by Britta Reque-Dragicevic
This first appeared in Britta’s blog, “Life After War” on August 21, 2014, and is republished with the author’s permission.
It lines your inside, this presence you’ve become so familiar with that you’re not sure where you end and it begins. It’s just… there. Always there. Images. Scents. Sounds. Fear. Memories. Pain.
You try to shut it out. It returns. You lock it up inside. It gets out. It wants you to stare into its deceiving eyes. And when you do, it consumes you. And that’s what perhaps scares you the most. That you no longer recognize yourself.
Talking about it hurts like hell. And it’s not that you can’t stand the pain. It’s that it sends you spiraling into a black hole that takes you days, weeks, months to climb out of. And every time you manage to claw your way out, you’ve lost even more of yourself.
They tell you “You need to talk about it.” Go to counseling. Tell your stories. You’ll feel better.
But talking takes you back. You don’t want to go back. How could you find words to make anyone understand anyway? You can’t even find words to help yourself understand.
No. Silence is the only place that feels right.
It’s the only place where you can contain all that possesses you now. What you know and don’t know.
What you feel and don’t feel. What happened and what didn’t happen. What you are certain of and what you doubt.
All of it.
It’s not that you haven’t longed to speak. To scream it out. To eradicate it from the fabric of your being. But your scream gets stifled in your throat or at the recurring jolt awake at 3am. There have been times, you’ve been so close… words slid from the back of your mind to your tongue, but your lips wouldn’t say them.
No. You can’t talk about it. You just… can’t.
Corporal Gibson Augustave, loads rounds into an M240G machine gun atop a security vehicle, Jan. 22, before his convoy leaves Forward Operating Base Hit, Iraq. Augustave is with MEU Service Support Group 22, which is part of the 22nd MEU (SOC) conducting counterinsurgency operations with an Iraqi Army battalion under the tactical control of the 2nd Marine Division. Source.
Because the intensity of your experiences is overwhelming. Spiritually. Emotionally. Mentally. Physically. Silence is your home and that home is lonely. There’s no one ever there, but you and “it”. Sure, you see your buddies and recognize your pain mirrored in their eyes. But they’re silent, too. A “Remember when…” A shot of whiskey, a crude joke, change of subject. You could talk to them but then you’d all be back there. And who would get you out? No, silence is best.
And so here you are. Reading this blog post on this site you just happened to stumble upon. A place where this author talks about shit that no one else does. And talks about it in a way that no one else does. A way that makes you feel almost…safe. A way that makes you think, maybe someone actually does “get it”….and by god, what if that could be true?
Only… no, you can’t talk about it.
Does that mean you can’t heal?
Does that mean you are fated to the exasperated, exhausted “fuck it. It’s just the way it is”?
Hell, you’re wondering right now if you should just click off this page. Because this is getting too damn close to home and there’s a good chance you’re fighting back tears. And tears mean that presence is stirring and the pain is going to wrap its bony grip around your heart, pull you under, and you’re going to drown again. And you’ve got shit to do, like bills to pay, kids to shuffle around, and cooking that needs to be done. You don’t have time for this. Fuck.
Stop… stop right there.
And let me put my arm around your shoulders and speak this gently to you now.
Those tears, the ones you try hard to stifle, carry all the weight of everything that you can’t say.
They are your lifeblood. They connect your mind to your heart.
You see, you’re not dead inside.
You’re not too far gone to be saved.
(And if you can’t cry? You’re still not too far gone to be saved.)
Those thoughts that are too hard to think, that fuck you up over and over and over again?
They’re not supernaturally stronger than you.
They’re not even your enemy.
And they’re not you.
They are triggers that cause you to feel the emotions of those overwhelming experiences. You have emotional energy trapped inside you. It’s that energy that emerges when you recall traumatic events. It’s what you haven’t found context for… or been able to create a new sense of meaning for. How do you create meaning out of the fucked up shit you did and witnessed?
By changing what you believe about how the world works and your role in it. You can’t change the facts of what happened. Facts can be recounted in order…. this happened, then this, then this… But it’s not that part of telling that hurts. It’s what you feel when you tell your stories that hurts so bad. And what you feel is based on what you believe about what happened and what your thoughts and perceptions were then, and what they are now.
So what do you do to heal when you just can’t talk about it?
First of all, you need to know that it’s okay to NOT talk about it. You don’t have to share your stories with anyone to heal your pain. Why do those of us in healing work encourage you to share your stories? Because it moves that trapped energy out of you and immediately reduces its power. (Think about those times you’ve worried about something and kept it to yourself. Your worry got stronger and stronger, right? But when you told someone that you were worried, the worry deflated and you didn’t feel so overwhelmed anymore, did you? The same thing happens for all that you keep inside. As long as you keep it inside of you, it grows stronger and your ability to see events from different perspectives diminishes.)
It’s important to know, too, that sharing your experiences is healing ONLY if the person you are sharing it with knows how to receive, honor, and hold it sacred. They need to be able to hold you in a healing embrace of acceptance and respect. Otherwise, sharing a story of intimate pain can be absolutely re-traumatizing to you. And you may end up more trapped inside than ever. Many of you have had very bad experiences when you’ve tried to express yourself… and that just sends you further into the silence.
Not talking about your experiences doesn’t mean you haven’t set an intention to heal. It doesn’t mean that you are not moving toward healing–as long as you have consciously decided that you are not going to stay where you are anymore. Because for emotional healing to happen, you need to change the beliefs and perceptions you have about it… and that process can take place in your mind without you ever uttering a word out loud. Just know, that it won’t happen on its own. You have to make a point to do so.
Second, I want you to know that your pain is sacred. What you experience in combat is very personal, even though many of you have experienced the same type of events, no one perceives it exactly the same way. So, your pain is yours. Your war is yours. It belongs to you. You get to own it. You get to decide what you’re going to do with it. I know that sounds strange when you are having all these overwhelming sensory perceptions and PTSD symptoms… because they make you feel as if you’re not in control. And you’re not in control of many of your symptoms. What you DO control is the decision to stay where you are or take a chance on finding a healing path. Staying where you are may feel safer right now. But that’s because your fear of feeling the pain is greater than your desire for freedom from it.
And that leads me to my third point…
The only way out of the dark is through it. It takes a ton of energy to keep the intense emotions locked inside (it also takes a ton of pills, drugs, or alcohol to keep yourself numb). What you fear most isn’t the actual pain… it’s not knowing what comes next if you do feel it. Remember, you feel it anyway, right? Throughout your day, at night, in strange and odd times, unexpected. It’s always there. There are triggers for memories everywhere, all the time. All it takes is one faint association for a memory to come flooding in. So, keeping it suppressed is one way to try to manage it, but is it really what is going to set you free? Or are you just keeping yourself captive?
Right now, you can’t bring yourself to talk about it because it hurts too much. You don’t know how to express it. You worry about getting emotional in front of someone else. Or being judged. Or being exposed and vulnerable. And the idea of sitting down with a “counselor” just gives you anxiety. Where do you begin? How are you supposed to put into words the visceral experiences you’ve had? How are you supposed to convey it? It’s not unusual to freeze up. Or to try to tell a “safer” story, one that doesn’t feel so threatening. But what I wonder is this: if you can’t bring yourself to share your story, maybe your spirit is just not ready to tell those stories yet. What if, instead, you had support — acceptance, love, encouragement in your daily life — that embraced you as you are and allowed you to heal at your own pace?
Timing is everything when it comes to healing. Healing cannot be forced. It has to be supported and allowed, but it occurs at a pace that aligns with what your spirit decides is safe. And that is what I want you to remember. You are reading this post because your spirit is searching for answers. You are tired of dealing with this shit, but you aren’t sure what to do now. You still can’t talk about it, and you don’t know if you can ever really get better, but there is a part of you that longs to have someone be there and accept you and love and nurture you. Someone who knows this path you’re on and will walk with you at your own pace. Someone who will believe for you what you can’t believe right now. That you CAN heal and create a new sense of wholeness. And that’s what I do.
Your spirit knows how to heal itself… IF you give it permission to guide you and you choose to act with courage.
You don’t have to jump into the fire. You can stand near it and let it gently warm you.
You don’t have to talk about your pain, you can let Love hold you in a healing embrace until your pain is ready to be released.
So, if you can’t talk about it now… don’t believe that you can’t heal. Or that you’re doomed to a lifetime of this shit.
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.
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