Q: What do you believe plays the biggest role in healing?
Grace. The warrior’s instinct is to fight, to just be stronger, apply more force. Most of the time on the battlefield this is what works. Most of the time at home, this works. Because these struggles are very real battles; they take place now in the mind and spirit. Fighting is necessary. Yet, when it comes to healing, you have to balance that instinctive need to act with more force with a need to allow. Healing happens when we allow it, create the conditions for it, and fight the pain and frustration and temptation to give up during the process. But what the soul longs for is grace.
Before I talk about grace, we have to define healing. Most people define it as a return to how things used to be. They want to be unchanged. They see themselves angry, isolating, pushing loved ones away — and they think “if I can just be like how I used to be” everything will be fine. What they are actually craving is a sense of connection with the softer, gentler, more open parts of their souls. Healing is never about going backwards to what used to be. It is always about new growth. It is about becoming. And ultimately, about reconnecting to a sense that you belong in the human family.
Grace is what the soul longs for, when we get ourselves in these terribly complicated webs of inner shame, regret, anger, when we lose control over our emotions, when we grieve and grieve and grieve the ones we lost, and the parts of us that died with them… it’s grace the soul longs for. And by grace, I mean the sense of absolute acceptance that respects all of who you are, knows all of what you’ve done and witnessed, and still says: you belong.
Who gives us this grace? Christians will tell you God. But I think grace is something we give ourselves and each other.
Q: What is the hardest part for you in the role you play in helping warriors heal?
Sustaining my own belief — in the face of the enormity of the pain my warriors are experiencing. Talking bone-weary men back into battle when my own heart trembles with doubt. Knowing that sometimes, in that moment, I am the only thing standing between life and death. It’s incredibly humbling and shakes me to the core to see, time and again, the divine timing in how someone “just happens” to see an article I read and reaches out and connects — I mean, what are the chances? I believe that every soul led specifically to me is meant to find me. I don’t have magic cures, but I trust that they are talking with me because I am the one they need to talk with at that precise moment in their journey. I trust that implicitly.
And believe me, the joy and fulfillment of serving in this role in this lifetime is beyond compare. This calling is why I am on this earth this time. It is life-giving to me, even in the hardest moments, it is deeply personal for my soul.
Q: If you could sit and talk quietly with a struggling combat veteran, what would you most want that soul to know?
That he’s not alone in what he’s experiencing. That sense of isolation is pervasive and it kills people. It keeps people from letting others know they are struggling. I hear the same stories, the same symptoms, the same desperation, the same plea for help, the same fear that they are “not normal” — over and over and over from almost every single combat vet I know. If I could just put them all in one room, they would find out every single combat vet they know is going through the same silent suffering. Just knowing others are going through the same experiences helps people feel connected and gives them back a sense of power. “If others I know and respect and love are feeling this way too, then maybe I’m not so abnormal/weak/weird/loser and maybe I can actually find a way to get better. Maybe this is manageable if it’s common. Maybe getting help is okay if others are dealing with this, too.”
Q: How has this journey changed you?
It continually heals me. I came into this lifetime with this calling. It was always what I was destined to do. I fought it for a while because I got scared — scared that I didn’t have the right to do this work, scared of being responsible for leading people’s souls. For awhile in the beginning, I wasn’t sure if I could do it. But while fear shouted at me, there was one Marine I was seeing progress with, and all I could think was: “what’s going to happen to him — and all the others like him, if I say no?” I said Yes. It has awakened me to my Self, and stretched my capacity for belief in what’s possible. But mostly, it heals me.
2 thoughts on “Interview: On Healing, Breaking Isolation, and What It’s Like to Help Veterans”
Thank you, Tony. Christ most certainly is capable of holding one in the grace and strength and expansiveness that lets the soul find itself again. I don’t practice any formal religion, but I do believe that religious paths lead back to peace — when the Center of that path is Love.
I heartily agree with you that Grace is vital to even begin the healing journey and, while I understand your reticence to embrace the Christ-centered Grace of Christianity in a public forum, I would suggest that any such healing would only be temporary without His Grace at work in the person. I have raged against the dark night of the soul for years, carrying bitterness and anger that poisoned my own life and that of those around me for many years. It is only in Christ that I have found One larger than myself Who is able to absorb my hurt and invective and give me a calm and peace that I’d not thought possible. Equine therapy has been a big part of my journey home (www.harborreins.org), but even here it seems that Christ has given me the grace and meekness necessary to understand that even the horse has something to teach me.
Yours is one of the blogs that I most look forward to reading; you provide me a voice like that of my King’s that calls me to wholeness, not to replicate who I once was (impossible), but to begin anew to be someone whole and alive in the NOW. I am no longer chained to the AGO, but living each day looking forward. Your blog has played a role in that journey and I look forward to each one.