I remember my Dad talking when I was young about shell shock, now called post-traumatic stress disorder. My father only talked about it a couple of times, but the symptoms where the same: Broken marriages, violence, alcohol abuse and suicide were what he mentioned. My father would not talk about the war and did not show any symptoms of having PTSD. He was speaking about men that he knew.
While growing up near the Panama Canal in the 60’s, I was told stories about how violent and how abusive some of the soldiers were towards their families. Some of these men had served more than one term in Vietnam, some of the older ones served in the Korean War. I wondered then why they acted this way, and why their families’ plight were often ignored. Not all were ignored, but it was a common enough problem that I noticed.
Pain is a given in life, how we deal with it will affect all areas of our existence. When in pain we tend to find ways to medicate ourselves. These self-administered dosages can work for awhile and perhaps for that reason they can be accepted as a moment of transition to a better life. The problem confronts us when there is no forward movement, no inner healing taking place. For some prescribed medications are a big help. However, those who have serious addictions need something more in order to be able to stop cycles of self destruction.
We naturally seek to avoid pain, but the manner by which we do it can often increase suffering, regardless of the intermittent times of relief. Relationships are pushed aside, jobs are lost, physical health breaks down, and many escapees, so to speak, can end up on the street. Self medication of any kind is not the answer — finding ways to deal with the inner pain is the issue.
What I am about to say is not about religion per se. Though religion is obviously important, I also believe that without spirituality religion is only an empty shell. Our relationship to God — let me for the sake of nonbelievers also use a term from the 12th step program, our “Higher Power,” is essential for deep inner healing. Such programs and direction are needed to teach men and women who suffer from PTSD not to fear going inward and to stop running from their pain.
It’s when we start to have compassion for ourselves, in our own humanity, we are enabled to show the same compassion to others. The bridge that connects us to others is love, a love containing the self-knowledge which leads to seeing the need for acceptance in others. We share the same humanity, the same fragility and inner chaos, though each in their own unique way.
We are not united others not by attempting to control them with threats or accusations of shame, but rather in loving others as we have learned to love ourselves. Grace, as we are taught, works through nature, though our lives, though everything. We are always invited to die to self, to find new and freer ways in dealing with life.
No matter how slow the process, or how faltering, no matter how many failures, it’s a path always worth walking and it’s never too late to start the trek. Failure to start can lead to further troubles without end.
I know that verbal descriptions of the path can’t, by themselves, make changes in people’s lives — people must seek healing and find it on their own. We know that many will not find that healing, a fact which is heart breaking. Each of us, however, can help in our own small way, even if it only comes in the form of even unrequested advice and prayers as I have offered here.