by Britta Reque-Dragicevic
This first appeared in Britta Reque-Dragicevic’s blog “Life After War” on October 10, 2012, and is republished with the author’s permission.
Losing a part of your body or function involves deep physical, spiritual, and emotional pain. The war is carried in your body and sometimes just looking at yourself in the mirror takes you right back to the trauma. There are days and nights of endless time, uncertainty, faith, fear, and somewhere deep—a gritty unwillingness to give up and a probing curiosity that makes you ask: why?
Physical wounds may or may not heal. If you’ve lost arms or legs, hearing or sight, been paralyzed, or suffered from blast-induced brain trauma—your body will never be the same again. That’s a hard fact to accept.
In the midst of the physical changes, the pain, therapy, surgeries, rounds to physicians, and waiting for the VA—physically wounded survivors deal with wounds to their self-image and their concept of who they are.
You may face questions such as:
- Who are you now that you don’t have the same body you used to?
- Will your partner/family still love you?
- How can you have sex now?
- What are you worth if you can’t contribute to life/family as you once did?
- What’s the purpose of living if someone else has to tend to your body?
- How can you be a burden to your loved ones for the rest of your life?
- How can you live with this level of pain?
- How will your family make it financially?
- What kind of parent can you be now?
- What’s the point of your life?
- Who’s going to be there for you?
None of it is easy. And none of it makes sense. You may be deeply grateful that you survived and wonder why you survived to live like this. The pain may seem unbearable and the sudden world of limitations overwhelming. It’s the little things that bring out your anger, the sharp realization again and again that the road ahead is long and unknown. It’s finding your spirit trapped in a body that can no longer do the things it once loved to do. And the struggle to know love in the midst of rejecting a body you never asked for.
But you did survive. There’s a reason for it. No, you’re not the same. As shattered as your body may be and as confused and wounded as your soul may be, in an inexplicable way there is a part of you that is still whole. Hang on to that part. You have survived. You are alive. The Universe breaths into you in a steady rhythm that pulls you into the next moment and the next and the next.
Your battle may be tortuous or simply annoying—your wounds may heal or remain, but in the end, it’s what you believe about yourself that will re-create you.
So Who Are You Now?
No, I mean, who are you really? Emotions will run rampant and wild, up and down, high and low—but underneath them lay thoughts and under those thoughts lay beliefs. It may take you a while to accept the fact that you have physical changes that must be dealt with, but once you do, start at your thoughts and question your beliefs.
Who do you have to be in order to be loved? Why do you believe that? Is it valid? It is true? Who taught you that?
Who do you have to be in order to be worthy of your spouse, your children, your job? Are you loved for what you do or for who you are? If you’re not loved for who you are, are you really loved?
The cold truth is that for every survivor that has a loving support system of family and friends, there are those whose loved ones can’t or won’t deal with their wounds.
If your loved ones can’t handle your injuries and you’re facing their rejection, remember that you have the strength in you right at this very moment to survive this and get through. I can’t answer why some people love deeply and some run, but I do know this: you are the only one who can validate who you are.
Whether someone loves you or not doesn’t change the intrinsic value of your soul, your life, your heart. You may be rejected by those you love—and those you thought loved you—but while they are leaving there are men and women out there who are asking the Universe to let them meet someone who has your heart and spirit. Sooner or later, when your heart is ready, they will begin to appear in your life. Look around you. They may be there now. People who see who you are and have faith in the strength of your spirit. It’s hard in the midst of heartache, loss, and tragedy to keep your mind open to the possibility that your life could actually someday be better than you’ve ever known it. But it’s a reality, just the same. You may find deeper love, richer meaning, and greater joy than you ever believed possible.
Unfortunately, many people around you may think that it’s the physical wounds and state of being “disabled” that’s the hardest part to deal with; they don’t see the silent side of being wounded. They don’t see the mental battle, the spiritual battle, the battle to take a body you may not recognize and find a way to make it “you” again. They don’t understand that there are a million losses in the loss of a limb. They don’t get that the hardest battle isn’t accepting what happened (though that’s tough as hell), but it’s in finding a way to believe that who you are now is valuable, purposeful, wanted, and enough.
If you’re wounded or disabled, you need to know that you are in the process of creating a new identity and that identity has to be built on you. Not on who you think you are supposed to be, or what you think other people expect you to be. You have to start at the core and feel your way through the darkness. Sometimes, oftentimes, one moment at a time.
Along the way, you’re going to confront parts of you that you never knew existed; you’re going to confront people who stare at you or stare away; you’re going to meet deep compassion in enlightened souls and squeamish discomfort in others.
But just remember that they don’t get to tell you who you are. That’s your job. You get to decide who you are and who you are now going to be.
And who you are is someone who has a lot left to give.
Don’t think so? Can’t see that? Take a look around. You give to a loving parent just by existing, by their sheer joy in having you alive and with them. You give to children by showing them what matters in life, by listening, and by noticing their world. You give to your friends by letting them give to you—opening their souls to deeper purpose in their own lives. You give to your fellow vets by understanding what they are going through. You give because you ARE. It’s not a question of choice. You are part of the whole and interconnected with all souls. Your presence is enough. And if you are still alive, it’s because there is someone yet in this world who needs your presence here.
Don’t forget that.