I read a powerful essay by a Marine Corps Captain who reflected on his service in Afghanistan. CPT Timothy Kudo notes the apparent disconnect most Americans have between what happens in the States and what our military must contend with in Afghanistan. While his observations are certainly true concerning how “normal Americans” (whoever they are) can’t grasp the trauma, fog, and deadly uncertainty of war, his observations also apply to victims of rape, abuse, and medical catastrophes in America.
Timothy Kudo’s essay, “On War and Redemption,” published in today’s New York Times online edition begins with
When I returned from Afghanistan this past spring, a civilian friend asked, “Is it good to be back?” It was the first time someone had asked, and I answered honestly. But I won’t do that again. We weren’t ready for that conversation. Instead, when people ask, I make it easy for everyone by responding, “It’s fine.” That’s a lie, though. It’s not fine.
Protecting Others from the Truth
Often when people ask a trauma survivor how they are we learn the hard way that most people cannot stand the truth.
Both in the context of my military service, and my present context as a guy who is physically disabled and who has PTSD, I discover most people don’t really want to know how I am (let alone who I am).
It would probably take 20-30 minutes to say how I really am at any given moment – and that only has to do with my physical health.
In my discussions with rape survivors and clergy abuse survivors, two categories that can easily overlap, they mention that people will insist on being told how they really are, but when told they cannot handle it.
So, we learn to lie. We learn as Timothy Kudo has learned that we have to tell people we are fine, when we are not. Kudo mentions that they “weren’t ready for that conversation.” All too often people want to plunge into our traumatic history and they, and we, discover they cannot handle it.
Why Can’t People Handle the Truth?
Two Reasons, Really:
Reason #1: They can’t imagine it happening.
Many people don’t want the truth because they cannot handle the details. They cannot fathom the amount of emotional and physical pain we contend with every day. They cannot grasp the wounding of our spirits that the trauma and the subsequent PTSD has inflicted upon us.
This is why some people call us liars or insinuate that we are exaggerating or faking about what we experienced. If our experience and subsequent PTSD soul wounds are this bad, then their quaint, “get over it, you’re safe now,” slogans fail with us.
Reason #2: Denial that these things happen.
If people recognize our trauma and our PTSD, then they are recognizing that we have experienced a huge injustice. This applies to the military trauma and traumas experienced as a civilian.
Many folks don’t want to admit that such horrible, out of control, injustices, physical and moral outrages, can occur. If they admitted it, then they would be obligated to do something about it. Easier to deny the severity of the trauma and that it could wound our souls.
Easier to Tell a Lie and Avoid the Toxicity
Thus, we often tell lies. People ask how we are and we say we are fine.
We realize that so many people perpetrate “Drive-By Caring” where they ask how we are, but they don’t really care or want to hear a truthful response.
Sometimes we are beset by “Limelighters,” Those who want to be in the Lime Light at our expense. These are the ones who want others to see they are caring, but will not help us if they don’t have an audience to observe their acts of mercy and kindness.
When we are accosted by Limelighters and people who do Drive-By Caring, we simply find it less vicious to tell a lie and say we are fine. We don’t get humiliated. We don’t get patronized as much by someone who refuses or is congenitally unable to understand what happened.
Important to Find a Real Listener
This is why it is crucial to find someone who you can trust. Find someone who is more interested in you than staring at their Blackberry (Crack-Berry?) or iPhone every 3 minutes.
We can heal through the telling and acceptance of our stories.
We need to write our stories down, write poetry, songs, craft paintings, plays and sculptures to help us understand what we went through and how it has affected us.
If an honest person listens to us, we can heal. If a selfish person hears us, they will further wound us by offering denials, comparisons to others, judgments, and interruptions.
Fortunate is the person who has a conversation partner who respects their humanity so much that they actually listen to us.
One of those Conversation Partners is God
If we feel we cannot talk to God directly we can still speak our experience and seek truth in our actions. These actions become a form of worship and healing.
Any form of art, craft, writing, or music can also be a prayer. Art and craft heals wounded souls.
Unlike a talk-radio host, God wants to hear you. God wants to help you heal. There are dozens and dozens of ways to pray and talk to God – some even involve words. But God is the ultimate conversation partner.
In the telling of our stories and subsequent PTSD journey we realize we are not alone. We realize that all life has value and is created in the Image and Likeness of God.
Don’t let the Limelighters and Drive-By Caring fools harm you. Your trauma is real, it is yours, it has affected you, and you can share it with the right people and you can always share it with God.
Semper Pax, Dr. Z