If you haven’t read Part 1, please do. This is part of a discussion designed to help combat vets help others understand them better. If this article resonates with you, pass it along to a loved one.
Here is what I hear from vets and what they are often unable to share with others:
1.) We can be strong, resilient and broken at the same time. The human spirit has the same rules as matter: it can be changed or transformed but it cannot be destroyed. So even when we’re most broken we have an underlying resiliency and ability to find ways to continue. Human beings are of Life and Life-giving by nature. We naturally seek life. It’s when pain and perceptions are not examined and released that life gets blocked. No matter how broken we seem, we need you to honor our spirit for the resiliency it has and is. We need you to see beyond our pain and remember that we still want to the strong one for you. We need you to know that there’s a reason we’re struggling and it’s not because we’re weak. You may need to remind us of that sometimes, too.
2.) We love you and want to protect you from the hell we experience and know. We just don’t always know how. War puts us in the most vulnerable and the most powerful positions at the same time. We had the power to take life and we were utterly powerless to stop death. We don’t know how to make sense of that. We don’t want you to have to know that kind of mental and spiritual torture. We want you safe, we want you whole, we want you untouched by war. And it hurts us like hell to know that just by being ourselves, we contaminate you with it. We wish we were stronger. We know you want to love us, we know you do love us, and we don’t know how to keep the things we carry separate from our relationship with you. But we try. Because we love you. Not because we don’t.
3.) Talking about it is one of the most terrifying things you can ask us to do. We know you’re curious and you want to know what we went through because you want to know us. But being pressured to talk about the things we’ve seen, done, and experienced – it won’t help us until we’re ready. We may never be ready to share it with you. (See #2). Not because you’re not important to us, but because you’re the MOST important to us. What you think matters more than anyone else. And we don’t want to risk you not understanding all the factors and influences that went into those moments that put us at our most vulnerable and still haunt us. We need to know that you’re there, but when we’re ready. If we’re ready, which we may never be ready. But at least, to know you care enough to be willing to listen.
4.) We talk with our buddies. You don’t understand why we’d choose to talk to our buddies instead of you. But these brothers and sisters were the ones who had our backs and went through shit with us. That level of trust can’t be forged anywhere else. It doesn’t mean we love you less. But it’s a bond that no one, including you, will ever replace. If you can accept that, and make room in our lives for these people, it would mean a lot to us.
5.) We’re grieving. We don’t always think of it that way, but we are. We miss the ones we lost, we carry guilt, we aren’t sure how to reconcile it or how to let go of them. The date and time they died is seared into us and it doesn’t matter how many years ago it was, when that day rolls around, it hurts all over again. Much of what “the war” is that you see on us is actually grief. If someone would just realize that, we might be able to give ourselves permission to mourn and work through it. But we’re not supposed to be sad, so we try to hide it from you and everyone else. Except our buddies. They know.
6.) Some of us have PTSD, many of us don’t, all of us will never be the same. If we have PTSD, we’re not crazy. We’re not “mentally ill” either. We’re wounded inside and our bodies and minds have been through too much shit and can’t figure out why, just because we changed geography, we’re suddenly supposed to be “safe” now. We’re not monsters. We’ve been trained to react this way. We don’t understand ourselves now either. We want to. We want someone to make sense of it all. We don’t like living this way. We feel as if we’re having normal reactions and the only thing that’s abnormal is the fact that we’re not in a war zone anymore. Many of us don’t have PTSD. You think we went through war unscathed. Hell, sometimes even we think so. But we have questions, too. And our experiences have also changed us. We’re trying to make sense of it.
7.) We miss war. We know that sounds crazy, especially if you see us suffering. But we miss aspects of it. We were at the top of our game. There’s nothing like the adrenaline rush of combat. You are never more fully alive than when you’re facing death. We don’t just miss that rush, we miss the cohesiveness, we miss knowing one hundred percent who has our back, knowing who we could trust. We miss having nothing to worry about except the moment in front of us.
8.) We have a hard time finding college or civilian jobs fulfilling. We’ve lived through too much, we’ve matured beyond our peers. What seems like a normal career path to you may not be all that appealing to us anymore. Many of us need more challenge than that. Some of us will start our own businesses because of the challenge and because we have no question that we can do anything we set our minds to. We’ve been tested. We won. What interested us before may no longer. There’s nothing wrong with those old paths, we’re just different now. We have incredible potential and leadership skills and even if we don’t have it all figured out, we sure as hell are going to try. Because if war can’t stop us, then why would we let little things like money, loans, and taking a few risks do so?
9.) We don’t want your pity. We want what has been promised to us. We don’t want charity. We’re tired of being seen as victims and helpless. We’re tired of being “supported” by countless nonprofits who take good people’s money in our name and do little to impact our well-being. We need healthcare. We need benefits. We need the checks to arrive on time so we can pay our bills. We don’t need you or anyone else to feel sorry for us. We need to be heard and seen and appreciated. We need someone to see us as strong and whole even when we are still struggling to remember that. We need someone to hold that vision of ourselves up before us and remind us of our own power to become that. You could do that for us.
10.) We will always be warriors, but war will not always define us. We’re still changing; we may seem stuck at times but we keep seeking peace. We will always honor the warrior within, but we will not always let war define who we are. We’re greater than that. We’re stronger than that. Sure, we may need some guidance and a lot of patience to find our way, but we’re determined to figure out how to make sense of our experiences and live strong. We need you to start seeing us for what we can be. We need you to remember who we were. We need you to remind us that change comes from making choices and that mountains are climbed one step, one breath, at a time.
Oh, and did we say, we love you.
If you want to vent or share what’s on your mind, reach out. I’m here to walk with you.