. THIS is who you are.

But even more so, it’s time you remember that you have the power to be significant.

Right now, in this moment.

You don’t need the VA to tell you what you can or cannot do.

You don’t need someone else to assign you your role.

You don’t need permission to change your life for the better.

All you need to do is to remember that you — and ONLY you — can choose your attitude. That’s where your power is. That’s where it’s always been. From the day you enlisted and every day since.

Step up and matter

I look out at so many warfighters that I love so deeply and you know what I see? I see how beautiful your scars are. Scars that are earned — not by surrendering to what is easy, but by refusing to give up when it hurt. I see men and women who have lived through combat and are still here. I see men and women who want to be significant again. Because you have what only the chosen few possess. And we need you to do more than lead small, me-centered lives. We need your leadership in how to live with courage. Leadership in how to be mentally strong. Leadership in how to live each day as if it fucking matters.

Because it DOES fucking matter.

You want to know your purpose? There is only ONE purpose for human life. And that purpose is to love.

That’s it.

That’s the magic key to the rest of your life. Loving others. Not the “no one loves me so I can’t love anyone” kind of love. Hell, no.

You are here to love with a power and depth that comes from being enlightened. You are here to love others even if it requires sacrifice. You are here to love because that’s how you create a life that matters. And I’m not talking about romantic love. I’m talking about the kind of love that has you seeing the people around you as human beings who, for the most part, are scared of truly living and fear they’re inadequate. The kind of love that has you leaving a generous tip to a taxi driver, not because he “deserves it”, but because his life might be a bit harder than yours. The kind of love that has you asking how your annoying coworker’s weekend went, not because she’s nice to you, but because she’s going through a divorce and it’s tough.

Sacrificial love that demands all you have. Why? Why should you sacrifice more? Because you know what love is. And you are capable of more. If you want to argue that a warfighter’s purpose is to kill and hate, let me ask you this: what held you together in combat? What keeps you here now? What is it that has you reading this article, by this woman you don’t know, who is speaking words that sting and inspire you somewhere deep within?

Love. Not the soft, mushy, fragile, fear-based, self-protective kind. Real love. The I will die for you kind of love. The love you already know how to live.

And why should you love? Why should you put yourself out there and ask nothing in return?

Because it is where joy lives. It’s the closest you’re going to get to feeling like you did in war. And it’s your spiritual calling.

Guardians and defenders of a different kind

What if you took that kind of love and stepped up, once again? This time not to defend and protect against terrorists, but to defend and protect against the limited thinking that keeps people small, insignificant, afraid of their own Light and greatness? What if you made it your mission to stop bitching about how much war hurts you and start adding life to those who are more dead inside then you’ll ever be? What if you just made kindness and listening and helping others expand their perspective on living your purpose for today? What if you once again lived an others-centered life?

Here’s what I want you to understand. It doesn’t matter what job you do. It doesn’t matter if you turn this way or that way. It doesn’t even matter if no one else loves you first. You are a being of love and power. You are capable of choosing to be lit from within by love. And when you operate your life based on the energy of love, you feel good. You feel significant. You feel blessed. You are powerful.

It’s that simple.

There is no secret to purpose. You choose which energy you will operate from. Love empowers and nourishes you. Hate and me-centeredness does not.

Am I being flippant by making this seem simple? No. I know you have PTSD, TBIs, physical wounds, losses, you’re grieving, hell, I know this well. I know that you get moody and you don’t mean to flip out on people. And yes, there is a place for medication and counseling and various types of therapy. But in all the biggest changes and transformations in life, whether or not you end up with a life that feels good comes down to this: the perspective you choose to have. The energy you choose to live from.

You can be wounded and not be an asshole. You can be wounded and be happy. You can live from a place of gratitude and positive energy. You can choose to stop bitching, stop focusing on the negative, and start doing the work of healing and post-traumatic growth. That work means you start by humbling yourself to accept what you cannot change and that you change what you can.

You can step up and choose to live for something other and greater than yourself.

Loving others will give you back your sense of significance. It is the key to every meaningful life.

And you can start choosing to live by Love right now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gallery  —  Posted: June 7, 2015 in Healing from War

We spend a lot of time thinking that we need to let go of the past. “Let it go” (oh, god, don’t get me started on that refrain, lol!)…is what we hear over and over. “Move on.” “Leave it behind you.” “Try not to think about it.” “That’s not who you are anymore.” These are phrases that are well intentioned and often eventually work for broken hearts, break-ups, job losses, and personal disappointments.

They don’t work for combat vets.

So much of our healing efforts to “move on” from the past revolve around assuming that we need to separate ourselves from what happened back then and make it less a part of who we are now. The only problem is this doesn’t work when your job was to kill and maim people. Or when you’ve created or witnessed desecration. Or when you’ve been the perpetrator or victim of torture or abuse. War is ugly, it’s rank, it’s humanity that has lost our sense of our Selves, a time of suspended perception and surrealness. To anyone outside the warfighter community, war is something to run far away from.

Not to warfighters.

To be a warfighter is a spiritual calling. It’s not just something you do, it’s who you are. You decided before you were born into this lifetime that you would accept the role of warfighter, that you would carry the burden of being a death-bearer, that you would carry the weight of that level of spiritual responsibility.

It’s not just something you do for a few years and then “leave it behind.”

Why? Because it is part of who you are in this lifetime and may very well be part of who you have been in other lifetimes.

What happens usually? Warfighters come back from combat, are done with their active roles as warfighters, and settle into the boring routine of civilian life. It’s unsatisfying, even though you know you are grateful and you should be content with peace. You try hard to convince yourself that you need to move on. Your therapist works with you to “let it go” and most everyone assumes when you take off your uniform for the last time, you transform into a civilian. Yeah, right.

You’re here, but not here, aren’t you?

You know how you spend so much time lost in thought, remembering war? How easy you slip into who you were then, those experiences, those memories, those feelings? People around you say you seem like you’re somewhere else? And the past feels so much more real than the present?

I know you know. It’s so easy to slip into that past life.

Civilians and many therapists do not realize that you’re not just remembering, you’re re-experiencing. You’re back there. Every part of you. You feel who you were then, you feel that identity, you feel the emotions, it’s all right there, in you. You move back and forth between that past life as a warfighter and your present life now. One warfighter put it this way: “It’s as if I turn my head to the left, I’m fully back there. If I turn to the right, I’m here. It’s that easy to go between two very different realities. And it’s even harder yet to realize that they’re both the same me.”

The reason it’s important to distinguish this is because the idea of “letting it go” or “moving on” assumes that you can separate yourself from yourself. This is not a memory issue, guys, this is about who you are. Your identity.

We need to stop trying to push the past away, stop trying to exclude it from our sense of Self and do the opposite. Expand and widen our concept of our spirit/soul so that it’s vast enough to include the past and the present as valid parts of who we are.

Healing is not about getting rid of all the pain, it’s not about shedding your sense of identity, it’s about becoming whole.

Whole equals the sum of all parts. Whole contains the dark AND the light. The joy AND the pain. Who you were then AND who you are now. Realize that you are an eternal being that encompasses all of the experiences you have ever had and that, despite and because of it all, you are here. Those painful memories hurt, but if the actual events didn’t destroy you then, the memories sure as hell can’t now. You don’t need to fear them.

What you do need to do is realize that you will always be a warfighter by calling. It’s who you are. You may never experience combat again, but that doesn’t mean you are done fighting. Integrate this part of you, don’t try to eradicate it.

Look for ways to put the spirit of fighting for something to work in your current life. This is about energy. Focused energy that challenges your limits, stretches your beliefs in what you can do, and gives you a sense that your presence here still matters. The past is always going to linger, it’s going to pull you into it, it’s going to be a part of who you are. But the past is not ALL of who you are either.

We need to remember that we are still here because we need to live the life we have now.

And that’s the hardest part. Sitting in the present when you feel so disconnected. When everything that happened back then feels so much more real and vivid and meaningful than where you are now. (This feeling, by the way, is hard for families to understand because to them it feels as if you don’t value them enough. I wish families of warfighters could understand that in so many ways warfighters feel as if there are two versions of themselves. And that isn’t because there is something wrong with them, it’s because the nature of being called to carry the weight of a warfighter’s life is not something you ever just “move on” from or “let go” of. It’s seared into your soul’s DNA.)

You have a life to live now. You don’t have to have it all figured out. You may be stranded, wondering what’s next in terms of career, relationships, purpose. You may be reeling from the intensity of your combat experiences and just beginning to edge toward sensing that you are actually here and now.

You need to find ways to come back to the here and now. We can do this by becoming mindful and grounding. To be mindful, you intentionally focus on the present. To ground, you can do a variety of techniques. For example, choose an object — a stone, a photo, something that connects you to your life now –and focus on that object. Pick it up, feel it, notice it — it will bring your attention back to the present. When you do this, take time to name several things you are grateful for. This will help you to start feeling more emotionally connected to the present. (To learn more on how to ground, see Grounding Techniques)

It’s time to stop believing that you have to let go of your past in order to be who you need to be now. In fact, your past is the most valuable thing you possess. It is yours alone, unique to you. You need it, to be you in this world.  To fulfill your soul’s mission in this lifetime. So focus on accepting your past as part of your soul’s journey and let it teach you about your Self. In the big picture of this lifetime, what happened is part of your Story. Your Story doesn’t own your life, you do.

It’s time to see the past and the present in a new way.

 

Gallery  —  Posted: April 6, 2015 in Coming Home, Courage, Families After War, Healing from War, Post War Life, PTSD, Warrior Identity