In this podcast episode, I discuss the basics, such as military cultural training and encouraging other clinicians to consider seeing veterans as a focus of their practice, as I did. I explain how our veterans end up needing support as a result of their experiences entering into and returning from service in the military. I talk about how, even if they do not have PTSD, which most do not, it can still affect their relationships with friends and loved ones when they come home. If you think about it, they go into the military sacrificing their sense of independence and autonomy in exchange for "plugging into" to their new military family, their team--with whom, day after day, they will be getting up in the morning, getting dressed, eating breakfast, training, planning and carrying out missions, risking and saving lives, then coming back to eat dinner, shower, and climb back into bed to start it all over again. They become intimately connected in mind and body, their individuality gradually disappearing as they join forces with their teammates to fight for a bigger cause, our freedom and beliefs, our beautiful country.
I can only imagine how unexpectedly painful it could be to leave such an intimately connected team--the people you've come to know and love, who talk and think like you do, who "get" how you feel because you've been through so much with them, those for whom you'd die and would die for you--only to return home, to resume civilian life with the family you've loved all along and thought about day and night, but are surprised to find yourself suddenly feeling lost, "unplugged," completely disconnected, no longer with the security of a day-to-day plan or purpose in life. To make matters worse, you're disappointed to discover your family, even your children, have all moved on without you, all found their own ways to cope in your absence. Their routines have changed; you don't know what they are, nor are you included in them. You might even feel like an outsider in your own home and family, the home you dreamed about coming back to since the day you left.
I share the story of a general who came home from his tour in the Middle East to discover his 13 yr old daughter had all but replaced him, even treated him as a threat to the family and took actions to protect it (from him). She especially felt the need to protect her mother, which caused complications in the entire family system. Combine this rejection of family with suddenly feeling lost, having no routine of your own, no team around with whom to joke or plan and carry out missions... in fact, there are no missions to accomplish, you have no plans for today, tomorrow, or the next day...
As I explain in this podcast, it's no wonder people decide to return to active duty at any cost, including breaking promises to spouses and destroying marriages. And if you were physically and or mentally injured in the line of duty, you might feel anxious and depressed, possibly suicidal, as you realize what your life is like, now, on disability. Your identity is gone and so is your ability to contribute to society (at least as you once knew it). You went from being a hero to a dependent outsider in your own home, a role you did not sign up for and with which you are not prepared to cope.
As I've said so many times with clients and in my podcast videos... in my perspective, it is the isolation that kills, not the alcohol, not the guns, not the drugs... It is the isolation from loved ones and friends and community, worse, it can even be an isolation (or attempt to escape) from oneself… That's what kills. And that is why we need to get the word out to normalize the need for proactive training to prevent this emotional pain in new recruits and to provide psychological first aid to those who have already served without this "psych armor".
As with my first responders, veterans also do not want us to know they are hurting emotionally, they probably do not want to believe it, themselves.
If the roles were reversed, I have no doubt in my mind they would do whatever they could to protect me, to save my life, and this is why I am going to keep fighting for them--the same way they fought for me, us, our beautiful nation.