In combat we were always provided something to release our emotions or frustrations. Missions and free time let us discharge not only our weapons, but our pent up frustrations. Yelling, shooting, driving, crying, walking and many other releases were all at our disposal. They were standard issue. In the staccato of combat, a rhythm existed where we could gauge and guess when we needed to pull the release valve.
However, as a civilian, life is so unpredictable by comparison that we as Veterans have a hard time adapting to a continual set of challenges at irregular and less predictable intervals. We miss the neat bookends our tours provided us to bracket the ups and downs combat threw at us. At home the issues build up and we don’t have the markers set to know when to release.
Previously I have referenced the pressure that builds from within our core. I think I can describe it and it’s origin more. I think I know the sources of the outward pressure. (A pressure, mind you, that can at times seem infinitely more powerful than the raw strength of mother nature.)
I believe it lies with the emotions tied into what we witness and our participation in a war that leaves us feeling ambivalent towards our accomplishments. Our participation and witness, passively and actively, are forever in conflict. We know in our heart of hearts what is right: defending the defenseless, giving aid to the sick, serving justice. Yet in combat we see so much that is wrong or unacceptable collateral damage to our pursuit of justice. The conflicts mix together and become inseparable yet the pace of combat forces us to endure for the sake of survival.
I remember the first time I saw dead children. I remember it because I can still see it. Helpless feet dangling from bloody blankets whisked past me in a futile attempt to revive what was left. The stark splotches of thick red blood on the white canvas outlined a frail and small person. It was winter time and cold. Their bare feet were exposed because they had literally been blown from their shoes. The image is always there and the emotional sorrow applies an outward pressure that is unstoppable. I cannot remove the image. I cannot stope bearing witness to those lives cut short. Looking through a narrow lens you may observe the deaths of children as merciful or sorrowful or the will of God or bad luck. But we did not fight in that narrow lens. All these years later the questions I refused to ask or logic I did not question still ring from the emotional pressures. Emotion echoes the same simple and brutal questions: why the f#ck were we there? Did we help? Did our presence here cause this? The unknowable answers feed more questions and half answers raise the emotions even further. In combat when we faced these horrors we quickly turned to an argument that was simple.
We clung to the honor bound argument that we were Soldiers and it was not our lot to question. We push the logic further that we stood and fought for our fellow Soldiers whom embody our values and reciprocate our solemn and vital duty.
Then one of them dies and the arguments erode.
From experience, I can still picture my comrade vividly. I see him mangled yet peacefully laid out beneath a flag for his final trip home. The cot he is serviced on brings together the immediate violence of death and the tranquility of his preparation for the trip to the thereafter. He is with me forever. The questions of purpose return with his imagery and the simple answers are unknowable. I, as a Veteran with PTSD, try and feel hope, but the simple fact is doubt remains. The logic of good and evil, of right and wrong, eats its way and lives at the center of the pressure. I cannot help but question, consciously or unconsciously, which side I lived on how I will be judged. So the pressure grows.
Once you have seen things so vividly and so often it is impossible to suppress the kernel of doubt that is tied to the emotion that bubbles out and into our daily lives. I live with fear and doubt and sadness and anger and I fight it with hope and optimism and determination.
How do I keep from exploding?
I just explode smaller and more frequently. ( Like the Hulk in the Avengers, I’m always Angry) I execute a controlled vent. To do that I take the hard look inside and I challenge myself to be true to my character and embrace what has happened. I have found and use the new releases that I have cultivated in the years since completing therapy. I write. I work out. I talk with my wife. I space out. Sometimes I yell. Sometimes I yell at my dog. Sometimes I yell at my kids. But the negative outlets, like yelling at my kids, focus me to rethink and rework where my energy is going. When I challenge and accept my emotions, I can release the pressure in positive ways. I can vent and I can carry on. Though too long away from addressing those emotions or simply choosing to ignore them is dangerous. If I don’t pay attention the pressure can pile on exponentially and push me to a place that is very dark very quickly.
Insights into Suicide
I think those that choose suicide are looking for the release and are under such pressure they cannot see other ways to vent. Pressure builds in fits and starts. If you follow the news, you know that the VA, through gross ineptitude, requires us to wait for help upon our return. It requires us to endure more pressures from a society that looks very foreign to us.
I imagine that the clock runs out and the extreme pressure forces us to look at final options of survival, or an escape.
We can head these off. I am convinced. But to block this option for our returning men and women it will take a larger community, focus and effort.
I am still beating this drum. Visit the page, sign up to walk, help those in need. We are here on Facebook.
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