I came back from combat, why the #@!% am I so angry!?!?

Posted: September 13, 2014 in Coming Home, Grief, Healing from War, Post War Life, PTSD, Rage, Spirit Wounds

You come home from combat angry.

Stupid shit sets you off. You lash out at people you care about only to see pain and fear flash through their confused eyes. Sometimes you start fights on purpose. Usually, you just react. A stupid driver makes you snap, before you know it you’re in a blind rage. In that moment, you don’t feel anything else and you don’t give a fuck. When you manage to be in a good mood, one small attitude, a word, a tone from someone flips the switch and there you are again.

Why the fuck are you so angry? After all, you made it home, you’re supposed to be all right and happy now, right? Isn’t that what everyone around you thinks? It hurts to know that you’re causing people pain. You don’t mean it, but they don’t understand that you don’t mean it. And you don’t know how to stop being this way. That anger keeps pushing people away from you. It’s natural for people to retreat from your anger and self-protect. Or get mad back and then you’re trapped in a cycle of conflict where no one is happy. They point at you and say it’s your fault because you’re so damn angry all the time. And you blame them because they seem to make you angry. And before you know it, you’re left alone in your world.

One of the most painful things about coming back is not being able to recognize yourself because what you feel and how you act now is so different from who you used to be. And so different from who you want to be. The softer and more tender your heart was before combat, the harder it is to not hate yourself for this change. I have talked with many vets who tell me that anger is one of their biggest problems, yet they don’t seem able to connect the dots back to where this anger comes from. Or know what to do with it.

So, let’s explore.

First off, why are you so angry?
Let’s get one thing clear: it’s not the people and things around you now that are the true cause of your anger. They are triggers. They could be anyone or everyone. They can be intentionally hurting you or they can be loving you. But they are not the source of your deep anger. Even when unkindness, selfishness or lack of understanding causes them to treat you without regard, the intensity of your anger is still rooted elsewhere.

It’s about power, control and vulnerability…
The deepest root of your anger comes from having been ultimately powerful and utterly powerless in the face of life and death. It comes from having lived with the energy of death and death itself. From having had your life threatened, from having ended people’s lives and from having killed parts of yourself in the process. At a very deep level within you, you carry the spiritual responsibility of having been a death-bearer and that responsibility has a lot of implications for your spirit. It changes how you relate to the world.

What happens in combat is that you are up against the ultimate extremes in power, control and vulnerability. Anytime we human beings feel out of control over things we believe we should be able to control, we get angry and/or depressed. The decisions that get made in combat and the circumstances you find yourself in test your power, control and vulnerability to the limits. And it’s not all about killing. You can be just as angry at the suffering you have witnessed –suffering you may not have caused at all– and feel a sense of responsibility because you weren’t able to prevent or stop it. This includes issues with bad leadership and internal bullying as well. The less control you felt you had the angrier you will be.

  • What to do about it: You need to recognize that you’ve experienced these intense fluctuations of power, control and vulnerability. Spend some time thinking about what was actually in your control and what wasn’t. What do you feel you should have had control over? Where and when did you feel powerless? What do you need to own as your own responsibility and what are you owning now that is NOT yours to own? The anger will persist as long as you are holding on to beliefs that you could or should have had more power and control than you did. So, the ultimate goal to walk toward are beliefs that allow you to accept that the energy of war was stronger than you.

 

It’s also about grief…
I’ve said it many times and I will keep saying it: combat veterans are primarily grieving when they come home. Grief causes anger. Not intentional anger, but anger that accumulates and erupts because the pressure of grief has to go somewhere and it tends to go to tears and anger. You’re not just grieving the loss of people you loved, you’re grieving at a much deeper level of humanity… grieving the power, control and vulnerability issues, grieving the loss of innocence to the darkest parts of humanity within yourself, grieving from the suffering you caused and witnessed, grieving the loss of the beliefs and concepts that shaped your worldview and perspective on life, grieving time lost with loved ones, relationships and trust lost, loss of your military career (in many cases), loss of a culture and way of life you’re used to, and loss of yourself.

All this grief hurts. It feels like pain and depression, sadness, numbness, emptiness and… anger.

  • What to do about it: Our society is not going to give you the recognition or permission to grieve. You’re going to have to do that yourself. Which means you step back and realize the depths of what you have lost and you stop telling yourself that you shouldn’t be this way. Then you give yourself permission to know that it is okay and right that you allow yourself to grieve. If you try to suppress it, hide it, push it deeper down inside you, ignore it… it will just keep erupting as anger. It’s not going to go away on its own.


And it’s about physical changes in your energy, body and lack of sleep…
If you feel as if your nerves are frayed and worn thin, it’s because they actually are. The stress and reaction patterns that your body underwent in combat create changes in your energy and body. PTSD involves biological changes where your nerves have been rewired to react to threats. This creates changes in your emotional energy system as well. Those changes are real. Physical pain eats away at emotions. Sleep is also directly tied to emotional control. And we all know how well most combat vets sleep… erratic, short bursts with very poor quality due to nightmares, drinking and meds. Lack of sleep makes it very hard to control emotions. (Think about little kids, when they get crabby they’re usually overtired. Same thing happens to adults.)

There are other causes of anger, but these are the primary ones that most combat vets experience.

So what do you do to deal with your anger?

Let people near you know why. You don’t have to tell them the details, but you can’t hold people accountable for what they don’t know. And if they don’t know that you lost buddies you love and are grieving, they won’t be able to offer you compassion or see you in a light that allows them to understand. Now, I know many of you say you don’t want anyone feeling sorry for you. Allowing people to offer their support by giving them a chance to understand what’s going on with you, is not a sign of weakness. I know most people are not going to get it, but if they never know, they most certainly will never get it. Tell your closest ones that your anger comes from feeling bad about what happened in the war and because you miss the buddies you lost. You don’t have to share details, but give them something to work with. Same for colleagues. This way, if you break down at work (and it’s gonna happen), they’ll have some context as to why.

Find a constructive way to vent. Anger is energy. And you need to move that energy out of you consistently. Don’t go walking down the wrong side of town looking for a fight. Find something physical to do that is safe and do it on a regular basis. Buy a punching bag, chop wood, take a sledgehammer to scrap metal, work out, play sports, learn martial arts… anything that will let you safely express that energy. Sometimes you also need to vent verbally…stop screaming obscenities at your loved ones, find a buddy you trust and vent. If there is no one, remove yourself from the scene and take some time alone. Learn how to calm yourself down with breathing techniques so you can think. Try writing shit down. Open a Word doc and just vent. The point is the more you express the stuff underneath your anger, the less need your spirit has to erupt and explode to find relief.

(You have a choice: numb it out or get it out. You numb it out you’ll feel better in this moment. You get it out, you’ll feel better long-term. The choice is yours.)

Let yourself grieve. Expressing your pain hurts. Don’t be scared of it. It seems as if it will overwhelm and crush you, but that’s only if you don’t find ways to get new perspectives on it (which is the true value of good counselors). If you feel like crying, cry. Yes, I know it’s embarrassing if you tear up at work or on campus, but it happens unexpectedly. Take a few moments for yourself alone and let the tears fall. Those tears are a natural part of the healing process. They relieve pressure and move the energy of sadness and pain out of you. Crying doesn’t come easily to many of you, but it’s a human emotion and a necessary one. And your spirit needs it to heal.

Identify triggers and find work-arounds. If you can figure out what triggers you, look for things that would help distract you in those moments. If you lose sight of what matters most to you while you’re driving, try putting a photo of what you stand to lose on your dashboard. Find an object that helps you ground (by grounding, I mean reconnect to this present moment) and keep it with you. This could be photo of a loved one, a small stone, a bracelet, a pendant/necklace. If you know certain situations trigger you and they are ones you don’t have to keep getting into, avoid them. If Facebook posts keep setting you off, unfollow those who post them. Look for what you can control, take that control and own it.

Decide to let go. Eventually, you’re going to move through enough time in the grieving process where you’re going to face a decision to either hold on to the pain and grief, or let go and move on. This isn’t something you can do until your spirit is ready for it — so don’t think I’m telling you that you can just decide to stop being angry and it will work. That’s not how it happens. You won’t get to this point until your spirit has absorbed all the meaning that your pain has to offer and, like someone who has been carrying a heavy weight, you will realize that you can actually choose to set that weight down and it won’t mean that the weight isn’t valuable and it won’t mean that you’re “forgetting” or saying that it didn’t matter. You will be able to decide to set the weight down and leave it there and you will know that it’s okay to not carry it anymore. It can feel scary at this point, because you won’t really know what happens if you don’t pick it up again, or who you will be if you’re not carrying that weight…you choose faith and trust here and the relief your spirit and entire being will feel, will encourage you forward.

Remember you’re not a bad person because you’re angry. You’re a wounded one. Your heart hurts. You carry a spiritual (not religious) understanding and weight that the people around you do not. Trying to act as if you don’t have all this pain and grief in your being only makes things worse. If anger makes you feel ugly, it’s because you can’t see past it into your essential being… which is love and light and a relationship with dark that only warfighters understand.

Finally, get help. You didn’t get into this condition on your own. You won’t get out of it on your own. You need to get help. And if you don’t find it at the VA, don’t give up. You can work through your grief, PTSD can be treated, your heart and spirit can heal. It takes acting with courage and determination. And support. That’s why I’m here. To walk you through this journey and to not let you give up.

The first step, though, is to decide that you’re not going to stay stuck here anymore.

 

 

 

Comments
    • mainer74 says:

      There are a lot of things we are not given the context to deal with, and for most of us who served,we get to face them alone. I hope we can teach those coming up a little better, so they have the context to put what needs to be done inside the framework of who they are without the cost the rest of us paid doing it after the fact. The hardest parts of surviving deployment come when you have time to deal with the stuff you put aside when you didn’t have the time to deal with it. I wrote a little something about this a few years back.

      https://mainer74.wordpress.com/2013/09/20/ptsd-the-terrible-truths/

  1. […] I came back from combat, why the #@!% am I so angry!?!?. […]

  2. Phil says:

    For myself, my 2 deployments (notably the 2003 invasion), the emotions I had afterward were very alien for me. I often felt the same as everything above, but I found out that my experiences weren’t the root cause of my problems. I have many terrible events in my younger life and I had built an impenetrable wall to protect myself from those memories. Only the perils of war have ever been strong enough to tear me down, tear me apart, to deal with those old memories, alone. Those problems lead to an issue that came to head with wife #2. Being the great woman she is, she encouraged me to get counseling for it, and it saved my life. I have seen patterns in my brethren that are similar and I wonder if they had similar lives and maybe the help they are seeking isn’t the answer. We as a society treat the symptoms, and not the cause. Maybe battle induced PTSD is more than we believe?

    • You make a very good point. Pre-war trauma is often a part of “the whole story” — as can trauma from past lives, as well. Unhealed trauma is cumulative. And as in your experience, combat was the tipping point. I am so glad your wife guided you in a healing direction. We need to take a whole person/whole life, spiritual approach to treating PTSD.

    • Reader says:

      Dear Phil,

      I can relate to this in just about evey way. Those “impenetrable walls” are walls I, too, was a chief designer of… They helped us to survive, but later became liabilities. My walls are in the process if being dismantled, while some are simply falling apart. Their uses are not with me as they were for so long. And, i am very thankful for that. It’s not that I don’t feel fear about discovering who I am now while getting to know others. What impresses me is that I’m finding the courage to face “it all” as parts of “it” rise into consciousness, the Source of this courage and its useful power is above and Transcendent of my
      self urging me on into and furthering the process of healing. For the first time, in a Long time I’m beginning to feel hope for my own healing; to have relationships w/other human beings in which i will no longer suffer with the
      terror of their finding out that I am far from worthy of acceptance and. Love
      (untruths that I believed about myself since my earliest days).
      Thank you for sharing the comment you did! We are not alone in this !

  3. Mark Paul says:

    One of the most enlightening essays I have yet read. It answered a lot of questions for me, thank you very much for taking the time to write it.

  4. Corey Cox says:

    I thank you for this I’m hopeing things will help my wife understand me a little better because we fight almost every day over the smallest stuff an the end resault to every fight we have is me being so mad i don’t rember any of our argument because i was sho mad then i was told i say allot of hurtful stuff that i don’t mean.. So my question is do you think the not remembering what you say our do normal?

  5. Michael says:

    When I read this it resonated with me , I found many similarities in my life and what you guys have expressed as your experience such as , anger ,depression and powerlessness to begin. My struggle was quite diffeferent . I am not a combat veteran , I am an alcoholic , one that has recovered from a place of hopelessness over seven years now . My life now is filled with peace, peace I would have not found on my own. Just as I have no understanding of what it was like to be in combat ,a non-alcholic has no idea what it’s like to be an alcholic nor could they help me find my way out of the darkness. I got in to AA a twelve step program . The reason it is so successfull is that it is run by other alcoholics that share their experience strength and hope . In those rooms I was able to be completely honest and was never judged . I was not broken. Everyone understood exactly where I was coming from because they had been exactly where I was .

    I remember my first meeting , I thought it was some sort of cult ! “These people are crazy ” I said I stayed miserable for another year . I crawled back into another meeting , completely whooped and willing to do whatever it took to not feel the pain anymore. They welcomed me again and said keep coming back , this time I stayed . My life today is wonderful , no more pain, no more hopelessness . Life still happens ,but the way I respond is completely different . I get to be here for my family now , completely here .
    The twelve steps worked for me and many others like me . I did a search and found one for you guys as well . PTSDanonymous.org. Maybe I’m telling you something you already know . I just felt compelled to share my experience In hopes that someone else will find there way out of the darkness and experience the peace I have found .

    Thank you all for your service and god bless

    Michael

    • Michael, thank you so much for sharing your story and the hope and peace you have found. It’s inspiring and I believe part of your purpose now is to help others find their way in the dark. Keep shining your light in this world. Many blessings to you!

  6. Elva Ybarra says:

    Wow. That is my son. He went into the Marines right out of high school, he went in a little boy and came back a different person. PTSD, it’s ugly. His marriage is now over, he has 2 children to support yet he’s not able to keep a job. After 2 dwi’s, his credit is shot and can’t get another job since his back ground check shows his stint in jail. Seems like bad things keep happening to him. He looks at me and asks “Momma, when is this going to stop”. My heart breaks. As his mother, I would go to the end of the world for him and take away his pain but I know I can’t. He’s 29 years old and I see a lonely man when I look into his eyes. Oh, did I mention he’s an alcoholic as well? He finally told me and his father that he needed help. When I tried to get him into therapy, he refused to go. “I can handle it myself”, he says. I know he can’t yet he doesn’t seem to realize that he really does need help. The VA in the Dallas area is worthless. He has asked for therapy for his PTSD but his appointment are 2 -3 months away. We are at the end of our rope. We have depleted most of our savings helping him for the past 8 years. I just want my son back. Thank you for listening. Regards and may God bless you.

    • I would be happy to connect with you or your son privately. Please email me at brittareque@gmail.com.

    • Mary Anderson says:

      Elva, I could’ve written that paragraph myself. Ours is our daughter. Soon to be 35. She has lost everything. Disabled with probation. Doctor appt after dr appointment. This cycle is vicious and almost impossible to escape from it seems. We are attempting again at this point to rehab her at home. She has been in programs, hospitals, jail you name it. My experience is that I hope to be able to help others. I have spoken with military officials and they admit that they themselves have no clue. That was several years back and I do believe that the help she is receiving now may be the answer. Her therapist is from Johnson City VA here in TN. But above all I do believe in healing and have true faith that she can heal from the inside out. We want her to change on her own from sight. I try to let her see positive. Small steps small changes and a lot of small prayers! Keep the faith! Another broken hearted mom.

    • M. Dougherty says:

      Yes the VA can be difficult but your son needs to get into therapy. He sounds like a perfect candidate for the VA program at Menlo Park, CA. I was almost thrown out for fighting the second day there and ended up staying for 126 days. The program is 60 days and if you do trauma therapy it is longer. I don’t want to think of where I would be if I didn’t attend it. Your son sounds like it could really help him. Take care and I wish you all the best.

  7. angie says:

    Good read. Now if only my the man that was my fiance a week ago read this. As he has pushed me completely out while in va care for ptsd. He left me our kids and 8 years for a 20 year old and shut me out and everyone else even his children. Really wish he would have read this. It makes so much sense.

    • I am so sorry that this has happened to you. I truly hope he will find healing and come home to his family.

      • mainer74 says:

        The problem we are having right now is that we are dealing with returning soldiers, not deploying ones. I had the chance to sit down with one of ours (meaning one of my Heathen Freeholders) who had been solidly grounded in our ancestral practice before he deployed, and he does not bear the same wounds as those who found the faith in the fire, or after returning. The difference is he had a context to put what he experienced INSIDE his view of the world, and his place in it. Those who went to war and had to set aside their understanding of the world, their understanding of themselves and become something else to survive, to succeed, and to serve have nothing left when they return from service and find no place in the world they had to leave behind, and doin’t recognize the person in the mirror.

        Lying to your troops is different from shooting them in the neck largely in the time it takes to finish the job. They myths we are teaching our troops are lies, and the truths of combat shatter both their indoctrination and their sense of worth. Peddle the BS to the civvies; they reward you for it with re-election anyway. To your troops tell the truth about what it is we do, what it is we are hoping to accomplish, and what it is we will cost.

        The British built an empire pragmatically. There is no shortage of young men, and now women, who are willing to don the uniform and serve their people risking their lives in the service of over privileged morons attempting to protect the fattest pigs at the trough for no purpose higher than keeping the brush fires down to a minimum so that normal people can have a chance at as close to a normal life as possible. No one told them they were crusading for truth and justice; they were keeping the brush fires of the frontiers from turning into fires that would burn the world. They bled to do so, not always wisely, but always true to their own. It was enough. We tell lies to our troops now that don’t survive roto 1. When they come home, what do they have that they can believe?

        We need to teach them what they are getting in to for real. To kill because its part of the job, not because the enemy are evil. They are not fighting for final glorious victory, we are not going to leave peace and democracy in our wake; we are simply keeping the brush fires from threatening as much as we can, and buying time for people to have a chance to find something better. Gods knows, they might screw up the chance we are buying them, but that is all we are trying to accomplish; buying time. Selling the troops on a fantasy even our policy makers don’t beleive is making them failures in their own eyes. They didn’t fail; they accomplished what we sent them for; only we lied to them about it first. That is not good enough.

  8. […] I came back from combat, why the #@!% am I so angry!?!?. […]

  9. Greg says:

    I wanna say you have hit every issue I have perfectly .. ive looked so long and tried some VA help but cant seem to let them in or like now it is destroying my marriage. I hope this helps many more and I thank you for hitting my points all in one subject. God speed

  10. GT says:

    I just wanted to say thank you for posting this. This has helped me face my own issues.

  11. Bret says:

    I just want to say God Bless all who have had to deal with this. Yes primarily speaking to our Vets.
    But, this article really hit home with myself too. Much of this article rang true, especially in a younger me. I wish I had read it years ago…
    Thank you !!

  12. M. Dougherty says:

    Great article. I was in the PTSD program at Palo Alto, CA(Menlo Park) for over 4 months. I learned that I couldn’t grieve properly for quite some time along with so much more that really explained everything. I was getting in fights, ripping car windows out during road rage, and drinking way too much after Iraq. My trauma therapy Dr’s explained that for once in my life I was powerless when I told them we were not able to adequately defend ourselves from the daily barrage of mortars and rockets we endured for several months. We couldn’t fire out artillery back because they were firing from inside Hawija and we weren’t allowed to return that fire. Looks like some higher up decided to pit FOB McHenry way too close to Hawijah. I thought I was too smart and tough to get PTSD then found out that’s not how it works..The anger is the worst though…The obsession with death…Everything got so dark after the war. One positive was that I really, really appreciated Pink Floyd even more after Iraq. Any vet out there that is really struggling should look into that program. I am also going to therapy at the VA and will make sure my wife reads this article. I can’t believe she has put up with me for how long as she has. My anger ruined three other relationships before I met her.

    • I am so grateful that the Menlo Park program has helped you. I’ve heard some great things about some of the CA VA programs. Thank you for sharing this and thank you for not giving up. Many blessings to you and feel free to reach out via my email or Facebook if I can ever be of more support.

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

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s