Tag Archives: survival

Free Safety

Freedom and safety often seem to be opposites except for the fact that the key to both is discipline.

NOTE: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD and other past stress. We have looked at ten and leave one more for August. July is devoted to Discipline.

A Sandhill Crane wandered into our yard in the north woods this week and we watched it for an hour. It is not unusual to see them in the area, but we have never known one to walk into our camp, so it was a treat. I admire this creature’s freedom.

It moved slowly about, scratching and probing the ground for food. A little research revealed that they are opportunity eaters, feeding on plant and animal materials that are available. Our grounds seemed to offer ample fare to keep it occupied for so long; but there was no hurry. It sometimes paused for minutes, near motionless, perhaps attending to some shape or sound. Occasionally it stretched, flexed, groomed, and fluffed its feathers.

Alone in a forest glade with no demands on time, nowhere to go, no time to be there, and no tasks to complete. I love such freedom.

Could I wander alone, eating by opportunity and surviving by instinct and skill? I think I can.

Wilderness survival for humans requires skill. We will not live well on the food that feeds the crane. Our bodies have different requirements and vulnerabilities. We lack the protection of feathers or fur. We lack the sensory acuity of sight and sound, the physical prowess of fleet and flight, the instinct of eons of evolution. We have evolved to live by wit and skill, which is another way of saying discipline.

Yes, the Sandhill has discipline of watchfulness that offers safety, and that safety offers the freedom to roam, alone. Still, even cranes group together for dangerous activities such as migration. Like humans, they are social animals.

Society offers safety at the apparent expense of freedom. Peer pressure, cultural tradition, and laws provide a way to live in balance of freedom and safety–if we would have it.

The Green Bay Packers used a recent first round draft pick for a Free Safety, a position of apparent contradiction on the field. He provides some safety as a last resort while exercising the freedom of choice. Ah, but freedom of choice is an obligation that requires great discipline. He has rules. He reads the actions of the opposing offensive players and reacts, not instinctively, but by a doctrine of the playbook. If he fails to read correctly or his discipline breaks down, well, the other team scores.

If the crane’s discipline breaks down, well, it dies–and some coyote lives.

I love to wander in the woods. Sometimes I get a little lost. I might get really lost someday, but that is alright.

For many people, wandering alone in the great north woods would be foolish freedom. Indeed, most people do not have the freedom to wander in the woods as I do because, for them, it is unsafe. For me, it is an invigorating risk because I have studied and trained in wilderness survival. I know the discipline. I have studied the playbook. I can build shelter, find safe water, make fire, and gather food. Most importantly, I am comfortable in the woods so that I am unafraid. That discipline of basic survival attitude and skill provides both relative safety and freedom to enjoy.

Discipline is following rules. That is all. Basically, it means student as a disciple, one who follows.

Do you have a way of life? A playbook?

Discipline is not my strength, but I do work at it. For me, the most important freedom each day is the ability to choose my playbook, my way, my Master. Discipline is making that choice.

Deep down inside you, can you find tracks of the Master of your playbook?

Happy Tracking!

Be Longing

Life is the brief experience of separation from God, the durable discrimination of moments into experiences, the simultaneous celebration and lament for what we almost remember and fear we have lost. We spend our lives longing to belong. Relax. This is neither reality nor illusion; it is choice.

NOTE: This blog series addresses twelve attributes I see conducive to recovery from PTSD and other past stress. June embraces Love.

Erotic (eros) love is both fear and celebration of separation. Really? Without separation there is neither union nor reunion.

Yes, there are times when two lovers feel so close they lose sentience of the boundary between them–when they touch the mysterious oneness, when all desire has matured. But, alas, there are other times.

Brotherly love (philos) is a sharing of time or treasure beyond individuality that dimly reflects the oneness we almost remember. It is a real expansion of self to others we like and trust, those within some group we perceive as like us. But, alas, there are others.

Godly love (Agape) is a grace of charity for others like our children. “Our” children. But, alas, there are “other” children.

For Biology students I give this definition: “Life is self-controlled chemistry.” Define “self”. Tell me, if you will, precisely where you end and the rest of the universe begins.

Bullets and bombs help one define the boundary. Enemies are not brothers, not lovers, and certainly neither our children nor parents.

We enlarge our definition of self and other. We trust less, share less, love less.

Relax. Trauma is an experience, a durable, discriminate, momentous experience. It is not the loss of choice, although it does challenge it.

It is primal biological drive to maintain this separation of self. It is survival.

There is another drive within us, perhaps even more primal, to go home to the oneness we almost remember.

I am grateful for the experience of lovers’ oneness. I am grateful for the experience of love for brothers and sisters. I am grateful for the experience of something approaching Agape for my children and grandchildren. These are all gifts, I know; but they are gifts I requested.

Today, I would like to gaze upon a fourth kind of love I have also experienced, a love of oneness sometimes referred to as Henosis.

“The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.” (Black Elk)

I have sat in the forest and known that I belong. I belong to the forest and it belongs to me. I have sat in the desert and known that I belong. I do not need to be longing for something I almost remember because I feel it in this moment of belonging.

I am grateful for the experience of oneness I have found within the forest, within the desert, and within myself. This is the greatest gift of my life for it allows me to be grateful for all the other gifts. I know it is a gift, but it is a gift I requested.

Have you asked for gifts? Have you sought them? Have you prayed and Quested for them?

Deep down inside you, where you almost remember oneness with God, is there a tiny prayer for experiences of love? Have you sung that prayer, danced that prayer, or even whispered it to yourself?

Happy Tracking!

Low D

On a topographic map, there is a symbol marked by a closed loop representing a contour of equal elevation with hash marks inside. This is a depression, an area of land lower than all the land surrounding it.

One in ten older American Veterans suffers from depression (VA)http://www.va.gov/health/NewsFeatures/20110624a.asp

Last week at Dr. Hart’s Combat Veteran Aftercare Group, I heard him tell a brother that most Veterans with PTSD also have another condition and that his was depression.

Depression is like being lost in a cedar swamp on a moonless night in the fog. Pitfalls surround you between the roots of tall trees that shade you even from starlight. One wrong step could drop you into a hole in the bog, into cold, dark water. You know there is higher ground somewhere, but even your imagination has lost sight of it. There is no light, not even in your mind. Darkness enveopes you; purpose escapes you; hope echoes like a cruel joke.

NOTE: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD and other past stresses. May aspires to Hope.

Eleven (11) percent of our older Veterans suffer from depression. The number seems low to me, but I expect that is because a lot of Veterans do not live to be old. On an average day, twenty two (22) American Veterans commit suicide.

Depression kills.

It lies there, waiting, between the anger and acceptance of a grieving process.

But, there is Hope.

“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things…” (Shawshank Redemption)

A line from a movie, yes, a story written by an author of horror. I find that amusing in a way.

If you are a Veteran, or if you love a Veteran, please recognize anger as an alternative to depression. Anger is a lifeline to higher ground, to life, to rescue from depression.

Yes, acceptance is a goal, the state of conclusion of grief. Yes, acceptance is possible and desireable. But, it is over there, on the other side of that chasm or swamp of depression. Will we survive the journey?

Some of us will. Many, too many, of us will not. Like combat, itself, even the survival of PTSD carries a sense of survivor’s guilt. Now, ain’t that depressing?

Anger management in the customary sense is dangerous for combat Veterans because it makes us vulnerable to depression. It strips us of our lifeline. It casts us into the swamp of despair.

So, where is the Hope, already?

Here it is: Brotherhood. Nothing helps a Veteran like another Veteran. We don’t need to sit around and talk about our PTSD. We do need to sit around and talk. We need each other. I don’t know why, the psychology of it, but I know it works. And at some point one brother shares with another an experience of Hope, an improvement in conditions through application of strategies, a psychologist that can be trusted. Trusted, yeah, that’s it.

And service. There is a blessing to feeling useful in service to your brothers. You feel a purpose, again, to share your experience with the Veteran in pain. I have witnessed it, experienced it.

If there are tracks of depression in your heart, get help. Reach out to a brother and ask him how he does it. You will find them at Veteran’s organizations, VA hospital or clinic waiting rooms, or VA Centers dedicated to serving combat Veterans and their families.

May your tracks follow you to help.

Selfish Snowflake

Creation is a process of separation.

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. December investigates charity.

In the grand scheme, we can view all of physical reality, Creation, as separation from God.

When my daughter experienced a miscarriage, she wondered what happened to that soul. I suggested that was like asking what happens to a raindrop when it returns to the sea.

A raindrop is the result of separation of water molecules from the gas phase of the solution that is our atmosphere. Each raindrop possesses an identity separate from the rest of the world, with a boundary that defines inside from outside; however, it lacks recognizable individuality.

A snowflake is iconic individuality. Not only are snowflakes particularly unique, but they are products of a process some claim to be physically impossible: the spontaneous change from disorder to order. The exquisite structure of solid crystal lattice geometry springs forth from the relative chaos of a gaseous mixture without effort of energy.

Snowflakes are proof that order is built into the Laws of Creation.

So are we, you and me. We are separate individuals, unique in our own special ways, and that is okay. It really is.

There is no need to find the prettiest snowflake, the largest, the most ornate, symmetrical, or intricate.

There is no need to contrast the complicated snowflake with the simple raindrop, the peacock with the sparrow, the bramble with the oak, or the lion with the shrew.

So why do we do that to ourselves?

Ego is just another word for self much maligned in quotes from wounded egos blaming the wounding on other egos, and that’s okay, too. The separation that is our creation isolates us and frightens us. It threatens our existence as individuals.

It’s rather amusing. The separation that creates and defines our individuality is the same separation that threatens the survival of that individuality. Then we blame it on Freud’s creation, ego, which is actually blaming it on…wait for it…ourselves.

I have an idea: Let’s accept our egos because without an ego, individuals quite literally cease to exist. No, we do not have to be egoists or self-centered in any way. When we accept individual ego, we can become our true, complete self.

Charity is nothing more than sharing ourselves with others, but first, we have to accept ourselves so that we might become the best inchworm, teacher, salesman, or soldier we can be. We just have to be ourselves, and we do that by finding our own uniqueness, our gifts, our talents, our beauty.

Happy Tracking!

Gratitude Untied

Mornings bring the blues and Veterans Day is no exception. I sit here writing about gratitude and feeling sad at the same time. How is this possible?

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. November investigates gratitude.

“I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” (Helen Keller)

Strange thing, gratitude, when we feel it at the grace of less fortunate.

When I see my grandchildren born to a daughter conceived after I came home from Vietnam, I am grateful beyond measure for my survival.

Then I remember more than 58,000 names engraved in black granite and over 150,000 wounded comrades. I think of the hurting souls in my combat PTSD group, my friend’s hot flashes from hormone treatment for Agent Orange induced cancer, my brother-in-law and the husband of a friend both also lost to Agent Orange. I remember my Khmer friends and wonder if they survived “The Killing Fields”, and I think of a former student killed in Iraq.

My gratitude slips away like a poorly tied knot…from pulling it too tight, I suppose, from trying to own this gratitude thing.

There are those who belittle gratitude: “Gratitude is a sickness suffered by dogs.” (Joseph Stalin)

Well, I like dogs. I trust them more than I trust people, and I would rather emulate most any dog than a lot of people—people like Edward Gibbon who said, “Revenge is profitable, gratitude is expensive.” He also said, “The courage of a soldier is found to be the cheapest and most common quality of human nature.” Yup, I like dogs better.

Would you believe that scientists actually research gratitude? “Social scientists have found that the fastest way to feel happiness is to practice gratitude.” (Chip Conley)

Practice? So, gratitude is not a thing loved by all, especially arrogant despots. Gratitude is not a thing that can be owned—or a thing at all—but a process I can practice.

Yes, I will have this thing called happiness, and if gratitude is the way, I choose to practice gratitude.

Oh. How do I do that? How does one practice gratitude so that one might become happy?

I am a mess. When I go inside to look at myself, I see messy tracks for which I am not grateful. Still, I must look inside, honestly, to track my feelings. Such a dilemma.

One key is service to others. Yesterday I began writing this blog on Veterans Day, a day when I had no obligations before 6 pm. Today, on the other hand, I must go to work. Service. Today I have the opportunity to be useful, to be relevant.

Not only do I have the opportunity to develop programs to help teachers teach our young people in Yuma, but today I get to serve others in very specific and personal ways. A young Marine veteran is coming to get advice on her academic future, on her major, on her career. I don’t give the advice, but I serve as the connection for her to get to the advisor. That allows me to think about her needs instead of the mess that is me.

Later, today, I get to help a student teacher struggling with academic language in his second tongue so that he may finish his major writing assignment standing between him and his certification. I have the privilege of helping someone, and that is something that not every old veteran has.

I am grateful, again. For this guy, the process of gratitude is finding ways to be helpful to others. Practicing gratitude is searching for ways to serve, tracking opportunities rather than my own mess. May you find your own ways of getting outside yourself so that you may unleash the power of gratitude to lead you to your happiness.

Happy Tracking.

Flickering Joy

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.

Happy Tracking.

Lonesome Otherness

“Brotherhood is the very price and condition of man’s survival.” (Carlos P. Romulo)

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.

You sent me alone, America. Did you know you did that? You trained me in platoons and teams, and then you sent me to Vietnam on a plane with about forty newly trained Green Beret Lieutenants. We processed through Long Binh, together, then got split up to go different ways. I rode the helicopter to my A-Team camp near the Cambodian border, alone.

A team was there, but I had never met them—any of them. I was the new guy, a fresh butter bar with a face of a teenager. We all knew our lives depended upon each other, but they had no measure of my mettle. I would have to prove that in live fire.

This is one of the worst things you can do to a person, to send them into combat, alone, and make no mistake, sending with strangers is sending, alone.

We coped. We got to know each other. We lived through a firefight or two. We learned to trust each other, but you kept splitting us up, sending some home and bringing in new guys.

I’m still kind of mad about that.

After about eight months at our border camp, you pulled us out, the lieutenants. You decided we were needed at the rear, for what we did not know.

I didn’t care. I had no career ambitions in uniform, and it was one step closer to home, to my family, by baby girl, and my return to UW Madison to study Genetics.

It did not take long for a group of combat veteran first lieutenants to bond. We became our own team, the “Crises Eliminators” (there were always crises at headquarters). My friend, Rod, was a performer with a great Flip Wilson impersonation. We became the Gorilla Club after Flip’s Reverend LeRoy of the What’s Happenin’ Now Congregation. Like Mr. G. O. Rilla in the zoo, “Whatever they said we did, we did it—and some more, besides.”

Then, we came home. Some of us shared a flight from Seattle to Minneapolis. Rod, who lived there, even waited a few hours with me until I got a flight to Madison. I saw him a couple of times after that. I have never seen any others from my A Team or the Gorilla Club. That leaves a hole in me nobody else seems to fill.

We are compelled to judge others, to determine who can be trusted. All people are so compelled. Animals, too. Combat veterans are particularly slow to trust. It becomes a problem for us.

We all know our survival depends upon brothers and sisters, but strangers are not to be trusted. Groups are threatening. Crowds are intolerable. Even others we want to trust are avoided.

Because, they go away.

Trapped between the threat of being alone and the vulnerability of trusting others who may attack, betray, fail, or abandon us, we live in desperate otherness, tending to fear and gravitating toward hate.

It’s alright. We can live with this condition if we are honest about it, honest enough to develop personal humility. Because, first we have to judge ourselves fairly enough to accept the way we are. We look deep inside to see the reality and the scars that make us this way, deep enough to accept the truth of it.

Looking upon these personal tracks is difficult—probably too difficult to do alone—but so liberating. May I suggest you find a new team of people who share some of the same scars and lean on each other?

Together, may you find happy tracking.

Fear and Fury

“Many combat veterans have learned that they are more afraid of themselves and their own actions rather than the actions of others.” (Hart, 2000, p. 106)

Reminder: For the next few weeks, this blog is dedicated to my reflections on a book by Ashley B. Hart II, PhD, called An Operators Manual for Combat PTSD: Essays for Coping.

The problem: People are desperately trying to kill me in violence that defies description. A problem can be defined simply as someplace else to go with no known way to get there. Combat is a problem.

The natural reaction to sudden violence of an ambush sprung upon you is to run. Don’t do it. Any ambush is an anticipation of that reaction with a plan to kill you in your flight. To run away is to die.

Another natural reaction is to hide, hunker down, freeze. Don’t do it. When our young soldiers did that in our Area of Operations, they took direct hits from rocket propelled grenades (3 dead and 11 wounded as best I can recall).

Survival depends upon immediate reaction to do the unthinkable. We turn into the teeth of the enemy. We face the fire and run over the ambush. It is definitely not natural, but it can save lives. It breaks the ambush and seizes the momentum.

We train and learn to survive violence by reacting with greater violence. All the emotion we can muster is necessary to run into those bullets and rockets trying to blow us to pieces. We learn to do the unnatural, and to do it with all the violence we can generate, in order to survive.

See the problem? When we feel ambushed, we react by our learned, conditioned behavior to face the attack and violently run over our attacker.

We react in fury. People around us don’t like that. It scares them. We appear as unnatural as zombies—and equally frightening. It scares us, too.

It doesn’t even have to be a real attack on us. It only has to be a perceived attack, and maybe not even one that is happening, but one we anticipate. The second sentence of Dr. Hart’s quote from above says, “But intrusive thoughts, thoughts of violent acts to deal with life’s frustrations can plague veterans.”

We are afraid of our own thoughts, afraid of the actions that may follow our thoughts.

We are trapped between our fear and our fury.

The fury allowed us to turn our rage from vulnerability to survival. It allowed us to use violence to destroy others so that we might live. It allowed us to return home.

We know what our fury can do.

Now we are afraid of what it might do because we know our trained reactions are so fast that the fury may be unleashed before we can stop it. So, we are afraid of ourselves.

Dr. Hart likes to tell us, “Only good people feel guilty.” We feel guilty for things we have done. There are ways to resolve that guilt. In my case, The Wall (Vietnam Memorial in D.C.) helped.

We also feel guilty for things we think and feel. But, we are afraid of these thoughts and feelings. We are afraid of the actions that might be triggered. We know the violence we are capable of perpetrating. We feel guilty for things we might do. These are more difficult to resolve.

Back to the Edge, that low-grade rage we hold onto instead of allowing ourselves to feel vulnerable. Why? Because, if we feel vulnerable, fury is unleashed faster that our minds can think. So, we attempt to avoid our thoughts and feelings.

We fail.

Maintaining the Edge protects us from those feelings of vulnerability, but recovery requires resolution of our guilt and fears. That increases the risk of unleashed fury.

How do you climb out of a hole? First, stop digging.

Now, ask for help.

News Blues

“We sure could use a little good news, today,” according to lyricsdepot.com, written by Charles Black, Rory Bourke, and Thomas Rocco, and sung by Anne Murray.

Yes, gatherings and remembering our troops and Veterans on special days helps; however, there are some precautions.

“One of the biggest sources of arousal or a trigger for combat veterans is a steady diet or exposure to the news.” (Hart, 2000, p. 68)

Reminder: For the next few months, this blog is dedicated to my reflections on a book by Ashley B. Hart II, PhD, called An Operators Manual for Combat PTSD: Essays for Coping.

One of the first things I did this morning, even as I prepared to travel half way across the country, was to bring in the daily newspaper. Yes, my eyes went immediately to the front page headlines: killing of a local police chief, arrest of a businessman for fraud—I stopped. Fortunately, the lead story was our high school graduation celebrations.

We are compelled to watch the news. In my limited view, it is a part of the compulsion to save the world, even while I am obsessed with freedom from such responsibilities. It is common for combat veterans to fixate on news stories (especially cable TV), to obsess on the stories, and to talk about them. They bother us.

It’s almost like a food allergy. As soon as we are exposed to any amount of certain kinds of news, we develop a craving. We can’t stop watching.

When the U.S. began Operation Desert Storm right after my birthday in 1991, I could not stop watching. Even then, I recognized that I had an unnatural fixation, but I was compelled. It seemed I thought if I didn’t stay with it, something bad might happen.

“No, I wanna go, sir. In case something bad happens, I wanna be there.” (Private Witt near the end in The Thin Red Line)

But, the reality is, we can’t do anything. Bad stuff happens, and we are helpless.

That’s the trigger, the feeling of vulnerability. We go into full survival mode of noradrenergic dysregulation, a wild ride or dinosaur dump of primitive brain (limbic system or the reptilian brain) control. Adrenalin changes our physiology and psychology, and it feels very uncomfortable for days.

The process is adrenalin leading to dysfunctional self statements (stinkin’ thinkin’ or wearisome worrying, as Dr. Hart says). He goes on to caution us, “Remember, hearing, reading, or watching the news will give you the blues.”

You can help. As you honor our troops and Veterans on Memorial Day or any other day, stay positive. Avoid talking about war, politics, wildfires, hurricanes, or dastardly deeds. Take a break from doomsday prophecies and character assassinations, even if the Veterans initiate it. Focus on something positive—say, graduation, a new baby, somebody coming home, an upcoming wedding, or the simple beauty around you, because it is there.


Dreadful Day

‘Tis mem’ry of that dreadful day,                                                    That lasts a hundred years,                                                               And grief for loss of youthful self,                                                   That bleeds a million tears.

Erv Barnes, 17 May, 2012

We were young, relatively innocent, and full of health and hope. Then, one day, we were old, experienced, and jaded to the core.

Reminder: For the next few months, this blog is dedicated to my reflections on a book by Ashley B. Hart II, PhD, called An Operators Manual for Combat PTSD: Essays for Coping.

“Who were you before you were exposed to the trauma of war?” (Hart, 2000, p. 62)

For many years, I rejected the notion that I could have combat PTSD. After all, my combat experiences had been brief and limited. I couldn’t believe that I deserved to be affected.

I am.

Maybe watching a fire base camp getting attacked for hour after hour, from the safety atop our team house, scared me. All I could do was coordinate the firing of our two little 105mm Howitzers.

Maybe watching whole families of Cambodians streaming south along the road by our camp, all their possessions in oxcarts, confused me.

Maybe saying goodbye to my Vietnamese and Cambodian friends when we had already evacuated most Americans from our Special Forces border camps saddened me.

I cannot say which time was my bad day at the war.

Others can. Some of my friends have horrific memories of the Tet Offensive of 1968, battles that raged not minutes or hours, but days. Each year as the anniversary approaches, they take steps to brace themselves for the wave of vulnerability and despair—and, perhaps, survivor guilt—that is inevitable. Their souls flash back to that time and relive the emotion, anger, and helplessness.

Holidays are difficult, special days such as Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Veterans Day. Maybe it’s the anniversary of getting sworn in (17 May 1968), or the day you left “Country” to return home, DEROS or Date Eligible to Return from Overseas (1 Nov 70). Maybe it’s other special days, family days of celebration including Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, wedding anniversaries, or birthdays.

After our first experience in battle in the jungle, while we paused for a break as we moved toward a clearing where we could evacuate wounded, we stopped for a smoke. The Sergeant confessed, cigarette shaking in his hand, “…I just realized them sons-a-bitches were trying to kill me.”

Dr. Hart explains (p. 65), “When you realized this, you lost your sense of being invulnerable and were overwhelmed with a sense of vulnerability. In that moment, your basic cognitions regarding how the world worked and what you needed to do to survive, changed.”

In order to survive, I needed to kill people.

There is no going back once that realization has crystallized. I had become a different person, and I grieve the Erv that I can no longer be, my pre-trauma self.

You can help. When you honor our troops and Veterans, you validate me. When you remember the sacrifices of my fallen comrades, you validate me. When you help our troops return to families and communities, find jobs, go to school, and buy a house, you validate me.

When you honor us on Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Veterans Day, you validate the reality and the importance of that loss of youthful innocence.

Saturday is Armed Forces Day. Thank you for honoring our troops and validating me. It helps. It really does.