God is in control;
My future is secure,
Jesus owns my soul.”
The journey continues…
One of the ways that I have begun my healing journey is through the Yoga Warrior class through the wonderful folks at the Military Family Ministry at Hope Community Church. Every second and fourth Thursday I continue to stretch the envelope on my ligaments (gently though) and learn to be aware of my breathing. We all do it but have you ever stopped, closed your eyes and concentrated on each breath as it enters and exits the body. Of course, this is similar to what Amy Gressler at Harbor Reins has been teaching me as well as part of the Equine Therapy. Being more cognizant of the NOW, the sensations of air moving past your body as well as the movement of the body (and the horse beneath you). Amy had me matching my breaths with that of the horse; it amazed me how once I’d done that, it seemed the stress and tension just flowed away.
Coming home from the Warrior Yoga class tonight, a song played on HIS Radio (107.7 here in Durham) that has always reminded me that no matter the pressure to DO, all I need to do is “…just breathe…” Breathe is one of those songs that not only is firmly based on Scripture, but is a reminder in today’s chaotic world, that peace IS possible. The mantras that the Yoga instructor has taught us I have replaced with another reminder that is far more biblical:
“I am in Christ,
God is in control;
My future is secure,
Jesus owns my soul.”
Amy sent me a self-evaluation to go over again (I’ve done it before as it is a good measure of where I am in the healing process). Considering where I was when I first started with Harbor Reins and now, the difference is night and day. Most of the nightmares, the self-loathing and ennui, are fading replaced by a knowledge of who I am in Christ and where I am NOW. It fills me with gratitude to my God for directing me as he has in ‘finding’ Harbor Reins and Warrior Yoga as those two have had much to do with how far I have come in the past months. I am also thankful to an incredible woman who has put up with me over the years (yeah, she even stuck it out while I was in prison for about 24 ½ years), but mostly I am grateful to a God, who took me in my filth and welcomed me with open arms. And, though I do continue to blow it (oy vey, how I still blow it at times!), he is there telling me, “Just breathe.”
The journey continues…
More and more across this nation, restaurants are offering meals at no or reduced cost to those who have served our nation. It is a wonderful gesture that often produces more than a little misunderstanding and even invective from those who seem to feel it is not right. One time, while standing outside one place (with a long line of other Veterans), a couple came out and seeing those waiting to go inside observed, “Look at all the freeloaders!” A retired MARINE, who was in line in front of me thought to do some attitude adjustment on them, but I cautioned him against such by telling him that we had served as we did to ensure the freedoms of such who are freeloaders (those who never served).
These meals offered in thanks for the service that Veterans have provided our nation, and we as a group do appreciate this, but some just don’t get it. A good friend (and well-meaning I am sure) commented on Facebook about a fellow Veteran, and I were eating at a local place, “…enjoying your free meal?” For the last several days, I’ve thought of that and in the interests of attempting to explain how I feel about the comment (and the offer of such meals annually). For a meal (or anything) to be “…free…” it has to have been, “…given or available without charge…” So, are these meals truly “…free..?”
While it is true that Veterans do not have to pay cash for what we eat at local restaurants, there is a charge that we do pay over and over and will continue to do so while we live. Those who have “…seen the elephant…” (a phrase referring to, “…gaining experience at a significant cost..,” initially referring to those men who fought in the Mexican-American War and the Civil War of the mid-1800’s. In the years that followed, this phrase fell out of use but has recently once again gained some popularity. This ‘elephant,’ in whatever form it may take, is something experienced that once ‘seen’ is not easily or ever forgotten.
Years later something unrelated or totally innocuous can bring to mind the horror of what was once experienced, the result being what is now called Post Traumatic Stress. In my case, something that happened 45 years ago came rushing back while I was attending a seminar on PTS. After listening to one speaker and while going to get some coffee during a break, a friend asked me what I thought of the speaker. Suddenly I was back in that nightmare and could do little but break down and cry at the memory.
Since that day I have been refused care at the VA (having ‘only’ been a Veteran of submarines and everyone knows they never saw combat), but through the kindness of several friends have begun Equine Assisted Psychotherapy, which has made a difference. I have battled depression and suicidal ideations at times and tried different pharmacological treatments, mostly without effect. I joke about how my hands shake, often suggesting to others who notice that I would be perfect working for an establishment making milkshakes. With my hand tremors, I have difficulty eating or drinking at times and despite medication there is little, if any, improvement.
So, getting back to my “…free…” meal; Veterans have earned the thanks of the nation we protected. Many of our friends never came home; some returned scarred physically while some, like me, retain wounds that seemingly remain invisible but no less real.
Yes, I did not ‘pay’ for that meal on Veteran’s Day, but I will continue to pay every day. When you see a Veteran receiving such consideration, please don’t envy us our ‘free’ meal. Trust me, we paid for it!
“Get over it!”
I’ve heard that many a time; have to confess to saying it myself at times either directed toward myself or some other person. Life can hurt, but to be successful it seems important to put a brave face on and ‘soldier on’; to keep on no matter how you may feel. I’ve done this for years, I thought somewhat successfully, until this past weekend when Kathy and I attended a workshop/seminar on Post Traumatic Stress and the impact it has on lives.
William Tecumseh Sherman once opined regarding war,
“I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation. War is hell.”
One of the speakers, a Marine combat veteran, stated it rather succinctly when he said that war kills the soul of any who participate in the hell that is all too real for those who have ‘seen the elephant,’ a descriptive phrase attributed to first being used in the mid to late 19th century as a way of describing someone who has encountered something (usually combat) that results in overwhelming emotion and disturbance.
War twists the psyche in unimaginable ways, often not surfacing for years or even decades when sleep disturbances, bursts of anger, paranoia and hyper-awareness can turn an apparent normal person into a quivering echo of their former self. It will take you where you do not want to go, but you cannot gainsay it’s overwhelming command and find yourself watching almost from a third person viewpoint as you either explode or implode.
Thankfully there is help, really only one solution for the horrific damage that war does to people. That solution, the only real hope for any so afflicted is to recognize your inability to handle it and to seek help outside of yourself.
Gary Cunha is the Suicide Prevention Coordinator for the Department of Veteran’s Affairs; his task is monumental because as of today we are losing one veteran to suicide every 62 minutes. He spoke on the spiritual component of obtaining help, of experiencing hope in the midst of despair. While speaking to experienced counsellors like Gary will help, there is only one solution to bring light into such dark places.
If you are a veteran, you are not alone. No matter what may have happened to you, there is help readily available through the Veterans Crisis Line. Call 1-800-273-8255, press 1 and you will have a ready ear who does understand to share your burdens. An additional resource for all Veterans (and one not directly linked with the VA) can be found here. For those who have not served; please, pray for our military and veterans and thank God that you have been shielded from the horror and hell that is war by those who volunteer to face it for you.
“This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘Tomorrow is Saint Crispian:’
Then he will strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.’
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day…
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.”
King Henry V, Act 4. Scene III by William Shakespeare
There is a brotherhood among those who have ‘seen the elephant’ in its many guises; my own service in submarines provided one particular episode on my first patrol that I’m still not sure whether I can discuss it publically, but that those who were there can and should stand tall as we did our duty that day at risk of our lives and all we hold dear. The biggest enemy we had in the boats was the ever-present, implacable sea whose pressure always sought to force a way into our steel tube, but the Soviets and their allies provided some moments of challenge as well.
For my brothers who fought our nations’ enemies in other areas as well as those who stand facing our enemies today, may the reading of the speech attributed to King Henry V by Shakespeare give you courage and well-earned pride at your service. Liberty is costly; those who enjoy the freedom that is theirs by right as citizens of the United States are debtors (acknowledged or no) to those who have once written a blank check to the government, especially who cashed out in their blood.
In a recent lesson at the Chapel Hill Bible Church, James Abrahamson while teaching on ethics used a quote from the movie, Saving Private Ryan, where the central character asks his wife this question, “Did I live a good life?” A very poignant question in light of how just previously in the movie (a flashback to events in which Ryan was rescued by a platoon led by an officer played by Tom Hanks, of whom most had been killed during the effort to find Ryan) Captain Miller (played by Tom Hanks) lay dying of his wounds, he grabs Ryan and tells him, “Earn it!” referring to the sacrifices of his men who were killed ensuring he would return home.
This hammered me as few things could; I've seen the movie and did not recall either quote, but looking back online saw that these two quotes did indeed occur, the turmoil they have caused within my own heart is beyond description. These two brief sentences seemed to highlight a struggle I've had recently; on one part I recognize that nothing I can do can earn the grace God has given me in Christ, but how to answer the question that the older Ryan asks his wife? Dare I ask that of anyone, even myself?
I did serve in the military; both in the Navy as a nuclear-trained electrician mainly on board a ballistic missile submarine and in the Army Reserve as a field medic while going to school at UNC. My career as a nurse and paramedic were abbreviated by an egregious decision which led to my being incarcerated following my causing a patient’s death in ICU. To many (most it seems considering how I have remained unemployed since my release) that one decision erases all the ‘good’ that I've ever done. As I related this once to a friend, it seems the feeling among the vast majority of folks is “…once convicted, always condemned!”
So, how would I answer the question Ryan asked his wife? How would those who know me answer it? Dare I ask it?
There are many around me that seem in some kind of rush to get somewhere; there have been far too many times when I too have fallen to the lie that a frenetic pace is mandatory in life today. Modern technology regarding transportation, communication and just enabling us to “multi-task” seem to push us to do more in less time than ever thought possible. Hurry, hurry, get it done and move on to the next task or duty; never stopping until we lie in a casket, cold and dead, no longer in a rush to do anything, but far too late to enjoy everything.
I've been listening to Chuck Swindoll in his series on the life of Abraham and over and over again the theme of quietness and being still comes through the teachings and the Scripture cited. God tells us to “…be still and know that I am God..” (Psalm 46:10); there are 26 admonitions of this nature within the ESV, many referring to the same injunction in Psalm 46:10, that we are to cease from striving (the meaning in the Hebrew) and just know, that is revel and rest in the knowledge that we are not in charge, God is.
Since my release in May of 2012, I have at times felt an almost impossible to resist urge to go on to my next application; to rush from one job fair or help meeting to another in the hopes that somebody would give me a chance at full-time, meaningful work and (dare I hope) a career. Why this madness; why do I believe that such would be fulfilling in and of itself? Yes, additional income would be wonderful and much appreciated by our budget (from the French word meaning to have more month than money), but is it necessary?
During this time of enforced idleness I have wasted many hours in frivolous pursuits (the trap of the watching and re-watching of episodes of different programs I like [such as NCIS] or even ‘educational’ programs on National Geographic), all the while just sitting there like a bump on the proverbial log (or tuning into the log). I have sought to justify this inactivity by pointing out my volunteer work with the USO-NC, Our Children’s Place, as well as searching for new venues to put my hours into in the area. All these are great in and of themselves and I will continue in them at some level, but all were causing me to face outward from the One who loves me more than I could understand in this life. Facing away from Him, even for a ‘good’ reason or cause, had me looking into darkness, but His gently persistent manner in speaking to me through such venues as Chuck Swindoll, different programs I’d catch on BBN and especially the teaching I receive on a weekly basis at the Chapel Hill Bible Church has helped me to realize that I can do these volunteer activities without facing away from God. These can and should become a type of ministry and with that outlook I have found a new energy in that work that previously had been little more than a drudgery that I plodded through.
Additionally, with this and other forms of ministry that may be opening to me, I have also begun considering starting a business that will allow me to use my skills as a photographer (novice as they are in comparison to some that have been teaching me) to not only be a help to many of the above cited organizations, but also as a source of income for our family. It’s exciting to see and feel how God is opening my heart and mind to these and other possibilities; I look forward to each day now with a joy that is hard to describe and I especially enjoy sharing my journey with others via this blog and other media.
Thanks for sharing in this and for coming back to this blog; stay tuned, this could really start to get exciting!
It always amazes me the selflessness of those who come through the RDU Center of the USO of North Carolina; many have served multiple tours in combat, yet they seem embarrassed by the simplest praise or thanks we give them for that service. How different the response of those that most of society heaps adulation upon; they not only expect it, they are often upset and voice their displeasure openly that their ‘due’ is not given them! Why this difference between those pseudo-heroes of stage and screen versus those whose lives are in jeopardy; why the incredible hutzpah versus the incredible humility?For those who have ‘seen the elephant’ (in its’ various forms), there is a gratitude that one has survived the experience and any adulation accorded to them is rather unnerving; call it survivors’ guilt or some such term, but it is unmistakable that our heroes do not see themselves as such. They state “I was just doing my job” and wonder at all the attention we seek to lavish upon them in sharp contrast to the stars of the ‘action movie’ genre who take themselves altogether too seriously. One particularly egregious example that comes to mind is when a particular ‘heroic’ actor opined that his work on a particular movie was akin to serving in combat in Afghanistan! Another actor, Mark Wahlberg, took him to task and law suits were threatened over Mr. Wahlberg’s comments about the other actors’ inane comments.
The real heroes just shrug such nonsense off, but the wounding must be there as I can recall an incident where I was returning from a trip to the ‘elephant’ and while approaching the TWA counter at San Francisco International was spat on three times. Thankfully I did restrain my anger, but remember feeling shame at wearing my country’s uniform and that feeling lasted for years! One of the reasons I volunteer with the USO-NC is to ensure that our heroes are treated as such and I really enjoy doing this.
So, I guess my point to all of this is to keep it real people! Honor those who have and are serving and when you hear the folks from Hollywood speaking of their ‘sacrifices’ to bring the public, give them the attention they are due…the sound of crickets and silence.
here to edit.