by Britta Reque-Dragicevic
This first appeared in Britta’s blog, “Life After War” on June 23, 2013, and is republished with the author’s permission.
How do you see yourself?
Don’t let your wounds and fears and feeling stuck in this perpetual hell of the unknown take away your identity.
Don’t let it erase the truth that you are incredibly strong, resilient, tenacious, brave.
Don’t let a diagnosis replace who you are.
You are not your diagnosis. You are not your wounds. You are not your loss.
You are not unhealable. You are not beyond hope.
You are a warrior.
And this new life, this new you that you are becoming, this unknown territory is not for the weak.
It is for those who have the courage to allow themselves to feel weak.
It is for those who have the courage to allow themselves to feel lost.
It is for those who choose to believe that feeling weak and feeling lost are temporary conditions of the journey.
They do not define your soul.
It is for those who have the courage to grieve while giving themselves permission to feel alive.
It is for those who have the courage to stay awake to fight the demons of hopelessness, uncertainty, fear, pain, misunderstanding, memories, guilt, anger, and the physical and spiritual changes that war inflicts.
It is for those who realize that accepting where you are now, is the first step to healing.
That when we stop resisting the fact that we are changed, we can change who we are.
That the only thing we ever control is our perspective.
And that perspective is everything.
Too often we see veterans only as wounded, damaged, broken, labeled by mental health and disability percentages.
Too often we see veterans as condemned as powerless to the toxic effects of war.
And before we know it, veterans see themselves this way, too.
But is that who you are?
It’s not who you are.
Have you ever stopped to think of the gifts war has blessed you with? Yes, I said gifts. Yes, I said blessed. Because as much as war takes away, it also gives. And as much as you have been changed by what seems to be negative, you have also been changed for the better. Stronger. More spiritually sensitive. Aware. Confident. Perceptive. Intuitive. Knowledgeable about the preciousness of life. Certain of what matters. Able to lead not only a team, but a country. Decisive. Ingenuitive. Daring. Bold. A believer in what is possible. A disbeliever in the impossible. A questioner of status quo. A change-maker. A guardian of peace.
How can I say this when you suffer from TBI or PTSD or are burned beyond recognition?
How can I say this when you see nothing but what’s gone, what’s been taken, what’s left behind?
Because I see you as more than what you’ve lost.
I see you whole. Not as your wounds.
Strong. Powerful. Resilient. Brave.
A warrior still.
They never tell you when you head off to war that the greatest battle, the one that takes the most courage isn’t the adrenaline rush of combat, but the quiet confines of life back home. This is where the fiercest battle takes place. Not against a human enemy, but against the enemy of war itself.
You have to fight as hard now for your life as you did then. Harder, even. Because you don’t have the support of your brothers and sisters-in-arms to head out with you to meet whatever comes. You don’t have a leader telling you how to spend your time. You don’t have anyone but your own stubborn, tenacious thoughts to keep picking yourself up and saying yes to another day or night of “battle” you aren’t sure you can even win.
It isn’t for lack of courage that you struggle, dear warrior. It’s for lack of connection. Support. Being “in it” together.
And because this fight is fucking hard.
You have a choice. Now. This moment. And the next moment. Tonight. Tomorrow morning. Tomorrow night.
Fight for your soul’s freedom or let war claim you as one of the living dead.
Fight, my brother. Fight, my sister. Reclaim your warrior spirit.
Do it for every one of your brothers and sisters who didn’t live to have the chance to fight for their life after war.
You can do this.
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.