Archive for the ‘Coming Home’ Category

“But I love my wife. She’s everything to me. I don’t want to lose her.”

“He’s not the man I married. I can’t do this anymore.”

I hear these two expressions all the time from good people whose hearts are aching and weary. Brave people who are dealing with intense trauma and changes in each other, in their relationship, in their families. They’ve often argued and silenced themselves into a corner. Both parties are scared, unsure and sadder than they know how to say.

I listen compassionately to hear what’s going on beneath the surface and offer wisdom that does its best to give Love a chance. I take the side of Love, even when that side might mean that people who promised themselves to each other need to end the relationship.

I’m not a marriage counselor and I am a woman who chose to divorce because it was deeply right and necessary for my soul. I can’t tell someone how to fix their relationship. I can offer support and caring space to help them figure out what their own souls need.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

War changes people. Permanently. You cannot unbecome who you are, you can only start where you are now and move forward toward a new sense of wholeness and identity. Being whole means you embrace ALL the parts of yourself — including the darkness, the anger, the pain, the nightmares. If you are hinging your strategy for saving your relationship on an ability to “get back to who you used to be” — that is not going to work. THIS is who you are today and everything you have been through has made you into who you are today.

This is true for the warrior and the loved one at home. You have BOTH changed. You have both lived and grown while apart from each other and while experiencing life without each other there to witness and share it. There are parts of you now that are not part of the couplehood. Not shared. Unknown to each other.

Accept who you are today. That’s the only place to start. Warriors, if you’re in denial about how war has changed you (you know deep down it has) and your loved one is trying hard to convince you that you have changed — believe him/her. Their perception of you is not who you are, but it is how they are experiencing you. 

And how you experience someone defines relationship, doesn’t it?

There are things you can change and things you can only accept. You’re not going to erase memories, the loss of brothers, the things you’ve done, the impact of time away. You’re not going to be as carefree as you were before combat. You’re not going to “put it all behind you” or “just move on.” You’re not going to not be a combat veteran. You’re not going to get those shared couplehood or parenthood moments back. What was missed together is missed. Forever. It’s gone.

What can you change? 

The heart is changeable. Relationship is changeable. IF both hearts have not fully closed to one another and if both hearts have enough love left to make themselves vulnerable and open up to each other as human beings and not the roles you play.

Warriors — this is on you. You love your wife and you want her to stay? What does she need from you? Women need to feel as if they deeply know the man they love — we define relationship by how well we know people. Intimacy — emotional, heart, soul, sexual — all comes down to feeling that a man trusts us enough to let us in and confide in us. Women have deep resources of healing to offer men we love. But if you keep her distant, don’t let her see you tear up, only express anger and discontent, drink all the time, refuse to tell her about what you’ve been through (trust me, she’s more warrior than you when it comes to dealing with tough emotional shit)… then what’s the point of her trying to love you? Why should she stay?

If you’ve been with her for years, she’s put everything she has into supporting you — all the while doing her best to be brave for you, to be patient, to keep everything running, everything going, kids birthed, fed, parented — she’s fucking tired! And you come home and treat her like she’s a stranger that you may or may not feel like fucking and definitely don’t want to talk with… what do you expect? Why would she want to stay and keep giving herself to you? If you make her an outsider, she will become one. You won’t get her back.

You must open up to her. You must allow her to be different than any other person in your life. Not just a wife, but your spiritual partner. Your healing partner. The one person who knows you beneath the armor. You can keep your armor on for everyone else. Take it off when you’re alone with her.

You don’t have to have all the answers. You don’t have to even understand why you feel the way you do. But if you want her to keep her heart open to you, to stay invested in the being with you, you have to talk with her and confide in her and let her see you.

Armor off.

Yes, it’s fucking scary. Yes, you fear she’ll judge you. Yes, you’re a “man” and don’t let anyone see you weak. Yes, she shouldn’t have to know what you’ve been through — you want to protect her. Yes, it’s risky. Yes, you might cry. Yes, you might (you will) feel weak. (You’ll feel a huge relief after — like you can breathe again.)

It takes courage. And you cannot be brave unless you are vulnerable. Not in combat, not in talking to your wife.

What happens if you take the risk?

Women are quite understanding about anyone who feels lost or who is in pain or who has been through something horrible, because we are very good at empathy and caring and wanting to support those we love. Our sacred role on this earth is to lead men back to their souls, back to themselves. That comes natural to us. Given the chance — given the trust — if our hearts are still open to the man we love, we will respond with acceptance and love. Not pity. Not judgement. Not shame. Not lack of respect.

And the energy of love is what you need most right now.


A woman who still loves a man — if her heart hasn’t fully closed and decided it’s done with the relationship — will melt and soften when a man trusts her to be able to accept him by telling her what is really going on inside him. This is the terrain where women build relationships. We live for it. We know how to navigate it.

And we don’t see men as weak for breaking down, for opening up, for sharing what they’ve been through. We don’t lose respect for men who confide in us, we gain it.

If your woman’s heart has not fully closed, confiding in her is your best option for trying to save your relationship. She will be your deepest source of healing if you allow her to be. If you respect her enough to let her help you navigate this dark terrain.

Women are emotional and spiritual warriors. We can handle it. We can handle the stories of combat. We can handle the blood and gore. We can handle the grief and pain. We don’t need you to protect us from what you’ve experienced, we need you to protect us from losing our connection to who you are inside.

Woman — this is scary shit for men. It goes against how they naturally feel and what society and the military has trained them to be. A man needs to feel he will not lose respect in your eyes if he shows what feels like weakness to him. You innately know how to love him, how to heal, how to be present and supportive. He doesn’t need you to fix him, but he does need to know you have a vast enough spirit and heart and soul to accept him as he is. The Divine Feminine breaks through so love can go where it hasn’t gone before. You embody Divine Feminine energy. Your softening toward him lets him soften. So you, too, need to take off the mask and let him see you vulnerable as well.

Men and women are not two sides of the same coin. Modern feminist theory has led us to believe that men and women are the same, but different. I believe we are two different spiritual beings and we have unique spiritual roles to play toward one another. Women have the capacity to lead men back to themselves and we have spiritual gifts that only we can give. Men have the ability to create a space for us that holds our power, where they can be strong for us and let us rest within their safety.

The trauma of war is deep, heavy shit.  Too often, it’s easy to fail to realize the gravity of what you’re dealing with. Too easy to assume it should be easy. Too easy to assume that others are handling it better. Society doesn’t help in perpetuating this myth. Take a moment and step back and honor the fact that you are both dealing with issues that few have the courage to deal with. Few have the strength and yet you do. Honor your journey for what it has been and for what it is.

Confiding in each other is the first step to finding your way forward. Men — it may be your last chance before her heart closes permanently and can’t be reopened. Women, it may be your softening and sharing how war has impacted your heart that softens his.

Give Love a chance to hold you both, together.







Guest post by Joe DeCree, Maj. (Ret.) US Army

Do you recall the Nicole Kidman thriller The Others? In it she lives in a haunted house which she does not know to be haunted.  Eventually the ma & pa caretakers, also ghosts unbeknownst to Kidman, tell her about the “others” who are the other ghosts in the house threatening her children.  

And some of us too are guilty of not seeing “the others” all around us.  I knew I had PTSD issues long before I was diagnosed.  Part of my war cry was the familiar “my friends and I bled for an ungrateful nation.” You know it. You have said it too.  You also may still believe it.  There are lots of anecdotal stories that justify our angst.  I have been called baby killer, I have had to listen to stories of “military incompetence” by academics who never served anything but know how everyone else should.  When I taught ROTC on college campuses I got told how the country was just wrong and the military is unnecessary.  I have listened to well-meaning but naïve Americans who are interested in what is going on with the wars but just can’t get their heads around it for a variety of reasons.  I have listened to “Thanks for your service” as a socially cool thing to say.  My favorite is listening to men tell me why they did not or could not serve.  Telling me this makes my day better how? Oh right, it does not.  It is them using me to feel better about their own conscience pangs.  I don’t need that.  In fact, I don’t care a whit about their conscience pangs.  Please feel free to have them and leave me out of it.  

Nobody likes us it seems.  As if that were not enough the VA does not seem to care either.  Going there often feels like you are messing up their pristine system because you have a problem.  We see the news stories and hear the glee in the news anchors’ voices every time they can arrange the story as a failure for the US. This usually means some more of our buddies have died.  The liberals seem to want us dead so that they can point to the futility of the war.  The conservatives want us dead so they can show everyone how patriotic they are.  Please, God, isn’t there anyone who wants me to live? I just want to go to a concert and not freak out about what a horrible tactical situation I am in.   I want to be able to wind my window all the way down when I am driving.  Remember that?  But you just smile and nod and say thank you and go to Applebee’s every November 11th and get your discounted lunch (I do appreciate that by the way) but what you really want to know is that someone out in there in John Q. Public cares about what you tried to do for them.  The country is so ungrateful.  

PTSD makes you very cynical.  So can the military. I won’t go into the chicken-or-egg argument on that right now. In your cynicism you have everyone figured out.  For now, your cynical hopeless side discounts everyone who did not suit up.  They’re just poges.  Am I right?

Then you meet the others.  You did not know they existed.  They are not vocal.  They do not get on CNN or Fox (I do not like either).  They stand respectfully when the anthem gets sung at a high school sports game. They open the door for you and your prosthetic leg.  They watch your dog while you are out.  They don’t say much, that is until you start a conversation.  You admit you could use some help with something and one of the others takes five minutes to listen.  They don’t know what to say and you don’t either.  They are probably afraid of being disrespectful.  They may be afraid of you exploding on them.  We are a thorny and awkward bunch after all, aren’t we? I mean, even we think we are crotchety, imagine what that looks like to someone knows nothing except what they have seen on the news.  One listens for five minutes and invites you to something and then you meet another and another.  For the price of five minutes you soon have a network of people who think you are not a bad guy and you have some cool stories.  After a few weeks you might even have a real friend.  The others are out there.  They are the great mass that is America.  They are all around but you have to let them know it’s ok to approach.  We give off warning vibes then we complain that they don’t care.  It’s a little lopsided.

I learned this recently.  I went on a veterans’ ski weekend put on by an organization called Dream Adaptive.  I skied for free. They bought me lunch and they provided expert ski instructors who were familiar with all the ways physically challenged folks can ski.  They are not schooled in crusty old war horses who think no one cares about them.  They volunteer to this and they pass up a weekend with their friends to teach some old broke guys -more proof that no one cares…  I was skiing in a group of three and our instructors were young ladies. One was in her late 20s and the other in her early 30s.  They had no prior exposure to the military.  One even admitted that she went to South America with the peace corps.  Oh, and if you are keeping score the ungratefuls footed the bill on this weekend through their charitable donations and grants. Oooh the nerve!

My little group was all grunts. These poor youngsters did not know what they were walking into.  We started getting acquainted and finally they fessed up-they were the “others”.  They appreciated us and that we made their way of life possible (they actually said that).  These girls were a little hesitant though, because we were on a chair lift 200 feet up with three ex-shooters who all had anger and memory issues and they were the adult supervision.  We talked politely at first.  As the conversations got more raucous during the day they started looking lost so we agreed to explain the jokes.  Then we explained some acronyms.  Finally, came the million-dollar question.  One of the ladies wanted to know if she could ask about PTSD and what it did to us and how we managed it.  I was floored.  Imagine that, somebody you aren’t related to caring about how you were doing. Who knew?  We told her yes, she could ask her questions.  She asked some serious questions about nightmares, anger, triggers, if the VA was as bad as the news says, and other unpleasantness.  They were both very concerned that our little ski outing was a break from all of that.  

By the end of the day we were all skiing much better but something else happened; we were all laughing.  We made jokes about our memory issues , anger issues, & physical issues.  We made jokes about AfghanIraqiPakistuzbekistan.  We laughed about the stupid things the Army and USMC did on deployments.  We made a lot of Air Force jokes. We laughed. We laughed. We laughed.  We even told them that we could go to great lengths to defend their honor and not remember what we did with the perpetrators (no, not apologizing).  By the end of the day I knew they were catching on when I asked a skiing question and got, “that’s classified way above your level.” The other said “No Sh#!@ there I was…”  It was hilarious!  Imagine, three old grunts and two young ladies (one of them from the dreaded peace corps) just hanging out like we were some old uncles they had not seen in years.  America at its finest.  

The others are out there.  The nation is not as ungrateful as our false nobility wants it to be.  Trying to see it that way may just be an excuse to hang onto irrational anger (remember- that is a thing we do).  Self-isolation for the sake of believing a false reality will not get us back to whole.  If we isolate because “no one cares” then we are isolating because we want to be isolated, nothing more.  It is not disloyal to our dead brothers and sisters to engage the others and have a laugh with them. It does not mean we are not warriors anymore.  It does not make us one of “them” and not “one of us”.  It is ok to have a cup of coffee with the others.  The others want to say thanks.  They don’t know how. Shame on us if we just don’t know how to receive that.  After all, it is what we all want.

Can they understand what it is to shoulder a 100 lb. ruck sack and go 25 miles in 5 hours? Not anymore than I know what it is to pack train a llama in the peace corps in Peru.  Do they understand what it is to watch incoming and have to sift through the BDA? No and we went so that they never would have to- remember that.  None of that however, means that they are democrat or republican or CNN or Fox.  They are just the others (just like we are “those guys”) and if we tell them they can come up to us maybe they will and maybe that will be a good day.  At least the skiing will be good.  Go get ‘em tiger.


Joe DeCree is a Maj. (Ret.) US Army, Green Beret, 19th SFG (A). He works with returning veterans and lives with his family in Montana. You can contact Joe directly at or 406-871-0638 MT.

Guest post by Joe DeCree, Maj. (Ret.) US Army

Groundhog Day…again.

It is almost February 2nd. Time for more reruns of the Bill Murray/ Harold Ramis classic movie. It is a movie that works on many levels for many of us. In thinking about this movie (it is a favorite of mine) I found an interesting parallel to post military life.

Speaking for myself, when I first suspected I had PTSD I did what most of us do — I told myself that it wasn’t so. I managed to dodge reality for quite awhile (I was an officer. I can be very convincing and still be wrong). But when reality would not be put off any longer I found myself in Groundhog Day. Nothing much changed. I got up, got angry, went to my job, felt pointless, wanted to be somewhere else, wanted to be dead. I kept talking to people and mimicking right answers, funny jokes, etc. and complained about everything and everyone all with the vaguest hope that one day I would wake up and it would be magically different. No matter how much I tried to show normal, I just wasn’t feeling it. Mostly I wasn’t feeling anything and when I did it was pretty bleak.

Just like Bill Murray’s character I did things that were increasingly risky with less and less thought about consequences because after all I would wake up tomorrow and nothing would have changed. I was stuck in Groundhog Day. Sound familiar?

But the metaphor is incomplete without the resolution. That is the best part of the movie. The character in the movie is stuck for exactly that reason. He works on just stuff- things that amuse himself or impress others. They are heartless and meaningless acts essentially. But at one turn in the plot he starts doing things for others. He stops a kid falling out of a tree. Helps some old ladies change their tire, and does a few other random acts of kindness. He makes it his purpose to help others. This progresses to an interest in making himself a better person. At that point he wakes up on February 3rd.
It is a new day at last.

That was me too. PTSD and readjustment blues (sounds like it should be a song, yeah?). It is easy to be stuck in Groundhog Day. Nothing changes. Meds, VA, friends pretending it’s all good, or nagging you about getting something new started. You want it all to go away but the regularity of it all becomes its own kind of weird comfort. The dullness keeps some of the rage and anxiety at bay so you tolerate it and tell yourself that you are getting there or perhaps that it doesn’t matter at all and soon you’ll be dead. If you stay here you are gonna die. It will either be a suicide or worse- the slow emotional death that perversely proves that you were right and life is not about anything and never was. It is a truly dark place we travel through to appreciate what light is.

If this is where your story is then please let’s do something about it. It does not have to be. Bill Murray did not stay in Groundhog Day forever. It changed when he decided what life was about and that he would dedicate himself to pursuing that. In the movie, he discovered (just like I discovered) that life is not in fact pointless. It is all about how we relate to others. For me that took a decidedly Christian path. Yours may be different but a philosophy that keeps you isolated and makes life pointless is a guaranteed Groundhog Day. It will never be different.

We are relational creatures. That is how God made us. We are made for one another. This implies certain responsibilities. First it implies that we have to make ourselves into something that can support that. Then we have to find people we want to serve who have a cause we believe in. This stuff is not new to military folks. It’s why we served.

It is who we are.

Be who you are. Get busy working on yourself to get to a place where you can fulfill that mandate in your soul.

Being stuck is a normal part of life. It happens sometimes. You get in a rut. Partly, your current rut is normal. It is amplified by the medical conditions related to trauma. Those may be permanent to a degree, but your rut need not be. One thing that I have learned that I hope you do too is that God has no zero and no max.

That means whatever time you have left is enough time to do what we were meant for. It also means if you want to wallow in your trouble there is not truly a bottom. My friend Britta Reque-Dragicevic has an interesting way of viewing this in her blog here. She details her own struggles with depression due to physical problems. She says that you have to choose to fight for your own life every day. I agree with that. You can get to a point where that is not daily, but you will still have to visit that choice at regular intervals.

Life changed for us. We went to war. Much of what we experienced was not a choice, but at this point in your life you must make that choice. February 3rd will not roll around by itself. It has to be invited in. That’s good news — at last you finally get a choice about what happens to you. This is not an IED or ambush. You can make this decision toward your own life.

This isn’t me painting a rosy picture. Nothing erases what you did or what you saw, or how you got blown up. I still have days when I wish I was dead and past it all, but they are getting fewer. Here is the million-dollar question: What if you woke up tomorrow and you weren’t pissed off? What would that mean to you? What if you did not feel like you were in a box that was getting smaller? You felt like you could make some future plans that might work? What if your emotional rucksack just felt 10 lbs. lighter? Heck when was the last time you really laughed with someone? Don’t you miss that? Brother, you can get to that day but you have to make that happen. You can. It is scarier than your first jump out of a perfectly good airplane but it is just as big a rush if you truly commit to it.

Step one is to reach out to someone. Anyone. A spouse, parent, friend, clergyman, your general practitioner, Britta — heck, I will talk to you if you think it will help. This is not negotiable, remember we are designed to be relational creatures. Isolation does not serve us well. Adam had a date before the end of the second chapter in the Bible (Genesis 2:18 …”it is not good for man to be alone…”). Everybody needs somebody. Even you. Pick someone you think you can trust and lay it out.

I know trusting your issues with someone else is hard. They might be shocked. They might not believe that people are capable for doing those things to one another. They might judge you and what right do they have to do that? They did not go over there! I was worried that my wife would hate me if she knew some of the things I did in combat. She did not. It took me years to tell her. When I did she thought I had pulled off some brilliant plays. Believe me, I get that you are scared. You are going to keep being scared if nothing changes. You ask, “what if talking is a mistake?” Ask a different question “What if it helps me get where I want to be?”

Disclosure makes you a bit vulnerable but, honestly, you are very vulnerable now in your isolation so that is not working either. And if nothing changes then you will always be isolated, vulnerable, and scared. Change something, man. Find a confidant. Connect with Britta or reach out to me. Open up a bit. Work on yourself so you can get back to the business of doing for others because that is who you are. It is why you fought.

Get to February 3rd.



Joe DeCree is a Maj. (Ret.) US Army, Green Beret, 19th SFG (A). He works with returning veterans and lives with his family in Montana. You can contact Joe directly at or 406-871-0638 MT.

Finding purpose after the military feels almost impossible, doesn’t it? It’s not that you don’t have skills to translate into civilian work. It’s the underlying sense of why you are doing it that feels so off. Once you’ve been responsible for life and death, millions of dollars worth of equipment, or leading others into and through combat — well, compared to that, most civilian jobs fall flat. They feel insignificant, meaningless, boring. You feel restless, unsettled, empty.

You can’t take someone who has been trusted with life and death, put them in a mundane job and expect them to feel satisfied, right?

Maybe. Or maybe you can.

What if there’s a way to feel purposeful in any job you work? What if there’s a way to live so that it isn’t the job, but you personal mission in life that gives you purpose and meaning?

The only way to find true meaning in work and life is to live your life in a way that serves the greater good.

That’s right. Service. Living an other-focused life.

And you know what? Most of the angst you feel around not having purpose outside the military is because you are no longer living a life of service. That higher mission, that higher calling, that sense that you exist to serve the good of many is missing.

It’s time you put it back into your life.

I don’t care why you joined up or how disillusioned and angry you may be now with the government and society, until you decide to put your life back into service for humanity, you will remain stuck and purposeless.

Why? Because you are a soul who was designed to serve.

You entered the military with a much deeper spiritual calling on your life than you realized. You came here to this earth to allow your life to be used for the good of humanity. When you chose to be a warfighter, you took on some of the greatest depths of experience and responsibility a human soul can agree to. You signed up to be a death-bearer in this world for the purpose of protecting the innocent. And that’s what you did.

But your spiritual calling to serve is not over.

It’s precisely because you have been an instrument of destruction that you have the potential to become a powerful instrument of good, love, life, creation, beauty, joy. You may not feel that you are wise or have a lot of depth and you may not feel any of those things right now (you can get there) — but you know what? You already have what it takes to be this person, right now, in you.

You know more about what makes Life, life — than anyone. Because you were death, you know what life is in ways no one around you knows. Because you have lived through hell, you have the greatest potential to lead others to life. What you have to give to others is an enormous gift of insight, wisdom, understanding, a willingness to be real, to get to the depths of life that so few are willing or know how to dare enter.

You can relate to those who are suffering and in pain. You know how to listen to the deeper truths that can’t be put into words. You know how to be present and show up and talk someone out of fear and into battle.

You know how to be a warrior of the soul. For the soul.

Can you imagine how valuable you could be to someone who is going through a life-threatening time? The kind of support you could give to someone battling cancer, for instance? Or how you could teach your child how to persevere and talk herself into courage when things are tough? Or how you could help teenagers grow into stronger versions of themselves? The possibilities are endless.

But it’s not what you do that matters, it’s why you do it.

To get to living a life of purpose, you have to decide who you are going to be in this world.

How do you make this life I’m talking about?

  1. Own your life. No more excuses. No more blaming. No more self pity. No more bitching. No more complaining about how life sucks. No more toying with the idea of suicide. No more waiting for someone else to make your life better. You were not killed in combat. You are still here.
  2. Decide who are you going to be in this world. Positive? Negative? A believer in good and possibility? A force for life or a hindrance? You going to build or destroy? Look at life with strength and courage or whine and blame and wallow? Brave or coward? The one who makes your life happen or one who waits for someone else to make it happen for you? A leader or a follower? You have to decide these things. They’re your choices. (If you’re too depressed to believe you can change, try to remember what it felt like before you joined the military and you weren’t quite sure you could become what they said you’d become — that’s where you stand right now. You can change your life when you decide to do so and when you take action to change it.)
  3. Face the truths about where you’re at. The only way forward is to start where you are. That means you accept the truths about where you are at right now. Do you have PTSD, a TBI, depression, are you suicidal, do you drink too much, are you abusing drugs, do you have physical injuries that need medical attention, do you need to break up with your partner or turn to them and ask them to help you figure this out? You can’t move forward if you are living in denial or unwilling to move toward healing, wholeness, and wellbeing. Take a small step toward moving your life toward healing. Talk to me if you need guidance on how to do this.
  4. Start retraining your mind. We often think that we have no control over our minds. They do what they want. But while that is true to a large degree, we DO have control over what we believe about life. Our perspective on life, our attitude, is the one thing we can control. You can say no to your mind. You can choose to not go down that familiar path of fear, self-blame, self-abuse that leaves you feeling worthless and wanting out.

    It takes effort, it takes the same determination as working out to build your muscles — you have to commit to it and do it, over and over. When your mind starts heading down that path, become aware of it and say no. It may take weeks, it may take months, but minds can be retrained. Old beliefs can be dismissed. New beliefs can be embraced. Freedom comes when you realize you get to choose the beliefs you’re going to have in life.

  5. Put your life into service. Re-enlist your life into one that exists to serve humanity. This is where you find your purpose. Not your job – your purpose. The why you are here now. Make it your personal mission to be a force of life, of love, of kindness, of generosity, to add more life to this world, to be gentler because you’ve known rough, to be kinder because you’ve known cruel, to lead others to courage. You start with the people you interact with every day. Your mission is to be life in this world now. You are done being death.

When your mission is to be life, to be love, to be kindness, to be courage — then your purpose is to be that. No matter where you are. No matter what job you have. Your purpose will come from within you. And this sets you free to do any kind of job out there that you need to do for financial reasons.

A Marine brother once told me that it doesn’t matter where the government sends you, what battlefield you’re on, where you’re deployed – what matters is that you’re a Marine. Your job is to serve and love your brothers.

You do that wherever you are.





You miss warfighting. Miss war, miss your team, miss having life and death within your power. Miss the cohesion, the shared misery, the trust. Life was simple, fucking hard, and combat required all of you.

Now nothing requires all of you.

Warfighting is a spiritual calling, which means that tug on your soul doesn’t go away just because circumstances prevent you from continuing. I see so many combat veterans looking for a way to keep fighting — angst and anger at the government and system, hatred for civilians who just don’t seem to “get it” — there are justifiable reasons for the frustration, yes, but at the end of the day, it comes down to what demobilized warfighters have gone through for millennia. Not being able to accept that their warfighting days are done and not knowing who they are supposed to be now.

When your spiritual calling is to defend, protect, destroy, fight — not being able to eats away at you. Life goes on, much of your energy is spent trying to suppress the inner knowing that you’re no longer doing what you are here to do. Trauma from combat fuels much of the negative emotions and symptoms you have, but a good portion of the weight gain, turmoil, anger, feeling lost, reliance on pills and alcohol — comes from not being able to live your calling anymore. It takes a ton of energy to deny what your soul knows to be true for you. And many of you are killing your Selves because of this. Some of you with weapons, most by staying in relationships that no longer nurture who you are, accepting mediocre jobs that require little of you, overindulging in anything that numbs you out, and complaining and bitching about what’s become of “the country”.

This is NOT who you are. You are better than this. And you are meant for more.

You are people of honor, individuals who are willing to act with courage, and do what most people can’t. You know what true strength is, endurance, the fragility and value of life, you know power.

So, why is it that you get out and turn into whiny, disempowered people who can never be pleased? (sounds a lot like the civilians you rail against)

I know why. It’s because you are stranded out here without a fight that you know how to fight. You assume that the way you were trained to fight is the only way there is, and now that you can’t, you don’t know what to do. You feel disconnected from who you know you can be, who you feel you are, and what you can actually do about it in your life now. Some of you have been warfighters in past lifetimes as well as this one, it’s a role you feel natural in because it’s what you have known for a very long time.

So, where does this leave you?

Let’s look at things a bit differently.

What if your spiritual calling isn’t to the physical act of fighting, but to fighting for something, in general?

What if you can still find a way to live out that calling, if you realize that it still takes the same energy, passion, devotion, sacrifice and drive to fight for something on this earth whether the enemy is human or deeply ingrained beliefs that keep people stuck and small?

What if you are still meant to be a warfighter, it’s just that the way you fight has changed?

The blatant drive to destroy and kill is the basic level of true warfighting. It’s time you level-up.

The more advanced forms of being a warfighter shift you from extinguishing life to fighting the thoughts, lies, and beliefs that keep humans disempowered and disowning their ability to create a meaningful life that aligns with their soul. Advanced levels require spiritual, emotional and mental agility and stamina to recognize how fear deceives us all to destroy our belief in our own power. It is a fight that you have had a taste of now in this post-combat life as you have come up against thoughts that are powerful enough to convince a person to put a gun to his mouth and pull the trigger. This is not warfighting for the faint of heart or for the easily discouraged. You get to this level and the whole game changes. And life is on the line.

Maybe it’s time you up your game, retrain, and  fight for Life and true freedom, not political freedom? Maybe your mission now is to learn how to fight at the advanced level for your own Life so you can be ready to carry on the greater mission of this lifetime? There is no doubt that we need you here.

Warfighters are called and driven to serve the greater good. This self-based, poor-me life that you’re living right now doesn’t feel good, does it? Of course not. And it never will.

You are meant for more. You are meant to stand tall with the humility of true leadership among the rest of us, to carry the wisdom and weight of warfighting along with the wisdom of what living truly means. You have already proven your ability to face Death, you have already met your own strength. We need that from you still.

Shift your perspective. Own your sense of self and your calling. Stop trying to deny what is an essential part of who are. Realize that you don’t need to be less of who you are. You need to be more. Understand that until you stop fighting what is, until you stop denying the fact that the way you need to fight has changed, you won’t move forward and you won’t be of the value you can be in this world. Change, transformation, evolution is how Life works. A calling to serve, to stand for something Greater Than Ourselves may last an entire lifetime, but how it is expressed will and must change for us to be who we are meant to be and have the impact we’re meant to have.

Don’t let the fact that the game has changed convince you that you no longer have a vital role in it. In life, just as in war, you adapt and up your skills to be of maximum value to the mission.

Life is asking you to be more. Rise.

We spend a lot of time thinking that we need to let go of the past. “Let it go” (oh, god, don’t get me started on that refrain, lol!)…is what we hear over and over. “Move on.” “Leave it behind you.” “Try not to think about it.” “That’s not who you are anymore.” These are phrases that are well intentioned and often eventually work for broken hearts, break-ups, job losses, and personal disappointments.

They don’t work for combat vets.

So much of our healing efforts to “move on” from the past revolve around assuming that we need to separate ourselves from what happened back then and make it less a part of who we are now. The only problem is this doesn’t work when your job was to kill and maim people. Or when you’ve created or witnessed desecration. Or when you’ve been the perpetrator or victim of torture or abuse. War is ugly, it’s rank, it’s humanity that has lost our sense of our Selves, a time of suspended perception and surrealness. To anyone outside the warfighter community, war is something to run far away from.

Not to warfighters.

To be a warfighter is a spiritual calling. It’s not just something you do, it’s who you are. You decided before you were born into this lifetime that you would accept the role of warfighter, that you would carry the burden of being a death-bearer, that you would carry the weight of that level of spiritual responsibility.

It’s not just something you do for a few years and then “leave it behind.”

Why? Because it is part of who you are in this lifetime and may very well be part of who you have been in other lifetimes.

What happens usually? Warfighters come back from combat, are done with their active roles as warfighters, and settle into the boring routine of civilian life. It’s unsatisfying, even though you know you are grateful and you should be content with peace. You try hard to convince yourself that you need to move on. Your therapist works with you to “let it go” and most everyone assumes when you take off your uniform for the last time, you transform into a civilian. Yeah, right.

You’re here, but not here, aren’t you?

You know how you spend so much time lost in thought, remembering war? How easy you slip into who you were then, those experiences, those memories, those feelings? People around you say you seem like you’re somewhere else? And the past feels so much more real than the present?

I know you know. It’s so easy to slip into that past life.

Civilians and many therapists do not realize that you’re not just remembering, you’re re-experiencing. You’re back there. Every part of you. You feel who you were then, you feel that identity, you feel the emotions, it’s all right there, in you. You move back and forth between that past life as a warfighter and your present life now. One warfighter put it this way: “It’s as if I turn my head to the left, I’m fully back there. If I turn to the right, I’m here. It’s that easy to go between two very different realities. And it’s even harder yet to realize that they’re both the same me.”

The reason it’s important to distinguish this is because the idea of “letting it go” or “moving on” assumes that you can separate yourself from yourself. This is not a memory issue, guys, this is about who you are. Your identity.

We need to stop trying to push the past away, stop trying to exclude it from our sense of Self and do the opposite. Expand and widen our concept of our spirit/soul so that it’s vast enough to include the past and the present as valid parts of who we are.

Healing is not about getting rid of all the pain, it’s not about shedding your sense of identity, it’s about becoming whole.

Whole equals the sum of all parts. Whole contains the dark AND the light. The joy AND the pain. Who you were then AND who you are now. Realize that you are an eternal being that encompasses all of the experiences you have ever had and that, despite and because of it all, you are here. Those painful memories hurt, but if the actual events didn’t destroy you then, the memories sure as hell can’t now. You don’t need to fear them.

What you do need to do is realize that you will always be a warfighter by calling. It’s who you are. You may never experience combat again, but that doesn’t mean you are done fighting. Integrate this part of you, don’t try to eradicate it.

Look for ways to put the spirit of fighting for something to work in your current life. This is about energy. Focused energy that challenges your limits, stretches your beliefs in what you can do, and gives you a sense that your presence here still matters. The past is always going to linger, it’s going to pull you into it, it’s going to be a part of who you are. But the past is not ALL of who you are either.

We need to remember that we are still here because we need to live the life we have now.

And that’s the hardest part. Sitting in the present when you feel so disconnected. When everything that happened back then feels so much more real and vivid and meaningful than where you are now. (This feeling, by the way, is hard for families to understand because to them it feels as if you don’t value them enough. I wish families of warfighters could understand that in so many ways warfighters feel as if there are two versions of themselves. And that isn’t because there is something wrong with them, it’s because the nature of being called to carry the weight of a warfighter’s life is not something you ever just “move on” from or “let go” of. It’s seared into your soul’s DNA.)

You have a life to live now. You don’t have to have it all figured out. You may be stranded, wondering what’s next in terms of career, relationships, purpose. You may be reeling from the intensity of your combat experiences and just beginning to edge toward sensing that you are actually here and now.

You need to find ways to come back to the here and now. We can do this by becoming mindful and grounding. To be mindful, you intentionally focus on the present. To ground, you can do a variety of techniques. For example, choose an object — a stone, a photo, something that connects you to your life now –and focus on that object. Pick it up, feel it, notice it — it will bring your attention back to the present. When you do this, take time to name several things you are grateful for. This will help you to start feeling more emotionally connected to the present. (To learn more on how to ground, see Grounding Techniques)

It’s time to stop believing that you have to let go of your past in order to be who you need to be now. In fact, your past is the most valuable thing you possess. It is yours alone, unique to you. You need it, to be you in this world.  To fulfill your soul’s mission in this lifetime. So focus on accepting your past as part of your soul’s journey and let it teach you about your Self. In the big picture of this lifetime, what happened is part of your Story. Your Story doesn’t own your life, you do.

It’s time to see the past and the present in a new way.


Okay, so the words themselves mean the same thing in your mind. Fucked up. Pain. Shit. Issues. Doesn’t matter what you call it, right? Who cares?

What if how you think of it is keeping you stuck?

No, I’m not being “a writer” here and picking on words. On the surface, it doesn’t matter how you refer to the changes in yourself after combat. What matters are your beliefs about those changes. And your beliefs about those changes often show up in how you refer to yourself.

So, what I’m really after here is this: do you judge/blame/hate yourself for the changes in you? If so, you’re gonna stay stuck.

Why? Because as long as you judge yourself and feel like you should have been stronger, that you’re a pussy for letting anger/anxiety/distrust overtake you, that you should somehow have been able to avoid getting hurt, and be strong enough to overcome this alone now — you’re going to hold yourself away from healing.

As long as you think of yourself as fucked up, instead of wounded, you’re not going to give your heart/mind/body/spirit the acceptance and grace and support it needs to transform, heal and release you from the pain.

It comes down to what you believe. Judging/hating/blaming yourself for being wounded means you don’t really believe you should be affected by what you’ve been through in combat. You may know logically that war should change a human being, but you hold yourself to a standard that makes you feel weak or like a failure for seeing those changes in yourself. If this is you, you have a hard time not feeling ashamed for the pain and struggles you experience. Thinking about it doesn’t just hurt, it makes the cruel voices in your head start calling you names and bashing you for being “fucked up”. You think of your wounds, and your sense of self-worth plummets. The weight of feeling like a failure hurts more than the war itself. So, you try to avoid this by avoiding anything that reminds you that you’re not okay.

That keeps you from the liberating self-acceptance you need to heal.

Those of you who grew up with fathers with untreated PTSD, grew up walking on eggshells, yelled at, sometimes beaten, scolded for being soft and not stronger, disallowed to show “weak” emotions like crying, and promising yourself that you would never be like him. Some of you even joined the military subconsciously wanting to prove to yourself (and him) that you were indeed tough, that you “are a man”, that you could take it, and that you could be stronger than he’d been. The challenge wasn’t just something you craved, your sense of self-approval depended on it.

So, to see the same rage, anger, distrust, anxiety, fear of crowds, avoidance of people, strange sleep patterns, drinking, startle reflex, and insecurity now in yourself is excruciating. And you hate it. And you hate yourself for being this way, for being “weak.” For being changed.

But you don’t know what to do or how to change it. So you do your best to manage, try to not think about it, and withdraw into a world where you cut out anyone or anything that reminds you that you’re “fucked up”. Yes, you avoid the sense of failure, and you live increasingly alone in a disconnected world. Resigned to spend the rest of your life just putting up with this shit.

See what I mean by stuck?

By contrast, if you see yourself as wounded because you are a human being and war is supposed to hurt, you remove the judgment. When your wounds are not tied to your sense of worth, you do not blame yourself for your condition, and you open yourself up to the forces of healing.

Every warfighter worth his weight should come home with deep spirit wounds. If you didn’t, you haven’t truly known combat.

Being changed by war is a sign of honor. There is no weakness in it. Yes, it fucking hurts your heart. Yes, it changes your sense of self. Yes, it creates problems you never imagined you’d have to endure. Yes, it leaves you different than the civilians you now live among. But shouldn’t it?? If you took on the call of a warfighter, and you went through hell, why would you expect anything less than to come home with scars?? Scars whose very existence is because you acted with extreme courage and selflessness. The only way for you to have avoided being wounded by combat is to never have been in it.

(Our society’s attitude toward warfighters also fuels a sense that there’s something wrong with you; we should be embracing warfighters for the beauty of their scars.)

If you change how you think about your pain, and stop believing that you should have been stronger (what would that have meant anyway?) you create a place within you where you can begin to heal.

How? By accepting the fact that you are not fucked up, you are wounded. Wounds are not failures. Wounds are not to be ashamed of.

You didn’t get wounded because you were a coward or weak or failed. Quite the contrary.

It’s OKAY to be wounded.
It’s what you should be if you’ve been in combat.

There is nothing weak about you.

In reality, wounds are opportunities for growth, for transformation, for healing. Will you always be scarred? Yes. But scars are signs of growth, survival and life. Wounds can heal when you stop judging yourself by them.

You need to see yourself with compassion.

You wouldn’t judge a buddy for being in the pain you are in. You wouldn’t shame or blame or call him a pussy because he witnessed and created some of the most intense suffering in humanity and came home angry and grieving and changed. You wouldn’t write his nightmares and anxiety off as being “fucked up”, would you? No. You’d love him. You’d be there for him. You’d remind him that he’s no less the warfighter now than he was then.

This is just a different battle, guys. And it’s one you can transcend and win, when you choose acceptance and realize that only by understanding and believing that it’s okay to be wounded, can you get unstuck.

From the time I was five, I have lived with a body that subjects me to pain. Severe headaches at age five, joint pain that kept me on the sofa at age nine. Then an adolescence of debilitating fatigue, sensitivity to sound and temperatures, allover muscle and joint aches, flu-like symptoms. It would last for weeks, months at a time, then just as quickly leave. My physician father took me from specialist to specialist who ran blood tests. They kept telling me the same thing: there’s nothing with you. It must be all in your head. They ruled out a variety of illnesses and that was that. Bless my father for never giving up, even though the answer would not be found until after he had passed away when I was 18. Even the Mayo Clinic was clueless. Especially when I passed my psychological tests and they ruled out depression.

What was wrong with me? To the world, I looked fine. But I didn’t feel fine. I got anxiety every time I visited a doctor, knowing how I would be judged. I had told my story over and over and no one believed me. Even my family had doubts. They thought I was making it up, being lazy. I started to doubt myself. Was it all in my head? What did that even mean? It wasn’t until I was 22, after having been bedridden for six months with fatigue so severe that it took all my energy just to take a shower then I’d have to go back to bed, that I met a doctor who had the courage to defy her colleagues and believe me. She was on the forefront of what they were just starting to understand: fibromyalgia. Her faith in me changed my life.  (And I am grateful to say, aside from chronic neck pain and migraines, all my other symptoms receded completely.) But I know what it’s like when there’s something wrong with you and no one believes you. I know what it feels like to have people judge and question your integrity and sanity. And when you don’t get better within the timeframe they believe is reasonable, they dismiss you and often give up on you.

You know how this feels, don’t you. I know you do.

PTSD, spirit wounds, depression, and illnesses that run ahead of medicine’s understanding… people just don’t get it. They think that you’re making it up, that you’re lazy, that you’re just not sociable, that you should be able to overcome and get on with a life that feels right to them. They don’t see you. They see your symptoms and behaviors. And that’s it. When it’s trauma related, as PTSD and most spirit wounds are, they don’t understand how you just can’t let go of it and move on. Just like that. They knew you when you were strong and the idea that you can’t overcome this is difficult for them to believe. If you’ve tried for years to get better and haven’t progressed, they often tend to see weakness (instead of the incredible tenacity and strength it takes to deal with and manage that level of pain for that long).

It hurts to not be understood. It’s lonely. It ruins relationships. It splits families. It leaves you feeling ashamed that you’re not stronger and doubting yourself. The sad part is that if your wounds or illness were visible, if you had cancer or had lost a limb, people would be more accepting and empathetic. (Just to a point, though, people seem to be very quick to dismiss others if they do not recover fast enough. I know those who have visible wounds and illnesses also get “left behind” when the suffering continues.)

Why is it so hard for people to understand?

First of all, let’s be clear. I’m not talking about wanting pity or sympathy. You are tough, you’ve been through hell, you have higher thresholds for suffering and pain than most people will ever comprehend, as well as tenacity and endurance. You don’t need someone to feel sorry for you. Quite the contrary. You need someone to see beneath the pain and remind you of your strength and courage and ability to persevere.

But what happens when you have invisible wounds, is you come home and your loved ones start to see how those wounds manifest in your mood, your decisions, your ability to be close to them, what your attitude is… and what they see is someone they don’t recognize. That scares them. They keep believing that these wounds will just go away, or worse, they don’t believe that your pain is or should be as bad as you make it out to be. If you lose your job, you become a loser. If you don’t attend parties and social events, you become antisocial. If you shutdown Facebook because you can’t stand “the noise”, you become unfriendly and out of touch. And on it goes.

People hope that you will return to who you used to be. As time goes by and anger and symptoms become increasingly difficult for them to live with (cause it is damn hard to live with anger and rejection), their hope starts to fade. You do need to understand that your behavior feels personal to them — especially if they don’t know what you have been through*. You are angry because of what you’ve been experienced, but to them, if feels like you are just constantly angry at them. Anger hurts and it pushes people away. And over time, if people do not have a context to understand why you are angry, they assume they are the problem and they withdraw.

(I don’t want any family member who reads this to think that I don’t understand how painful and stressful it is for you to care for someone with PTSD and spirit wounds. It is. It takes a deep toll on you. The depth of these wounds is so deep that it hurts you, too. These are some of the most intense wounds that human beings can experience. We don’t often acknowledge that, but we need to, otherwise, we risk thinking people who have PTSD/spirit wounds are lazy, incompetent, weak, or uncaring. They’re not.)

What often happens is that people assume these wounds are temporary. That healing is fast. That there is some quick fix. When the reality is that these kind of wounds fundamentally change who you are. And that change (not the symptoms or the pain) is permanent. Unless that fact is accepted, there is no room for healing, growth, transformation, becoming someone stronger, wiser, and more whole. (All of which are possible when pain and wounds are validated and accepted and become the place to start rebuilding a sense of self and purpose.)

If you are a family member or loved one of a someone suffering from PTSD and spirit wounds, you need to realize that these wounds are deep and life-changing. There is no going back. You can only begin where you are and go forward. These wounds are not something that anyone would choose to have. They are sustained because your loved one was acting with extreme courage, willing to risk his or her life for someone else, and/or surviving.

I truly believe that if we make an effort to understand, to stop judging and try to imagine what it would be like to experience what each other has been through, more relationships can be healed. And the wounded can get that life-affirming belief in them that allows them to stop trying to justify why they are wounded and to focus on finding a healing path.

*If you don’t know what your loved one has been through and they can’t or won’t tell you, do some research on what people in similar circumstances have experienced. There are many stories out there that will help you to get an “inside” view and perspective. Know that everyone experiences trauma differently, but taking the time to imagine what it would be like will be helpful to changing how you perceive your loved one.

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.




You came back different. Changed. You can’t really describe  it, but you’re not yourself. Not who you used to be. You’re angry. Blow up at stupid shit. Lack other emotions. Feel numb. Tired. Disinterested in stuff that used to be interesting. Tense. Sleepless. Have nightmares that scare the hell out of you. Forget shit. Can’t focus. You miss your buddies. Miss the war. Miss the ones you lost. Miss feeling like you used to feel. Before.

He came home. Different. Instead of you being able to step back and let him take over sharing the household, childcare and financial responsibilities, you have to take care of him now, too. He’s angry. Silent, except when he’s mad. He can’t remember shit. Seems unmotivated. And distant. He’s up all night; keeps you up all night. Spends more time on the sofa than in bed. Keeps loaded guns around the house. Is edgy. Drinks too much. Seems obsessed with weapons and war. Wakes up sweating from nightmares. Says he loves you, doesn’t act like it.

Sex? Ha, not the same.

You lose interest in the midst of it, your body’s just not working the way it used to. And god damn it, you’re young. You’re supposed to be a sex machine at this age, right? She doesn’t understand. This isn’t by choice. You’d give anything to be the best lover she will ever have. Doesn’t she know it hurts like hell to disappoint her? You know she has expectations. She’s young, too. And your worst fear is that she’ll get her needs met somewhere else. But you can’t help the way you feel now. The way your body won’t respond, won’t let go, won’t. Just won’t.

He says he still loves you, but when it comes to sex, you’re not so sure. When it does happen, it’s too fast. His mind seems elsewhere. Or he just can’t get it up. When you do manage to get him in the mood, shave your legs, slither into lingerie… you wait. Minutes turn to half hour, turn to one hour, turn to 4:38am. He hits the bed, zonks out. You cry yourself to sleep. It has to be you. You’re not attractive enough. You’re not good enough. He doesn’t want you anymore. He. doesn’t. It slices to your soul.

She used to look at you differently. Like you were a man, not some exasperating child. She has no clue you are barely holding it together. How dark your thoughts get. How you wonder if you just might snap. How you imagine killing again and how good that would feel right now. She tries to be supportive when she’s not exhausted from the kids. But she’s angry, too. Why can’t she understand that you don’t want to be this way? You’re not some child, even though TBI fucked up your brain and now you can’t do half the stuff you once did. Why doesn’t she understand how humiliating that is? She reminds you constantly of what you need to do, when, where, checking, double-checking. When you don’t remember, she gets frustrated. As if you could remember if you just tried harder. Why can’t she realize that the part of your brain that’s supposed to remember is gone. Fucking gone. Trying harder isn’t an option. It’s never going to be an option. This TBI shit isn’t going away. It’s who you are now. And underneath it all are deeper wounds…

He’s more like a child these days than the man you married. You can’t trust that he’ll be able to handle taking care of the kids alone. What if he forgets something important? Like that the baby’s in the bath? Or the stove is on? Or that he is even supposed to be watching the kids? You are so tired. So fucking tired. You’re more caregiver than wife. More mother than lover. And he just sits there, in that chair, unmoving for hours, cleaning his guns. Lost in a world that you know hurts him. You know you’re supposed to be patient, kind, understanding. Not lose it. Remember that he’s a warrior. A wounded one. A hero of our country. You’re supposed to realize that he can’t fucking remember, because it’s the TBI, not him. It’s the PTSD, not him. But you forget. And it is him. This is who he is now. Who are you supposed to be?

He can’t do the things you used to enjoy doing together. He panics in crowds. Hates being around your friends and family. You make excuses for him. People are starting to wonder. He keeps to himself. Overreacts. Blows up at the kids. You’re walking on eggshells, trying to keep him calm, trying to keep the kids calm, trying not to fall apart from it all. Will you ever get relief from this pressure you’re under?

Doesn’t she know you miss “you” too? That no one ever prepared you for this. That all the training in the world never prepared you for this life now. That most of the time you are barely here. That you never wanted to be a burden to her. That you hate knowing she’s carrying all of the load. That you never thought PTSD/TBI would mean this. Half alive. Half dead. A warrior at heart. Always. A body that says you’ll never have the life of a warrior again. Sometimes you wonder if she’d be better off without you. Because, well, she would be better off without you. Free. Not having to be your brain. Not having to put up with your shit. She’d be better off, but what would you be?

Doesn’t he know you miss “you” too? That no one ever prepared you for this. That all the experience during deployments, all the fear, all the worry, all the prayers, all the promises you made to God if He would just bring you home, never prepared you for this? That most of the time you’re not sure where you are anymore? That you’re stressed to your limit. That while he no longer has the stress of combat, your battle has never ended? You went from fear and being brave — so brave– handling it all, the kids, the house, the finances, work, the mortgage, family, Christmas, birthdays, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, month after month, year after year… alone…and it has never stopped. He came home and the war came with him. And all this time you’ve been strong. Holding it inside. Putting on a brave face. Because you had to. And falling apart wasn’t an option. Because you couldn’t breathe while he was gone. And somewhere deep inside you, in the pounds you’ve gained, the ache in your back, the band around your chest…it’s all still there. Fear. And now, grief.

Grief? You think about them all the time. How one moment they were there, the next gone, and you had to keep going. Shove it all aside. There was no time for grieving. They’re gone. These brothers. The ones who knew you better than anyone else. The ones you would have died for. Except you lived. Did you do enough? If you had just… why them? Why not you? You’ll never know. You see the faces of the dead. You close your eyes. They’re there. You miss them.

You watch her. She’s so beautiful. Such a great mother to your kids. You don’t know how she does it all. How she puts up with you. You wish you could tell her. You wish you could feel beyond the consuming rage. You wish you could make her know that you’re just lost and broken and you don’t know what to do. That all this time you’ve been strong. Holding it inside. Putting on a brave face. Because you had to. And falling apart wasn’t an option. Because you couldn’t breathe while you were gone. And somewhere deep inside you, in the pounds you’ve gained, the ache in your back, the band around your chest…it’s all still there. Fear. And now, grief.

You watch him. He’s so beautiful. Such a good daddy to your kids. You don’t know how he manages. How he puts up with the hell that PTSD and TBI put him through. You wish you could tell him. You wish you could feel beyond this tightness in your chest, this fear that life will always be this hard and that you won’t be strong enough. You wish you could make him know that you’re just lost and broken and you don’t know what to do.

I don’t know what to do.
I don’t know what to do.


And so here you are. Run over by the energy of war. Fighting each other because there is no enemy to fight now, only fear and self-doubt and shame and uncertainty.  Expecting life, expecting yourselves, to pick up where you left off and continue on. Only he’s changed. Only she’s changed. You’re relating to each other based on the last version you knew of each other. And it doesn’t work. He’s changed. She’s changed.

So where do you go from here?

You start by looking at yourself and determine what you have do have control over and what you don’t. Then you decide that for the things you have control over, you will own your power to make choices.

(You remember, too, that the only thing we ever truly control is our perspective. And you give grace to the reality that PTSD and TBI make choosing a perspective more challenging.)

You start by looking at your relationship today and decide, together, that you are not each others’ enemy. That, if you are going to make it, you’re going to have to be on the same team. Standing side-by-side, looking out at the world, together. Even if that means the one with PTSD can’t do more than what he’s doing now. Even if that means the one without goes to the PTSD support group.

You start by accepting what is, now. You grieve the loss of the hope and belief that the permanent changes will go away, as you focus on the good and beauty and joy that remains.

You start by stepping back to realize the extent of what you have each been through. That means you realize the layers of fear, grief, exhaustion, and the depth of emotion that is held within each of you and you find a way to start gently releasing it. Write. Paint. Journal. Cry. If you can’t talk to each other about the parts you want each other to know, message each other, write each other a letter.

You start by realizing you will never fully know the parts of each other that are hurt the most. His combat. Her homefront.

You start by recognizing that you are each grieving. And you give yourselves permission to grieve.

You start by deciding to be gentle with yourself and kind to each other.

You start by accepting that your roles have changed. And you find ways to give each other space and time to do the things that nurture you independently.

You start by choosing to believe that Love is stronger than Death. That Love is stronger than life with PTSD. That Love is stronger than life with TBI. You choose to believe that you will be given the strength you need, in the moment  you need it, and not a moment before.

You start by shrinking the big scary future down to the sizeable now of today.

And you reach out for support. You band together with those who are walking the same path and you let them become your family, your source of strength, the ones who fill in the gaps and help remind you that you are stronger than you think you are. That you can do this. That when the struggles are thoughts and beliefs, thoughts and beliefs can be changed. That when you just need to cry, you can cry. That when you have a hell of  day, that tomorrow can be better.

And sometimes, you start by understanding that not every marriage has the foundation to bear the weight of war. And if that happens and your heart breaks, you are not to blame. There is nothing, nothing in this world that proves that human beings should be stronger than the destructive weight of war. Sometimes, a marriage just won’t be.

And all you can do then is make life-giving choices. And remember that as much as it hurts to lose someone you love to war, it doesn’t mean that you are unlovable. Another love can find you still.