Archive for November, 2013

The Spaces In Between

Posted: November 25, 2013 in Healing from War

It’s where you are. It’s where I stand.

In between.

These shadowlands.

Iraq. Afghanistan. There. Here. Again. Now.

You inhale, your chest tightens, the pain, a dense, black vapor, unseen.

I sense it.
It senses me.

You smile. Nervous. Uncertain. Your eyes trained to harbor sights too deeply human to see. No one knows. No one would believe. Who is this woman? God, what if she can’t see?

I see.

Your hands, sensitive, perceptive, agile, text nimbly.

Worn spots, where nerve called to muscle, muscle to bone, bone to movement, the slightest movement. Life. Done.

You text, pouring letters into words, words into phrases, phrases into sentences. Life. Done?

Invisible. Broken. Lost. Afraid. It’s dark.

I miss it, you say.

No…no, you miss you, I think to myself.

You are not alone, I type. This pain is not permanent.

I’m scared it is, you reply. You glance around, tip back another shot, hit Like to a friend’s Share. Wonder if you should just forget about it. Nothing else has ever worked. Why even try. Fuck it.

But hope doesn’t die that easily. What if??
You click.

My words, soft, gentle, tenacious, embrace you. Sink into the depths. Hit bottom. You blink back tears.
The spaces in between, opened, unexpectedly. You inhale, your chest expands, air pours in.

Take my hand, I type — across the irrelevant distance, where my thoughts touch yours, your spirit pleads with mine. I feel the worn nerves, the tremor of suppressed fear, the weariness of fighting battles when there is no longer a war to be fought — as your hand, clasps mine.

Please don’t let me go, you whisper. I look at the spaces where I stand, here, in between. You. Me. Life. Not done.
I won’t, I whisper.

I won’t.

The Wounded Warrior Project says: “The greatest casualty is being forgotten.”

We live in a society that has a super short attention span. Maybe it’s because we’re inundated by a constant stream of headlines that bullet-point and define where our attention goes, and we allow it. The stream becomes white noise; part of the daily mindscape that feeds us distraction. Maybe it’s because most people have enough to do to keep their own lives on track, and most people are scared, and anything that seems “too real” just makes them more scared. I don’t know.

People don’t intend to not care. They don’t intend to forget. They don’t intend to make you feel invalidated or forgotten. They’re not used to engaging in anything that doesn’t personally impact their own job, relationships, and social circle.That’s not wrong, per se; it’s human nature. Most of us can only handle our immediate sphere.

So what does this mean for our warriors?

You don’t need sympathy or pity, I know. You don’t want it. You don’t even need thanks (though it’s nice when it’s genuine).

What you do need to know is that when you put your life on the line for the sake of your fellow citizens, it better fucking mean something to them. What you need to know is that sacrifice, death, and giving up your own mental/spiritual peace so that others can live these oblivious lives and not have to focus on national security, is worth it. (Protecting and defending your brothers and sisters in arms? Always worth it.)

So what does it say to you when you get back from deployment and no one has skipped a beat?

(It could mean you’re doing such a damn good job that, because of what you’re doing, the rest of your fellow citizens haven’t been disturbed by terrorists and devastation. But that’s another point.)

We’ve been at war continuously for more than 10 years. We’ve had men and women deploy and redeploy, we’ve had (though we rarely see) the fallen return to be quietly buried and held close in heart by their family, friends, and the brothers and sisters who knew them better than anyone else. Lost indefinitely from our consciousness.

We’ve had you come home, and pushed you quickly (a few days should do it, right) to look more like us so that we don’t have to deal with your pain, or the thorny issues of what it means to take human life, or even have to remember who you’re actually fighting “over there” (wait, where is it again? oh, yeah. Syria now, right??)

We think Veteran’s Day is about store-wide sales and discounts/free lunches for military personnel. (Yeah, that feels good. We’ll post those patriotic Facebook posts all day, and comment “thank you” in every veteran’s post we come across. Hell, yeah, we’ll buy that Thanksgiving turkey and that 60″ TV while it’s on sale…)

We’ll start up more miniscule non-profits than we can possibly count, with very good intentions, then fight and bitch over territory and funding, and get lost in endless bureaucracy to “serve vets.” But when a vet actually needs a bit of cash to help out until he can get a job, well… “we don’t do that. talk to the VA.”

We’ll put stickers on our cars to “Support our Troops” (they’re a little faded now) and we’ll stare at a uniformed warrior waiting for the next flight at the airport, more than fatigue drawn across his sleeping face; and maybe, just maybe we’ll wonder what his eyes have… (oh, shit, they switched my gate…)

We’ll learn that our neighbor, co-worker, classmate is a combat vet and look twice, wondering if she has that mental disorder that veterans get (what’s it called again? PT…PT something) and when we see her up most of the night, night after night, TV on — well, she must be an alcoholic or druggie. We’ll warn our kids to stay away from “that house.”

We’ll turn out in droves for the Fourth of July, set off round after round of fireworks and never even connect their sound to the sounds of war, or realize that the guy standing next to us will never not hear the sounds of war. And if he seems to be a bit on edge, or chooses not to attend the neighborhood celebration we’ll wonder “what’s his problem?” and question his patriotism. “What kind of American doesn’t celebrate the 4th, right?” Right.

We’ll see the names and faces of the latest casualties from Afghanistan on the nightly news and not even register that their deaths have anything at all to do with us (wait — huh? soldiers are still dying there??)

And you hope that we don’t forget you.

What we should be worrying about is if you forget us.

Because you are our guardians. You carry a knowledge and understanding that we no longer know how to embody or even recognize that citizens should. You feel as if you don’t belong anymore among us. You’re right. We don’t have anything to offer you that you don’t already know. You belong to the few who carry freedom on their backs and on their hearts. You don’t fight “for us” – you fight for freedom. You don’t fight so that we can sleep well at night, safely tucked into our beds, you fight so that we have the choice to sleep in beds or not.

It’s true, we’re not easy to like, we’re not easy to put up with. We try your patience. We ask stupid questions. We forget you’re human and we don’t know how to talk to you. The things you know scare us. We like to live on the surface where we don’t have to look at the dark and you’ve become an expert at living in the darkest depths. We aren’t even sure what being a warrior is or what it means (something like Call of Duty, right?) or what it should mean to us.

And you hope we don’t forget you.

When you come back and no one has skipped a beat, it isn’t because you don’t matter. It’s because we don’t know how much you actually do. We trust you. You’re always there. You’ve always been there. Like a child who trusts a parent to do their work and then come home. We can’t imagine not having you.

So, yes. We’re gonna forget your pain, your sacrifice, your loss… hell, in a dozen years, we’ll have forgotten Iraq and Afghanistan even happened (we don’t even remember Iraq too much now). It’ll be your generation’s war, one fought by just a few. Its meaning and importance faded from our memory as we move on to new threats, new enemies, new distractions.

You can’t stop us from forgetting. It’s how we are. What you can do, is know that at that time, in that place, when we were all lost and confused and disillusioned, you were there. Our guardians.

And that fucking matters.





We don’t talk about this often, but there is a very real fear in many of you that says if you heal, you’ll lose your identity as a warfighter. Fear that healing will cut the ties you have to who you were, who you are and who you want to be. Along with it, is a fear that if you move on, it’ll somehow mean you’re forgetting or leaving your fallen buddies behind — that becoming whole now will invalidate the sacrifice and suffering that happened then.

Let’s take a look at this fear.

It’s tied closely to the experience of having been at your ultimate best in combat and the deflated experience of life after – when you no longer really know or feel comfortable with who you are as a warfighter in civilian clothing.  Many of you were retired and your military career cut short – which means you didn’t want to end up in this civilian life you have now. Some of you chose to get out, but still haven’t found anything that can come close to your sense of being a warfighter.

The pain and grief you carry inside is a tangible tie to an identity that you still feel, you miss, and you never want to lose {good news – you don’t have to}.

True, not all of you carry a warfighter identity. Some of you are more than happy to return to civilian life – and yet, you also struggle to fit in. But for those of you who know in your heart that you will always be a warfighter and that you will never be better at anything than you were at hunting humans, this fear is enough to stop you cold in your tracks, especially when it comes to healing.

You’re not wrong to be afraid. Anything that threatens your identity and sense of self will become something you avoid. Even when that something is moving into a place of less pain and more joy.

This is why you feel torn. You’ve been led to believe that to heal you must let go of your pain, of everything you’re carrying, and for you that means letting go of a part of yourself that keeps you being you. Fuck that, right?

Let me show you how this looks. You’re tired of struggling, tired of the weight on your heart getting heavier, tired of being restless, tired of not knowing how to be who you are “supposed” to be now, tired of trying to appear fine, tired of being… well, fucking tired. So you reach for healing (you found this site). You’ve tried all the stuff the VA and your doc has told you to do. You always end up where you started. Things get a little bit sometimes, then worse. Yet, you keep trying, keep looking. Something in you desperately wants relief.

Then you get a glimpse of relief. And when it appears as a real possibility – no matter how far off on the horizon – terror seizes you and you can’t move. You sense that you are losing yourself, and you shut down, pull back. Who will you be if you’re not in pain, not carrying this weight, not wounded? Who will you be if healing means you have to give up everything you’ve got left that keeps you feeling like a warfighter?

Suddenly, life in the darkness seems safer. You wonder what you were thinking when you thought maybe you could find relief. This isn’t what you hoped for. The pain’s not so bad, right? You’ve put up with it this long, you can tolerate it after all. It’s comfortable. Sure, it fucking hurts much of the time, but it’s your pain and you’re used to it. And it keeps you connected. It keeps you a warfighter. You fucking earned this pain. And only you and your brothers understand that. There’s no way in hell giving up your attachment to your pain could be good for you, right? {I don’t think it is}

So you decide that if you’re already this fucked, you might as well stay in a place where at least you know how to navigate it day in and day out. There’s comfort in it. Maybe it’s just who you are meant to be.

Warfighters are nourished by the hate and darkness. If you’re a warfighter, you understand this. You feel more alive and connected to the hate and darkness than you’ll ever feel to the light. You’re not even sure you believe in the light. You’re not sure you even want to look for the light. Part of you does, at times, but you thrive in the dark. It’s yours. It keeps you a warfighter.

So, you feel torn. Darkness. Light. Pain. Freedom. Carrying wounds of battle as a warrior. Healing and moving on as a, gulp, “civilian” (you’ll never be a civilian in your heart). You know you should heal, you know you should move into the light, part of you longs to — but not if it means leaving this brotherhood of hate and rage that keeps you belonging as a warfighter. You take steps forward, something {this} holds you back. So you find a way to rationalize giving up on ever feeling whole inside again. You decide just to stay as you are.

The question is: can you heal and still live in the dark? Can you heal and still embrace the hate? Can you remain a warfighter and not be in pain?

I think you can.

Healing is not about letting go (as much as everyone pushes that idea). It’s not about having to open up and share your wounds with others (though that can be very cathartic). Healing is all about what you think and the meaning you give to your pain.

So, let’s say you decide to allow your wounds to heal. (Yes, you must decide to and yes, you must allow it.)

What if you could heal and never have to let go of what happened? What if, by creating some new meaning around your experiences, you could think new thoughts that would give you peace?

So that you continue to carry the experiences, but not the hurt. You continue to honor the experiences and the fallen and the sacrifice, while at the same time, you become okay with feeling joy and beauty and a sense of being whole. So that your pain is given new meaning and context, the hurt eases, and it remains part of the fabric of who you are.

Too many healing “therapies” out there are designed to get you to expose and give up your pain, to let go, to neatly strip you of being a warfighter (because, let’s face it, most civilians are scared shitless to walk into the dark interior of a warrior’s heart where killing humans feels good) and into being a good, tame, don’t-scare-us civilian. You will never be a civilian in your heart and there is no fucking reason why you should have to.

You get to decide who you are.

You get to decide what your pain means to you. You get to decide that you can be a warfighter, can embrace the hate, can live in the darkness, and at the same time, you can heal the wounds so that the pain is gone and only scars remain. You can take that energy of hate and funnel it into something that serves a purpose that means something to you.

We do warfighters a huge disservice when we start to define what healing looks like for you – instead of allowing you to say what it would feel like to be whole, and plotting a path to get there.

You do yourself a disservice when you allow the fear of losing yourself to keep you from becoming whole.

What would wholeness feel like to you? What would your life look like if you could openly embrace your warfighter identity now? Where could you funnel that energy? How could you take the values you embrace as a warrior and apply them to make an impact in this world? What would your heart feel like if it didn’t hurt so much and it still carried the full sense of what happened? What can you do, today, to create your own definition of wholeness?

You decide.

If you want to learn more about how to do this, contact me. I’m here to help you find your way.