Post War Life Series: The Day After the Parades End…

Posted: May 29, 2012 in Coming Home, Healing from War, Post War Life, Spirit Wounds

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.



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