The Physically Wounded: Who Are You Now?

Posted: October 10, 2012 in Grief, Healing from War, Post War Life

Losing a part of your body or function involves deep physical, spiritual, and emotional pain. The war is carried in your body and sometimes just looking at yourself in the mirror takes you right back to the trauma. There are days and nights of endless time, uncertainty, faith, fear, and somewhere deep—a gritty unwillingness to give up and a probing curiosity that makes you ask: why?

Physical wounds may or may not heal. If you’ve lost arms or legs, hearing or sight, been paralyzed, or suffered from blast-induced brain trauma—your body will never be the same again. That’s a hard fact to accept.

In the midst of the physical changes, the pain, therapy, surgeries, rounds to physicians, waiting for the VA—physically wounded survivors deal with wounds to their self-image and their concept of who they are.

You may face questions such as:

  • Who are you now that you don’t have the same body you used to?
  • Will your partner/family still love you?
  • How can you have sex now?
  • What are you worth if you can’t contribute to life/family as you once did?
  • What’s the purpose of living if someone else has to tend to your body?
  • How can you be a burden to your loved ones for the rest of your life?
  • How can you live with this level of pain?
  • How will your family make it financially?
  • What kind of parent can you be now?
  • What’s the point of your life?
  • Who’s going to be there for you?

None of it is easy. And none of it makes sense. You may be deeply grateful that you survived and wonder why you survived to live like this. The pain may seem unbearable and the sudden world of limitations overwhelming. It’s the little things that bring out your anger, the sharp realization again and again that the road ahead is long and unknown. It’s finding your spirit trapped in a body that can no longer do the things it once loved to do. And the struggle to know love in the midst of rejecting a body you never asked for.

But you did survive. There’s a reason for it. No, you’re not the same. As shattered as your body may be and as confused and wounded as your soul may be, in an inexplicable way there is a part of you that is still whole. Hang on to that part. You have survived. You are alive. The Universe breaths into you in a steady rhythm that pulls you into the next moment and the next and the next.

Your battle may be tortuous or simply annoying—your wounds may heal or remain, but in the end, it’s what you believe about yourself that will re-create you.

So Who Are You Now?

No, I mean, who are you really? Emotions will run rampant and wild, up and down, high and low—but underneath them lay thoughts and under those thoughts lay beliefs. It may take you awhile to accept the fact that you have physical changes that must be dealt with, but once you do, start at your thoughts and question your beliefs.

Who do you have to be in order to be loved? Why do you believe that? Is it valid? It is true? Who taught you that?

Who do you have to be in order to be worthy of your spouse, your children, your job? Are you loved for what you do or for who you are? If you’re not loved for who you are, are you really loved?

The cold truth is that for every survivor that has a loving support system of family and friends, there are those whose loved ones can’t or won’t deal with their wounds.

If your loved ones can’t handle your injuries and you’re facing their rejection, remember that you have the strength in you right at this very moment to survive this and get through. I can’t answer why some people love deeply and some run, but I do know this: you are the only one who can validate who you are.

Whether someone loves you or not doesn’t change the intrinsic value of your soul, your life, your heart. You may be rejected by those you love—and those you thought loved you—but while they are leaving there are men and women out there who are asking the Universe to let them meet someone who has your heart and spirit. Sooner or later, when your heart is ready, they will begin to appear in your life. Look around you. They may be there now. People who see who you are and have faith in the strength of your spirit. It’s hard in the midst of heartache, loss  and tragedy to keep your mind open to the possibility that your life could actually someday be better than you’ve ever known it. But it’s a reality, just the same. You may find deeper love, richer meaning, greater joy, than you ever believed possible.

Unfortunately, many people around you may think that it’s the physical wounds and state of being “disabled” that’s the hardest part to deal with; they don’t see the silent side of being wounded. They don’t see the mental battle, the spiritual battle, the battle to take a body you may not recognize and find a way to make it “you” again. They don’t understand that there are a million losses in the loss of a limb. They don’t get that the hardest battle isn’t accepting what happened (though that’s tough as hell), but it’s in finding a way to believe that who you are now is valuable, purposeful, wanted and enough.

If you’re wounded or disabled, you need to know that you are in the process of creating a new identity and that identity has to be built on you. Not on who you think you are supposed to be, or what you think other people expect you to be. You have to start at the core and feel your way through the darkness. Sometimes, oftentimes, one moment at a time.

Along the way, you’re going to confront parts of you that you never knew existed; you’re going to confront people who stare at you or stare away; you’re going to meet deep compassion in enlightened souls and squeamish discomfort in others.

But just remember that they don’t get to tell you who you are. That’s your job. You get to decide who you are and who you are now going to be.

And who you are is someone who has a lot left to give.

Don’t think so? Can’t see that? Take a look around. You give to a loving parent just by existing, by their sheer joy in having you alive and with them. You give to children by showing them what matters in life, by listening, by noticing their world. You give to your friends by letting them give to you—opening their souls to deeper purpose in their own lives. You give to your fellow vets by understanding what they are going through. You give because you ARE. It’s not a question of choice. You are part of the whole and interconnected to all souls. Your presence is enough. And if you are still alive, it’s because there is someone yet in this world who needs your presence here.

Don’t forget that.

Comments
  1. Reader says:

    I don’t feel that I know who I am, or am to be.
    Living with Gulf War Syndrome (in my case a.k.a., Mitochondrial Encephalomyopathy, a quite pervasively disabling disease) has been something that I’ve been doing for longer than in a healthy body-mind-soul: The reason that I link those parts of who I am is not simply because I believe that all parts of who I am, and have been will always be connected.

    Another reason I link them is because I am injured. I lived for 11+yrs in a nightmare of a nursing home as a very young person. No one expected me to live much beyond the yr 2001. I’m out now, but have yet to establish a new set of friends and family. Everyone I knew and loved left me while I was in there.

    I can only guess that they thought that watching me die, esp at such a young age and gradually would just have been too hard for them to face. Not one of them loved me more than they feared their own pain, maybe also facing their own mortality…

    Why am I telling you this? Lonely? Needing to connect somehow? I know that I needed the reassurance offered above… In fact, I found yet more in an article Ive apparently read at least a few times: My last read was last night. It felt as if I hadn’t read it before, but below it were at least 2 responses from me! That was an interesting feeling…

    Being extra sick lately, I’ve not been thinking that clearly and my PTSD has been worse. It all affects each part of my life. Cognitive dysfunction has been particularly frustrating for me.

    With all of this going on, I guess I want to encourage anyone else out there who might be reading this to hang on, not to give up. The article or Blog title was, Life After Combat: When the past feels more real than the present. It’s a solid & helpful read.

    Britta is right: Y(our) presence is needed here, to help people like me keep going, to make this world a kinder place, starting by being kinder to yourself.

    Others are watching you, all of us, role models but usually unaware of it. What kind of legacy would you like to leave, thinking in terms of your life completely aside from or in spite of, &/or and with ptsd; on your best day ever what would your answer be?

    I now know that by seeking help myself I have encouraged others to do likewise, often people I had no idea were watching! Life is miraculous. It’s a gift.
    And, I’m speaking as one who has heard said about myself that I’ve suffered more than most, even among many Vets!

    I did not say, “It’s always going to be easy and fun!” Nope. I am just say-ing that your life is a gift to and for you and other people, places, things, life forms, relationships, and much more, that you do & will have an impact on… By seeking the help you need you’ll be in a better position to consciously decide what kind of impact that will be. It does not have to be a life of reruns of ptsd induced things.

    Please don’t be defined by any disabilities you may have! By denying my needs for help, I was unwittingly holding myself back from receiving, help, love, care, tools, people, resources that could have helped me to live a Much More Fulfilling LIFE, even a more independent one. It wasn’t All wasted time, but looking back, I feel that much & maybe most of it was wasted, arguing with God for 9yrs. I’m a fighter.

    Britta is right, it’s in my DNA. If I weren’t I would not be alive today. But, guys (men & women) listen: I know from experience
    That denying my disabilities hasn’t made them go away. In fact, the more I have accepted things as they are, the more able I have become to transcend my disabilities, and move toward living a life better than I can imagine for myself, a life that I really want, a life that already wants me. There is such a life waiting for you. Let’s “walk” and work together in moving toward the Light, right here on Earth, in this lifetime. Are you in?

  2. Reader says:

    Hold on Now! I’ve heard about you. You Served Your Country Long Before And After You Picked Up A Gun! You were perhaps The Most Self-Less Person I’ve Ever Met… Yes, we’ve met. I know who you Are. You’ve just Forgotten who I Am. What are you saying when you claim that You’ve been Self-Centered?

    [My eyes roll back. I breathe in. I breathe out. I do so again, and again, each time more deeply Aware of my breaths More than the rest]…

    I hold to the railing looking out at The Horizon and the expanse(s) of Water and All of its contents, Alive and Less, depending on Perspective

    I Look Up To the Sky, Beginning To Light Up With Life, Motion, Another Healing Ocean Infinitely Mine and Yours, Belonging To And With It, Supporting us At Least as Much as The Ocean Beneath, Physically Speaking. There is NO SEPARATION
    Between Anything, Anyone, Anywhere, Ever. The Ocean of Sky Reminds Me of This, as does The One Seemingly Closer To Home.

  3. Reader says:

    Who am i now? An evil fuck. A piece of shtuff. A confused and battered person who is seriously messes up. My whole life was summed up in the changes I made to a post I’d sadly already pressed post to prior to changing.

    This i found out after the alterations, tht somehow some weird piece of a far out attempt at poetry or some similar form of self expression gets sent into the section for posting. What a drag.

    Why am I so mad or upset? My life wasn’t on that page! My life is here. And, really, who cares? More than we think, more than we can imagine! Are we, am I open to being accepted? Do I accept myself as is???? Not often enough, yet!

    Accepting major changes in identity is hard! It’s especially difficult when attempted solo! We’re experts at that aren’t we, trying to “do it” on our own, at least half the time clueless that other people are already involved in the way we treat ourselves and the way we treat them, as we try to prove that we are Stronger, Better, Smarter, more Together than those seeking helo for what ails them! Hah!

    Oh, this is sad, for the exact opposite is true, regardless of how things look: It’s not that we aren’t strong, smart, or capable (capable, too of presenting a stronger front, hiding a behind the scenes look or feel of what’s really going on, that tells us what is true).

    But, we aren’t better than those seeking help. Perhaps we’re more stubborn, which will work to our advantage as we accept our limitations, letting others see them as parts if who we are. So what? Some of our “weaknesses” will become assets as we start to serve our Nation again, despite our differences, despite and while we adjust, helping those more timid to see the Courage it takes to ask for help!

    Two little stories come to mind, paling in comparison to our combat stuff, but relevant, I believe, all the same:

    1) I went to get eyeglasses, and had picked out a frame. Went to check out with an order in, and the guy behind the counter says, “you don’t want these frames.” I said that I did and asked what he meant. He said, “with these frames people will know that your lenses are thick.” I looked at him, confused, saying, “but they are thick..” — This was an example of a good day for me. I was accepting of something I couldn’t change and really didn’t give a flying farthing who saw the truth of what I needed to see as clearly with my eyes as could be.

    2) Years later, still legally blind by visual field standards, and I refusing to get a sight stick (more commonly known as a “cane”) that people with occular blindness use to help them get around.
    In this case I did care, more about what I thought and felt in re to what accepting the stick would mean to me.

    It seemed as if it meant I’d be admitting that I was in fact legally blind and had been for years, as if conceding that I might not get my sight back, might lose all of my sight as predicted by physicians etc.

    Finally, after getting badly injured, I called an Assoc. For the Blind in my County and I got assessed. I just gulped. This isn’t that easy to share. When out being assessed, I had to go into establishments like restaurants and a glass shop, walk down the sidewalk, alone. I was scared guys. No lie.

    When the lady called to do another assessment I was ready to cancel because I did Not want to go through anything like that again. Thank god I was honest and told her this. So she came again, bringing some sticks.

    She began to teach me how to use the stick, my other senses and abilities with the sight I had left. Another at the same Assoc. hooked me up w/Hadley School For The Blind in Winnetka, IL, from which I got free correspondence training on accepting blindness; better navigating in & around my home; learning to read and wtite Braille: This was So F’ing helpful I can’t find the words!!!

    The stick: Guys, when I learned to use that thing to get around my whole world started to open up again. I didn’t give a rat’s… I didn’t care who saw me with it. In fact, I saw the value of oncoming traffic seeing it!!! It changed my life for the better. Need for a power n manual w.chairs? Same deal. My life has dramatically improved by accepting my need of and using these tools.

    Does having done so mean I’ll always need to use these things? Heck No! I want to heal. But what if I do need them and continue to? Will that change the essence of who I am &/or was born to be. No! _____ it! It doesn’t and it won’t unless I Choose to live As if it can, does, will.

    I’m sick of hiding. Sometimes I wonder if I’m literally sick From hiding so much pain inside. It’s hard to describe. I’m not really a useless fuck.nor a piece of shtuff. Iam stll a human being, with a kind heart and soul, who needs to get used to the idea that it is o k to ask for and receive help. Knowing, intellectually that doing so is a way of serving others wasn’t enough for me to change.

    I have had to in some cases push myself to become more uncomfortable in denial and more scared of staying in that psychologically unsafe place, than I was of reaching out for help. I hope & pray that you do the same.

    Whatever it is that’s going on with you, help is available.You Don’t have to just survive in misery. There’s a whole world betrer than your and my wildest dreams waiting to be found by all of us each.

    If I can help at all. I will try. ‘Served in the USMC and the ARMY. Reachable via r4rogo@gmail.com.
    Hang on! You are not alone. You’re alive;
    So am I. Let’s start acting like it, giving “it” and ourselves another chance, another time to really live here on Earth. This is a chance to live a new life. Everybody has disabilities. If they show, you’re ahead in the game in some ways… Wishing us all the best! R.

Reach Out Here or Email Me at brittareque@gmail.com

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