by Britta Reque-Dragicevic
This first appeared in Britta’s blog, “Life After War” on February 15, 2015 and is republished with the author’s permission.
It’s the day after Valentines. We lost too many men yesterday. Men who stared in the mirror and saw only what they never wanted to become. Men who felt unloved, unseen, and ashamed that too often their pain had spilled over in rage. Men who felt they failed because they couldn’t keep their pain from hurting their families. Men who felt they were fucked up, that they should have been stronger somehow, but they weren’t. Men who were exhausted inside, worn thin, torn and battered and who looked perfectly fine to the world around them. What happened?
Hope ran out. In the hype and glare of a holiday that accentuates loneliness, these men killed themselves.
If you are in imminent risk of ending your life, please call 911 or 988 (Suicide & Crisis Lifeline)
I put my arms around brothers who blamed themselves for not being able to prevent that loss. And trust me, there are very few words that can comfort in that moment. Very few. Perhaps none. Every time one of you goes Home early, it makes it that much harder for the rest of you to stay. Because most of you do think about it. And going Home sounds like relief. And it is relief. But it’s a torturous heartache for those you leave behind.
We all know when you go into battle not everyone is gonna make it. You’re gonna sure as fuck try, but the reality is we can’t save everyone. And the suicides we see now — they are not some spontaneous event that happens out of the blue. Yes, when there are no warning signs, they do shock us. But a suicide starts way back during that first exposure to combat. When all those emotions and the lack of them get jammed down inside and you push on, and you do a fucking good job at war and you don’t have time or space to even realize just how much trauma you’ve been through. It’s your job, it’s what you do.
It starts then. When you are forced to kill off parts of you that feel, when other parts shut down and you can’t sense them anymore, when your heart is hit over and over by death and destruction and numbness is the only way to keep you alive. Meanwhile, the brotherhood keeps you going.
Then you come home. And you’re no longer surrounded by people who instinctively understand you and you are left to fend for yourself out in the civilian world. You come home and all that energy of war is still carried in your body, your mind, your reactions, your senses. But no one around you knows that. They believe the war should be “out of sight, out of mind.”
But it isn’t. So then you kill off parts of you that long to be embraced and helped and healed, as you are diagnosed with a “disorder”, get sent to a shrink, are put on a zillion zombie meds, and told to get to work. And a little voice in the back of your mind starts to believe their lie and says: I shouldn’t be this way.
Every time you reach out for help and are treated as if you are fucked up instead of wounded, hope dies a little. And with it, you kill off a bit more of yourself. The one that just wants to be held and accepted and validated. The one that deeply knows why your heart grieves and why your mind won’t stop racing and why the same goddamn nightmare wakes you up at 0300 every fucking night. The one that understands that a warfighter can’t go through combat and not be angry. And any vet that tells you he’s absolutely fine is either in denial or doesn’t really know combat. Because you DO know, deep down in your soul why war hurts the way it does. But it’s hard to hold on to that knowing when everyone around you insists that you should be fine and get over it. You start to doubt and blame and judge yourself. Everyone thinks I should be fine now, so there must be something wrong with me.
I have said it before, I will say it again: war is supposed to fucking hurt you. Carrying wounds is part of being a warfighter. You were never going to be stronger, or strong enough, to avoid it. Your pain is a natural result of your experiences. (It is NOT unhealable, however.)
There is nothing fucked up or weak about you. Your wounds are exactly what they should be for what you have been through.
Suicide continues because you don’t realize that.
As long as you believe that you have to hide your woundedness, you will be at risk.
As long as our society disallows you to be rightfully wounded, you will be at risk.
As long as we keep believing that spirit wounds can’t heal, suicide will be an answer.
You can heal. You can transform. You can pick up those shattered pieces and build a new sense of self.
You can’t do it alone. You need a guide, which is one of the reasons I’m here. To walk this path with you and help you find your way.
We can talk suicide prevention all we want, guys, but the problem with “prevention” is that it makes the issue impersonal and someone else’s problem.
And this isn’t actually about suicide at all.
It’s about love.
It’s about taking better care of each other. It’s about being bold and asking someone up front if they are thinking about killing themselves. It’s giving them a safe place to talk about how they are really doing.
You don’t need to be a crisis counselor to help.
You know death. You know what war feels like. You know how to talk about what’s real.
And you know how to listen. You need to pull your brother or sister into an embrace of acceptance and hold them there. That’s all you need to do. Because that is how hope finds its way in the dark.
Suicide prevention is not about some special life-saving skills. Fuck no.
It’s about being present with someone in the moment and getting them through that moment.
It’s about being there and many times, just knowing someone is really there is all a person needs to stay on this earth.
You don’t have to have answers. The spirit knows how to lead itself back to Life, it just needs a caring embrace where it can express its deepest emotions and be truly, deeply heard and understood. That’s how we prevent suicide.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.