Note: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD (and other past stress) which has become part of our ethos or basic belief system. October looks at humility.
“Find a place inside where there is joy, and that joy will burn out the pain” (Joseph Campbell)
There is pain inside us, and that is the hard truth of it. We can live with the pain, maybe, but can we live well? Can our families?
Pain is a poison creating more pain and spreading through our secret selves, those parts we consider dark. Joy is the antidote.
A young Veteran on campus asked how he was supposed to relate to the younger students. When I told him that was a good question but that I did not have the answer, he said that nobody does, only excuses. But, he also acknowledged that he had a better chance of relating to them than they to him. After all, he had been young, but they had never faced the fire.
It has taken me several days, but I see the answer to his question in his own acknowledgement.
“You’ve never lived until you’ve almost died. For those who have fought for it, life has a flavor the protected never know.” (Guy de Maupassant)
I remember the second line from a wall in our C-Team compound in Bien Hoa.
The protected cannot know the pain inside us—unless we share it, and that is hard to do, maybe even dangerous. It feels dangerous, like reliving it. Sometimes, it smacks of weakness. Always, it bares the vulnerability of being misunderstood.
We can, however, remember being young. We can find the innocence of our youth, faint as it may be, and reconnect with that. We can find the joy that still lives inside, the joy we knew before we faced the fire.
That is the part of us we can share with the protected. We can connect with them by touching the good things we still remember inside ourselves, flickering lights of joy we tend to hide beneath a bushel of pain.
There came a time when I could not find my joy. I had buried all the pain so deep that when I looked inside, all I found was darkness. A few gifts of humility helped me find my way back home.
Yes, it is a kind of humility to find good things inside ourselves. I know it can feel like betrayal to feel joy in the presence of so much pain in our brothers and sisters. It is not. It is necessary, for it is life.
Sure, we must track down our own pain and face it (but not alone); however, if we are to reconnect with the protected including our own families, we will do well to find the light of our own joy to show us the way back home.