Whether or not you were physically wounded in battle, you are wounded. Deeply. And your wounds are real. It may take some time for you to become aware of it. In fact, war wounds are often buried deep inside. That’s where that inner sense of being shattered comes from. That’s why the fear exists that you’re not really quite as okay as everyone thinks you are.
You expect to live normally in peaceful conditions at home, while your soul and body are still enmeshed in war. Your system has adapted to spending time in combat and survivor mode. It feels almost normal to you now if for no other reason than that’s what your body has been used to. Remember, though, that war—despite our system’s amazing ability to adapt and become conditioned to it—is not a normal state of being.
In Bosnia, I spent my days putting victims and survivors excruciating stories into English words. I grew accustomed to writing about atrocities, body counts, groups of fathers, sons, and husbands shoved alive off five hundred foot ravines. I became so familiar with the existence of genocide, concentration camps and mass rapes that the words rolled lifeless off my tongue.
Along with my blindness to the fact that the situation I was living in was not “normal,” came a deep fatigue. I wrote it off as culture shock and just kept moving forward. Without a second thought, I expected my body, mind and soul to perform perfectly and lost sight of the fact that being wounded—emotionally and spiritually—under such circumstances was normal. What my body and spirit needed was compassion and understanding, recognition that I was appropriately hurting. Not a rap on the head and a “what’s wrong with you?!” crack.
Your body is no longer a machine or a weapon. Take a moment and think about that.
Your body is you. Your cells constantly reflect every stress and emotion within. Your body, mind and spirit have imbedded wounds. You are depleted. Your muscles have soaked up more stress than they can carry, your nervous system rails from extreme overdrive, pumping Adrenaline and Cortisol through inflamed arteries; your skin has taken a beating, your eyes are worn out, acid has eaten away your guts, your cells have suffered from lack of true nutrition, your lungs have been cramped, your ears damaged. And if you have been physically wounded, you have added pain and suffering.
Imagine a child you love having been through what you’ve been through. Would you expect that child to simply arrive home after months in such conditions, change clothes, take a bath, sleep for a couple of days and go back to school? No. Would you expect this child to never cry, break down or show sadness? No. You would know that your child needs rest, deep rest, and you would not expect him to simply ‘get on with it.’ You would know deep within that your child needs everything possible—every ounce of nurturing and love and tenderness and compassion to have the best chance to heal from such a horrific ordeal. You would make sure your child has the best food, rest, medicine, a soft place to sleep and the freedom to cry in your arms.
You are somebody’s child. And you deserve just as much compassion—from others and from yourself. Give yourself permission to be gentle with your body. Lower your expectations and demands. Don’t berate yourself if you find simple things drain you. Your body needs time to recover and it may take years before you are physically restored or adapt to permanent wounds.
Don’t expect your body to act as if everything is fine just because you’re home. The damage has been done. This goes for your sex life, too. It’s normal to not have the drive you once did or experience dysfunction. It’s also normal to be on sexual overdrive. The point is that we need to recognize that our bodies need time, gentleness, rest, and the chance to adjust without the expectation that it will happen fast.
Loving partners and families need to realize this, too. Even though a survivor may seem fine, war stress has impacted his or her body. Understand that it is going to take a long time to physically recover or adapt. We know war survivors endure trauma and so we tend to focus on the psychological impact. We forget that this stress is carried, literally, in the body. Wounds to the spirit also manifest in the body, so it’s not just injury or physical exhaustion that we’re dealing with. If your loved one says she doesn’t have the energy for something, believe her. She doesn’t have the energy. The body needs nutrition, rest, massage, exercise, sexual release and affection. It needs to be deeply and tenderly nurtured.
(excerpt from Close to Home, pgs 19 – 20.)