Archive for the ‘Post War Life’ Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Groundhog Day…again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is who we are.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get to February 3rd.



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

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

Warriorhood — the status of being a warrior.  Warrior  — a person who is called to defend others; to live by a code of honor and ethics in pursuit of the greater good; to lead the non- warrior class in living up to the ideals of the society. These definitions are my own, but I think they are solid. Regardless of definition being a warrior is a calling.  Oh, it is an oft used term and its overuse is offensive.  I do not see professional athletes as warriors. Sorry. No one is getting shot on the 50 yard line today.  There is no catastrophic fail of human rights if an otherwise reasonable and classy athlete engages in an unsavory press interview speech. Other cultures have and have had a warrior class. The United States does not.  It could violate the equality under the law clause.  At a minimum, it does violate the founding tenet of equality. 

But, in many ways, it is a separate group in our culture.  Some of us never dreamed we would do it for as long as we did.  Some of us only joined up to do our bit for the war on terror.  For others it was the thing we were born to do.  If you are reading this then you are probably no longer in the official status of warrior.  By that I mean that your professional tenure as soldier, marine, sailor, airman, coast guardsman, is over.  You are now a veteran. The treasured post-warrior class of the nation.  I know it does not seem like this always; especially for the VietNam guys.  Some of us got parades. Some of us got spit on.  Some of us are still trying to sort out what it was all for.

Most of us have PTSD, PTE, or some form of Post Combat Transformation (PCT-my own term).  We watch football millionaires not render honors to the nation and others argue about which toilet in the restaurant they should use.  It is easy to see the country and compare the pop-culture against the value of buddies’ lives spent so that we could have these ridiculous arguments.  Here is a hint: the arguments were not worth their lives — but hold that thought.  If that statement rings true to you then your professional tenure as warrior is up, but your spiritual tenure as one is not.  For most of us that can never be. It is both our great blessing and our great curse.

Some of us are glad to be out and some of us cry about losing that part of our lives.  Some of us got medically retired. Some retired the conventional way. Some just got disillusioned and left.  Big deal; why am I saying this when we all know it?  Because we are all still warriors. The days of just joining up to get the college money is 17 years past.  That is when this era of constant war started. 

We had our eyes wide open when we stepped into the recruiter’s cubicle.  There was no question where that conversation would lead us. So how do we maintain warriorhood now that we are veterans?  That is “veteran” and not “former warrior”. I am not certain that such a thing exists.  I am of the opinion that once a warrior, always a warrior.  The question is now how do I get my warrior on without a uniform to wear?

To answer this let’s breakdown what it is to be a warrior.  We all believe in something bigger than ourselves.  That’s easy. For all of us that was the ideal of America.  I understand that there are warts and stretch marks on Lady Liberty and she might need a boob job, but that lamp is still on. We followed the lamp. We sweated bullets and bled for that lamp to stay lit.  This dovetails nicely into the second reason which is a desire to serve.  The third is a willingness to defend her and the people she has brought in.  Regardless of what you believe about immigration or racial differences you believed that the torch on the statue was for everyone here.  Newsflash – it is; you were right. 

The defense of the nation and her people points to the major corollary of warriorhood (a corollary is a major point that supports a principle). That corollary is that we were all willing to do a job no one else would.  The active service is around 1% of the population.  You are elite. You are the 1% who dared. Those that did not will have many “reasons” like they did not support the war, did not want to be shot at, believed they were best used elsewhere, etc.  These are the excuses of selfishness and in some cases cowardice.  We were not selfish. 

Stay with me we are almost there.  The first is that we believe in doing things. We are not talkers and philosophers.  We do not trust speeches.  I tell my friends that I am what happens when those speeches fail.  Talk is nice but we tend to see it as a warning order. In other words we either drop the polite discussion or do something with it.  Final point-we are leaders.  The lowest marine or army private is more capable of handling most emergencies than John Q. Public.  It isn’t their fault.  It comes from knowing that you can do things because you have. They try to live their life stress free.  You see that as a kind of prison. 

So if we set this up in proper military fashion it looks like this:

  1. Belief in the American ideal-we followed her lamp/torch.
  2. We wanted to serve others.
  3. We wanted to defend our country and her citizens-even those of the other political party.
  4. We were willing to do a job others were not. We are the 1%.
  5. We are not selfish.
  6. We are people of decisive action.
  7. We are leaders.

Now you are out of uniform.  You have some kind of PCT.  Your noble intentions had consequences that you were only vaguely aware of much like a professional athlete who now has concussion syndrome.  The explosions were cool when you were in training but now you blanch at 4th of July fireworks.  Getting shot at did not scare you when you fought, it pissed you off and made some noise of your own. You were fast, lethal, and very expert. Now you are broke, angry, scared, physically broken, and Lord knows what else. 

For my own part I spent a few years just kind of cowering from life. I had had enough and whereas I was not planning a suicide if I had fallen in front of a careening Mack truck I would not have tried to get up.  Many of you are like that.  It wears on your family and friends. It wears on you.  One friend told me “I am so angry all the time that it makes me tired.”

How do you get out of this weird alien syndrome you find yourself in? Here is the answer as I see it – it lies in our training and the six reasons I listed above.  It seems to me that cowering and hoping that things get better is not who we are.  It is antithetical to our character, to our training, and it doesn’t work that well either.  I was in special operations, we have great unit mottoes (as you did) like “Molon Labe or De Oppresso Liber, or my personal favorite from the SAS: “Who dares wins”. 

These mottoes indicate action or the readiness of a cocked fist. This is who we are.  If nothing else the country sure could use the leadership we can provide.  It can use some unselfish people who still think Lady Liberty is hot. Time to mount up boys and girls, the work ain’t done yet.  Seek out the positive action you can take for the cause you believe in. If it is not the country that’s fine. I am not going to judge that, but we need something or someone to fight for. Find it.

You may need some counseling and some meds.  If that’s you then do that and take them. Don’t make excuses and don’t be ashamed.  That is what you need to be mission capable.  Don’t listen to the people who tell you it’s a sign of strength to get help.  Also, don’t listen to that voice that tells you it’s a sign of weakness.  Here is ground truth, it is neither. It is simply what you need to do to stay in whatever fight you are in. It is like spare batteries for your night vision – you just make sure you have them.  So do it and tell everyone else thanks for their irrelevant opinion. 

America is at a crossroads and needs it veterans vibrant and active.  Can we still shoulder a ruck and move out? No. Those days are behind us but look at what we are doing in business and politics.  Look at the numbers of us who are getting into teaching.  There are still fights worth engaging in.  That does not have to be a senate run or mayoral bid.  It might just mean being a deacon at the church, volunteer to run the neighborhood watch, or show the guys at the plant what a good day’s work really is.  Maybe coach a youth team. 

Our perspective is unique-after all only 1% of the population has ever done it at any given time; perhaps 7% of the total population has ever served.  We have a perspective on life that they just don’t get but they need.  They are the folks we defended but were not permitted to be a part of. Well, we are part of them now and a new 1% is stepping up to serve. 

Being in therapy does not mean that we are out of the fight. In fact it might just help us get back into it. Remember the 6 pillars (above) of what a warrior is.  Don’t let someone else tell you what you are or when you are “healed”.  That happens when you say-and being in counseling or on meds does not mean that you are not healed. It is just how you manage your day now.  Combat changes us. One of those ways is to ingrain the warrior into us.  If that is who you are then don’t stop now because life will not make sense any other way. Warrior you were. Warrior you are. Warrior you will be. Find a fight you can believe in again.  Suit up.


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


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

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

Maybe. Or maybe you can.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But your spiritual calling to serve is not over.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You do that wherever you are.





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?


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.



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.

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.