In a follow up to my last entry, I want to expand on the issue of Veteran Civilian dialogue and some of the ways to think about it as we all go forward. As I noted in the last blog, there is no way that civilians, or even military people (I’m guessing) could possibly truly understand the experience of combat vets or those who have lived in combat zones without having lived there themselves. In fact, really knowing this experience would make most of us unbearably uncomfortable. I still l think that the effort to try to understand is extremely important, but actually getting it isn’t necessarily the goal. The effort is, in whatever way that is possible.
Maybe its because of our culture of psychotherapy with Dr. Phil and Oprah on tv, but many seem to believe that we can all be therapists and that the best thing for Veterans would be to dump their worst experiences out into the open - to us, making us very important -, and then all would be better. Any good therapist knows, and any sensitive person would as well, that what matters most - where healing is - is in the personal emotional connection, not the story. In fact, the telling of the traumatic story is often dangerous to the person telling it, and if we are not prepared for it it is often dangerous to us, the listener (psychically) as well.
One friend, who responded to my last blog, noted that when he talks with a Vet, his questions are, “Where did you serve”, and “How are you doing”, with no expectation of further detail. He comes from a place of personal interest, but not a “need to know the details”, and respects the pacing and response of the Vet. Seems like a solid approach.
One of the notable things about the panel after the recent films was that it was made up entirely of Veterans. Completely understandable, but that sets up an us/them dichotomy that is going to limit what can happen. What might have helped would have been to have family members or others whose lives are directly impacted by a returning Veteran on the panel as well. In a way, that's like having a translator, a kind of bridging person, in that all of us can relate to family issues, conflicts, fears, doubts, etc., that a family member of a Vet could articulate. We don't’ need to know the trauma of war to understand the trauma of a family because all of us, to some extent, anyway, have lived with these things. In other words, we can share in the emotion of it and it makes the whole thing more personal to all of us. If its personal it matters.
Also, families, and the effects of war upon them, are generally ignored in discussions about returning veterans, PTSD, etc. We consider them to be Veterans as well, in that they have lived through the deployments, are often living with the destructive and sometimes violent emotional issues of the returning vet, and are often now called in to become full time caregivers for men and women who have been physically or emotionally injured to the point of major disability. Or, sadly common, they are often the direct targets of the violence that still resides in the Veteran who has come home.
This is obviously a very complicated subject and its much bigger from a public health standpoint than most of us want to know. Sometimes I think that the “dialogue” should have no words. That it be a situation - like what happened at the Memorial Day event of the Welcome Home Project - where the civilians are gifted at least the emotional truth, not necessarily the specific details, and then respond with reverent silence. Listening. Maybe with a simple statement in the mind of everyone present: “I’m sorry, I didn’t know. Thank you.”
I like Ed Tick’s Soldier’s Heart premise: “Healing means sharing the burden”. Not the details, the burden. That is reintegrating the public.