PTSD Spirituality: Feeling That We Are Not Enough

Laid out in the hospital bed, the soldier considered confiding something to his nurse: He felt he was a failure, that somehow he had not done “enough” to stick with his unit, his men, the mission.  He should be with the unit now, but instead he was here, swaddled in clean sheets, tubes, and hot food.  Somehow, he just knew, regardless of the IVs and the vomiting, he knew a primordial truth: He had not done “enough.”  He had considered keeping silent.  He rejected that idea and whispered to the nurse, “I should have been better, I didn’t do enough.”

The soldier was angry: He’d gotten sick; angry he’d been medevaced; disappointed that he was forced to leave his unit; he felt like he let his buddies down; that by sheer willpower he could not make himself functional enough to continue the mission.  The soldier was embarrassed and felt that he had screwed up; otherwise he would still be with the unit: He had not done “enough.”  This was what he confided, in a tearful whisper to the nurse.

The nurse told him he was “full of shit” and walked away. 

From that moment on the soldier felt an even deeper failure.  For the remaining decades of his life he felt, knew deep down, that somehow he did not do “enough.” It should have been crystal clear to the nurse, but he found out he was full of shit. Digesting those words, he thought about yanking the tubes out of his arm. It was made ever clearer to him that not only did he not do “enough”, but he was a shitbird, too.

He could barely articulate how he felt and yet he had learned an abject lesson: Try and explain how you feel to someone who had not been “out there,” off-planet, with you and they will just say you are full of shit.  They won’t get it, they don’t want to get it, and they’ll blame you for the bold fact that they just don’t get it.

“Not Enough” dragged on him like an anchor: it dwindled a promising army career to a premature nub, it dragged him into the ever in-between space of being ex-military, but never full-civilian.  He could never fully get out of the one life and into the other, but instead he sloshed through the worse affects of each.  He felt ever rendered inadequate, forever, the person, who just didn’t do “enough.” 

He felt he lived in masquerade: his marriage, his children, his job, his colleagues, his faith and his God.  He could never do “enough” to be real to any of those situations, opportunities skipped by and travesties stuck to his shoes like paddy mud to a boot.  He learned to keep quiet.  If he tried to talk about it, it was never “enough.”  And, he would get the looks and whispers.

Wanting to be quiet is not the same as being quiet.  Frustration erupts with a voice.  Bad dreams and nightmares demand to be amplified.  Memories siezing his attention.  Memories and times gone shit ass wrong that could never be rewound, remembered, and dismembered, “enough.”

It affected his work.  It affected his marriage.  It interfered with his ability to trust and to be intimate.  If he drank enough, he would blur the memories of always feeling like he was genetically programmed to let others down, to fail them when they really needed him.  Booze, violence, drugs, porn, and other men’s daughters became his medications.  He knew that if he tried to talk about it, if he tried to write about it, he could never properly lay out what happened to him over there, and how it keeps happening to him now.

If he tried to give the human race a new chance to be human and confide in someone, he heard, “Oh yeah, my uncle was like that.  But he quit talking about it and was just fine.  He got over it.”  He learned that people didn’t understand; they did not want to understand.  They wanted to ask about his “best three kills” and the time he was “scared the most,” but they yawned if he spoke about how he felt.  And again, he was told to “Get over it, man up.”

No one wanted to hear about how half a bottle of warm orange soda that’d gone sour, had been the best, coolest, sweetest drink in the world one day as he came inside the wire. 

If he were to tell them the Truth, they would have said, “Your full of shit.”  And he had already been told that once too many times before.

One of Traumas Common By-Products: Inadequacy

Eventually the worst of the memories went back into the box.  The mud flaked off his boots.  He could pass up the offer of a beer and chaser.  He put some weight back on and people never knew he had been over there…except the other ones who had been over there.  And even if these survivors managed to sleep most nights, keep a job, and finally stay married, they still shared a persistent thought.  A commonality mentioned in soft tones to one another over coffee that was more acidic than the cleaning fluid used in a morgue. 

All of them, the survivors of the visible wars over there, and the invisible wars over here, they had something in common besides veterans status. 

They discovered they shared a commonality with those who’d been abused by priests, raped by uncles or sergeants major or commanding officers, and with those beaten by their caring spouses.  Whether their trauma grew to fruition “over there” or was freshly applied here in the States, they found something out about one another:

They shared the common residue of survival:

       They felt they had not done “enough.”

PTSD’s Drag Anchor on Your Soul: Feeling Inadequate.

You could change the above vignette to a woman who had been raped, or a child who had been molested by an uncle or a priest, and essentially have the same results: We were traumatized and now we feel somehow inadequate, we just didn’t do enough to prevent it or keep others alive or fulfill the mission.  

Sadly, many will reinforce this mistaken notion.  It is inflicted on us especially by those who have not suffered much or who do not want to admit we need to help those who have. They will say our trauma and PTSD is our own fault.

According to these people, and the horrid feeling of inadequacy that dwells within us, if we had only done “enough” we would not have been raped, molested, abused, forced to watch daytime TV, shot, been poisoned, captured.  Or, we would’ve saved our squad, our child would have lived, my sibling would be alive…if we had just done “Enough.” 

Usually we never even know what “Enough” is. 

We just know we did not do enough of it. 

Spider’s Web: The Persistent Sting of Inadequacy

One of the ways the PTSD-Identity seeks to kill us is to get us cocooned like a spider’s victim into feeling we did not do enough.  If we had only done “enough” then everything would have worked out: Joey would not have gotten greased, Joanne would not have been assaulted, Junior would have stayed in school, or Julie would not have just vanished from the face of the earth.  

If my confidence and sense of authentic self had not been undermined by PTSD then maybe I would not have become a drunk, I would not have slipped into self-medicating with porn, I would not sleep around with everyone but my spouse, I would not spend money beyond my means, I would not wake up vomiting at night, I would not cut myself with a knife. 

If I had only done “enough,” then I would have found some real meaning in religion.  God would have been love and not the bogey man who screams at me in the form of a televangelist demanding I write him a check.  The meaning of life would not seem so damned hollow.

When we start to recover we take proactive steps.  When we begin to peel off the PTSD-Identity and start to discover who we really are, who God made us out to be, then the PTSD tries to drift over and slip the needle in and suck out that moment of self-confidence, the moment of self-worth.  It tells you that to ease the sting of being a failure, you only need another bottle of scotch, another video of extreme fighting, a few more pills, another man’s daughter.

If we do take PTSD’s advice, then we wake up later knowing we truly did not do “enough.”  Before it kills us, the PTSD-Identity plays with us and tries to harm as many relationships as it can.  Like a bad sit-com, it wants to have spin-off cases of PTSD that it can feed on later.  After destroying your sense of self, your belief in God, the ability to love in an authentic fashion, PTSD leaves you to die as it goes on to feed on the others.  Click here for more on how PTSD shrapnel creates even more PTSD.   

We Need Not Abandon Hope

But not all is lost.  Many of us do begin to recover and get the PTSD under control.  The life destroying, anti-love features, of the PTSD-Identity are no longer in day-to-day control – although they linger on the sidelines, ever eager to take a fresh bite of us and our loved ones.

But, usually because of the lucky intervention of others, some of us don’t die.  For whatever reason, we survive, and maybe even thrive within our unique set of limitations.  But, oddly enough, we still are nagged by the feeling that we just have not done “enough.”

Beware of Amateurs, They Drink Blood

No one who has never been “there,” where we have been, can even begin to tell us what “enough” would have been. 

These people lack experience and want to drink of yours.  Like internet porn addicts and peeping toms, they watch and listen, touch themselves funny, but never truly experience any intimacy.  They watch others perform and think they have had sex.

Amateurs, cowards, the inexperienced, and television reporters will frequently tell us what we should have done, what would have been “enough.”  But pretty quick they make it clear they are just a noise, like one mouth yapping.  People like them make real men and real women stay quiet.  When it comes to trauma recovery, their advice is akin to a snail telling a bird how to fly.

Staying Alive, Helping Others is Enough

Every day we live, honor our relationships, deny degrading behaviors, we are doing enough.  We may be nagged by the feeling we did not do “enough” back then, at that other place, in that other time.  Yet, if we choose life and nourish it in ourselves and others, then we are doing Enough. 

Semper Pax, Dr. Z


  1. Dr. Z, I came out of my mother’s womb w/PTSD.
    She lived w/PTSD all her life from events in her childhood,
    that she was not responsible for. It was not her fault.
    She did the best she could. Since her passing a year ago, I have
    begun a process of forgivness.
    I survived childhood in an atmosphere of mental abuse.
    I survived an adolescence of anger fueled violence.
    I survived 16yrs of drug abuse, that in some ways actually saved
    me from the violence.
    Trying to break the drug addiciton, I almost killed myself w/exercise
    and trying to feel some self worth through completing athletic events.
    I am currently trying to break the porn addiction.
    I have been down many roads in my fight against the PTSD monster.
    I have survived against all odds. I have found God in the past few years.
    ….and now, I stumbled across your blog.
    I am not a veteran. I don’t know what a battlefield is like.
    But, I am a veteran of fighting in the trenches against PTSD.
    Some how, some way, I have stood my ground against suicide.
    I hear, I feel, I have lived every word you have written.
    The one word I hear, I feel the most from you is….hope.
    Thank you!

    • Your journey is a courageous one. It matters not how we became traumatized, how we became afflicted with PTSD, because trauma does not care. Many of us travel several battlefields in life, only some of us may be wearing a military uniform, but all of us, share in the journey of recovery from trauma and that is a battlefield for anyone who is found there. it is a journey where we experience many pains and disappointments, but we may also come to understand many truths as we become more authentic human beings as we heal. Given that, we always have a realistic hope. Each day we heal, each day we may better understand the PTSD journey and strive towards a fuller life. In this, we then manifest the hope that God gives each one of us. We are never without personal value and worth, neither are we ever truly without hope. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  2. I sobbed more than once reading this and I haven’t finished reading it yet. I found this in a google search on “PTSD and inadequacy”. I have felt very alone with my own overwhelming feelings of inadequacy. I’m a combat vet. I drove an armored vehicle and had 1/4 inch of steel between me and the world outside. I didn’t get hurt and everyone in my company came home. But people got hurt around me – people died around me. To my way of thinking, that means I don’t have *enough* of a reason to complain. If only I’d seen heavier combat, if only I’d killed –
    It’s hard stuff to talk about. I don’t like to think about it much less talk about it. But this article really spoke to me. I have that feeling of being right where I’m supposed to be. Thank you.

    • Hello, You are right, this is always hard stuff to talk about. We never really know who is on the other end of daily human communications and whether they actually “get it” or not. This is one of the reasons I am such a strong advocate of writing and other artwork. Much of the torrent of feelings we experience can be expressed there. We need to express them, craft them, so we can better understand which parts are valid truth and which parts are insidious PTSD. If we are made to feel inadequate, that we don’t measure up, or we are worthless, then we know there is no Good there, in fact it is toxic. We can write about why those thoughts come, but we can also include why we know they are ultimately destructive and wrong. I explored this in my own life through writing and art for a good decade or two before I was finally able to move forward (and in many ways, the time spent there was actually a time I was moving forward). Most people don’t need as long as I did (they are smarter, I guess), but we make the journey and value the lives of those who made it back and those who did not. But bottom line, we are worthwhile, we have value, if only because God made us in the divine image and likeness and infused us to be receptive of his love.
      I welcome you home from your service. Job well done, soldier, Welcome Home! You have value because you have experienced and learned just how valuable life really is. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

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