As the Taliban has retaken Afghanistan, warriors across the nation have reached out with heartbreaking messages. The themes are clear – you are wondering if your service counted, you are asking if the sacrifice of people you love like family was all for nothing, and some of you are expressing urgent fear about those we left behind.
Your rage makes sense. Your grief cuts deep. Your agony is unmistakable and understandable.
The Taliban takeover, in the context of unspeakable sacrifices, has thrust many of you into mental warfare.
Many of you predicted what would happen. But you had to watch it all play out, leading to a crippling feeling of helplessness, arguably the worst feeling for a warrior, a person of action.
As a healer, I’m heartbroken to see your anguish. To be utterly transparent, I’m scared to lose more of you. Each of you are irreplaceable members of a Tribe of warriors, whose love and trust cannot be put into words.
A loss of any single one of you by your own hand weakens the “phalanx” that holds you together in the midst of overwhelming adversity.
Suicide losses leave your brothers and sisters with gut-wrenching questions, fears for their own future, and a cancerous feeling of personal responsibility, whether you’d wish them to feel responsible or not.
What can you do when you are grappling with despair, suffocating within the fog of mental warfare?
1) Above all, remember this. When we connect, we survive. The true genius of warfighters is not in their individual fighting capacity but in their ability to link up and take out the enemy together. As the Marine Rifle Squad puts it, “an isolated Marine can be easily ambushed.” The same is true in mental warfare. If you get isolated and find yourself in a tunnel with the voice of despair, you are in danger. Do not walk down that tunnel or listen to the voices of your demons. You are irreplaceable to your brothers and sisters in arms, and others in your life that love you. CONNECT with someone you trust. CONNECTION has a power that is greater than despair. CONNECT, even if you don’t think you need to right now – the people you reach out to might be on the ropes and needing to hear from you. Be proactive – CONNECT continually during this time of collective crisis and shared mental warfare.
2) Grieve. Take the time and space to grieve. Somehow, warriors have been led to believe that grief should be avoided at all costs – that it’s embarrassing, or unbecoming, or un-warriorlike. This is a great lie. Even the Spartans – the most stoic of ancient warriors, broke down in grief, together. After the battle, they reckoned directly with their losses. They clung to each other, shedding honorable tears that speak to the bonds between warriors. Grief honors this love. A warrior is someone who feels things deeply – not someone who is called to be stoic at all times. Warriors experience the greatest highs, and, just as the present time calls for, the most soul-aching depths. Grief is not something to fear. Allow it to come, it is honorable – it is your legacy as warriors to walk this valley. So honor those fallen, and express your pain in circles of those you love and trust.
3) Take action. Warriors are people of action. One thing we can do is call our elected members of Congress and express urgent concern about those we have left behind. We can urge our elected leaders to dedicate resources to getting our interpreters and other allies to safety, if not to the U.S., then at least to a country where they will not be hunted down and killed because of their support of us. As you know so well, those who risked their lives and spilled their blood with you are not “foreign assets” – they are part of the Tribe. They need you to make your voice heard right now. They are in grave danger. Rise up and speak truth to power. Let’s get them to safety.
Don’t know how to find your elected leaders? Visit this website. You’ll quickly learn who your elected representative is and what phone number you can call to make your voice heard. (https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative)
Stay close to your Tribe – it might save a life – it could be your own, or someone else you love. When we connect, we survive.
Shauna ‘Doc’ Springer is a best-selling author, frequently requested keynote speaker, and one of the world’s leading experts on psychological trauma, military transition, suicide prevention, and close relationships. She is the author of WARRIOR: How to Support Those Who Protect Us and the co-author of BEYOND THE MILITARY: A Leader’s Handbook for Warrior Reintegration. A Harvard graduate who has become a trusted Doc to our nation’s military warfighters, she is a staunch advocate for the health and well-being of our service members and first responders.