Very Different Journey, Very Different Hero (IV)

So, no longer fully comfortable in the Land-of-Those-Who-Know-and-Heal, our psychiatrist takes up the challenge of listening to War, traveling with the combat veteran to find out, in some small way, what War has been, is, and likely ever shall be.

Or so he says.

“So,” says the combat veteran, “let me tell you about me and War.”

“Thank you. Yes, so how bad was it?” the kindly psychiatrist inquires.

“How easy to fall into old habits, eh, Doctor?”

Our good psychiatrist turns to his right to see not Dr. Edward Tick now, but someone even more commanding in presence and tone: an Elder Warrior.

So I have to ask you, Doctor: what is it?  Are you going to walk with this veteran as s/he tells this story, or are you just going to watch him/her do so?

“I beg your pardon?” the psychiatrist asks.

Remember, like any good military man or woman, that veteran got into all this precisely because of a desire to protect, protect their families, their nations, the victims of aggressors, their fellow fighting brothers and sisters. Combat veterans will protect you, as well, if you ask them to, whether in word or in deed.

“And your point?”

The veteran has been clear to you, whether or not you fully heard it or understood it. Do you want to know of War, the vet has asked you, or do you really want to know of War?  By your asking the veteran how bad it was, you are already telling the veteran’s story by assuming you know an ending that the veteran has yet to reveal to you. The veteran has not yet told you it was bad. You told the veteran.

If at any point  you take control of a veteran’s story, start making assumptions and acting on them before the veteran has reached that ending, s/he will assume that you’ve decided that you’ve gone far enough on this journey with him/her, and whether or not there might be more to say about War, the veteran will fall back in line and assent to your rank of professional authority, just as the veteran would have assented to a chain-of-command superior.  All will once again appear as if it were in order. The veteran will act as if your ending is the one true ending. Whether or not it is. All will, once again, appear to be on the right track.

For a few moments, the psychiatrist and Elder Warrior look at each other.

And as you know, dear Doctor, more than one battle has been lost precisely because those with the rank set up situations in which those without the rank protect those in power from truths that the ranked ones might have been less-than-willing to hear, let alone believe.

It’s a time-honored tradition, good sir.

A few more moments.

Always remember, this is supposed to be your story, Doctor, with you as the uncertain Protagonist. The veteran, however, will always follow your lead. The veteran will make it his or her story whenever the going might get too tough for you, when whatever the veteran has to tell you might be a little too challenging to hear. He or she will take that heavy rucksack of “protagonism” off your back, in other words, and carry it for you so that you can breathe more easily in the long, flowing robes of the Wise Mentor.

A few more.

“War is messy, sir. As is recovery from it. As a civilian, your job indeed is to pave a road back for this veteran to return to hearth and home. That construction project, however, does not automatically grant you the authority—or even the power—to guide that veteran back on that road.

Elder Warriors do not mince words. They’ve met too many doctors.

Remember, good doctor:  helping to diminish fear is not the same as guiding home. Lest we forget, this story started at the point at which you had already done for this veteran what you could about fear. You’d already signed your prescription. Many of your colleagues had already done their therapies. You were the one, sir, who asked what more you might be able to do with the remaining time on your hands.

Not the veteran.

Given the choice, the veteran might very well have said “Thank you for your time, Doc,” and walked out.

After all, sometimes the old insult is indeed true:  seen one shrink, seen ’em all.

The psychiatrist shifts in place.

Guiding is our job, sir, the job of those who have gone to War before and found a way to re-live our life stories in light of it. We appreciate all your work on moral injury. We’re living with it, after all. We’ll be glad to let you know when you’ve hit pay dirt.

Not the other way around.

You’re a civilian, sir. On this road back, long after all the meds and therapies have done what they can do, your job is simply to accompany and to welcome.

Ultimately, for this veteran, in order for him or her finally to come home,  we, the Elder Warriors, get to wear the long, flowing Mentor robes.

Even though this does appear to be a distinction that you and some of your colleagues sometimes have a challenge accepting as valid.

Both veteran and Elder Warrior stand at the Threshold of the Journey and look at the psychiatrist.

Apparently stories of War are harder to get going than what the good doctor might originally have imagined.

The psychiatrist turns to the veteran.

“Let’s start again, shall we? Tell me…really…of War.”

And now the real story begins.

More to come.

Very Different Journey, Very Different Hero (III)

“Well sir, with all respect: do you really want to know about War?”

“If I say yes, veteran, then what?”

Talk about a couple of questions that can turn an average day into one anything but so. For the answer to the latter comes not from the veteran, but from Life itself.

“Then, Doctor,” says Life, “your story might begin.”

Remember: any well-made story starts with a problem and ends with the Hero’s somehow resolving (or not) that problem, after having faced the problem head-on. Ideally, by solving the problem, the Hero makes life better not only for him/herself, but for others as well. A little communal healing is a good thing for all concerned, after all.

So,given that our psychiatrist really knows little about War, about what War itself–being around it, in the middle of it, from it—feels like, in body, in mind, in soul, we might ask: how can that knowledge end up being helpful, for him, for others, for anybody?

Here, let’s get back to Dr. Ed Tick.

In his works, Tick takes three strong positions.  First:

Only Warriors can fully bring Warriors home. Non-warrior professionals might be able to help restore the Warrior, at least somewhat, in body. But only Elder Warriors can show Younger Warriors what has to happen in order to put War in its proper place in the heart, in the soul.

He doesn’t mince words. Professionals are free to disagree. Therein begins the discussion.

But he’s not done there. Second:

If only Elder Warriors can guide the Younger Warrior back home, only Civilians, those who have tended the hearth fires, can let them know, in body, mind, and soul, that to Home they are welcome.

And why is that the case? Third:

War is an experience beyond others, even other traumas. Natural disasters carry with them the dread of how unpredictable and short life can be. Violent attacks carry with them the horror of how selfish and cruel people can be.

War, on the one hand, brings with it both truths, held together in a dread and horror that is so personal, yet so impersonal; so one-by-one, yet so massive-all; so human, yet so god-like; so vulnerable, yet so powerful; so pitiably worthless, yet so astoundingly worthwhile; so one, yet so the other, adjective after adjective after…

War is something that one can only stand before, stand within, and then, if one is still left standing, turn and stand outwards toward a very different world, knowing that behind one is the most perverse Garden of Eden imaginable, a World unto itself, awful and awe-filled. One rejoices that one has been banished East of it. And one wonders whether that angel with the fiery sword might not be open to a small bribe, no biggie, just a little something to let one vet back in, just for a quick…

So, we must ask ourselves, this psychiatrist must ask himself: do we want to welcome that veteran back to the Home hearths?

Do we prefer to tell ourselves that the veteran has become, because of War, who we could never become had we gone there ourselves, had we not let him go in our place?

Or do we dare imagine that, yes, even we—even I—having entered War, might have considered a quick turn back  and might have eyed that angel with the same thought?

If we, if I dare to imagine that? Then, my friend, we have a story on our hands.

More to come.

 

 

 

Plus ça change . . .

plus c’est pareil.  Or so say the French.

In other words, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Meaning what, you might ask? Well, two things.

First, the change:  Yes, indeed, finally I have finished a draft of Beam Me Home, Scotty!: How Star Trek Can Help Us Make Sense of the Brain, PTSD & Combat Trauma. Click on that link, and you’ll get a PDF file.

What a change. I finally got it done.

In the future, I’ll likely record portions of the story and add them to blog entries. Who knows: maybe even I’ll do a whole performance and put that on as well.  We’ll have to see. But for now, and for any who are interested, there it is. Feel free to read. Feel free to download. I hope that you find it helpful.

Now, as for staying the same…

As any of you who have been following for a while know, over the past three or so years, I’ve not found myself as able to write longer essays about my encounters with the veterans I’ve had the honor to serve. Working during those years with active-duty soldiers, it became too difficult to maintain confidentiality, plus, as I’ve said elsewhere, I wasn’t quite sure exactly what I was hoping to accomplish with the essays.

During that entire time, however, I continued Listening to War, what had been the tentative title I had chosen for a collection of those essays. As a I return to a less conspicuous work, I find myself wanting to return to an old way of writing.

Plus c’est pareil.

In these past weeks, as I’ve enjoyed the changes in my own personal life, I have also reflected on the work of Dr. Edward Tick, whom I had the pleasure of hearing and meeting several weeks ago. I have long recommended his seminal work, War and the Soul: Healing Our Nation’s Veterans from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and I enjoyed hearing him speak of his most recent work, Warrior’s Return: Restoring the Soul After War.

Dr. Tick has long championed the idea that Western society has forgotten how to care for the warriors we send out to fight in our names. Even worse, we have, for the most part, even declined to accept fully our indispensable role in our having sent them into war—and thus our indispensable role in helping them return.

And what, according to him, is an indispensable part of that role?

Listening. Really listening. Listening in order to learn, to be changed, not just in order to teach or to change. Listening until it hurts. Listening for as long as it takes to listen.

And then fully taking responsibility for what we have heard.

I am no stranger to psychotherapy. I “grew up” in it an older time, with older teachers. From the beginning, I was taught that listening was, is, and always will be the greater part of doing.

But even we old-timers have to be reminded of what we know.

And so, I return to Listening to War. Even more, though, I hope to push myself to listen (and to write) not to show how smart or skilled I might be, but rather to show how, perhaps finally, I know not only my obligation, but even more my honor to make someone come alive inside my soul, no matter how much that might hurt, so that a combat veteran who once had to hurt in the body and the soul can know that, yes, what happened was real and, even more, what might one day happen in its place can be filled not with horror, but with hope.

If an old man in northern Indiana, of all places, is willing to feel the truth, then hopefully much younger men and women (and yes, older men and women as well) might begin to believe that old truths can be made into new ones, old tales of tragedy can be retold as tales of meaningful life.

And that the crew of the USS Enterprise can boldly go where once combat veterans, young and old, had feared that they never could go before.

I am a most fortunate man, in my family, in my work.

More to come.

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