Archive for the ‘Grief’ Category

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.

 

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.

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.

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.

 

 

 

This is the kind of post that takes a shot of whiskey to write. Only, alcohol gives me migraines, so fuck that. We’re gonna talk about something that many of you live with and most of you will never be able to find words for… and that’s having witnessed or caused the death of children during your deployment. The adult pain of losing buddies and having killed others and killed parts of yourself in combat is somewhat tolerable (or at least expected) compared to the guilt and sadness that comes from the death and suffering of children. Many of you weren’t all that much older than the children you were around, some of them reminded you of your own siblings, and for those of you who were older, some of them reminded you of your kids. They all reminded you that children don’t have a choice in this world and that their innocence even in presenting a threat to you is something adults are supposed to defend…. except you couldn’t…. okay, deep breath. Grab your bottle of whiskey, and keep reading. This is tough terrain, and the only way to the other side is through it.

The fact that children have always been the victims of war doesn’t make the reality of your experience any easier. In an ideal world, when adults go to war, they’d just kill other adults… and in an even more ideal world, warfighters would only kill other warfighters, right? Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way in this hurting world we live in. In this real world, children are present in combat zones. They watch warfighters, interact with them, bring both joy and fear to them, gain and earn trust, and often get used by evil adults who enslave them as participants in war. We all know, logically, that children suffer and die in war zones. Just as they do in natural disasters and in any tragic situation in the world where adults fail to protect them.

But knowing that isn’t the issue. It’s living with your personal experience of it.

I’m not going to trigger you with graphic word portraits of images that already haunt you.
I am going to talk softly to your heart…

That ache you feel, the consuming guilt, the feelings of shame, anger, powerlessness and second guessing — those come from the soft, compassionate parts of your spirit that instinctively know that Life is to be protected. Children embody that innocence of Life. And as an adult in a position of power over life and death, you felt even more responsible to protect that innocence.

We don’t often talk about the warfighters’ softer side (and yes, every one of you has one, even if all you can feel is numb right now). Warfighters’ hearts ache from causing and witnessing the immense suffering, grief, destruction and devastating living conditions that the local civilian population endures. Emotions get very conflicted here because if you feel too much, you’ll let your guard down… and if you feel nothing, you wonder what kind of a human being you have become. The military doesn’t make it easy to show emotion, let alone “soft” ones. But just because you are culturally denied the right to show that you have a heart, doesn’t mean that your heart feels less. Quite the contrary, that tenderness gets bottled up and shoved down inside so it’s hidden from others’ view. And the pain becomes a very private wound you carry.

The death of a child kills the child in you.

When you witness children’s remains, or a child dies because of or in your presence, or you couldn’t prevent a child’s death because of rules of engagement or because you weren’t there in time or were there at the wrong time…. a part of the innocent child in you dies, too. And that is the part of you that I want to hear these words. You see, love, all the pain and grief and shame and feeling as if you failed or did the unthinkable… all that incredible sadness, all that was lost and broken in you… comes from a very tender place in your being. The child in you. You see, you go to war as adult as you can be and your mind throws up protective walls that help you endure and do what you’re trained to do. But inside, the child in you holds on to all the hope that love and joy and beauty still exist and will someday return. That child in you holds and protects the essence of your being: Love. And when you experience the death of a child in this world, a part of that child in you dies, too. And you feel deeply broken.

Your adult mind rages against the reality of a child’s death. You feel as if you should have been powerful enough to stop it or change the circumstances and those beliefs can consume you. You feel the grief of the parents, the family, and how fucked up we adults are when we can allow and create a world where killing each other is how we solve problems. Children remind all of us of who we could have been.

So what do you do? How do you deal with this pain? It hurts so deep inside and the shame and guilt keep you silent. After all, what would people think if they knew?

This kind of pain is the kind that drives people to suicide. These unspeakable acts of war become the unforgivable memories of war that eat you alive. The deep sadness at knowing that your presence (the presence of your country) participated in the suffering and changed or ended a child and family’s life forever couples with the aloneness you feel back home knowing how blessed and carefree kids are here and what horrible conditions children suffer back over there. And continue to suffer. What do you do with this weight you carry?

Listen carefully now as I whisper this to you…

Allow yourself to be held in compassion.

There are no magic words that are going to make what happened right. It will never be right. Yet, you are not excluded from compassion. The human heart is amazingly capable of feeling deep compassion toward others while holding itself to the harshest condemnation. Guilt and believing that you should have been more powerful to change what happened are normal feelings to have, yet your heart and your spirit also need compassion that allows you to see yourself in light of your true nature… a loving human being who was also placed in extreme conditions. If you didn’t care, you wouldn’t feel guilty. If your heart wasn’t loving, what happened wouldn’t bother you. Try to see yourself with the compassion you give to others. Imagine that a loved one felt as you do and had been through what you have been through, what would you think of him or her? What would you tell him?

Consider the power of forgiveness.

You can’t undo what happened. And if a child died because of you, the thought that you deserve anything but hell may be unthinkable. Why should you deserve forgiveness? Why should you be here when they’re dead? Why should your kids be alive when that child isn’t? Why should you ever allow yourself to be happy when you caused such deep pain? Those are not easy questions to answer. Yet, if you pull yourself out of the tunnel vision of guilt and look at the broader picture, you’ll see that there is something bigger at play in our lives. Why you, that moment, that child, those circumstances, that precise second in time? As painful as it seems, allow yourself to consider the possibility that we choose our lives and our moments of death before we come to this earth… and if so, that child’s life was fully lived when he or she died. (I know that theory stretches a lot of beliefs; stretching beliefs and thinking is what I’m here to do.)

What if in the big picture of life, you were right where you were meant to be? And what went down went down. And there is more compassion and grace for you than you know? And forgiveness isn’t something someone gives you, but something you have to take for yourself?

Honor their lives with life.

The desire to feel redeemed requires action. In Bosnia, mass graves from the 1992-95 civil war are continually located and the remains excavated. Shortly after I moved back to the States in 2004, I was pregnant with my second child and working a desk job in our local town. I remember being on break at work and checking the Bosnian news, and a two-sentence report came on that said they had found the remains of “two small children who had died hugging each other”. Maybe it was because I was pregnant, I don’t know, but that bit of news and the image it evoked hit my hard. I could imagine my own children in that position. It haunted me. And I vowed that I would not let their deaths be in vain. That they would not be forgotten. So, I wrote a novel about them (no, it’s not published and yes, it needs work.) My point is, your heart has felt totally helpless and powerless and it needs action to feel as if it is doing something to honor the lives of those little ones.

There are no magical answers to moving through the pain you feel over this. That pain comes down to the thoughts you think, the perspective you have, the beliefs you hold about yourself. And the way to move forward is to open your heart to new thoughts and new beliefs. So pull off that protective armor and know that it is not only okay to hurt as you do, but it is a sign that your heart and spirit are still tender. And that is a good thing. In the big picture of life, you are also a victim of the tragedy of war. That child in you that died over there also didn’t get protected in the grand scheme of humanity. It’s okay to be a warfighter and feel this intense compassion. And it’s time that you allow yourself to feel that way toward you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It lines your inside, this presence you’ve become so familiar with that you’re not sure where you end and it begins.
It’s just… there. Always there. Images. Scents. Sounds. Fear. Memories. Pain.

You try to shut it out. It returns. You lock it up inside. It gets out. It wants you to stare into its deceiving eyes. And when you do, it consumes you.  And that’s what perhaps scares you the most. That you no longer recognize yourself.

Talking about it hurts like hell. And it’s not that you can’t stand the pain. It’s that it sends you spiraling into a black hole that takes you days, weeks, months to climb out of.  And every time you manage to claw your way out, you’ve lost even more of yourself.

They tell you “you need to talk about it.” Go to counseling. Tell your stories. You’ll feel better.

But talking takes you back. You don’t want to go back. How could you find words to make anyone understand anyway? You can’t even find words to help yourself understand.

No. Silence is the only place that feels right.
It’s the only place where you can contain all that possesses you now. What you know and don’t know.
What you feel and don’t feel. What happened and what didn’t happen. What you are certain of and what you doubt.
All of it.

It’s not that you haven’t longed to speak. To scream it out. To eradicate it from the fabric of your being. But your scream gets stifled in your throat or at the recurring jolt awake at 3am. There have been times, you’ve been so close… words slid from the back of your mind to your tongue, but your lips wouldn’t say them.

No. You can’t talk about it. You just… can’t.

Because the intensity of your experiences are overwhelming. Spiritually. Emotionally. Mentally. Physically. Silence is your home and that home is lonely. There’s no one ever there, but you and “it”. Sure, you see your buddies and recognize your pain mirrored in their eyes.  But they’re silent, too.  A “Remember when…” A shot of whiskey, a crude joke, change of subject. You could talk to them but then you’d all be back there. And who would get you out? No, silence is best.

And so here you are. Reading this blog post on this site you just happened to stumble upon. A place where this author talks about shit that no one else does. And talks about it in a way that no one else does. A way that makes you feel almost…safe. A way that makes you think, maybe someone actually does “get it”….and by god, what if that could be true?
Only… no, you can’t talk about it.

Does that mean you can’t heal?
Does that mean you are fated to the exasperated, exhausted “fuck it. it’s just the way it is”?
Hell, you’re wondering right now if you should just click off this page. Because this is getting too damn close to home and there’s a good chance you’re fighting back tears. And tears mean that presence is stirring and the pain is going to wrap its bony grip around your heart, pull you under, and you’re going to drown again. And you’ve got shit to do, like bills to pay, and kids to shuffle around, and cooking that needs to be done. You don’t have time for this. Fuck.

Stop… stop right there.

And let me put my arm around your shoulders and speak this gently to you now.

Those tears, the ones you try hard to stifle, carry all the weight of everything that you can’t say.
They are your lifeblood. They connect your mind to your heart.
You see, you’re not dead inside.
You’re not too far gone to be saved.

(And if you can’t cry? You’re still not too far gone to be saved.)

Those thoughts that are too hard to think, that fuck you up over and over and over again?
They’re not supernaturally stronger than you.
They’re not even your enemy.
And they’re not you.

They are triggers that cause you to feel the emotions of those overwhelming experiences. You have emotional energy trapped inside you.  It’s that energy that emerges when you recall traumatic events. It’s what you haven’t found context for… or been able to create a new sense of meaning for. How do you create meaning out of the fucked up shit you did and witnessed?

By changing what you believe about how the world works and your role in it. You can’t change the facts of what happened. Facts can be recounted in order…. this happened, then this, then this… But it’s not that part of telling that hurts. It’s what you feel when you tell your stories that hurts so bad. And what you feel is based on what you believe about what happened and what your thoughts and perceptions were then, and what they are now.

So what do you do to heal when you just can’t talk about it?

First of all, you need to know that it’s okay to NOT talk about it. You don’t have to share your stories with anyone to heal your pain. Why do those of us in healing work encourage you to share your stories? Because it moves that trapped energy out of you and immediately reduces its power. (Think about those times you’ve worried about something and kept it to yourself. Your worry got stronger and stronger, right? But when you told someone that you were worried, the worry deflated and you didn’t feel so overwhelmed anymore, did you? The same thing happens for all that you keep inside. As long as you keep it inside of you, it grows stronger and your ability to see events from different perspectives diminishes.)

It’s important to know, too, that sharing your experiences is healing ONLY if the person you are sharing it with knows how to receive, honor and hold it sacred. They need to be able to hold you in a healing embrace of acceptance and respect. Otherwise, sharing a story of intimate pain can be absolutely re-traumatizing to you. And you may end up more trapped inside than ever. Many of you have had very bad experiences when you’ve tried to express yourself… and that just sends you further into the silence.

Not talking about your experiences doesn’t mean you haven’t set an intention to heal. It doesn’t mean that you are not moving toward healing–as long as you have consciously decided that you are not going to stay where you are anymore. Because for emotional healing to happen, you need to change the beliefs and perceptions you have about it… and that process can take place in your mind without you ever uttering a word out loud. Just know, that it won’t happen on its own. You have to make a point to do so.

Second, I want you to know that your pain is sacred. What you experience in combat is very personal, even though many of you have experienced the same type of events, no one perceives it exactly the same way. So, your pain is yours. Your war is yours. It belongs to you. You get to own it. You get to decide what you’re going to do with it. I know that sounds strange when you are having all these overwhelming sensory perceptions and PTSD symptoms… because they make you feel as if you’re not in control. And you’re not in control of many of your symptoms. What you DO control is the decision to stay where you are or take a chance on finding a healing path. Staying where you are may feel safer right now. But that’s because your fear of feeling the pain is greater than your desire for freedom from it.

And that leads me to my third point…

The only way out of the dark is through it. It takes a ton of energy to keep the intense emotions locked inside (it also takes a ton of pills, drugs or alcohol to keep yourself numb). What you fear most isn’t the actual pain… it’s not knowing what comes next if you do feel it. Remember, you feel it anyway, right? Throughout your day, at night, in strange and odd times, unexpected. It’s always there. There are triggers for memories everywhere, all the time. All it takes is one faint association for a memory to come flooding in. So, keeping it suppressed is one way to try to manage it, but is it really what is going to set you free? Or are you just keeping yourself captive?

Right now, you can’t bring yourself to talk about it because it hurts too much. You don’t know how to express it. You worry about getting emotional in front of someone else. Or being judged. Or being exposed and vulnerable. And the idea of sitting down with a “counselor” just gives you anxiety. Where do you begin? How are you supposed to put into words the visceral experiences you’ve had? How are you supposed to convey it? It’s not unusual to freeze up. Or to try to tell a “safer” story, one that doesn’t feel so threatening. But what I wonder is this: if you can’t bring yourself to share your story, maybe your spirit is just not ready to tell those stories yet. What if, instead, you had support — acceptance, love, encouragement in your daily life — that embraced you as you are and allowed you to heal at your own pace?

Timing is everything when it comes to healing. Healing cannot be forced. It has to be supported and allowed, but it occurs at a pace that aligns with what your spirit decides is safe. And that is what I want you to remember. You are reading this post because your spirit is searching for answers. You are tired of dealing with this shit, but you aren’t sure what to do now. You still can’t talk about, and you don’t know if you can ever really get better, but there is a part of you that longs to have someone be there and accept you and love and nurture you. Someone who knows this path you’re on and will walk with you at your own pace. Someone who will believe for you what you can’t believe right now. That you CAN heal and create a new sense of wholeness. And that’s what I do.

Your spirit knows how to heal itself… IF you give it permission to guide you and you choose to act with courage.
You don’t have to jump into the fire. You can stand near it and let it gently warm you.

You don’t have to talk about your pain, you can let Love hold you in a healing embrace until your pain is ready to be released.

So, if you can’t talk about it now… don’t believe that you can’t heal.
Or that you’re doomed to a lifetime of this shit.
You’re not.

 

 

 

 

This is a hard post to write. Not because the subject matter is painful, (I’ll stare into the darkest pain with you), but because it is so personal to my daily life. Someone asked me why I let the events in Iraq bother me.

I’ll tell you why.

Every day I interact with guys who lost men they loved dearly, who struggle every single day with memories, horrific flashbacks, anxiety, guilt, brokenness, anger. Men who are afraid to sleep because of the terror that waits to ensnare them when they let their guard down. Men who carry a weight on their hearts that comes from being forced to kill parts of themselves in order to do what combat demanded they do. Men who stared death in the face day after day, deployment after deployment, who made decisions that can’t be undone. Men who died inside themselves to keep their brothers alive and must live with the fact that they couldn’t save everyone. Men who were fucking good at what they did. And did the best they could.

If you’re reading this, you most likely are one of these men. You know what I’m talking about. The world doesn’t see the man you were in combat. They have no idea they are in the presence of some of the highest caliber and highest tested human beings on earth. They see PTSD, and stumble over a “mental illness”. They see the guy working checkout at Walmart with a little pin that says “proud to be a veteran” and scowl at him for taking too long to move their groceries past a scanner. They see an overweight guy with a beard at the bar who doesn’t look like he has it all together and dismiss him without a second thought. They see a thin wiry guy who works in the cubicle next door and keeps to himself and think he’s socially awkward. They see… absolutely nothing.

They don’t see you. The real you. The man you are. The one you became in those streets and houses and rooftops, the orchards and roads. The man you still are. The man you will always be. They don’t see what courage means, or honor, or love that is stronger than death.

So, why does Iraq’s fall bother me?

Because I see a generation of men who will have Iraq woven into their souls for the rest of their lives. I see the pain, the struggle, the cost to hearts and how it plays out in daily lives. I know what it has cost and what it still does. I cry with these guys, I carry their secrets, I know the stories so painful and horrific they can hardly find words to whisper it. But they do. Because they are men. Brave. And unafraid to be afraid.

But the fall of Iraq? The fall of Iraq rips open tender wounds, starts the bleeding again, tugs at the part of these men that longs to be powerful and fierce and vicious, that part of them that knows expertly how to take those motherfucking extremists out — that part of them that can kill evil and has. These men know power. They know it unlike anyone else. And that desire… that desire forces them to come face to face with the reality that now… now they are that guy at the Walmart checkout, the overweight one who’s invisible at the bar, the wiry guy in the cubicle next door. Men who now everyone assumes are not much more than losers, hardly getting by in life, just barely making it. And that… that, right there, that realization, is what kills me. That pain.

These brothers that I love and am willing to fight for their soul’s freedom, they aren’t going back to Iraq. Their warfighting days are over. They have PTSD, and TBIs, and worn and battered and bone-weary bodies, minds, and spirits. They have to wake up each day and face the reality that they’re never going to be that Marine, that Soldier, again. And that is what fucking hurts so bad.

So, yeah, we can deploy to Iraq again, our current warfighters know how to fight. We can fight again today. It’ll fall again in 10 years. We can go back. We can stay out. We can debate it until we’re besides ourselves. It’s not going to make a difference. The Administration is going to do whatever is in their best interest. And our warfighters will do what they do best.

But my guys, they have to live with what that land has already taken from them. And what they’ve given it. And what they still give it every fucking day. They have to wonder now if their buddies died in vain. Or if the ache in their knee and the images of bloody flesh in their mind and the screams they hear when the room falls too silent — if it was all for an Administration who never actually saw them. And still doesn’t.

And that’s why Iraq bothers me.

First off, let me tell you this: forgiveness is a human issue. Not just a God one. There is ample discussion of forgiveness in religion and many sources to find those discussions. Instead of diving into theological viewpoints, I’m going to bring it all down to one fact:

We are all of One Source.

One Entity. The human Spirit carried in physical bodies. You don’t have to believe in a religion to sense this. Nor do you have to alter your religious viewpoint. For our purposes here, what matters is that you realize that when you are seeking forgiveness from God or in your faith or from another person, what you are actually seeking is to feel accepted despite the actions you sense were wrong.

The question “can I be forgiven?”  is a desire to feel that you are still worth loving and loveable, even though you’ve done something that you believe is against God/against another soul/against your own moral code. You can call your actions “sin” or not. Labels here don’t matter. What you feel is a sense that you do not belong, that you’re not worthy, that you can’t be embraced by Love as fully as others can. You feel cut off from God, from others, from yourself. And often, you feel so drenched in guilt that it begins to consume your sense of identity. What you feel responsible for becomes who you feel you are. And you punish yourself by not allowing yourself to step into Compassion. Life and living become a constant effort to cut yourself off from any thing that might be “too good for you to deserve.”

Wherever you are along the line of guilt, shame and longing for a sense of forgiveness, you need to know that there is Love for you. So let this article wrap you in a Love you’re not sure exists for you and, even if it’s only for a moment, allow your heart to be held by a Grace you do not fully believe in yet.

Why do you feel the need to be forgiven?

A good part of your mind knows that everything you had to do in combat, you had to do. You were doing your job, doing it well. Your job was to kill the enemy and protect your own. Your job was to follow ROEs. You did your job. There’s no debating that.

What comes up sometimes is how you feel about the job you did. The factors thrown in that tug at your human heart and more importantly, at your warrior’s soul. Questions like: did I do enough? Could I have done something more? Would this person still be here if I had? Those are questions that can lead to doubt, guilt and shame.

The sense that you need to be forgiven comes from a deep, instinctual place. And this is where warriors get stuck. Three elements intertwine:

1) What you believe about moral/ethical behavior

2)The moral/ethical behavior you experienced as reality

3) Your innate spiritual nature as a being Of Life

Let’s start with what you believe.

You grew up with a sense of right/wrong, acceptable/unacceptable behaviors. These depend on your parents, your childhood environment, any traumas you endured, and your affiliation with religion/faith. You have your own sense of what’s right and wrong. And you took that with you into combat.

But what did you experience?

Your own beliefs were put up against forces that confirmed and contradicted them. You saw, heard, felt, and did things that crossed or questioned your own boundaries. What you were so certain of before became murky. Some things felt right. Some things did not. Experience changed things. You lost buddies you believed could have been saved, you may have had to consider children as the enemy and kill them, you saw many injustices by people you expected injustice from and many from those you did not. What was right and what was wrong blurred fast.

In this spiritual chaos, the big picture gets experienced in the precise moments that eat away at the heart. Not having said goodbye. A last word that didn’t convey how much someone mattered to you. Someone else dying, having been where you were meant to be, but weren’t. The look in a child’s eyes. A family wiped out in a vehicular crash. What you didn’t know or do, couldn’t have known or done, but really believe you should have. And the things you did but know you shouldn’t have.

Then we have your innate spiritual nature as a being Of Life.

As a warrior, it’s honorable to kill, not hard to kill, and you may even miss killing. But every time you took a life your soul broke a bit somewhere deep inside. Why? Because as humans we are Of Life. It is our natural instinct to defend life, even when defending life means taking it from others. As part of humanity, you can’t escape your essential nature as a Breath-bearer. Or the instinctive knowledge that taking life separates you from feeling spiritually accepted.

So, the sense that you need to be forgiven comes from a combination of all of these things. And at the core it stems from your beliefs about yourself, what is right/wrong, and your own power to control things.

Who can forgive you?

I believe that as beings Of Life, we are also Of Love. And that this Love is greater than all the doctrines of all the religions. I believe we come from Love and return to Love. We ARE Love, even though we don’t always remember that too well while we’re here on earth. Who can forgive you depends on your beliefs.

But beliefs about God and religion are just that: beliefs. They are the thoughts you choose to believe as truth. There is no evidence of them except for the echo in your being that those beliefs resonate with you. Who can forgive you ultimately, comes down to: You.

If you believe that God can forgive you, you must still be the one to accept that Thought as Truth. You are the one who accepts forgiveness — whether it’s from a Deity or another person — the power to feel forgiven is completely and only within your power. For example, if you are a Christian, you must accept (i.e., choose to believe the thought) that God forgives you for your sins in order to feel forgiven. Christians will tell you that you are forgiven whether you feel it or not. But what good is being forgiven if you don’t feel that you are??

You hold the key to your own freedom from guilt and shame. Whether that is through embracing a religious faith or changing the beliefs you have about what it is to be human.

How do you set yourself free and feel forgiven?

Feelings come from beliefs. Beliefs are thoughts that you keep thinking and accepting as truth. Thoughts and feelings can be changed. Religions talk about grace and forgiveness by God, but those are relatively easy to accept mentally. What they do not teach you is how do you forgive yourself or feel forgiven when God forgives you?

I’m not going to make light of how hard this is. I’m not going to say that it’s just a matter of changing your thoughts and poof! you feel forgiven. It’s not. What is at stake here is an entirely deeper way of looking at yourself, a more human way than most of us ever venture to explore. It takes seeing yourself with Love and Compassion and Grace. It takes looking at yourself as you would look at a loved one who had been through everything you had with the same results. It takes humility to admit and accept that in those circumstances you were powerless or not in control. But what it really takes is looking deeply at your intention.

Did you intend for what happened to happen? A good majority of the time guilt comes from our sense of powerlessness and our inability to accept that we were not able to change events. It comes from holding onto a belief that we should have/could have — when the reality is, everything combined in that moment, including forces beyond your control, and what happened, happened.

On a spiritual level, you also have the other person’s soul at play – and you do not know what decisions those souls made about when/where they would leave earth, or what they came here to experience. Or how their lives were meant to interact with yours and in some way, end up blessing you and themselves with the Love of Acceptance.

And what if you did intend for what happened to happen and now you feel guilty?

Couldn’t it be that the lessons for your heart are the same, but in reverse? A deep humility that acknowledges your power and the control you had? A sense that there is a greater purpose for what you did and the lives you changed, and perhaps that purpose is to receive the Love of Acceptance?

People can tell you you’re forgiven and accepted, but as long as you keep believing that you’re not, their words won’t make any difference.  Read that again.

No matter what happened, it’s what you choose to believe that keeps you feeling what you are feeling. You need to understand that you own the power to feel forgiven — even if the other person cannot forgive you. Forgiveness is not declaring what is wrong to be right. Forgiveness is about getting unstuck from a moment in life that keeps you from growing and moving on as a human being. Ultimately, it’s about coming back to where we started: we are all of One Source. Our transgressions against each other, our acceptance of each other is all within the same Oneness. And there is a rich, deep well of grace for us as Us.

Thoughts to Explore

It is easier to talk about this than to do the work to reach a point where you can feel forgiven. It requires the time the soul needs to remember that Grace is how we humbly continue living when our own hearts convict us the harshest.

It’s also important to remember that you keep yourself cut off from Love as a way to punish yourself. Self-hatred, self-rejection, self-disgust — these keep you unable to accept Good in your life, to feel Love, to allow yourself to receive Love from others.

As you ponder forgiveness, here are some thoughts to explore:

1) Imagine that someone you really love has been through what you have. How would you feel about that person? Would you be able to see them with compassion? Would you be able to see that they are more than just what happened or what they did?

2) What would it mean if you could know that those you killed or who died because of you have nothing but Love for you now?

3) What if you could know that someday, because of what happened, blessing would come in some way you cannot imagine now?

4) How will holding yourself apart from acceptance do anything to make things right?

5) When you return to the Spirit World, and you are embraced in Love, will you regret that you held yourself accountable to a sense of judgment that no one, including God, holds you accountable for??

Please know that even if you cannot feel it, you are held in Love. You can deny that, you can not allow yourself to feel it, but you cannot change it. Love is there for you.

It’s okay to allow yourself to respond to it.

The public hears about Fallujah falling back into terrorists’ hands and it’s a blip on their stream of distraction. They don’t give a shit. You hear it and it puts into question the reason why you continue to pay a high price for Iraq 24 hours a day. Why your life is what it is now.

It cuts deep because you love your brothers. Those who remain, those who died there, and those who have died since because they were there. They are not just names on a memorial list (names most of the public will never know or remember), they are vivid, real people. You remember the sound of their laughter, their jokes, how they were there for you, the stories they shared with you, how they pissed you off. You knew them better than anyone else–at a soul level. And they knew you the same.

You love them still.

The possibility now that their deaths and what you went through and continue to go through could have been in vain is devastating.

The public has the perception that soldiers die in combat like they do in films. En masse or that nameless warriors get shot and die, the action keeps going and the “hero” is unaffected. Rarely in a film do the deaths of warriors impact the storyline. The public perceives the military in an impersonal way.  They do not see (or try to imagine it in terms of their own lives) the real, personal, close bonds you have.

The public doesn’t know that your life, your heart, your mind, your spirit is forever changed because of your combat experience. They don’t know that you didn’t come home and just leave it all behind, as they might leave one job and move on to the next. You live with PTSD, nightmares, chronic lack of sleep, feeling unsafe, anxiety attacks; TBI, memory loss, trouble concentrating, trouble reading; chronic physical pain, bad back, neck, knee, headaches; can’t be in crowds, feel isolated, feel as if you no longer belong because you are so changed, and have to deal with anger, grief, and high levels of loss on so many levels. Every day. Every night.

You can’t separate yourself from Iraq even if you wanted to. It’s part of who you are.

This means that when something like this happens in Iraq, you are faced with having to answer what the whole thing means to you on a very personal level. It’s not just about political opinion. It’s about your identity, your sense of worth, and the purpose for your life now.

As you search for an answer that makes sense to you, here are a few things to contemplate:

1. You had a job to do then, you did it, you did it well, and it was done.

2. You cannot predict future outcomes after any war, in any land. Ever.

3. Warriors do not choose their wars. The “purpose” is not your decision.

4. Purpose is a perception. Victory is a perception. Perceptions can be changed.

5. What happens after a war does not change the meaning of what you did or tried to accomplish during a war.

6. Warriors who die in battle, die honorably and loved. The honor of their deaths does not depend on the outcome of the battle/war (which is unknown at the time of their deaths).

7. Each life is meaningful no matter what the reason one dies.

8. Nothing can change the love you have for your brothers.

The one thing that stands out to me and I keep coming back to is Love. You fought for your brothers. They fought for you. Love bonded you together then, it bonds you together now. Love.

And that Love extends to you. Here. Now. Today.

Was it worth it?

That’s a question only you can resolve in your heart. What I do know is that we can’t see the big picture. The big picture of these events in human history. The big picture of these events in the course of lives and families and cities and cultures. We can’t see the individual lives whose paths have been altered because you were there. Or the hope that you inspired. Or the the shift in perspective that occurred because you were there.

What if one heart, one life, was blessed or saved or given hope because you were there?

One life, broken, only to be blessed in ways you could never imagine?

Is one life worth it?

Would it be worth it to you if you were that “one” person?

One of the most challenging aspects combat vets face when coming home is the gap between who they are now and who their loved ones expect them to be. Warriors say that you can’t translate much of what they’ve been through, because there is no substitute for being there. And there is deep truth in that. No one will ever understand you like your brothers and sisters who were there.

But they’re not here. And you are. And now you’re with a partner, parents, siblings, and friends who expect to know you well. And they don’t so much anymore. You’re familiar, but not the same; they look around for the person they knew you to be, they wonder at what you’ve experienced, and they get scared when they don’t recognize parts of you. Relationships are built on how well you know someone. When you think you should know someone and you no longer do, it hurts.

So much of the pain of war is amplified by the loud silence of not being understood by those you feel should understand you. It goes both ways. The gaps exist on both sides. And the results can be heartrending.

Separation and distance in relationship are part of the energy of war. Not everyone can overcome it. Not everyone is able to bridge the gaps and mend and re-discover each other. Some lose patience. Some can’t bear the pain of what’s been lost. Some can no longer love who you’ve become. Some have changed too much while you were away and have already moved on. Some just can’t take the places in you that they’ll never be able to know. And some don’t know what to do and so they pretend everything’s fine and hope you just “get over it” like you might get over a broken heart. If only.

You come back carrying a lot of weight on your heart. It gets expressed or hidden. Angry outbursts, irritability, silence, withdrawal. Your energy is not the same as it was before. Your behavior seems odd. Staying up all night. Avoiding large get-togethers. Being tense, nervous, on edge, on guard. Half here. Half not. Half, well, they’re not sure where you are. All they know for sure is that you’re just not yourself.

Yourself. (If only you knew who you’re supposed to be now, right?)

They wonder if you killed anyone, because killing someone must be the worst thing you can experience in war (it’s not.) They imagine that yes, it was horrible, but like in the movies, you came out the victor (you’re here after all) and like all movie-heroes, you’ll just carry on and be fine and go back to whatever it was you were doing before war. Or like some movie-heroes, you come home, regroup, and head back out unfazed, no worse for wear. Some may resent that fact that you left and keep leaving, that anything could possibly be more important than they are to you. Some resent the bond you have with your brothers and sisters. Some may feel such deep pain at what war has done to you that they don’t know how to relate to you anymore. They want more than anything to support you, but you’re not talking about it and won’t talk and so they hit a wall (especially true for parents and spouses).

The wall keeps them out and you in. You think that wall protects your loved ones from the darkness inside of you; but in reality, it just keeps you dark.

No one teaches you or your loved ones how to navigate life after war.

You bring whatever is left of you home. You face whatever others have become. Or un-become. Hearts break in what is left unsaid. Patience unravels when you don’t get better (as if you had an illness you could recover from). People aren’t able to accept that maybe this is just who you are now and who you’re going to be. They aren’t able to accept that there is no going back. They don’t accept that the war is forever theirs now, too. Only now instead of praying that you’ll survive and come home, and be fine, and the war over and done and forgotten — now they have to carry the war in you. If they aren’t able to carry it, they leave. Either physically or emotionally. Some signed up to love you no matter what and they will; some didn’t sign up to love you after war’s had its way with you, and it’s more than they are willing to deal with. They want to be happy. And it’s hard to be happy when so much of what war leaves in its wake is grief and sadness and loss. Who can you blame for this? War breaks things. War breaks people. War breaks relationships.

What usually happens? You try to make it work. You suck it up and do your best to seem “normal.” You may be dying inside but at least you don’t look it. You live half here, half back there. You carry the weight, only it seems to get heavier as time goes on. You feel restless. You look for satisfaction. You look for meaning. You keep in touch with your buddies, they give you a breath of fresh air, with them everything feels “normal” again, you are heard, understood, they get you without you having to say a word. Then you part ways again and you’re back in your life. You try to get help. They give you meds. You may drink, you may take more pills. They say you have PTSD, or not. They don’t really care if you do or you don’t. Just one more veteran to process through the system. You try a therapist. You sit in the lobby waiting your turn, wondering what the other patients are there for, knowing they’re wondering the same about you. You enter, the clock starts, you’re supposed to spill your guts to a stranger who gets paid to listen to you, who may or may not know what the hell you’re talking about. But what the fuck, right? You try. You talk. The therapist listens, takes notes, keeps an eye on a clock you can’t see. Asks a few questions. Makes a few more notes. Tells you you’ve made good progress (progress to where?). Schedules another appointment. Gives you some homework. You exit. The next patient enters. And you know he’s going to go through the exact same routine. One after another after another. (Can anyone even see you?!?)

No one talks about the things you think about.

Like how killing was easy and not that big of a deal. Watching your buddy bleed out, screaming, as you and a medic were helpless to save him, was. You miss war. You hate it.  You’re tempted more often than you care to admit to just take someone out. You feel unbelievably fragile sometimes. You get “this” close to breaking into a million pieces. But you don’t. You can’t. There was no time to fall apart then, there’s no time to do that now. And besides, if you did, what would it change? You’d still be you, this “stopped time of war” would still be yours to carry. What’s the point? So, you stay silent. You try to hide what you can. Try to make excuses for what you can’t. Try to downplay just how lost and how broken you feel. Try to stay busy. Try to stay distracted. Try to do anything that keeps you seemingly “normal.”

What if, instead of suffering silently, you could find a way to help others understand you better? Not all the way, but better? People can be incredibly giving, generous and accepting when they have the opportunity to understand the reasons for someone’s pain and suffering. That doesn’t mean you have to sit down and open up right away. Sometimes other people can put into words for you, what you can’t say. (Which is one of the reasons I write these posts – to help you be heard and understood.)

So, if this article resonates with you, print it off or forward it to a loved one and tell them that by reading it, they’ll get a better idea of what it’s like for you.

Then do the same with Part 2.

And if you want to vent or share what’s on your mind, reach out. I’m here to walk with you.