I got hooked in with a new therapist at my local Vet center. I am still adjusting to a different style and some new techniques. My new guy wasted no time diving at the core of the rats’ nest of emotions from my deployments. The past two sessions we have been talking a lot about regret and how I still carry things to this day. It is hard to let go. I had been much more focused on my therapy but over the past eight months since I moved away from the VA system (after completing Cognitive Processing Therapy and Prolonged Exposure Therapy) I could feel the weight coming back.
Taking out the sledgehammer
So my new doc and I are chatting a bit, reviewing some details of deployments and how I was feeling. I could tell he was starting to steer the topics with specific questions, when he stood up and said, ”I want you to try something.”
He had guided the conversation about a particular soldier that we lost. He repositioned the chair in the corner to opposite and in front of me and pointed to it saying , “He sitting right there. Talk to him. Tell him what you would’ve told him. What you want to tell him.”
There was no one in the chair but I swear it felt like a sledgehammer knocked down the last little bit of defense I was clinging to. I broke down and just thought about a million things. When I regained my composure I could feel him there. I was calm and I started to talk to him. (paraphrasing now)
“I’m sorry I never did this sooner. I want you to know how proud I am of you. You are good soldier and a better person and not a day goes by that I don’t think about you. I was a only a few blocks away when you’re killed and I still wrestle with the guilt. All the things you wanted to be, a Ranger, a Green Beret, I know you could have done it. I have thought a lot about what you would be doing now had things been different. I know I would be just as proud of you. Until I sat in this chair and thought about it, I had never realized that you went probably one of the exact ways you wanted to go. You went fighting with us against them. Wherever you are, know that you made me a better leader and a better person and you still do to this day. I will not forget you. I love you.”
It was exhausting.
And then, as the technique goes, I switched and sat in his chair. I imagined myself sitting in the opposite chair and thought of what I would have heard from him.
I hear from my old soldiers now and then. This is not gloating, but they say that they were honored to serve with me. The feeling is completely mutual. But until I imagined my soldier saying it to me I had a real hard time accepting the words of the living because I wanted to hear it so badly from the dead. As I ran through our conversation, I finally started to believe what others had said to me.
A new wall and lighter
By the end of the session I could feel the weight lifting from my soul. I still carry many feelings, but sitting from a slightly different perspective has made all the difference. There is still much work to do but my pack is lighter and I will carry on. My next assignment is a letter and I haven’t decided if I will share it here or not. Either way, I am dedicated to the long haul on this journey.
Gone but not forgotten.