by Britta Reque-Dragicevic
This first appeared in Britta Reque-Dragicevic’s blog “Life After War” on August 13, 2018, and is republished with the author’s permission.
It sits in you like a cold stone. Immovable. Heavy. Part of you.
Combat guilt. Survivor’s guilt. Shame. Failure. Self-loathing. Self-hate. That weary surrender to the belief that you deserve to be punished. Because you know you do. You know it as truth in your soul. Good exists for others. You’re grateful and happy for their good, that there’s grace for them, and you want them to experience forgiveness; but you know deep down you’re excluded from that grace.
You’re alive, but you don’t deserve it. People talk about forgiveness and letting go and focusing on the goodness that’s left. Your mind agrees and your heart doesn’t feel it.
Forgiveness seems like just some mental concept to you; too weak and too little to resolve what you have to atone for. How can words absolve you? If you’re a religious person, how can a declaration that God forgives you, do anything?
You get the concept of Christ dying, of someone dying to save others, but there’s no way in hell it could be for you. You don’t believe in God much these days anyway.
No, words won’t undo what you’ve done. Or what you failed to do. The people who suffered and died because of you…nothing changes that.
You can even live a life now full of loving service that upholds grace for others and still know in your soul that you don’t deserve it for yourself.
Whole lifetimes are entered into for the purpose of changing a soul’s story; for atoning for the past, for healing and restoring what was broken.
But you’re in this one. Your sins are fresh.
How can there be mercy for you? Is there? Should there be?
Mind, heart, and soul
We are complex beings made of different energies. The mind, heart, and soul all operate at different depths of existence. From shallowest to deepest, the mind, heart, and soul (or root of you) each have their own intelligence, their own sense of what’s right and what’s acceptable.
The mind knows that forgiveness is the way forward toward Life. The soul knows that at your deepest essence you are made of Divine, loving energy where sin does not even exist.
The heart is where shame and guilt live.
The heart is the bridge between the mind and the soul.
Forgiveness has to travel from the mind to the heart to meet the soul’s ocean of love for you to feel absolved.
But so often forgiveness remains a mental concept.
This is why your mind can know and believe you are forgiven, and your heart refuses to feel that you are.
This is why you can give loving grace from the ocean of your soul to your brothers and sisters and forgive them for all kinds of shit that happened in combat, but not give it to yourself.
Forgiveness at the mind level is not enough.
But it is where you start.
What is forgiveness? Is it a blanket absolution from being held accountable for what happened? Does it mean you no longer feel responsible for what happened? Does it mean you decide to no longer blame yourself? Is it just some mental trick to make you feel better (cause you know you don’t deserve to feel better, right?).
Forgiveness is not a declaration that absolves you from what happened. What happened, happened. It’s not about changing anything. It’s not about undoing.
It’s about love.
Now, I know we can’t get to love yet. Your mind is already growling that you don’t deserve love and you should just click away now. Please don’t. Stay. I want you here.
Forgiveness starts by challenging the thoughts that shout at you that you don’t deserve it. Those thoughts usually go unchallenged because the “evidence” in your mind is so absolute that you automatically just know you’re guilty and at fault. Even when the actual facts of the situation leave a lot of room for the possibility that you AREN’T responsible or that there truly was nothing you could have humanly done differently. (Right now, your mind is already telling you this is a waste of your time and impossible because it’s not for you. Don’t give in to that voice. Stay. Keep reading.)
To challenge those pervasive thoughts is an act of love.
I know you don’t feel that you deserve love. We can bypass that belief by considering this an act of love for those you love most in this world. Dead or alive. Do it for them.
Forgiveness is not all about you. It is a powerful energy that once it shifts one heart, it ripples out toward countless others without you even knowing.
Forgiveness shifts generations of lives. It can shift the entire future of your children, your community, and even the land where you fought. This isn’t a process that only affects you; this is one of the most powerful choices you can make to change the story that is yet to unfold for far more people than you realize.
So challenge those thoughts. Start asking “What if” in a positive way.
- What if the story you believe is not what factually happened?
- What if you didn’t have as much power or control as you believe you did?
- What if those who died feel compassion and true understanding for what happened and do not blame you?
- What would you have to accept in order to forgive yourself?
- What are you afraid you will lose if you forgive yourself?
Don’t argue with your mind. Just ask the questions. What this does is create space for Love to enter in a very quiet way.
Be prepared: Your mind is going to try to shut you down the moment you get anywhere close to considering grace for yourself. Expect that, don’t argue with your mind, just ask the questions. Read the ones I posed above out loud to yourself. It doesn’t even have to be your own thought. Just whisper it to yourself. Do it every day.
What happens is that while you are creating this space in your mind, your heart is going to start paying attention to those new thoughts. Silently. Observing these thoughts and considering the possibility that there could be other truths.
Don’t give up when the guilt and shame that you cope with every day get louder and surface — something is shifting in you. It’s being unsettled, disrupted from that place that’s lodged as truth in you.
Your Inner Critic (we all have one – some call it a safety mechanism) is going to be majorly triggered. You’re going to hear its voice shouting, berating, yelling, and screaming at you to reinforce the shame and guilt. Why? Because the Inner Critic’s only job is to keep you safe from any possible change from the status quo. You know how to live with this concept of being unlovable, unworthy, and deserving hell. That is a safety zone for you now.
The possibility of grace disrupts all that. It scares the shit out of your Inner Critic. Expect and recognize the Inner Critic when it starts using abusive language to keep you from even thinking that things could be different. (Often just recognizing it will disarm it.)
I need you to have the courage to do this.
I also need you to give yourself some space and let this be a process. Your soul knows how to lead your heart through this. You may go through what feels like waves of intensity, feeling it rise to the surface and then pulling away because it’s just too much to deal with in the moment.
That’s okay. This takes time. Retreat when you must, then return to the idea of forgiveness. Eventually, when your heart is ready, you’re going to feel a shift where what was impossible for you seems less impossible.
You’re not alone in this
I want you to know and remember that healing — and this is about healing your heart — is as much about allowing yourself to be healed as it is taking action to heal. When you open to the idea of healing your heart through forgiveness, you set in motion powerful forces that will hold you, guide you, and support you through this process. You will never be forced, you will always be invited and presented with conditions and opportunities, and choices that move you toward healing. Trust this. Especially when you feel like shit and your mind won’t stop ruminating in shame and guilt and you don’t know what to do. Or you feel like nothing is ever going to change.
Allow yourself to be broken and allow yourself to be held by Something Greater Than You.
Be witnessed by sacred love
Shame and guilt remain unchallenged as long as you do not question the actual factualness of them — and as long as you carry them in you alone.
The idea of letting someone know the absolute worst thing you’ve ever done and how much you failed is so terrifying it feels like a “hell, NO”. I know.
The shame and guilt you carry are the most vulnerable part of you. That vulnerability deserves protection and respect. It must be held sacred.
I know most of you don’t have someone you trust to hold that sacred space for you and come out of it still feeling accepted. Most of you have tried to share what you can of it with a counselor and many of you have been devastated by how you’ve been received.
Let me tell you this: do NOT share your story with anyone unless you absolutely know in your gut you trust them to be capable of holding you through this the way you need to be held.
That said, if your spouse really loves you and is a proven partner to you, then you need to risk being vulnerable and letting them see you. It’s your instinct to want to protect your spouse from the horror of the story and to protect yourself from having them judge you the way you judge yourself.
You expect them to judge you the way you judge you.
But that’s now how love works.
Love is going to see you through the lens of love.
Love is going to crack open spaces to let more love in. Love is going to hear your story, feel empathy for what you experienced, and ask questions that open a different perspective.
Being witnessed and being held by Love through it and after it is the most powerful way to let forgiveness move from the mind down to the heart. Being held and accepted in a space where you can rage and cry and fall apart and still be respected is where you begin to feel forgiveness is possible for you.
Because what you believe is that if anyone knew what you are responsible for, they would reject you and prove to you that you are unlovable. That’s the heart’s worst fear.
What you can’t see right now is your own value. You can’t see how you can matter as much as you do. You can’t see how or why anyone who claims they love you, can love you if they knew the you that you know.
Because you don’t love you.
But that’s not how Love sees you.
Forgiveness isn’t about letting go and changing your mind about being responsible for what happened. It’s about letting more love in. Letting love in so that your soul can remind you that your truest essence is good and loving and shameless.
And still worth loving.
Letting more love in so you can live with what happened and know that grace exists for you because grace exists for all living things.
And you belong with the living.
You are one of us.
Your story is our story. Your lifetimes of experiences, of pain, of joy, of regrets, of decisions that impact thousands… are all part of our story. This woven story of humanity on earth.
If you don’t have someone you trust to be a sacred witness for you, let me be that space. I hold that space for hundreds of combat veterans just like you. I hold the most sacred, most secret experiences for hearts that are broken by their own humanity and it is an honor to do so.
It is why I am on this earth at this time.
It’s why you were led to read this now.
We cannot change what happened, but we can let love change us and change the story that has yet to unfold.
You are worth it. Even still.
You are love.
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.