Do not miss a heartbeat; dare not blink. Know what needs to be done and follow through no matter what happens. Do not hesitate; there is no room for fear or even a millisecond of weakness. It is your oath to watch their back; it is theirs to watch yours. Hesitating will get you killed. Or worse; it will get your buddy, your best friend or your entire squad taken out. Mistakes are not just unacceptable, they are deadly. Do not fuck it up!
Values become ingrained like a second coat of armor. Among many things taught, we learn:
Suck it up figure it out get it done soldier on
trying is not good enough mistakes lead to disaster weakness is deadly
bring your A game 24/7 rely on the training – do not think
sleep with one eye open there is no room for excuses
prepare for the worst, hope for the best there is no room for emotions
a soldiers life is no longer theirs – the mission is the only thing that matters
These techniques and skills are useful on the battlefield. They are useful when a soldier has to ignore their inner humanness, forget the human connection and take the life of another; or be the one who makes the decision to tell someone else to take the shot/make the kill/set the bogey. On the flips side, these are also useful thoughts and techniques when one is charged with the duty of saving others. Be it a recovery mission, a drop in medic or a nurse on a standard operation unit base that is struck by a disaster. These thoughts and techniques will save a soldiers life and the lives of others.
The military is good at stripping a human down to their basic brain and rebuilding them from the ground up. They do this with intention, knowing the ramifications of their job. They and fellow military members rely on each and every member of their squad to pull their weight and do the job right the first time. If a soldier cannot perform under intense stress/duress, more than just that soldiers life is at stake. It is not a game!
This is not to say, everyone who is in the military is an upstanding individual, simply doing their job. Just like in any other career field, people with not so good intentions fly in under the radar, infiltrate the system and reek havoc on anyone they come in contact with. I mean, if you are an individual who gets off on hurting or killing others, what better organization is there to join? These individuals are able to intimidate others into keeping their secrets, sometimes for several years, even with the loss of lives taking place. Sometimes torture and death happens and the hands of these individuals. Making the military experience even more complicated. Causing trauma on top of normal military stress or preexisting trauma.
Let’s also not forget there is still a space for human error as well, because regardless of being a soldier and regardless of the extensive training a soldier goes through, accidents still happen. When one is playing deadly games in order to prep a soldier for facing the actual enemy, mistakes are made and yes, people die or become permanently injured as a result.
10 U.S. Code § 502 – Enlistment oath
“I, __________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”
It is almost a guarantee, that those who enlist will come out different people than when they went in. If they are lucky, they will have a good support system or will still be strong enough to reach out for the help they need. However, many cannot shut off the amygdala part of the brain, turn off their fight/flight response which has become permanently engaged, or uproot their extensive military training. The military, releases these soldiers into our public community system in different states of mental and physical well being. There is no transitional period, where a soldier is reoriented to the community and assisted with the unpacking of the load they carry. Inevitably, if they did not come out of the military with PTSD, they will contract it as a side affect of trying to learn how to live in a society that does not understand them, care for them, support them or protect them.
Suddenly, a soldier discovers every thing about who they are and how they have developed, is wrong. People are either scared of them, cannot connect with them, or shame them for their behaviors and self-created coping skills. Some try to fake it until they make it, hiding their stress and troubles deep within them. Friends and family will not be able to tell anything is wrong (military training skills at their finest) until one day suddenly, their loved one is gone, or becomes so withdrawn they disappear mentally. Others give us quite a fright by engaging in drugs, alcohol, dangerous activities, anger, bullying, harming others, or engaging in self harm.
Many take their lives, in one way or another. Some commit suicide quickly and others do it slowly over the span of a few years. However, there are those who find a new purpose and learn to reinvent themselves, using some of the skills already in their toolbox, along with the addition of new skills. Learning when, where and how to use their military knowledge and skills, and when, where and how to deploy their new skills. Not all military skills are transferable to the private sector/public community, and learning to let go of or adjust them appropriately is important.
I am a Gulf War Era Veteran of the United States Air Force, honorably discharged with medical disabilities. I am becoming a clinical mental health practitioner. I am walking my own journey of discovery and working through my own demons. I have been to hell and back again. I know there is more to who veterans are, than just their military trauma, or remnants there of. I also know there is more to life and things can get better and often do get better with help.
I want to work with veterans to turn trauma into personal triumph.
If you are a military veteran and you need to talk to someone, I am here currently for peer to peer support at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you need the assistance of a clinical professional, I may be able help make the connection! Once I am out of training and licensed, I will be able to provide professional services personally. Also if you have some time, please check out www.maketheconnection.net website to hear from other veterans.
I care about you and I am living proof that life can get better post-military trauma.
I recently told a friend, I was afraid of what people might think of me if they knew who I really was deep down inside. She looked at me quizzically. Yet, I realized this was the truth I had created for myself, creatively held within the pages of my “book of inadequacies.”
Whether we own up to the idea or not, I think we all are in possession of a book of inadequacies. Whether we bury them deep within our conscious, or obstinately face them in our daily lives, they impact our every thought. Which in turn impacts how we chose to live our lives, how we create our stories and who we invite on our journey.
Shame and fear, I have found, take turns driving and riding shotgun on my own personal journey. Recently, I asked myself why this had become true and what if anything, I could do about it. As I pieced together the different experiences I had as a child and a young adult, via as honest of a lens as I could muster, I began to see more clearly the root of these feelings.
Rejection, pain, hurtful words, trauma, shame, and fear have riddled my past. Often, the people I loved and wanted to love me were the cause of my hurt feelings and distorted views. The trauma came from my military experience, at the hands of strangers. I am uncertain as to which experience(s) hold the most power over the person I have become today. At times throughout my life, my biological family has shared their views of me as being aloof, a loner, uncaring, insensitive and selfish. They frequently indicated, they felt I was incapable of love. The mother of my ex-husband made the statement to me once, “I was unworthy of being loved by my own mother.” I have been told I was so selfish, I was unable to have children for this reason. My ex-husband himself convinced me, I was so awful, no one wanted to be friends with me or could love me the way I needed them to. Everything I did was wrong in his eyes, from the way I expressed myself (walked, talked, smiled, etc.) to the way I cared for the home we lived in. According to him, I could not have been more inadequate.
The trauma I experienced had almost convinced me, I was not worthy of simply being human.
Words, words and more words began to fill the pages of my “book of inadequacies.” Phrases and thoughts, which did not start out being mine, I began to own as I collected them. I had eventually given them so much power, so much weight, they began to drown me. Drown out who I was, how I felt about myself and how I thought others viewed me. As I took ownership, I truly began to believe I needed to be someone else, in order to be accepted and loved. If people really knew me, if I shared my true thoughts, feelings, and experiences, I would simply be opening myself up for more ridicule.
More fear…..more shame…..more judgment
I eventually became so afraid, I actually built the walls around my heart, I had been accused of already having. I shut people out. I hid who I was. I became defensive. (Never mind the fact I have always been a fairly shy person until I had the opportunity to get to know someone.) I learned to live on the surface of my emotions, while simultaneously destroying myself from the inside out.
Then…I died. Not figuratively, I mean……I literally stopped breathing.
A life changing event for sure! Once I had been brought back to life, it was like I had woken up and my eyes became unveiled for the first time. I recognized I was not living the life I wanted to live and I was certainly not the person I wanted to be. I was not living the way my heart needed me to. I was not being true to myself or honest with those who stood by me.
Who was this person? How did I get here?
I wish I could simply throw my “book of inadequacies” away. It is not this simple. Life is not simple. Life is hard, but life can also be wonderful. I have begun the process of slowly erasing some of the words and phrases in my book. I have begun rewriting and rephrasing some of those thoughts and ideas that had been placed within the pages; the ones I have been unable to erase. I am slowly rediscovering the person I want to be.
I am not perfect. I stumble. I make mistakes. I cannot forget the things which have happened to me. The memories and images have become a part of who I am, for better or worse. I can only choose to move forward; purposefully choose to walk a different path. Not let my past define me.
I think this is the key to happiness. Choosing to write your own story. Marching to the beat of your heart. Owning your own thoughts and actions, versus owning others. I mean, c’mon….there will ALWAYS be critics, and only some are actually worth listening to. Choose wisely what you hold onto and let the rest go. If it will help you grow, if it enlightens your journey, then take heed. If their words only seek to bring you down and make you less of the person you want to be; then let go of them. In both thought and deed, release them.
For those of you who have stuck with me on this journey….thank you! For those of you just getting to know me, I hope you will provide me with the space to continue to grow and change (even as we simultaneously get to know one another.) For those of you who have added to my pain and fear, I am either learning to forgive you or I have already forgiven you. I have learned there is power, transformational power, in the act of forgiving. Life is too short to hold onto people, things and even thoughts, which do not add value to your life. Being angry, defensive, punishing yourself and being closed off, does not add value to your life. Forgive….even if it is only for yourself.
I am complex (as I think we all are) and the cover of the new book I am writing does not yet reflect all that is inside. I am working on it! I am on a journey of discovery and in search of a happier, healthier life. Every day, I make a little progress.
Be kind, be compassionate and please try to be patient. I will make every attempt to be this way towards you as well. With any luck, maybe we can turn the page together.
Negative experiences happen, but we do not have to let them move in and hold as much of our life space hostage, as they tend to often times do.
We experience a myriad of both positive and unpleasant moments each and every day of our lives. Due to the way our minds work, we are naturally inclined to squirrel away, cling to, continuously drudge up and often carry around some of the unpleasant moments in a somewhat protective space, as if our lives depended on their existence. As if these unpleasant moments make up so much of who we are, we cannot bear to part with them. Since we scientifically know this inclination to be true about the human race, and knowledge is power, how do we work to overcome these natural tendencies to live in a negative space?
A few semesters ago, I had a professor call me a Positive Polly, as if this was a negative trait to possess. While the friend I was with laughed at the comment (I do not think it was said with the intention to hurt), yet I found myself to be offended. It was pouring out and we had to walk from the classroom to our cars and both my professor and friend were a bit put out by the idea; I on the other hand was not. I made a few comments about being able to spend less on my water bill and I like the sound of it anyway. Was I looking forward to walking to my car in it? No, I sure was not! I do not love being wet and cold. However, I chose to look on the sunny side and not let the weather bring me down. I had also come prepared with an umbrella, so that helped! Being this incident was a few semesters ago, I am sure you have grasped by this point in time, how much I was bothered by it. At the time, I had no good response and I was a smidge embarrassed. The more I thought about it however, I decided I would much rather be a Positive Polly than a Negative Nancy, any day of the week!! (I mean, there are worse things to be called than a positive polly.)
What I have come to realize during the course of my grad program is happiness is made, it does not simply happen to you! Most people do not simply fall into happiness by pure accident. As I eluded to earlier, it takes work. Depending on who you are, what your background is, what type of family you grew up in, what your life circumstances have been up to this point, what your cultural values are and what your worldview is, it may take more or less work than others you may know to be happy. Chemically, you may be more engineered to lean more to one side than the other. This is why you hear the cliche’s like:
happiness is a choice
think positive, be positive
positive mind, positive vibes, positive life
positive minds lead positive lives
life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness
Make no mistake, you have to literally pursue happiness in order to have it in your life. The good news is that every second, every moment in life, your very next breath is an opportunity to make different choices. Life is fluid and you are only stuck if you allow yourself to be. Life, in my opinion, is way too short to hold onto so much negativity, anger, and hate. If you fill your life with these types of things, you leave no space for joy, positivism and happiness to grow.
Life is too short for the following things:
Being in relationships that make you unhappy
Being physically or emotionally abused
Holding onto anger, grudges or bitterness towards your fellow man/woman/child
Growing/feeding hatred of any kind towards yourself or others
Not taking care of yourself physically/emotionally
Focusing too much on negativity
Letting negativity and stress kill you from the inside out
Not letting your light shine
So, what do you do?
Well first, you must plant the seed. Then you must help it grow. (Yeah, that sounds like an old Chinese proverb, but it is true.) Like most things truly worth your time, you have to put serious effort into it. You must feed and water it; give it plenty of light and love. You must nurture, care for it and protect it as though it is valuable and important. Because it is. In some cases, well far too many in my opinion, your life may depend on how much time you spend nurturing your happiness. Never neglect or forget to maintain it. You will certainly need to protect it from life’s storms or in some cases the monsoon season! Then, last, but certainly not least…..you MUST share it! The hardest part, is you have to be committed to this effort for your entire life. If you stop doing any of these important steps at any time, you stand a significant chance of losing your happiness. (It is so fragile.)
In fact, you might have the jarring and devastating experience of allowing someone else to snatch it out of the ground and literally run off with it! Or you might accidentally kill it yourself. Then where you will you be? You will have to start all over again. While it is certainly not the end of the world, it will be difficult to regrow. Not impossible, but it may feel like one of the hardest things you ever do. So far, I have allowed this to happen twice before I realized I am truly the creator and caretaker of my own happiness.
Being in relationship successfully with others has a lot to do with how well you are able to grow and care for your own happiness. Also like food, I believe the more organically you can grow and cultivate your own personal happiness, the better it is for you and those who share your life. It becomes more genuine and natural this way. The odd thing about happiness, is the more you have to give, the more likely you are to receive in return. While hate begets hate, the opposite is also true. Yen and Yang. Happiness also begets happiness.
What an amazing gift to give and receive! Ever try to be angry with or hate someone who is kind, generous and generally happy? Even if you want to (like morning people,) it can be challenging to bring yourself to truly follow through. Ever try to purposefully not smile at someone who is smiling at you? Unless you have experienced a tragedy of some kind, it is almost impossible to have negative feelings towards generally positive/happy people. Go purposely frown at someone who smiles at you. Try placing a pencil between your teeth so that it forces you to smile and then try to be angry or upset on purpose. Or try this exercise when you are naturally upset and see if it makes an impact on your mood. No, I am not kidding. If you are up for trying out some of these experiments, please do, and do not be shy about sharing your experiences here!
So come on, go out and grow/beget some happiness people! The world could certainly use a large dose of positivism right now! You have nothing to loose and everything to gain. Oh yeah, and I will be proudly sporting my Positive Polly pants as often as I possibly can, from this point forward. So if you are embarrassed to be seen with me, tough cookies.
What’s in your garden???
Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let your true selves be seen. ~ B. Brown – The Gifts of Imperfection
The idea of being authentic was first introduced to me in graduate school. The first few times I heard the word, it was not honestly all that impactful, but it did peak my curiosity. What does it really mean to “be authentic?” In truth, I think it is more difficult than standing physically naked in front of a room of people, strangers or not, and letting them pick apart your physical form in all of its perfect or imperfect ways. Why?
Because being authentic is about being emotionally naked.
Rising to every occasion imaginable in an open-hearted and vulnerable way sounds pretty daunting to me. I would actually say not only is it not feasible, it is risky! Especially when you consider the great lengths most people go, to avoid being vulnerable at all. Being authentic, or emotionally naked, means sharing who you are at the core of your being. It means being open to ridicule, judgement either good or bad and opening one’s self up to the opportunity of being seriously hurt. Being hurt in deep and meaningful ways, not simply the superficial level many of us like to reside at.
Now, I do not mean to say we as a people like to live superficially or behave superficially on purpose. Most of us are protecting our hearts, the core of who we are, which is reasonable. It is a defence mechanism we employ to protect our innermost thoughts and feelings. Being emotionally hurt is often more destructive to us than any physical wound we may sustain. Not to mention, society at large and close family and friends will often intentionally or unintentionally, reinforce the concept as well. We learn through a variety of circumstances throughout our lives, that being authentic leaves us open to emotional turmoil . Being vulnerable means potentially being hurt or even devasted by those we attempted to be vulnerable with. This begs the question….if it is so awful to be vulnerable/authentic, why on earth would we want to do it?
If life’s lessons have taught us we are safer if we live at a more superficial level, why would we want to act in a potentially unsafe way by exposing our true selves?
Honestly, it sounds scary as hell to me! Yet, if graduate school has taught me anything on my way to becoming a counselor, it is the idea that being authentic can also be very rewarding. It is hard work trying to constantly fit in wherever you go and with whomever, you are with at the moment. To constantly protect yourself is exhausting. Wanting to always be liked, wanting to please and wanting to always be seen in a positive light is almost impossible! It is also an enormous amount of pressure to place on yourself. No matter how hard you try, some people will simply never like you. Those people are most likely not worth your time or effort. Trust me.
Being authentic is a very courageous way of being.
It can lead to true friendships or relationships, which are often more rewarding and fulfilling. Being authentic allows you to connect on a more meaningful level. It can enrich your life in ways you never imagined. Not to mention it offers the kind of freedom, most of us long for. To be able to say to another person, this is who I am and it is ok if you do not agree with me or like me, is liberating! There are so many different ways of being in this world, why would you want to be anyone other than who you truly are?
No, this does not mean it is acceptable to be a jerk or disown the idea of having some tact or manners. Nor is it ok to be totally offensive to those around you! It is not a hall pass to act manipulatively! Opting to behave in these ways is simply making yourself a menace to society. Not to mention, it is socially irresponsible and you might very well find yourself alone before you realize what has happened. By the time you do, it might be too late to fix it. So…try not to be that person.
So within reason, do you!
Be true to yourself.
Be honest with yourself and others.
Put yourself out there as the original person you are.
The worst thing that can happen is someone will not like you, or you will get hurt and it will take some time to heal from it. The truth of the matter is, you will most likely be hurt either way. There will be times where you may have to apologize for something you did or said, if being you, accidently hurts someone else. One thing is for sure though you will learn a lot about yourself and others, through the process of learning to be authentic! Oh and let us not forget, the only thing in this world which remains constant is change. So it is not only reasonable, but completely understandable, if who you are changes and develops over time.
I believe the process of learning to become authentic will definitely change you. I also believe it will be a positive, if not life-altering experience. You will never know unless you try.
So take baby steps, be brave and listen to your intuition. You totally got this!