by chris cannida, November 11, 2015
“It’s as if I’m addicted to it and it’s the thing I have to avoid at all costs”. I’ve heard some version of this statement from countless veterans sitting in my office over the years. Most are not talking about alcohol or illicit drugs. They’re talking about war. Recently, it was spoken by one there to support his spouse coming to me for adjustment counseling. The veteran himself had announced to me his disbelief that therapy would help him as well, though he believed it might be helpful to his wife as they learned how to process all that comes with loving a service member turned veteran.
When he made the above statement disclosing how he felt about war, it was during the fourth visit they’d made to my office. I’d invited him in to discuss ways he might help her along the journey. This former senior non-commissioned officer began our dialogue by telling me of a recent news headline depicting potential conflict in a land far away. I was familiar with the headline from the morning news, though veterans hear the news differently than the rest of us. Many of them shift into “response readiness” mode and instantly begin packing the mission essential mindsets for combat and survival. For many, this means there is little cognitive space left for reminders that a small rural community in America’s Midwest most likely doesn’t require such calculating thought and caution. I found myself negotiating how far I would let him take his ruminations with my awareness that he could easily re-traumatize himself if his memories and the present moment collided. I was just glad he was talking. When I could sense his breath become shallow, heard the vigilance in his voice, and saw his eyes widen as if he could see the barrel of the enemy’s weapon pressed against his forehead, I gently nudged him back to the present moment. He’d not signed up for any trauma treatment so I dared not begin to implement those steps.
I gently expressed my concern for his health and his soul’s need for reconciliation with a more peaceful existence, suggesting he consider coming to see me just a few times. Soldiers don’t care much for ambiguity. They need a ‘way-ahead’ plan, coordinates, and a sure path to the rally point where they find safety. Here I was, with all the surety that psychotherapy has to offer (basically, none) asking him to be vulnerable, take a risk. He’d taken his fair share of risks since 1992. To this day, he was paying the price. He’d not yet found his niche in the civilian world having transitioned after at least 8 deployments in his career. The ambivalence of civilian transitioning for this veteran outweighed the cost of uncertainties in Bagdad where he was at least surrounded by trusted battle buddies.
This awareness pushed me to think of all the support services we offer for veterans. Are any of them certain to bring healing, build renewed empowerment of self, and provide for them the needs of being heads of household, fully functioning members of the land for which they fought? No. So what do we do? We can offer security in our efforts by urging politicians, training healthcare providers, bearing witness to the veteran story so that we can have helpful understanding of their needs.
On this Veteran’s Day, 2015, take a moment to explore how you might offer solid efforts in the campaign to care for those who sign that blank check. Secure your efforts in supporting veterans by exploring a few of the venues that allow you the chance to give back –
PsychArmor.org – an awesome organization rising to the challenge of bridging the gap between our military and civilian communities.
Giveanhour.org – an organization that helps providers in the mental health community ‘give back’ by offering free counseling services to our prior and active duty service members.
Iraq and Afghanistan Veteran’s of America (IAVA) – Founded by an Iraq veteran, this organization’s mission is to provide new veterans support in the areas of health, education, and employment.