I actually don’t have anything “new” to write about today, so instead I want to share this Facebook post that I wrote two years ago on Veteran’s Day. It’s a valuable insight into what many of our service members may currently be experiencing (or have experienced, in their past service), and an all-around good look at what it’s like to develop PTSD.
Although this post is just over two years old, I think the information is actually timeless:
Long read on what it means to be a war veteran. I promise you, it’s worth reading.
In January 2003, I was in the last year of my 5-year enlistment in the U.S. Navy, when my ship deployed to the Arabian Gulf with the first wave of Marines destined for Iraq. After we dropped more than a thousand Marines in Kuwait, my ship “did donuts” in the Gulf until it was time to take another wave of Marines back home.
From the moment we entered the Gulf until the moment we left, I lived in constant fear for my life. Literally I woke up every morning, certain that this was the day that I and every person on my ship was going to die.
Today, I can recognize that I wasn’t the only one who experienced that fear – not by a long shot. But at the time, it looked like all my shipmates were willing and able to serve in a combat zone, and I ALONE was paralyzed by my fear. (I don’t know if any of them even saw the fear in my eyes, as I tend to believe I was pretty good at hiding it – but I was terrified that someone would see it and would shame me for being a coward.)
I did my job everyday, and I stood armed watch on the outside of the ship every time my number came up, but I was sure that I was going to die, and I was not prepared to be in a place where I may have had to give my life in service to my country. I was NOT prepared to die, and I was absolutely convinced that everyone on my ship was going to, and there was nothing we could do to prevent it from happening.
Obviously, I survived. I did my job, I served my country, and I came home.
I got an honorable discharge, and my friends and family thanked me for my service, and I even got a medal (well, we all did, and if you’re a Marine or a soldier you can say I got a participation trophy, ’cause Lord knows you paid a heavier price than I did – but if you’re a civilian, shut your pie hole. Vets EARNED our participation medals, whether we served in war time or peace).
Anyway, I came home, but I came home with my fear, and I left the Navy with survivor’s guilt, and I never thought I could tell anybody, because I thought they would label me a coward. I thought that my civilian friends would think the military had “ruined me.” I thought my family would think I disappointed them. And I thought my fellow veterans would think I dishonored our nation.
And yet, I am one of the lucky ones. I deployed, in war time, to a war zone – but like most Sailors, I never saw combat, and I never lost anybody that I knew.
Still, I came home believing I had failed. I convinced myself that I was a coward, and I couldn’t stand the thought of anybody ever finding out (particularly my military friends.) I allowed myself to feel this way for THIRTEEN YEARS – partly because I thought I deserved it, and partly because I didn’t believe that anyone, including the VA, could honestly help me to work through it.
So, I withdrew, and I isolated myself, and I avoided situations that I thought would allow the people closest to me to “find out the truth.” I’ve lost more friends since I came home than I can count, because I couldn’t bear the thought of a single one of them discovering that I was, in fact, a coward. I basically lost 13 years of my life to fear.
A month ago, it all came out, and I knew I couldn’t keep it inside any longer.
Again, I am one of the lucky ones, because in that moment, I determined that I would find a professional counselor to help me work through my fear and my guilt. And I have found one, and for the first time ever, today, on this Veteran’s Day, I can look myself in the mirror and say that yes, I am proud of my service.
I know, now, that I did the job I was assigned to do, and that I served honorably and with courage IN THE FACE OF OVERWHELMING FEAR, and that my being on that ship made a difference to those who served alongside me.
I’ve still got a long way to go, but the genie is out of the bottle, and the bottle has been evicted from my psyche.
The only thing harder than facing my fears is sharing them with my friends and with the rest of my limited “Facebook world.” But, you know what? My fears are out there, and I actually feel relieved, knowing that I don’t have to carry this burden alone anymore.
So, I’ve put this out for all of you to read, for my own benefit, to show myself that I am NOT afraid ANYMORE.
That I have the strength to face my fears and to speak MY truth.
Take it as you will; I now OWN my fear and my guilt – and now, I can finally own my pride, and my service to our great nation.
As an aside, I ask that anyone who reads this, considers that in fact, I AM ONE OF THE LUCKY ONES.
Thousands of my brothers and sisters have paid a far greater price for your freedom than I ever did.
And I guarantee, a large number of those who have made it home, have NOT left the battlefield behind. Today, and every day for the rest of your life, THEY deserve your thanks and your gratitude, and all the support that our nation owes to the men and women who make the United States of America even possible.
If you know or think you know a veteran who is suffering, for God’s sake PLEASE help them. They carry a burden few of you will ever have to experience or comprehend. Show them that they don’t have to carry it alone.