by Britta Reque-Dragicevic
This first appeared in Britta’s blog, “Life After War” on October 30, 2014, and is republished with the author’s permission.
Okay, so the words themselves mean the same thing in your mind. Fucked up. Pain. Shit. Issues. Doesn’t matter what you call it, right? Who cares?
What if how you think of it is keeping you stuck?
No, I’m not being “a writer” here and picking on words. On the surface, it doesn’t matter how you refer to the changes in yourself after combat. What matters are your beliefs about those changes. And your beliefs about those changes often show up in how you refer to yourself.
So, what I’m really after here is this: do you judge/blame/hate yourself for the changes in you? If so, you’re gonna stay stuck.
Why? Because as long as you judge yourself and feel like you should have been stronger, that you’re a pussy for letting anger/anxiety/distrust overtake you, that you should somehow have been able to avoid getting hurt, and be strong enough to overcome this alone now — you’re going to hold yourself away from healing.
As long as you think of yourself as fucked up, instead of wounded, you’re not going to give your heart/mind/body/spirit the acceptance and grace and support it needs to transform, heal and release you from the pain.
It comes down to what you believe. Judging/hating/blaming yourself for being wounded means you don’t really believe you should be affected by what you’ve been through in combat. You may know logically that war should change a human being, but you hold yourself to a standard that makes you feel weak or like a failure for seeing those changes in yourself. If this is you, you have a hard time not feeling ashamed for the pain and struggles you experience. Thinking about it doesn’t just hurt, it makes the cruel voices in your head start calling you names and bashing you for being “fucked up”. You think of your wounds, and your sense of self-worth plummets. The weight of feeling like a failure hurts more than the war itself. So, you try to avoid this by avoiding anything that reminds you that you’re not okay.
That keeps you from the liberating self-acceptance you need to heal.
Those of you who grew up with fathers with untreated PTSD, grew up walking on eggshells, yelled at, sometimes beaten, scolded for being soft and not stronger, disallowed to show “weak” emotions like crying, and promising yourself that you would never be like him. Some of you even joined the military subconsciously wanting to prove to yourself (and him) that you were indeed tough, that you “are a man”, that you could take it, and that you could be stronger than he’d been. The challenge wasn’t just something you craved, your sense of self-approval depended on it.
So, to see the same rage, anger, distrust, anxiety, fear of crowds, avoidance of people, strange sleep patterns, drinking, startle reflex, and insecurity now in yourself is excruciating. And you hate it. And you hate yourself for being this way, for being “weak.” For being changed.
But you don’t know what to do or how to change it. So you do your best to manage, try to not think about it, and withdraw into a world where you cut out anyone or anything that reminds you that you’re “fucked up”. Yes, you avoid the sense of failure, and you live increasingly alone in a disconnected world. Resigned to spend the rest of your life just putting up with this shit.
See what I mean by stuck?
By contrast, if you see yourself as wounded because you are a human being and war is supposed to hurt, you remove the judgment. When your wounds are not tied to your sense of worth, you do not blame yourself for your condition, and you open yourself up to the forces of healing.
Every warfighter worth his weight should come home with deep spirit wounds. If you didn’t, you haven’t truly known combat.
Being changed by war is a sign of honor. There is no weakness in it. Yes, it fucking hurts your heart. Yes, it changes your sense of self. Yes, it creates problems you never imagined you’d have to endure. Yes, it leaves you different than the civilians you now live among. But shouldn’t it?? If you took on the call of a warfighter, and you went through hell, why would you expect anything less than to come home with scars?? Scars whose very existence is because you acted with extreme courage and selflessness. The only way for you to have avoided being wounded by combat is to never have been in it.
(Our society’s attitude toward warfighters also fuels a sense that there’s something wrong with you; we should be embracing warfighters for the beauty of their scars.)
If you change how you think about your pain, and stop believing that you should have been stronger (what would that have meant anyway?) you create a place within you where you can begin to heal.
How? By accepting the fact that you are not fucked up, you are wounded. Wounds are not failures. Wounds are not to be ashamed of.
You didn’t get wounded because you were a coward or weak or failed. Quite the contrary.
It’s OKAY to be wounded.
It’s what you should be if you’ve been in combat.
There is nothing weak about you.
In reality, wounds are opportunities for growth, for transformation, for healing. Will you always be scarred? Yes. But scars are signs of growth, survival and life. Wounds can heal when you stop judging yourself by them.
You need to see yourself with compassion.
You wouldn’t judge a buddy for being in the pain you are in. You wouldn’t shame or blame or call him a pussy because he witnessed and created some of the most intense suffering in humanity and came home angry and grieving and changed. You wouldn’t write his nightmares and anxiety off as being “fucked up”, would you? No. You’d love him. You’d be there for him. You’d remind him that he’s no less the warfighter now than he was then.
This is just a different battle, guys. And it’s one you can transcend and win, when you choose acceptance and realize that only by understanding and believing that it’s okay to be wounded, can you get unstuck.
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.