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I am blessed and honored to live and work in a military community.  

I have the opportunity to care for our nation’s Warriors and their loved ones as a professional mental health provider.

While most of my clients in my private practice are affiliated with the military, I have some who are not…or perhaps, think they are not.

When you live in a community with 30,000 active duty Soldiers, and the city with the second largest population of Veterans in the United States, we are all impacted by war and deployments.

And we will be for generations…

I had a client a few years ago – a female professional in her late 50’s.  She came in with complaints of depressive symptoms.  Through multiple sessions, we unpacked her emotional baggage.  We saw hurt and anger for her father – emotions she had successfully tucked away for decades.

During a tough session, she shared a memory of her mother leaving for a church service and her father being left to care for the 8 children.  She said her father was always emotionally distant and cold.  She couldn’t recall a time when he was playful or fun.  On this particular evening, he had the client and her siblings line up, arms length apart, facing the wall…to stand in silence for hours until it was bedtime.  

With 8 children, I imagined they had been horse playing or arguing…yet, she said she clearly recalled he ordered them against the wall within minutes of her mother leaving…he did not speak to them again until he ordered them to bed.

I mentioned that her description reminded me of something from a book I’d recently read about a WWII Soldier who was a POW in the Pacific.  The guards at POW camps would contain and control large numbers of prisoners with those types of tactics.

My client’s eyes became large and filled with tears.  “My dad was a WWII veteran and was a guard at a holding camp for enemy prisoners…he never spoke of the war and I never thought of it…” 

She was living the residual effects of WWII in 2011.  

The impacts of war are generational.

Unfortunately, the children of these wars’ Veterans will live with wounds initially endured by their parents.  Injuries have frozen the emotional livelihood of their mother and/or father, preventing them from being engaged as children need their caregivers to be. 

So children, just as adults, seek to fulfill the emotional emptiness which oddly originated from a call to duty…a call to serve our nation and to protect her freedoms.

The emotional hollowness felt may be quickly congested with drugs or alcohol.  Teenagers may seek to satisfy their innate need for attention with promiscuity, cutting behaviors, or anger.

Younger children may withdraw and develop fears and anxiety, crippling their ability to socialize and enjoy age appropriate activities.

How do we stop this ripple effect?

We must encourage stories to be told…giving safe places for Warriors and their loved ones to be heard, to be encouraged to speak their truths.  

Children and teens need an arena space to draw their stories, play out their emotions, and share music that exposes their soul wounds. 

The space provided may not be in a counselor’s office, it could be at a kitchen table, in a support group, or around a camp fire.  

The key to loosening the shackles binding us to our pain is pure, uninterrupted attention and focus from another being.

While there is a need, at times even an urgency, for professional help, there is an obligation we, as a community, have to our Warriors and their loved ones.  That obligation is our time, our companionship, our gratitude. 

This is the ripple effect of healing…

Pearl Harbor“December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy…No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people, in their righteous might, will win through to absolute victory.” ~ President Franklin D. Roosevelt

Seventy-two years ago today, in an attack lasting approximately 120 minutes, more than 2,000 American service members were killed and another 1,000 were wounded.  The United States was at war.

By the time the war ended four years later in 1945, over 400,000 Americans had given their lives in battle…over 12 million Americans served in the military during WWII.

When I sit with those numbers, I am frozen…I think about the Soldiers of our current wars and how many I have been honored to work with…it’s a very small fraction compared to the number of WWII Warriors.

I know there is no way to compare WWII with our current wars…yet, I fight myself in doing so.  I want so desperately to recognize the sacrifices of our service members and their loved ones…in my eyes it seems as though, finally, 72 years later, we are on the edge of truly honoring the Warriors of WWII.

We admit so many of the heroes of WWII have passed away without the honor we owed them.  We recognize we did not embrace them in their painful returns to a life they no longer knew…a life thousands of them ‘faked’ until their deaths.  We didn’t know how to welcome these warriors home…

Did we know how to welcome home Korean War veterans?  Vietnam veterans?  Gulf War veterans?  Maybe not.  We know now.  We cannot ignore the pain, the loss, the questions being brought home today.

I believe that ‘absolute victory’ is a place where the community on the home front welcomes the emotional, physical and spiritual brokenness of our Warriors into our arms…a place where we slow down and listen…where we provide a pause in the hurriedness of daily life for someone to feel accepted and appreciated – regardless of how broken they may feel…I believe that is my duty as an American citizen.

As we are in the thick of holidays, time is probably the most valuable and expensive gift we can give one another…time to pause momentarily and smile warmly at a stranger…time to stop and let the fellow driver out…when we pause and give a few moments, we begin a practice of being present for others…you never know when a Warrior will be moved to share a memory and need a listening ear…you never know when you will be called to duty, so we must practice and prepare daily.

What a small sacrifice in comparison…

 

To Love a Soldier

November 11, 2013

Essayons BallLest I keep my complacent way, I must remember somewhere out there a person died for me…As long as there must be war, I ask and I must answer, ‘Was I worth dying for?’ ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

I am a very proud wife of an American Soldier.  My husband embodies the values of an American Soldier – Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage.  He is a humble man and an extraordinarily giving man.  Given that we’ve been married for less than 5 years, you might chalk those kudos up to the “newlywed effect.”

However, I think anyone who spends a couple of hours with him could easily see that I don’t exaggerate when I speak about Andy. I’m not sure how I am so fortunate to love a Soldier like him.  I thank his mom for raising such an amazing husband for me every time I am with her.  And I thank God for allowing me the opportunity to love an American Soldier.

To love a Soldier in a time of war reminds you that each day together is a gift.

To love a Soldier makes you dread the news, but love our great nation.

To love a Soldier prompts you to appreciate the little annoyances of your coupleship – you can only be annoyed by the coffee rings he leaves when he’s home.

To love a Soldier accentuates your own sense of loyalty and duty.

To love a Soldier challenges your independence and your dependence.

To love a Soldier demands flexibility – as I say, blessed are the flexible for they do not get bent out of shape.

To love a Soldier involves loving his Soldiers and their families – that’s a lot of love flowing!

To love a Soldier awakens you to the preciousness of life each day holds.

To love a Soldier extends you to look beyond yourself – just as he does every single day.

To love a Soldier inspires me to live a life that would be worthy of another’s life.

To love a Soldier leads me to greet others with compassion…I don’t know the journey they are traveling.

To love a Soldier connects you to others you may have never experienced or appreciated.

To love a Soldier is an honor and a privilege.

While you may not have the blessed opportunity to love a Soldier or a Veteran every day, you can certainly make the conscious decision to thank one and appreciate his or her sacrifices every time you encounter one…I can tell you, it’s very rewarding to love a Soldier.

 

 

The Journey of Telling

September 22, 2013

GE DIGITAL CAMERAI witnessed healing through the journey of telling this weekend.

We called this journey Songwriters for Soldiers: Singing Their Stories.  We explained it to participants as a healing retreat of songwriting…not too appealing to Soldiers.  Most Soldiers have defended their memories just as they stoically defended their brothers in battle.

There is irony in calling this journey a retreat.  One definition of retreat is “withdrawal of a military force from a dangerous position or from an enemy attack.”  We were asking the Soldiers to let their guard down – even though this felt risky, we invited them to surrender…to tell their stories.

And they did.  The faces frozen in both physical and emotional pain, only 36 hours before, now gleam like full moons.  They each spent 10 or more hours with acclaimed songwriters…initially, some staring quietly, but when the talking, laughing, and shedding of tears came, the memories that had once bound them were loosened.  They were resuscitated with one each other’s breath and mere presence.

I know there is healing in listening and comfort through sharing – but we wait until someone grants us permission…The songwriters, the organizers from SAFE: Soldiers and Families Embraced and The Beat of Life gave the Soldiers permission.  We were prepared to listen and be still – as long as we needed to be.  Not everyone left with a completed song, but everyone left with a new song of hope for tomorrow.  Soldiers, songwriters and staff.

We are each called to open our hearts to feel, to hear one another’s burdens and to be present for one another with love.  There is truth in love.  There is peace offered in listening.  And there is hope in sharing.

But the journey of telling is a two way journey…will you be a part of someone’s journey?

 

SAFE: Soldiers and Families Embraced (www.thesafenetwork.org) and The Beat of Life (thebeatoflife.org) organized the Songwriters for Soldiers retreat…this was the first of many healing journeys through song.