PTSD, God, and The World
They call combat trauma an illness. And it has symptoms—hyper-vigilance, exaggerated startle response, insomnia, quickness to anger, emotional numbness—the list goes on.
You can look it up.
But it’s one other thing, and you have to understand this.
PTSD is homesickness.
We’re supposed to go to war to come back to a peace we can enjoy. Putting the tools of death away, we’re enjoined to slip into the welcoming arms of a civilian world, secure in the knowledge that we’ve done our bit, and that now, it’s time to enjoy a well-earned rest.
And many combat veterans can do just that. A large part of the success of that the shrinks call re-integration is the degree of home-front support. After World War Two, a popular war if there ever was one, many combat veterans were able to find a measure of peace, and while troubled by memories, they found that, in their hearts, they could eventually accept a place in the civilian world.
They knew that the burden had been, at least to some degree, shared. The folks left in the ZI (Zone of the Interior—the States) had at least endured rationing and restrictions, and while none of that compares with combat, it’s something.
And most families knew someone who’d been wounded or killed. Sorrow was shared, too.
It’s different now. We have a professional military, not a conscript force, and it’s very much insulated from the civilian world. It’s Us and Them.
And when the military went to Iraq and Afghanistan, America went to the mall. That’s how it was perceived.
How do you come home to that? How do you come home from a hard, dirty, dangerous life, one in which you’d see things that would make the average civilian puke?
How do you return from knowing that each day might be your last, and that there are a lot of ways to get greased, and none of them leave a beautiful corpse?
It’s hard to return, because it’s shared over there, and back here in The World—no one gets it. Some try, but they just don’t understand.
We all want to be understood. We all want to be home.
And what you’d call hell, I call home.
Even if my health would allow it, I would not abandon my responsibilities here, my wife and my dogs, to head back to the fight. But if I was healthy, and had no ties…
I’d be gone, just like that.
Not to seek death. That’s not the point. But to find, once again, the only life that has deep, vibrant meaning for me.
It’s like the opening song from the old series, Cheers…everybody wants to go where everybody knows your name.
War knows my name. And Hell would welcome me back.Six tips for relating to someone with #PTSD. #DoNoHarm Click To Tweet
So what can the Christian Community do? Here’s a list of suggestions for relating to those who suffer from PTSD—not all will work for everyone, but at least one should. I hope.
• Never assume – don’t assume that because I’m scanning tree lines and rooflines, and that because I take a quick look around a door’s corner before stepping into what for me is the fatal funnel (doorways are great places to get shot)…don’t assume that I am damaged goods, that I probably drink, and that I may do drugs. That’s Hollywood. I’m different, not damaged. I’ve been places that you can’t imagine, and seen things you wouldn’t want to.
• Don’t try to relate – unless you’ve been in combat, you don’t know what it’s like, so don’t try to say you do. Most combat veterans will politely brush you off, some will be quite harsh…and none will be helped by this kind of well-meant attempt.
• Give me space – don’t tap me on the shoulder to get my attention, and don’t step suddenly into my peripheral vision. I probably won’t hit you (though you may think I’m about to), but you’ll see me turn faster than you’d think anyone could move, and you won’t like the way I look at you in that instant. Trust me.
• Ask your church to hire a pastor who’s a combat veteran – being able to get pastoral counseling from someone who understands both the pain and the attraction of living with sudden violent death at your elbow can be awfully valuable
• Don’t quote ‘warrior’ Scripture – I hate to write this, because it’s often so well-meant…but offering comparisons with David’s mighty men, for instance, can cause a huge push-back. It’s meant as respect, but can come across as condescension. If we know the Bible, we’ll find it. If we don’t, and show an interest, you can suggest certain books or psalms. The first verse of Ps. 144 works well for me…”Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for battle, my fingers for war…”
• Do recognize and build on shared humanity – I always loved dogs; still do. I like Impressionist painting, and metal music, and wildflowers. We can share those loves. We may be under a distant war’s shadow when we talk, but at least we’re talking.
I’ll never be fully home, and if the bell rings and I can answer it, I will.
There will be a part of me you’ll never be allowed to know, unless you were there.
But I can be your friend. I sure want to. After all, I’d die for you.
Andrew Budek-Schmeisser blogs about being the recipient of caregiving, marriage and life over at Blessed Are the Pure in Heart. He and his wife are owned by rescue dogs who assist him and inspire him. He has published one novel (you can find out more on his website) and a short book. For your FREE copy of his latest book Faith in the Night-Finding God When All Seems Lost, visit his blog.
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