If I Heal, Will I Lose My Warfighter Identity?

Posted: November 3, 2013 in Healing from War, Post War Life, PTSD, Warrior Identity

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.

Comments
  1. It’s like you are in my head when I read this. I blog and I’ve received a lot of emails from other combat vets with PTSD, it’s amazing how comforting it is to know that the way we think isn’t unusual.

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