Archive for the ‘Warrior Identity’ Category

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.”



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.

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.


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

I’ll tell you why.

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

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

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

So, why does Iraq’s fall bother me?

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s why Iraq bothers me.

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

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

You love them still.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was it worth it?

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

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

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

Is one life worth it?

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

We don’t talk about this often, but there is a very real fear in many of you that says if you heal, you’ll lose your identity as a warfighter. Fear that healing will cut the ties you have to who you were, who you are and who you want to be. Along with it, is a fear that if you move on, it’ll somehow mean you’re forgetting or leaving your fallen buddies behind — that becoming whole now will invalidate the sacrifice and suffering that happened then.

Let’s take a look at this fear.

It’s tied closely to the experience of having been at your ultimate best in combat and the deflated experience of life after – when you no longer really know or feel comfortable with who you are as a warfighter in civilian clothing.  Many of you were retired and your military career cut short – which means you didn’t want to end up in this civilian life you have now. Some of you chose to get out, but still haven’t found anything that can come close to your sense of being a warfighter.

The pain and grief you carry inside is a tangible tie to an identity that you still feel, you miss, and you never want to lose {good news – you don’t have to}.

True, not all of you carry a warfighter identity. Some of you are more than happy to return to civilian life – and yet, you also struggle to fit in. But for those of you who know in your heart that you will always be a warfighter and that you will never be better at anything than you were at hunting humans, this fear is enough to stop you cold in your tracks, especially when it comes to healing.

You’re not wrong to be afraid. Anything that threatens your identity and sense of self will become something you avoid. Even when that something is moving into a place of less pain and more joy.

This is why you feel torn. You’ve been led to believe that to heal you must let go of your pain, of everything you’re carrying, and for you that means letting go of a part of yourself that keeps you being you. Fuck that, right?

Let me show you how this looks. You’re tired of struggling, tired of the weight on your heart getting heavier, tired of being restless, tired of not knowing how to be who you are “supposed” to be now, tired of trying to appear fine, tired of being… well, fucking tired. So you reach for healing (you found this site). You’ve tried all the stuff the VA and your doc has told you to do. You always end up where you started. Things get a little bit sometimes, then worse. Yet, you keep trying, keep looking. Something in you desperately wants relief.

Then you get a glimpse of relief. And when it appears as a real possibility – no matter how far off on the horizon – terror seizes you and you can’t move. You sense that you are losing yourself, and you shut down, pull back. Who will you be if you’re not in pain, not carrying this weight, not wounded? Who will you be if healing means you have to give up everything you’ve got left that keeps you feeling like a warfighter?

Suddenly, life in the darkness seems safer. You wonder what you were thinking when you thought maybe you could find relief. This isn’t what you hoped for. The pain’s not so bad, right? You’ve put up with it this long, you can tolerate it after all. It’s comfortable. Sure, it fucking hurts much of the time, but it’s your pain and you’re used to it. And it keeps you connected. It keeps you a warfighter. You fucking earned this pain. And only you and your brothers understand that. There’s no way in hell giving up your attachment to your pain could be good for you, right? {I don’t think it is}

So you decide that if you’re already this fucked, you might as well stay in a place where at least you know how to navigate it day in and day out. There’s comfort in it. Maybe it’s just who you are meant to be.

Warfighters are nourished by the hate and darkness. If you’re a warfighter, you understand this. You feel more alive and connected to the hate and darkness than you’ll ever feel to the light. You’re not even sure you believe in the light. You’re not sure you even want to look for the light. Part of you does, at times, but you thrive in the dark. It’s yours. It keeps you a warfighter.

So, you feel torn. Darkness. Light. Pain. Freedom. Carrying wounds of battle as a warrior. Healing and moving on as a, gulp, “civilian” (you’ll never be a civilian in your heart). You know you should heal, you know you should move into the light, part of you longs to — but not if it means leaving this brotherhood of hate and rage that keeps you belonging as a warfighter. You take steps forward, something {this} holds you back. So you find a way to rationalize giving up on ever feeling whole inside again. You decide just to stay as you are.

The question is: can you heal and still live in the dark? Can you heal and still embrace the hate? Can you remain a warfighter and not be in pain?

I think you can.

Healing is not about letting go (as much as everyone pushes that idea). It’s not about having to open up and share your wounds with others (though that can be very cathartic). Healing is all about what you think and the meaning you give to your pain.

So, let’s say you decide to allow your wounds to heal. (Yes, you must decide to and yes, you must allow it.)

What if you could heal and never have to let go of what happened? What if, by creating some new meaning around your experiences, you could think new thoughts that would give you peace?

So that you continue to carry the experiences, but not the hurt. You continue to honor the experiences and the fallen and the sacrifice, while at the same time, you become okay with feeling joy and beauty and a sense of being whole. So that your pain is given new meaning and context, the hurt eases, and it remains part of the fabric of who you are.

Too many healing “therapies” out there are designed to get you to expose and give up your pain, to let go, to neatly strip you of being a warfighter (because, let’s face it, most civilians are scared shitless to walk into the dark interior of a warrior’s heart where killing humans feels good) and into being a good, tame, don’t-scare-us civilian. You will never be a civilian in your heart and there is no fucking reason why you should have to.

You get to decide who you are.

You get to decide what your pain means to you. You get to decide that you can be a warfighter, can embrace the hate, can live in the darkness, and at the same time, you can heal the wounds so that the pain is gone and only scars remain. You can take that energy of hate and funnel it into something that serves a purpose that means something to you.

We do warfighters a huge disservice when we start to define what healing looks like for you – instead of allowing you to say what it would feel like to be whole, and plotting a path to get there.

You do yourself a disservice when you allow the fear of losing yourself to keep you from becoming whole.

What would wholeness feel like to you? What would your life look like if you could openly embrace your warfighter identity now? Where could you funnel that energy? How could you take the values you embrace as a warrior and apply them to make an impact in this world? What would your heart feel like if it didn’t hurt so much and it still carried the full sense of what happened? What can you do, today, to create your own definition of wholeness?

You decide.

If you want to learn more about how to do this, contact me. I’m here to help you find your way.