Written by David Hammer | July 19, 2017
I suspect that at some time in our lives, many of us have heard this statement from someone we know. Usually when I’ve heard it, it’s been in the context of someone having done something hurtful or selfish in a way that is so stupid, impulsive, or thoughtless that the offender is trying to distance himself/herself from it. The offender can’t “own it” in his/her mind, even though, “I’m sorry,” probably was mumbled instinctively when consequences of the act came bouncing back.
Since I began interacting with other veterans carrying the invisible wounds of war, I’ve heard the statement often, but from a different perspective and cause. The veterans truly do not feel the way they know is their pre-war “normal.” Their experiences in war often have robbed them of their humor, love of life and compassion. They are numb and wounded in the heart and soul, and they are not themselves. Added to the burden is the conundrum that they also can’t forgive themselves. They feel detached from themselves and detached from society. They feel alone in their pain, and often they feel the pain is deserved. Their innermost feelings are dominated by anxiety, guilt, shame, or depression. Their emotional isolation gives them no pathway to begin to find healing. The have lost touch with their core, and their core is their spiritual compass, fuel tank and guidance system. Their future looks unbearable to them, and the daily frustration can be almost beyond description.
Some veterans medicate themselves with alcohol and/or drugs and others become workaholics to ignore the pain. Some stay “stuck” in their pain and confusion, while too many, seeing no way out, take their own lives.
If these soul-wounded veterans talk about their pain, often it’s to themselves in their dreams or perhaps to another veteran they know “gets it.” The other veteran in this conversation might hold his/her own very personal and unique soul wound. Each understands the general nature of the other’s wound. So, the veterans may exchange the stories with each other that they won’t share with non-veterans. This story-telling usually does not promote healing.
The veterans have been trained to own their own pain, to be responsible for it, and to “suck it up” for the good of the combat unit. “Don’t complain, don’t be a wimp, and don’t let your weakness endanger others,” is the mantra. This might keep them focused and alive in combat, but at home after the war, it blocks the healing process and deepens the pain. They share with each other because they have to tell someone, and they trust only another veteran. They also fear the damning judgment of civilians who don’t understand what was necessary to survive in the killing fields.
Each human develops his/her unique moral code on the basis of both personal traits and external influences. The moral code is practiced through the filtering influences of personal and societal values and emotions. In the military, particularly in combat, everyone is under very demanding pressures and behavioral expectations. They are trained to think, move and react in the same ways to accomplish the common goal in specific situations. In combat, the most important shared goal is, “Let’s get each other home alive.” With the exception of first responders (police, firemen, medics) and some health care professionals, the majority of civilian occupations do not have the specter of “life and death” riding upon the outcomes of their work, nor are the pressures to conform to a certain behaviors so pervasive and consistent. So most civilians haven’t experienced and don’t understand how the veterans came to feel the way they do.
The isolation the veterans feel when returning home is not entirely self-induced. Some of it results from losing contact with the people with whom they trained and fought. As significantly, the returning veteran finds himself/herself now among civilians, only one percent of whom served in the military. The veteran often feels like a stranger in strange land, like the only dandelion on the golf course fairway.
Recent research (Church, 2016) shows that human behaviors such as happiness, depression and reactions to people and situations are controlled by unconscious “triggers.” Church refers to the triggering points as “set points,” and reports that the set points have both biological and behavioral origins and controls. Prolonged exposure to external events can establish behavioral set points. These set points can be “reset,” but specific healing modalities must be used, and not all modalities and processes are equally effective for all people.
The Healing Circles of All the Way Home are designed to construct a sacred place of trust within which the morally wounded veterans can tell their personal stories of combat with honor, affirmation, and acceptance, and in a complete absence of negative or condemning judgment. The circles contain other veterans and civilian “persons of strong heart.” The civilians are there to provide the diverse, caring, and compassionate community the previously has not found in civilian life. The purpose of the healing circles is not specifically to heal the veterans, but to allow the veterans to “touch their wounds” through the story-telling. When the stories are told and received with honor, forgiveness, affirmation and compassion, the clouds of self-doubt, self-blame, shame and remorse begin to lift. At this juncture, the veteran again feels part of society, and can begin the introspective, reflective healing work that must be done “from within” by each individual. The healing circle empowers the veteran to touch his/her heart and soul in a way not previously possible.
Amazingly, the process is effective. Those who have come, sat, and talked have begun their walks “All the Way Home.”
Church, Dawson. 2016. Set points: The Unconscious Triggers Governing our 8. Energy Psychology 8. Vol. 2.