Archive for the ‘PTSD’ 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.


He led the rebel movement.

Rebels? Yes, that’s what they were. How unimaginable it would have been just a few years before. When life was normal. Peaceful. Predictable.

The invading foreigners were determined to decide the fate of his people. Determined to impose a way of life, their way of life. A life he could not imagine.

Thousands of rebels were at his command. Trusting — not trusting — watching his every move. Traitors among them. Spies among them. How could he be certain? He dare not let them know or see how doubt and regret haunted his inner world. How he’d issue a command having only himself to trust, only himself to blame, for its fate.

They dare not know how impossible it often felt to sustain his own belief. How the hardest battles were the ones he fought with himself, out of sight, in his heart. How terrified he actually was.

They called him cold and unfeeling. A man without a heart.

The tally of their dead could prove them right.

The enemy was cunning, well armed, with advanced technology and endless funds. Their only limitation was their rules of engagement, issued from afar, from their highest command.

Young men had left their foreign land to battle here, for a war that few could fathom was necessary, certainly one that seemed to be over greed, power, control. But what war wasn’t?

His men fought for their homes, for their families, for the right to rule their own country, for freedom from these foreigners. No one with any sound reason would believe they had even the slightest chance at victory.

What would they think if they knew how hard it was to convince himself of it? What would they think if he failed to keep up appearances of hope, optimism, belief? No one knew how close he had come to giving up.

No one.

The man they saw was not the man he was inside. The confident orders he heard himself issue were not the fearful words he heard in his mind. The smile he mustered reminded them that he was human, it did not erase how dead he felt. It could not ease the fear, the heavy weight pressing down on his chest, that made it hard to breathe and sometimes, hard to not put an end to his breathing.

Perhaps his nightmares were the terrors of a weak mind that could not put down the burden of command, could not put down knowing that good men had died because of him. That more men would die because of him. How their families suffered — the women, the mothers, the innocent, carefree children — god, he dare not go there. Not now.

A cold man? Unfeeling? Because feeling brought pain too unbearable to endure? At the end of the day though, who cared? His suffering was merely a reflection of his men’s suffering, compounded by a thousand. The pain, itself, the same.

War had taken so much of them it was hard to feel what, of their humanity, remained.

And yet, as hard as he prayed for relief, as much as he begged God to release him, giving up was not an option.

Too much had been paid. Too many had fallen. Too much had been sacrificed to give up now. Giving up would invalidate it all, disgrace them all, those bodies of his men out there, dismembered, bleeding, gone. He could not do that to them.

He would not do that to them.

The pain of this war would be part of his soul forever. Etched into his cells, his senses, his heart, his mind, his existence. The enemy would not win by getting him to take himself out. Not now. Not ever.

Surrender was not an option.

This bitter night would end. In the morning, the sun would rise.

His rebels would look to him for courage, for hope, for the will to live.  For the reason to fight on.

He would give them that reason.

The tent flapped open, startling him from his thoughts.

One of his guards came in.

“General Washington, the boats are ready.”



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. 

It all adds up. Accumulates. Pain, trauma, losses. Anger, resentment, guilt. Buries You underneath. You watch your Self vanish, become unrecognizable. And wonder if you’re too far gone to be saved.

Is there such a thing as too far gone to be saved?

You’re tired and it never seems to get better. Your life is permanently altered. You try not to think about it, but you can’t help wondering if it was worth it.

Are you too far gone to be saved?

What you want is relief. An end to the pain, the anxiety, the feeling that ever since you came home you’ve done nothing but disappoint everyone. That you’re failing everyone. Constantly.

Misplaced. Displaced. Misunderstood. Too different. Too angry. Too volatile.

Your love was the battlefield. Your soul is still there.

But you can’t go back. The war is over. Or, rather your war is over.

And you’re so fucking tired of fighting your Self.

Too far gone to be saved?

You see ghosts, or rather, feel them. Hear the voices of those who blew up or bled out. Here one moment, gone the next. Still here though.

Still here.
(there is no gone)

You move through your time now reacting to dangers only you once knew.
Still feel.
Safe now.

Safe. Now.

Too far gone to be saved?

Pills, therapy, band-aids, thank you for your service.
What do they know of where your soul is?

Where is your soul?
Oh, yes. Still there.

Call it back.

Call who?
Your soul.
I don’t know where it is.
Yes, you do.
Call it back to you.
Souls do not die. Souls cannot be too far gone.
There is no too far.
To be saved.
Save yours. Save the only one you can.

Too late.
Too tired. Too far gone.
Too much loss.
Too much heartache.
Too much failure.
Too much being the cause of pain.

Too much??
Too much believing you are alone.
Too much blaming your Self.
Too much forgetting that you belong.
Too much holding on to what was.
Too much waiting for someone else to
heal what only you can release.
What only you can allow.
Too much denying that grace is not for you.
For denying grace is a choice.

Too far gone to be saved?

What if death does not resolve what you wish to escape?
What if the only way to end the pain is to stop believing you are too far gone?
What if healing does not mean erasing, but releasing, surrendering your Self
to your Oneness with all beings?
Starting over with new beliefs?
What if the only way out is to dissolve into the Eternal Love that has always held you?
Not by killing your Self, but by loving your Self?

Yes, that Self.
The one you rage against.
The one you infuse with whiskey and nicotine,
chemical oblivion.
The one you berate, hate, reject, blame, shame.
Incriminate. Judge. Condemn.

That Self.
The one who wants to be saved.
The one who waits for your kindness.
For you to understand that
You need your own compassion.
More than you need others’.
Tending. Gentleness. Honor.


Yes, honor.
Shaming wounds, raging on wounds,
Blaming wounds only keeps you wounded.
There is no shame in being wounded.
War is designed to hurt.
You are designed to live.
You are a warrior who is gifted with the wisdom of death.
The awareness of life.
The ability now to create life from death.
By the power of what you choose to believe.
What you choose to walk toward.
How you love the one who needs your love the most.
In this moment.
In this choice.

Too far gone to be the same?

Too far gone to be saved?






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.





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.


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

Now nothing requires all of you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, where does this leave you?

Let’s look at things a bit differently.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life is asking you to be more. Rise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They don’t work for combat vets.

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

Not to warfighters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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