Archive for the ‘Courage’ Category

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.

 

 

 

 

How do you keep going when the battles are drawn out, each day feels pointless, and you are so, so tired? When the darkness feels never-ending and nothing seems to get better? How do you keep picking yourself up off the ground, and talk yourself out of fear and back into battle?

How do you fight for You?

Resolve.

The ability to keep going comes down to one thing: you have to resolve inside yourself that giving up or staying this way is not an option.

It has to be the undercurrent pulling you toward Life. And to get in the flow of that undercurrent, you have to surrender to your soul’s instinct to Live, to Grow, to Shed What No Longer Works or Supports You, to Transform, to find New Ways of Being.

You have to be willing to let those parts of you that are keeping you stuck, die.

You have to be willing to say “I don’t know the fuck where I am or how I am going to get there, but I am going to find a way to Live.”

And you have to mean it.

We discredit the power of decision. And we underestimate the power that comes from making a conscious, intentional decision.

We have, overall, as a society, dismissed the strength of willpower. Perhaps because we don’t like to face our own power, because if we face our power, we’re responsible to manage it in our lives. Perhaps also because there are some things that willpower can’t change, and willpower has gotten a bad rap for being a “quick answer” to dismiss the depth of someone’s situation.

But what if, we have more power than we think we do?

What if by making a true decision, one you feel all the way in your gut, one your whole being commits to… resolve…. we can change a great many things? What if instead of waking up feeling like life sucks and there’s no reason to get up, we could make a decision to fight for the day, to fight those negative thoughts, to say NO to them. And what if, by the power of your will to direct your thoughts and focus on something positive (like all the things you have to be grateful for in this very moment while life sucks), you begin to change?

Now, I realize that to get to that point you might need medication, you might need counseling, you might need to read an article like this that presents you with a new way of thinking…. but eventually, the only one who can decide how the life is going to be is YOU.

Decide. Not just wake up and see what life brings. Not just wake up and see how other people disappoint you again. Not just wake up and expect more misery and feel worse and worse.

But decide. Decide that you’ve had enough. That your repetitive negative thoughts have had way too much control over how your life feels now. That PTSD, depression, anxiety — are part of who you are, but they DON’T GET TO DEFINE WHO YOU ARE.

We waste years giving up our power because we don’t realize that we actually have the power to decide how we will be. Or what our mindset and attitude and perspective on life and on life WITH PTSD, depression, anxiety will be.

I am NOT being dismissive of how these diagnoses impact you, or of the fact that they make it very hard to think differently, or feel differently.

BUT, I am saying that there comes a point where you either let these diagnoses swallow you whole and control your entire experience of life — OR you take back your willpower and decide to control what you can. And what you can control is a decision to let these things defeat you and make you an utterly miserable person, or to accept these things as part of who you are, but to find every possible way to live your best life anyway.

That may mean going after alternative therapies. That may mean learning about new perspectives on life. That may mean finding religion. That may mean looking for every type of therapy, treatment, philosophy, spiritual practice until you find one that shifts your perspective toward Life.

What it will always mean is that you have to give up your identity as someone who has no power.

You have to give up your beliefs that life sucks, you’re doomed, nothing will ever change, people just hurt you, you are just stuck with this shitty life. You have to give up your beliefs that your diagnosis gives you an excuse to act like an asshole, or treat people like shit, or destroy everything in your path. (Yes, I know you have rage and anger to deal with, but you are responsible to find ways to deal with it — and there is help out there and there is a part of you that can resolve to find a way to heal the anger.)

You have to own your life and take back your power to change how you think.

There are so many resources out there. Books, speakers, spirit/mind/body leaders, people who can teach you how to see your Self, suffering, death, life, beauty, grief, joy, love differently. People who can teach you how to take what life has delivered to you, and change your attitude and outlook so that you aren’t controlled by the anger and bitterness and negative perspectives.

But none of this can happen unless you DECIDE that you are going to do whatever it takes to find it.

All it takes for change is one thought that you’ve never had before.

Just one thought.

Start reading and listening to authors like Mike Dooley, Mark Nepo, Wayne Dyer, Rob Bell. Start feeding your mind with thoughts you’ve never had before.

Make a decision to reclaim your life and then go out and do what it takes to do it. Yes, it may be slow. Yes, it may take time. Yes, it may feel as if you get knocked down and have to pick yourself up again… but you keep going.

You can’t change your diagnosis or what you have suffered; you can change whether or not it will define you or whether you will define your life.

It’s your choice. Until you realize that deep down within you, everything outside of you will control you and swallow you whole.

Only you can allow that to happen.

 

 

It’s that heaviness deep in your chest. That gaping void where part of who you were before is permanently gone. It’s the sense of having done things that can never be undone, a burden of being responsible for having taken life and for having lost it. A burden you know is yours to carry.

It’s being moved to tears by songs that invite you to grace and mercy because you know in your heart that for some reason it doesn’t apply to you. Grace and mercy? You want to believe, but they feel as if they’re for others. Not for you. For your brothers, for your family. Not you.

And your heart aches and contracts and your chest caves in on itself, your breath catches in a prayer you can barely whisper. You want to, but you don’t believe in redemption, even though it calls to you, like a far away home you can hardly remember. You feel as if you’re standing outside the circle, watching all the innocent ones, the ones who haven’t destroyed and killed, the…Others…receiving grace and forgiveness. Accepted. You know deep down you will never belong. You are… marked. The spiritual repercussion of being a warfighter.

It eats at you. Oh, not the killing. At least, not the ones that were justified. No, the decisions under fire, the split-second hesitations, the choice to go down one road instead of another. The feeling in your gut that warned you, but you weren’t in a position to heed it. Or you were, and you didn’t. And now they are dead.

Men you loved. Men who loved you. Men who died for you and with you and for whom you would have died. But you didn’t. And you’re pretty sure you should have. You would now if it would bring them back.

It gnaws in your stomach, replays in your mind, haunts your nightmares. Sits in you. And you move through your days forced to live with the knowing, with the overwhelming sense that there is nothing you could ever do that will ever unmark you. Ever undo what happened.

You move through your days held by the underlying certainty that you can’t belong. Always, standing outside that circle. Believers of all faiths invite you to step into their circles of salvation. But grace feels like a fantasy, like a far off wish that is fine for others, just not possible for you. At least, that’s what runs through your mind.

It’s that sense that you don’t deserve real love, real goodness, real joy, to have what your heart wants most in this life because you’re responsible for more destruction and devastation on this earth than anyone knows. So you just stand there, on the hillside, outside the circle… with your fellow warriors. And you watch the Innocents get the joy and love they deserve. And you’re glad they do. But your eyes fill with tears for the longing to belong and the seeming truth that you never will.

This is your reality. You’re strong. You’re a soul of courage. You know how to carry your own shit and it’s yours to carry. You know all the explanations and comforting words that your wisdom reminds you of. The chaos of war. The chain of command. The fractured nature of time in combat. The possibility of death even if you did it all right. The randomness that played into it all. You know good men die in war. You know that you did a hell of a job. You know you would do it all again. Even now. Knowing how it hurts. You’d do it all again. It’s who you are.

You stand among men who are rare on this earth. Those brave enough and human enough to deliver death and endure life. You can’t undo what has been done. It IS your burden to carry. But it’s not yours alone. Your brothers stand with you. Those who shoulder the weight of being the only group of souls on earth condoned to take life and heralded as heroes for doing so.

“Some things can’t be fixed, they can only be carried.” I read that recently.

The hell of combat lies in the silent aftermath. In the second-guessing one’s decisions. In the very real weight upon your soul that bears actual responsibility for the loss of human life. It is in what you should have done, what you couldn’t do, in the reality of your actions. In the unchangeability of what you did or didn’t do.

I don’t have an answer for you in this. I can only shoulder it with you. Perhaps redemption is found in the choices we make now, going forward, in choosing to remember and live with a sanctity of life, in giving back, in finding ways to be more truly alive. Perhaps there is redemption for you in a religion that makes sense to you. Perhaps there is redemption in choosing to let love break you open and risk feeling again.

I don’t know. I seek an answer as much as you do. What I do know is that the pain is real, the ache hurts, the sense of carrying something that only a few ever have to carry on this earth and even fewer will ever understand is sometimes overwhelming and always there. Underneath it all.

I do know that you are beautiful in your brokenness. You are beautiful in your pain. You are beautiful in your courage to be a soul who carries this weight. I know your heart is good and you are loveable. I know your heart has done dark things you have never told anyone. I know that sometimes all you can do is let the tears rise and fall, to make the pain just a bit more bearable, than gather your strength, get up and carry on. I know that you may be shut down and so numb that nothing touches you anymore.

I know that you are loved by those who understand you and by those who don’t. You are here for a reason and while the weight on your soul is so heavy, you have the strength and fortitude to bear it. And when you stumble to the ground under the heaviness, the rest of us will be here to kneel with you, give you water, wipe your tears, and hold courage for you while you find yours again. And when you are exhausted and can’t get up, we’ll carry you.

The spiritual burdens of combat are hard. There’s nothing easy about this. Few are willing to even address this issue. But I refuse to believe that there is no hope for less pain, for different perspectives, for wounds to heal. I also believe you find courage by facing truth in the face. Trying to make this less difficult only denies the reality of how complex and real this issue is. I will continue to go into this dark cave until my eyes adjust to the dark and I can see what my soul needs to see.

We may be outside the circle, but we’re here together.

 

This is an issue many of you, and especially me, are dealing with. I’m going to flat out tell you right now that I’m just beginning to truly understand the importance of true intimacy… I’m a novice at this, guys. Maybe we all are. God knows how many ancient walls guard my heart….or what it takes for someone to be let through. So, I know that this is a tough topic. It’s not easy for me…. but it’s important.

I’ve been thinking about how we can be surrounded by people who love us and yet we don’t “feel” the love. We blame it on our walls, right? And yes, our walls are a good part to blame. But I think part of the reason is also because most people who say they love us actually love how we make them feel. They love our energy. They love what we do, how we make life feel safe or good or easy or just better for them. They love their idea of us. Their love for us makes them feel good. To them, their love for us is as real as it gets. And their love is real. Love is love. All love is real.

So why don’t we feel it? Because being loved for how we make others feel and being loved for who we really are, are two very different things. Two different types of love.

If we don’t feel truly seen, heard or understood for who we really are on the inside, if we aren’t able to really talk to and confide in the people who love us, to feel perfectly safe sharing our selves — we aren’t known for more than our surface. We can’t FEEL loved unless we feel truly seen, heard and known BENEATH the surface. We can KNOW we are loved, but we won’t feel it. Or, at least I don’t. Why?

Because to feel loved we need intimacy. The deep trust and safety of another’s spirit that allows us to be vulnerable, that sets us free to fully be who we are, that makes us feel known on the inside, safe to express our real feelings and know we will be allowed to feel whatever we feel: our fears, our dreams, our hopes, our regrets, our desires. Intimacy makes us feel connected. Intimacy deeply entwines our roots together.

Being loved for how we make someone feel and intimacy are two very different things.

Being loved for how we make people feel is the love of basic friendship, fans, colleagues, teammates, followers, supporters, clients, it makes us popular among people who enjoy our energy or who need us in their lives in order to satisfy their need for safety or comfort. Being loved for how we make others feel is surface love. Surface love has roots but they are not entwined.

Intimacy is the love of marriage, deep friendships, parents and children, warfighters, life partners, soul mates.

Perhaps this is why relationships that require intimacy and don’t have it don’t last? The demands of these type of relationships are so heavy that unless intimacy is the foundation and maintained over time — unless our roots are thoroughly entwined — no other kind of love is strong enough to support the weight of it.

Because what we all really want is to be known, seen, understood for the broken, evolving, growing, scared, brave people we are.

We get surface love and intimacy mixed up sometimes. I have. I have accepted and given surface love instead of demanding intimacy where intimacy was required. We think that spending time with someone, living with someone, being around them day in and day out is intimacy when all it really does is let you get to know their behavior. (Think of two trees standing beside each other, they spend all their time together and know their surfaces, but their roots are not entwined. They are together, but each remains separate and alone.)

If you don’t have intimacy and if you aren’t sharing your inner worlds with a trust and shared, equal power and support — if you’re not talking to each other about your real selves (entwining those roots) — all you know is their behavior, their tendencies, how they react. How they react is often very different than how they feel inside. And if you don’t have their trust enough for them to share with you how they feel, you do not know them. You do not have intimacy. You have surface love.

Of course, relationships are complicated and there a myriad of factors that play into them, this certainly isn’t the only one. But at its most basic core, doesn’t the success of a relationship come down to whether real intimacy exists or not?

I haven’t been good at intimacy in this lifetime, not at requiring it nor in giving it. My walls are thick, I’m well armored. Only a couple of people have emerged in the last few years who have had what it takes for me to let them in. They taught me that it IS possible. Finding out that I CAN be vulnerable and truly feel seen, heard, understood and accepted for who I am, made me understand just how much it deeply matters. Life-changingly so. I’m not going to go into details out of respect for my husband’s privacy, but waking up to this (along with other reasons) has resulted in my decision to peacefully end the marriage, a process we’re still moving through.

I don’t have the answer to “how do you let yourself be intimate?” I will, no doubt, be writing more about my own discovery of that, and part of my own process is for me to be more vulnerable with you and write about my own journey in a way I haven’t done before.

But I will say, that even if you have walls as strong as mine, it’s not ONLY about your walls. We instinctively know when we are in the safe energy realm of someone who makes us feel seen, heard and understood. It’s about the type of love, the energy dynamics, the fears and maturity of both people. Because the right person with the right energy CAN come into your life and move past your walls as if they were paper-thin. I’ve experienced this myself (which, when you have walls like mine, feels nothing short of miraculous) and I experience the blessing of being that person to so many of you every day.

 

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.

NOTE: If you are in imminent risk of ending your life, please call 911 or the National Suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255 for immediate help. 

One of my Soldiers learned today that he lost a soldier to suicide. One of my Marines attended the funeral this week of a brother who went Home early. I’m sure there are many more of you who are dealing with this kind of loss right now. And many of you who are contemplating killing your Self.

Those of you who are suicidal often tell me that no one cares and that everyone would be better off if you are not here.

Tell that to your brothers and sisters. I wish you could see what this does to those you leave behind. Yes, I know you’ve lost people, too. You DO know what the pain feels like. And yes, you’re tired of it never getting better.

But as for that lie that others are better off without you? It’s a lie. It gives you an excuse to quit.

If no one cared about you, if it’s true that no one cared about those who commit suicide — then WHY the hell are my soldier and marine crying this week? Why is there a place in our hearts that feels hollow, that aches, that wonders why you didn’t reach out, that questions whether we could have prevented it, that leaves us feeling defeated, wondering how we can stop this thing called suicide from taking more of us?

Here’s the thing. Suicide is NOT the enemy. It’s not some force out there that’s killing our veterans. We can’t defeat it. It’s not an entity in itself. Suicide is a thought. It’s a lie that tired and wounded and lonely hearts that have fought too long alone choose to believe. It’s the lie that says because nothing has helped you get better, nothing ever will. It’s a state of being disconnected from your sense of power and ability to find healing. But it’s not some external force that steals in and kills you. Suicide is a choice.

If you’re thinking of killing your Self, and you’re reading this, then don’t you dare let the thought that no one cares and that others are better off without you be your excuse and your permission to take you from us.

You think about your brothers and sisters. You think about those people who risked their lives in combat to protect yours. Brothers and sisters who would have and did die for you. Are you really going to quit on them? Are you really going to let your death tell them that all of THAT — all of that struggle and love and suffering and risk — was for nothing? You survived all that just to come back and kill yourself?!? How dare you.

You know why suicide cuts deep for the rest of us? It’s not just that we miss you. It’s a betrayal of the Love and brotherhood. Yes, we are compassionate. We know your pain. We know you didn’t mean to hurt us, we tell ourselves all kinds of things to make it easier not to deal with the reality that you killing yourself feels like betrayal. It makes us angry. You chose to hurt us. You decided our love was not enough. You didn’t even give us a chance to help you change your mind.

We live in a time and age when there are plenty of resources to get help. If the VA fails you, we have private mental health providers. There are nonprofits galore out there ready to help, programs everywhere, chaplains, counselors, social workers, 911, the police. You have NO EXCUSE for not getting help. If it was your brother out there, in trouble downrange, you would have no excuse for not doing everything in your power to save his life. You have no excuse now.

The rest of us think it’s our responsibility to stop this so called suicide epidemic. But no one comes to a decision of suicide suddenly. It’s pondered for weeks and months and years. All of which during that time you could be getting help. And when you do choose suicide, it’s not the rest of us that have failed. It’s your choice.

Do I sound a little angry? Yes. I’m writing this with anger. Because this is where suicide takes me. I’m sick of watching my soldiers and marines cry for brothers and sisters they blame themselves for not being able to save. I’m tired of the lies you choose to believe. I’m tired of the lie that no one cares.

We care. Reach out. If your love for one another could get you through combat, it sure as hell can get you through this. Suicide is a choice. Choose not to. Choose life. Let us love you.

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.

Stop Letting ISIS Control You

Posted: September 3, 2014 in Courage, Fallujah, Iraq, PTSD, Rage

The situation with ISIS is beyond infuriating. Their actions are designed to incite rage and blatantly offend the warfighter and the goodness within you. Their presence, however, is not surprising. In the big picture of the world, they are a miniscule force, creating havoc in a place that, for the most part, no one in the world gives a shit about. The fact that you do give a shit about it is because you sacrificed part of the goodness within you on that land. You lost brothers there. You left a part of yourself there that you can’t get back and ISIS is trampling that part of you into the ground. And laughing as they do. And you have no way to physically lash back now.

So here you are. Hands tied. Unable to solve this. And anger, rage, hatred, disgust and frustration course through you, set your nerves on fire, interrupt your days and nights, taunt you. You scream at a government who isn’t making the decisions you would make in their place. The same lawmakers who made the decision to send you there.

Your anger is right and justified.

Let me gently ask you this. In the big picture of your life, here, today… where you have no power to change the situation there…how much of yourself, your energy, your power, do you want to keep giving to ISIS? Now is the time to look hard at your life, at the reality of what you can control and what you can’t control and decide if giving them control over your emotions and mind… well, could that be exactly what ISIS wants from you?

Your anger is right and justified. But does it hurt ISIS or does it just hurt you?

I know you can come back to me with concern that ISIS will not and is not contained to foreign soil, that there is greater threat than the public realizes, that we are standing by as thousands are murdered (thousands are murdered in other places in the world, but we aren’t looking there), that this might happen or that could happen… and yet, fear and rage can be all that ISIS has to do to win. Stop letting them win. If the government wills to defeat ISIS, they will be defeated. But you can defeat them first by letting them stop having control over your heart. Is that easy? No. Hell, no.

Is it what is best for you, and your life, and your heart, here and now? I’ll let you decide.