IV. Introverts and the Long Haul Within

Continuing with the movie analogy of the past posts, I want to move directly to the sequel of The War Within II: The Endless Return.

At the end of that “movie,” the introverted combat veterans found themselves in a very painful position: seated at the “picture windows” of their souls, daring only to make “guerrilla raids” into the depths of their psychological beings (lest they be overwhelmed with the painful memories and emotions of The War Within), yet daring only to make minimal, if any forays into The Real World of relationships and accomplishments (lest they find themselves without sufficient emotional energy to participate fully in Real World activities–and therefore find themselves “blowing up” or “falling apart” from the strain of their emotional lack/hunger).

We will call sequel–the final movie in the series–The War Within III: The Well-Hinged Door.

Thankfully, even the title seems to promise that this movie will turn out to be more hopeful.

Perhaps the “movies” I’m discussing are direct analogues of the original Star Wars series. The first ends with a bang. The second ends with everyone staring out a window. And the third?

While I cannot promise a party with Ewoks and a fantasied reunion of Hayden Christensen and the late Sir Alec Guiness,, perhaps we can find something meaningful and worthwhile still.

Before we go to the “movie,” however, a pause for a recent encounter.

As of today, the veteran I have written about in several posts–most recently in 2K, 1 by 1 and “The Ghost of My Innocence”–admitted himself to a special treatment facility for combat veterans suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder. He’s glad to be there. I’m glad that he’s there. He’s ready to take up the new mission, i.e., the restoration of his life.

About two weeks ago, though, we had a very emotional encounter with each other. As I do with all the combat veterans I write about, I read to him the latter entry above, “The Ghost of My Innocence.” As I read off my computer screen, he was seated in a chair to my side, just out of my ready view. Thus, I didn’t get  a good look at him until I had finished reading the entire essay.

I found him staring at me, an odd mixture of incredulous and, what, awestruck, I guess, miles away from me and yet boring directly into my skull.

“I can’t believe you wrote that,” he finally said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

By his facial expression, I could tell that my question had registered. Yet in all other ways he appeared only dumbfounded–even, in a way, unmoved.

“I can’t believe I affected you like that. It’s . . . I don’t know what to tell you.”

I didn’t know what to tell him either at that moment.

“It’s true” was all that I was able to muster.

After another few seconds of staring at each other, he whispered, “It’s as if you did it, you know? You made it inside me. I don’t know how, but you did. And . . . I think I finally get it. If the door can swing in to let you enter, it can swing out to let me leave as well.”

The metaphor was so apt, so spot-on, it was my turn to be incredulous and, what, awestruck. Before I could say a word, he swallowed and shifted forward in his seat.

“Doc, I’m OK, but I . . . I think I’ve got to go. I . . . I need some time with this. I’m OK. It’s good. I just . . . I need some time.”

So did I.

Within minutes he had shaken my hand, and he was gone.

As I envision TWWIII beginning, both Willis and Hanks have returned to the front door of the combat veterans’ souls. They stand outside the window, looking in. Each combat veteran stands inside, looking out.

Through the window–thinner, less bulletproof than any of them had imagined–they talk. Sometimes it’s Willis who talks, no-nonsense, demanding. Sometimes it’s Hanks, the nice guy, yet no less demanding. Sometimes it is the veterans themselves who talk, wondering aloud how this is happening, why this is happening, wondering what the this that is happening even is.

All three talk of all the veterans have learned from Law, Kidman, even Brangelina. The two on the outside encourage the veterans on the inside to try one more time, to go back down even more deeply into their hearts, to tarry a little longer, to try to grab a bit more energy, a few more emotional provisions.

And if all remain patient enough, faith-filled enough, eventually the introverted combat veterans will again move inward, this time perhaps a bit  further along

Willis/Hanks remain at the window, however, no matter how long the veterans might be gone on their inward journey. They know that most importantly of all, they have to be there, right there at the window, when the veterans get back.. Otherwise the whole exercise will be  for naught.

The veterans return. They, Willis/Hanks discuss what the veterans experienced anew in those depths.  Together they see how many  more emotional energy “provisions” the veterans have brought back with them that time.  They Mond-morning quarterback, adjust priorities, goals, praise bravery and successes.

All  through the front window.

Eventually, as each round-trip inward occurs, the veterans inch closer to their front doors. Finally they experience that front door as opening. They assume it is Willis/Hanks pushing it in. Then they look down and realize that it had been their hands on the inner doorknobs all along,

Willis/Hanks both just stand there. Then all of a sudden, they’re inside.

The veterans assume that the two had just upped and walked inside on their own accord.  But with hands still on doorknobs, they eventually realize that, no, they themselves had just spoken, had just invited the two other men in.

The veterans head back into their depths. With Willis/Hanks now insider the door, the veterans penetrate even more deeply this time. They return. Willis and Hanks are still there. The veterans recount what they saw that time when they met their foe, their War Within. In their recounting–their psychotherapies–they tell about the nightmares that had awakened them just the night before, the ones that left their sheets wet with sweat, that left their partners staring at them, hesitant, one more time. Or perhaps they tell the story of the IED. The IED.

Both Willis/Hanks are moved by all they hear. Yet neither moves.

“I want to try outside a bit today,” the veterans finally say.

All nod, all walk through the door. The veterans walk forward, maybe even a step or two farther than they’d managed even that first time, that first break away from the auspices of The War.

They turn back to Willis/Hanks.

“I’ve got to go back inside. OK?”

Of course it is. They go back inside. If the veterans want, Willis/Hanks then accompany the veterans on their trek farther inside, until a certain point at which all parties know that only the veterans can continue. At that point, self-protection tactics are reviewed. The veterans go in.

They stay longer this time. They come back, tell whatever stories they need to tell. Willis/Hanks listen, absorb. Then when the veterans are ready to head back out, all do so.

The cycle continues. Each time the veterans venture further into their souls. They use the techniques they have learned. They stay longer in the quiet of their souls, their minds. They pick up more items of energy.

Afterwards, each time the veterans then go out farther into The Real World–but Willis/Hanks only go so far with them. Instead, Willis/Hanks stick close to the soul’s edge, ready to listen, to advise, to absorb when called, yet perfectly willing to let the veterans move forward as they wish for as long as they wish.

Just as the first time, when (primarily) Willis, then later Hanks intercepted/absorbed the initial heat of The War, Willis/Hanks continue to be ready to do just that for every ensuing cycle. As time moves on, however, they do not mediate  between the veterans and their individual Wars Within. Their job of interception is done.

But not their job of absorption. That’s where education moves from the cognitive to the experiential.

Every time veterans share with their Willis/Hanks what The War has threatened them with–the pain of the memories, the fear of the future with their still-somewhat-limited energy supplies (there’s only so much time in the presence of The War Within that even the bravest veterans can afford)–every time they see that the Willis/Hanks can “take it,” will not abandon them, will show them how to absorb the horrible, how to, in the words of the great Wilfred Bion, “metabolize” the horrible: then every time the veterans find the courage to go inside more deeply, outside more extensively.

And eventually, the veterans just put Willis/Hanks “on call,” to be available when needed for some extra demonstrations, some touching up of technique, just, if necessary, ever so temporarily for absorbing some particularly difficult wounds inflicted by The War Within.

And everybody’s just fine with that.

And so our story “ends,” ends with everybody’s knowing how the cycle works, everybody’s assuming that the veterans will keep pursuing their mission, now with greater and greater portions of their original passion, on and on and on.

Translated, Willis/Hanks are therapists “for the long haul.” They know that their importance lies less in what they know and more in who they are, in what they are willing to endure even in a small way so that the veterans can endure to whatever extent they must. The entire process is, to coin a phrase so au courant these days at the VA, “veteran-centered.”

Willis/Hanks know, however, that “veteran-centered” and “veteran-only” are two different terms. They know that, quite often, for extroverts the two terms are co-extensive, and they know that, for introverts, the two terms can, at times, be polar opposites.

But what about our introverted combat veterans at the conclusion of The Well-Hinged Door? Is everything “back to normal,” back to the days pre-deployment?

As with the extroverts, the answer, of course, is no. There can be, however, very important differences between the two groups–differences that, perhaps, only the veterans themselves can fathom.

As we noted earlier, the extroverted veterans can almost get back up to speed. By re-gaining their mastery of The Real World “out there,” they more and more can feel like their “old selves.” Never forget, though: they are changed, not only by the memories of what happened or by the existential/spiritual changes such memories must engender in a person. They are also changed because never again can they assume that their energy is theirs alone for both enjoyment and for distribution. Always they will have to remember: one day, the tractor beam of The War Within will find them again. Always, therefore, they’ve got to hold a portion of that energy, that fuel in reserve. As the years go on, as they exercise the techniques they have learned more regularly, more skillfully, they will need fewer and fewer reserves. But they can never close the reserve account.

Introverts, however–and especially military, combat veteran introverts–have got to face a fact, face it early, face it often, live with it: they will almost certainly never again have enough emotional energy/fuel to permit them the luxury of their pre-deployment, extended escapades in the joys of their pseudoextrovert (again, as Susan Cain puts it) selves. In other words, they will know beyond doubt (as will all those who knew them pre-deployment) that in significant ways they will never again be the same as they once were. No one will ever again mistake them for an extrovert.

Initially, this realization can indeed be distressing for  introverted combat veterans. It does not, however, have to remain so.

Introverted combat veterans who are recovering from combat trauma must simply learn that their mission has changed in appearance, but not in essence. They need to learn–in their hearts and guts–that their passion, their intensity, their fire did not die in that desert.

It simply must now be allowed to pursue the mission on its own terms, which are the terms of the passionate, often one-on-one, always reflective, introverted combat veteran. Introverted combat veterans must understand: no longer can they–nor, thank Heavens, must they–accept the mission of the “group,” the hooah as the only acceptable way to express their intensities and passions. They must reclaim–or, for some, claim for the first time–the inner “passion of quiet.” One does not have to be shouting war chants to go off to war. One can simply stand to the side, let the chanters chant, enjoy the chanters chanting–and then when the time comes . . .

One just does it.

That’s the Introvertese translation for Nike’s new, cross-cultural commercial. In fact, at the end of TWWIII, one does not see the words The End. Neither does one see the final words of  The Great Escape, i.e., Just do it.

One sees the simple phrase: And they just kept on doing it.

Trust me, fellow introverts: it’s a meaningful, worthwhile “ending.”

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