Archive for May, 2012

For families after war, homecomings are joyous events. You are reunited with someone you love dearly. But what is not talked about as much is the mixed feelings and emotions families and veterans have over homecoming. As happy as it is, it can also be a time of trepidation, uncertainty and difficulty. Sadness, grief and feelings of loss can be involved, too.

The public generally doesn’t think about this side of things. But families face it, and it can catch them off guard. What is also not talked about is that the family has to reintegrate just as much as the veteran does. Understandably so, this can be a very sensitive and fragile time for families.

What happens around homecoming and in the period after? Let’s take a look.

The Veteran

The veteran comes home, is reunited with a spouse or girlfriend/boyfriend, children, parents, friends, neighbors. Everyone has changed. Kids have grown and are talking different jargon and into new things. The spouse or girlfriend/boyfriend has changed, grown in spirit, is used to doing things alone and managing the household. Parents and neighbors may have gone through illness, loss, a move, retirement, etc.

Not only have family and friends changed, but the local environment has, too. New businesses, new growth or loss, employers and colleagues – it’s all changed.

The main point being: the veteran, as hard as he or she tried to stay connected, has missed out. This causes feelings of being “out of place” and “not belonging.”

What’s more, the veteran also has to deal with missing people he or she left behind. And missing the daily routine, people and places that have been the fabric of life for months (sometimes years) on end. Veterans do miss these things and that’s hard for people at home to understand. They think: why would anyone miss a war? But vets do. And that longing and separation creates feelings of grief, loneliness and unease.

Added to everything, is the emotional and spiritual impact war has had on the veteran. Much of which cannot be communicated and remains hidden and unexpressed.

So, we have the veteran dealing with all of this. Expected to be happy, content, glad to be back, ready to move on, certain of what to do with the rest of their lives – and often feeling very mixed emotions and disconnected from everyone and everything that has meant something to him or her.

The Parents

Many vets are single, college-age men and women who do not have significant others or spouses and children. They come home to parents who aren’t quite sure how to parent them now. Parents get alarmed when a grown child seems adrift or is dealing with issues that they don’t have the experience or insight to help with. Loving parents want to know how to help, feel helpless to help a child who is a veteran and don’t know whether to set boundaries or take it easy on their child.

There may be financial issues of support and the veteran’s inability to find a job that all add to a new family dynamic. Mom and Dad have to determine what is the best way to support and help their child and need to figure out how to deal with the adult-to-adult relationship they now have with that child. Parents also may not have anticipated the grown child moving back in and this may affect their marital relationship as well. Single vets are often under pressure to go back to college, to know immediately what they want to do with their lives, to get out there and be ambitious in the workplace. Parents feel this pressure, too, from their friends and colleagues.

(Parents: let me tell you this – listen to your heart and instincts when it comes to your child. At any age. Listen to the child and make decisions based on what your heart – not society – tells you is right.)

The Spouse or Girlfriend/Boyfriend

Then we have the veteran’s spouse or girlfriend/boyfriend who is an incredibly strong individual who has been managing the household, finances, children and work all on his or her own. They’re used to being in authority, used to leading, making decisions for the family, and have learned to be tough and not complain (because there is little sympathy out there for military spouses beyond a close circle of friends and family – and sometimes that doesn’t exist either). The veteran comes home and all of a sudden the responsibility shifts – or is expected to shift and doesn’t. Frustration, unmet expectations, wanting relief and not getting it – all come into play. As do the mixed feelings of having to relinquish independence and control to ease back into the partnership.

While the family leadership dynamics change the romantic relationship has to be renewed. And you find yourself sleeping with someone that has vast areas of experiences and relationships that you have not been part of, even though you’ve been “together” the whole time. There is a distance between you no matter how close you’ve remained through phone calls and social media. The veteran has changed. You have changed.

The Children

Children have grown accustomed to the veteran being away and while their world returns to blissful normal when a veteran returns, they soon adjust to “mommy” or “daddy” being home and go on with their everyday lives. This can leave the veteran feeling a bit unneeded. Children often continue to treat the homefront parent as the only one with authority or may “use” the veteran as someone who will give in to their wishes, despite the other parent’s decisions. This causes tension.

Children easily pick up on unexpressed emotions and can sense when “mommy” or “daddy” is going through a tough time. So they will be dealing with their own fears and insecurities about what is going on in the family and what will happen in the future. They may express their fears by acting out or being ‘naughty’ which can add to the already tense emotions flowing around.

The Big Question: Who Are You Supposed to Be Now?

Every person in the family goes through conflicting emotions during and after the homecoming period. Knowing this is normal and talking about what to expect before the homecoming can be very helpful. But if you didn’t get that chance or find yourself dealing with conflicts and mixed feelings even long after the “honeymoon” period has worn off – you’re not alone.

What Can You Do?

1. Recognize that what you are dealing with is bigger than any of you. War is a very, very big thing. It’s not just “what you do” – war is and is supposed to be life-changing. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that it’s so familiar now that it should be easier to adjust to. Respect that what you are all going through is something very big, very deep and very powerful. It’s supposed to be. Give yourself the grace of acknowledging that. And remind yourself of it when things get tough.

2. Talk about it. Gather together and acknowledge that reintegration is challenging, that everyone is going to have different feelings, that emotions are not “good” or “bad” but simply expressions, and reaffirm your power as a family to take it one day at a time.

3. Ease off on obligations, social and work activities. Treat this time the same as you would if someone was recovering from a lengthy illness or injury. Give yourself and family a break, and put boundaries on your time.

4. Give the veteran space to just be. So much pressure is on vets to return to work, return to “normal,” get on with life that they often don’t take any time at all to address what they are feeling. They may not know what they’re feeling, but if someone else acknowledges that it’s okay to just be and feel what they do, it is healing.

5. Make sure the spouse has time to be, too. There’s a ton of pressure on spouses/girlfriends/boyfriends to appear as if everything is fine and wonderful. People expect that once a veteran comes home, the story ends and you all go back to living happily ever after. Don’t let this define your expectations. You need time to process and redefine relationships and how everything fits together now.

6. Keep routines for children, but add some new ones that are unique to your  family.

7. Get rest. All of this consumes tons of energy – spiritual, emotional, physical- energy. Make sure you and your family are getting rest and have time to relax. It’s okay to just hang out and have fun. You don’t have to be “reintegrating” all the time.

What is important to remember is that it’s not possible to go back to who you were as a family before war entered your lives. You have all changed. So don’t try to fit yourself into a mold that no longer represents you. The way forward is to create a new sense of meaning and identity as a family.

Be patient. Be gentle. Be strong in your commitment to heal wounds and love each other. Seek support from people who focus on healing, wellness and spiritual wholeness. Give yourself breathing room and acknowledge that you are dealing with some very heavy, tough issues that aren’t supposed to be easy to recover from.

Can you recover? Yes. The human spirit is resilient and capable of evolving and healing.

The answer to who are you supposed to be now?

The person you are.

 

Memorial Day brings attention to the service of our veterans. But far too often after the fanfare and parades end, people go back to their everyday lives and veterans go back to dealing with issues that very few people can see.

If you feel a bit let down after Memorial Day, you’re not alone. While I believe most people are grateful for the service and sacrifice our troops make, many of them either don’t realize what a lonely journey it can be for a veteran to be back home or simply don’t know how to help. Soldiers have always traveled a lonesome journey after war. One that few people outside their warrior circle understand.

As human beings, we want to belong and be accepted, but even more so, we want to be understood.

Very few veterans are ever understood. And there is nothing lonelier than that.

People around you go on with their lives, focus on problems that seem heavy to them, but matter little compared to what you’ve faced, and they rarely take the time to really stop and think about what it must be like for you. They don’t mean harm, it just doesn’t faze them. And if it does, the issues veterans face and have encountered are tough ones to voluntarily look at. Most people naturally turn away. The human spirit does not like to look at the realities of war.

I will always advocate that we need more bridges of true understanding and acceptance between veterans and civilians. But I’m not going to wait for it to happen to focus on healing and finding connection now, today.

The issues war presents affect the soul. Conflict, violence, force, terror, death, gore, the things that happen on the battlefield that are never supposed to happen on the battlefield – they crawl into your spirit and embed themselves there. They can cause you to feel disconnected from your sense of identity, elicit conflicting emotions of pride and guilt, shame and honor, and leave you with heavy questions that require spiritual – not religious (though religion can certainly be healing if it speaks to your spirit) – answers.

All of this is stirred up by the experience of war.

So you are thrust into this quagmire of emotion, thought, memory, desire, experience while on the battlefield; must endure and live with it for months and years on end while deployed, and then very quickly are yanked from the battlefield and dropped back down into NormalLifeville, USA – often in just a matter of days.

What happens? You bring all the inner issues of war home, but no one at home can see those issues. You may or may not act out emotions – anger, getting drunk, sleeping around, partying, numbing – are common. And people react to your behavior, instead of what is causing the behavior. (Because believe me, if they could see what you’ve seen, and experienced what you have, they’d be acting out their emotions, too.) You have reactions that they don’t understand, but make perfect sense to you because you’ve been living and responding that way for a long time now. Your body is conditioned to be reactive and defensive. It doesn’t just flip a switch when you land on safe soil.

The people who care about you sense that something’s not quite right, something is bothering you, they suspect it’s “the war” but they don’t know how to address it. They’re scared of offending you, coming off wrong, don’t know how to talk about it.

You pick up on that. You pick up on the expectation to leave the war behind and move forward with ‘getting back to normal.’ And to keep what’s going on inside of you to yourself. So you try to take the next logical step…go back to work, find a job, be a mommy or daddy who’s home regularly again, pick up relationships again, re-familiarize yourself with what went on while you were gone…but all the while, the inner issues are still there.

What are you supposed to do?

1. Realize that this is happening. Understand that this disconnect between expectations/reality at home and what is happening inside your heart and brain is real and normal.

2. Give yourself permission to not have all the answers right away. You need time. You may not even know what’s going on inside you, you may not have identified the source of your unease, you may not feel like putting your all back into a civilian job. That’s okay. Give yourself permission to not know what to do.

3. Take charge of your return from war. Seek out people, social networks, understanding vets, who will “get it.” Realize that you do have some work to do to recover from war. You are the only one who can do it. You don’t have to find “healing” immediately (it takes time and is a process of discovery) – but you do need to realize that no one else can solve this for you. You have to seek the answers for yourself.

4. Accept that you have spirit wounds and give yourself permission to be wounded. Given what you know of war, don’t you think it would be a little unusual for a human being not to be affected by it? Spirit wounds are normal. They come with war. You may not get physically wounded, but you cannot escape being spiritually wounded. It’s the nature of war. Give yourself permission to be wounded and to be okay knowing that about yourself. See other veterans that way, too.

5. Don’t deny yourself the right to feel what you do. Veterans are tough. You have to be. But you’re human, too. And you have to be. It’s okay to be bothered, to be grieving for people you cared about, to be sad, angry, offended, scared, uncertain, guilty, proud – there are no right or wrong emotions. You may not like to label them as feelings, but that’s what they are. And you have the right and it’s okay to feel what you do. You may think you’re the only one going through this, and everyone you know may deny what they feel, but you can be certain that you are not the only one who feels the way you do after war.

6. Find a way to express yourself. There’s a reason vets have historically fallen into high levels of drinking and drug use. It’s not because they’re weak, it’s because it’s often been the only “acceptable” form of self-medicating. The only “acceptable” form of trying to deal with war wounds. This doesn’t need to be you. And if it is, you don’t have to continue thinking there is no other way to deal with it. What is kept inside your spirit wants to be expressed in order to heal – and once you do find a way to express yourself, you’ll begin to find some relief. Art, music, writing – these are all therapeutic. Why? Because they allow your spirit to breathe. You don’t have to share what’s going on inside you with someone else until you are ready – but if you can begin to share it with yourself through creating, writing, being soothed by music, spending time in nature – these will help you to take steps toward healing.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you just have to live (or die) with what you’re feeling inside. The human spirit has the ability to heal, to evolve, to reconnect with Source.

And this is true for you, today.

 

 

Memorial Day…is for You

Posted: May 28, 2012 in Uncategorized

Aside from Legions holding ceremonies and family visits to cemeteries, Memorial Day has spun off to be the start of the summer and a great shopping weekend. But if you’re a veteran, this day has deeper meaning. It’s easy to pass this day off as a holiday, when in fact, it is a time for remembering.

Remembering isn’t always something you want to do, though, is it? Some of those memories hurt, some are too painful to revisit, some are ones you’d give anything to forget.

So what should you remember on Memorial Day?

  • The people who protected you.
  • The people you couldn’t protect.
  • The ones who knew you in your worst, darkest, most terrifying moments and carried that intimate knowledge of you to the spirit world.
  • The people who made you laugh and reminded you to love.

Memorial Day is about loss, but it’s also about life and survivorship.

It’s also a day to live. To notice everything that you have to be grateful for.

To let people love you.

Spirit Wounds

Posted: May 28, 2012 in Uncategorized

War hurts the human spirit. That’s why you can be physically whole and unharmed and still feel pain over your experience.  Or you may simply feel that something just isn’t right. You can’t quite pinpoint it. And you may tell yourself that you’ve come away (gratefully) unscathed.

But you haven’t.

War – no matter how deeply or distantly you are involved – has an impact on the human spirit. And it should. We weren’t made for war. We train for it, but we weren’t made for it.

You can honor your inner warrior and be proud of your service and still embrace the concept that the human spirit wasn’t made for war.

And you should.

One thing I see is that warriors are trained to excel at fighting, trained to tap into inner reserves, to push farther, to keep going, to win. But they aren’t trained to put that same sense of preparation and empowerment into mending and healing their spirit wounds afterward.

That’s because no one really teaches you that part of war. The life after. How to survive after war as well as you were equipped to survive during war.

You need to remember that while you may feel as if you’re in unfamiliar territory, the key to your return to feeling whole lies within you.

You have the power to heal. You have the power to face the dark places within and choose to walk toward new meaning, new purpose, new wholeness. No, it doesn’t mean that you’ll return to who you were before war. That’s not possible. But you can move forward.

If you’re not a warrior, but are on the warrior’s team of loved ones, you also need to know that there is hope. It’s dark, it’s scary, it’s not where you ever thought you’d end up, but don’t let anyone tell you there’s no hope.

Be as strong in your fight to recover as you were in your fight to survive on the battlefield and the homefront.

You can do this. You’re not alone.