by Britta Reque-Dragicevic
This first appeared in Britta’s blog, “Life After War” on January 14, 2015, and is republished with the author’s permission.
I’ve spent this entire lifetime being the strongest person I know. I know the walls that allow you to reach out, but won’t let anyone reach in. I know what it is to trust yourself the most because, at the end of the day, you are the one responsible. I know how terrifying it is to even consider being vulnerable and how that fear can get praised as strength and courage. Or get judged as cold, uncaring, and indifferent. It wears many labels and gets interpreted in many ways. It’s Good, when others need you to be stronger than they are; it’s Bad when others perceive that you don’t give a shit.
Good, bad, right, or wrong — I’m not going to label it. It is what it is. These walls are there because at some point they had to be built to keep you safe. They’re effective. They make you effective. As a warfighter, they’re necessary. You don’t make decisions about others’ lives and deaths without them. You don’t carry that responsibility for death in you without learning to create emotional distance and protect your heart.
But at what point do the walls stop keeping you safe?
When do they switch from protecting you to inhibiting you?
When death shows up in my life, I meet it with a strange sense of ease and familiarity. I don’t cry. I don’t break down. I do what has to be done. I am the strong one, and that strength gives others permission to be weak (the actual word here should be “human” not “weak”). People around me question the depth of my ability to feel and wonder why I’m not more upset. They don’t know what lies beneath or that my soul has learned over lifetimes to face death this way.
Those of you who know me and interact with me know that not only am I NOT a cold person, I have great depths of feeling, I love and embrace where others have said love is not possible or worthwhile, I have no qualms about diving into the Darkness with you and fighting for your life. And I cry with you. (I cry more than I ever let anyone know.)
If there is anything that coming home to a warfighter community has done for me, it’s allowed me to dwell among people who understand me, who know how to be real with me, and people I belong to. For all the walls that PTSD and combat erect and the reputation warfighters have for being disconnected and unemotional and distrusting, my experience with you is just the opposite. I’ve never met men (and women) who connect at a more real level, express their feelings more authentically, and allow themselves to be so utterly vulnerable in trusting me (thank you and thank you for embracing me).
Maybe that’s why my own soul is asking questions. And why I’m writing this.
Those walls keep us safe. Keep us from feeling hurt. They reduce risk. They allow the soul to carry intense, heavy loads without collapsing.
They are not without purpose. We need them.
But if we step back from roles and stand here just as human beings, then what?
The human soul was meant for connection, to be deeply seen and known and accepted, and to experience that oneness with other souls.
It was meant to trust.
And that is far easier said than done.
One of the blessings you have is that you know more about real trust than anyone else. Yet, when you pull away from the safety of your brothers, trust is one of the hardest things to feel, isn’t it?
Why is that? Could it be because you come from a community where you are deeply bonded, and connected, where trust is implicit (mostly) and you get torn out of that and sent off alone to a civilian world where no one is bonded, no one really trusts anyone or cares to, and no one really has your back?
Suddenly, you are different than everyone around you.
You feel vulnerable and the walls go up and get thicker. You shut out the people who might love you because you don’t trust that they will be able to accept you if they discover who you are now. Your pain makes you different. Your grief and guilt and the little things that trigger memories and sensations and anger make your life so complex to navigate, how the fuck could anyone “get it” let alone love you? So, you withdraw and the fear of being known intensifies.
But what is it about vulnerability that we are really so afraid of?
The quick answer is rejection. But the more I search my own soul, the more I think it’s something else.
I think it comes down to what we believe about our own worth.
I think it’s our own inability to believe that we could be loved and accepted for who we are that scares us the most.
Because if someone really does love us, then what?
We don’t really believe we are worth it. And if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable to finding out, and we get rejected, our worst suspicion will be confirmed. And we just can’t take that risk.
What if we’re wrong?
What if Love is greater than that? What if someone manages to see past the wounds and pain and fear-driven behavior and grief-driven anger and sees beauty and joy and the entirety of you?
What if what we need to do is stop believing we’re not worth loving? What if we need to stop letting our own fear own us?
What if we need to move toward Love, instead of away from it to truly be safe?
How might that change our lives?
It’s something to ponder.
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.