Filed Under Black Lions, Combat PTSD, Courage, Healing, Military, Pain, Peace, Return To Vietnam, Tears of a Warrior, Trauma, Veterans, Vietnam Today, War | Comments Off on Healing From The Wounds Of War
Two Quotes from Rumi:
(Rumi was a 13th-century poet of immense talent. His work highlights the power of literature in its ability to transcend time, language and geographic locations)
1) Healing doesn’t mean the damage never existed. It means the damage no longer controls our lives.
2) The wound is the place where the light enters you.
Filed Under Black Lions, Combat PTSD, Courage, Events, Faith, Family, Healing, Hope, Journey, Love, Pain, Peace, PTSD, Return To Vietnam, Tears of a Warrior, Veterans, Vietnam Today, War | Comments Off on GETTING UNSTUCK
by Janet J. Seahorn, Ph.D
It isn’t easy to move forward in life when you seem trapped by events that happened in the past. Often times the harder you try to get unstuck, the more bound you become to that very past. So how does one resolve such a dilemma? It probably won’t be without effort, time, and even some painful moments.
In the book/movie, The Shack, the lead character is tormented by an unimaginable personal tragedy. No matter how hard he tries to move forward beyond his pain and horrendous memories, he can’t. Being caught in a terrible incident he is unable to see past his pain to the extent that very little joy or happiness can enter his life. In order to heal he is forced to go back to the place (the shack) where he got stuck; the place where the horror, the anguish, and the future was taken from him.
I think this is what Tony was doing when he decided to return to Vietnam. In order to heal more completely he made a choice to go back to the place where he became stuck, a space that over the last many decades unconsciously became his “shack”. Since his military service in Vietnam he has worked incredibly hard to move beyond the memories and the demons, but there were still times when the burden of combat obscured his vision and ability to live fully. As part of the healing process he had to exhume the old earth in order to plant and allow for new growth to occur. He will be explaining more in his future blogs.
Toward the end of the movie there was a beautiful metaphor about life. A truism that most of us already know…. life is not neat or precisely organized. It is messy, bumpy, and often unbalanced. Yet, it is this very assortment of messiness and disorder that make us who we are and who we can become if we are brave enough to return to our “shack” to become unstuck.
So what is your “shack”? What might you do to become “unstuck: (that doesn’t mean you have to physically return to a specific location to heal). Just know that this “becoming unstuck” will most likely not be easy, orderly, or without some deep potholes. It is a journey, like Tony, you may need to take alone. However, the reality is that you will not be totally on your own. Like Tony you will have the thoughts, prayers, and support of family and friends that will accompany you in spirit and hope.
by Jim Fountaine, Vietnam Veteran
A man of eighteen years, barely dry behind the ears hears Uncle Sam’s call and in eight short weeks the change is as radical as a caterpillar into a Butterfly. Only this change has no beauty to it. A young boy is transformed into a soldier, an instrument of war.
The days of taking his girl to Lover’s Leap, skipping class to go fishing are gone. He is thrust into a world of violence against his fellow man. He begins to see the ravages of war. He learns to kill, not for sport or for food, but for territory, ideals. He does learn these skills with dedication and without question because he is doing what he is ordered to do!
Then, suddenly, he is thrust in a world of pain, death, blood and pure fear. He sees things that no amount of education or training has prepared him for. His friends are now few and close, yet distant because getting too close will cause pain when that friend is no longer there. The cold, damp, heat, loneliness become his constant companion. Sometimes he tries to deaden the pain with booze. He fights himself to bury what he sees. He keeps doing his job without emotion because he feels if he feels he’ll go nuts.
Then suddenly it’s all over and he sheds his uniform and finds himself back on main street U.S.A. When he sees his old school mates he finds he no longer has anything in common with them. He cannot talk about his experiences because they won’t understand. He finds he has had his youth robbed from him. He no longer trusts those around him with the ease he once did.
He has wounds you cannot see; not wounds of the body but wounds of the soul, the mind and the spirit, and no one can see them. No one can see the scars. He drifts back into a time when he felt the pain for real. He seeks out answers he cannot find. At times he feels out of control, so tries to find things he believes that will give him control like booze, drugs or he buries himself in work almost to the point of exhaustion.
He withdraws from relationships for fear of loss. He rejects authority for that authority brought him harm in the past. He feels alone in a vast world that doesn’t seem to care. He hurts, but no one can see the wounds; no one hears his cries for help. He is judged by people by what they see on the surface. They don’t see the Unseen Wounds in him. They don’t hear his silent cries and all he can do is ask, “Why can’t you see what this is doing to me?”
“Not yet, not yet.” These were the words a mother of a soldier who returned from war with severe, incapacitating PTSD composed to her son’s commanding officer almost forty years later. The mother wrote from a voice in heaven, as if her son had died, because in many ways he had – died emotionally; died cognitively; and died in spirit. Years had passed and she wanted his leader to know how much her son admired the man. How much he believed the officer had done everything possible to prevent the ambush that cost the lives of sixty-four troops. A dispensation of grace, for through her son’s stories, the mother realized how much trauma and burden the officer must be carrying from such a massive loss of life.
Even after four decades the pain and memories still persist as if the battle had just occurred. I am left to wonder how long a human being must or can endure such heartache. Being in charge of the lives of others is an incredible responsibility. A responsibility that makes losing those he led more devastating. One death would have been terrible, but sixty-four is beyond measure.
We heard the story while attending a reunion of the Black Lions who served in Vietnam. The get-together was a relatively small gathering compared to many war reunions. Small because the Black Lions were an elite unit of soldiers who traveled light both in men and equipment. And smaller still because so many had died during the many jungle encounters with the enemy.
Almost every survivor had a story and every attendee had an inner strength that somehow allowed him to live forward each day until now. I only hope that at this point, the time that remains in these old warrior lives can be lived with great joy, peace and personal forgiveness if needed. Our veterans deserve a bit of these gifts and so do their families. So when the mother wrote, “Not yet, not yet,” meaning… do not leave this earth too soon, the same words persist, “not yet, not yet”, the time for personal healing is now!
Blessings and God Bless our vets young and old.
by Janet J. Seahorn, Ph.D.
As you might imagine, we have been doing research and accumulating multiple types of data for well over ten years. Much has been on PTSD along with statistics on various numbers of vets who served in different wars, as well as their injury and death counts.
Over the last two weeks we have had numerous individuals send us a variety of articles and information on the Vietnam War. Perhaps the most startling was a number that I checked out through several sites; it was a number that claimed only 1/3 of veterans who served in Vietnam are still alive. This number was part of a 2000 census count, so I can only assume the number is far lower ten years later. The actually statement was “Of the 2,709,918 Americans who served in Vietnam, less than 850,000 are estimated to be alive today”.
Yikes. This is a number neither Tony nor I ever expected. Perhaps we don’t want to admit that we are growing that much older. Or perhaps the numbers may show an underlying concern with the health of Vietnam vets who endured massive amounts of toxic chemicals while serving in the war zone. At any rate, the small number of Vietnam vets still living is a real worry.
Another statistic that we have seen is that of the 9,087,000 military personnel who served from August 5, 1964 – May 7, 1975, only 2,709,918 actually served in Vietnam. Of those who were in Vietnam, only around “40-50% either fought in combat, provided close support or were at least fairly regularly exposed to enemy attack” (Bob Beavis, 2010).
And most alarming in a 1995 census around 9.5 million individuals falsely claimed that they had served in Vietnam when they had not; in the 2000 census almost 14 million individuals falsely made such a claim. Yikes, no wonder the Veteran’s Administration is having a harder time trying to identify who did and did not serve when there are so many “false” claimants in America. As my grandmother would say, “Shame, shame, on all of them”.
Last, and this I find very interesting given the amount of press that has been given to the number of Vietnam vets who were supposedly alcoholics, drug users, and homeless, according to various vet sources (VFW Magazine, the Public Information Office…) there was/is no difference between those populations who served in Vietnam and those who did not.
Also, we often hear about how many Vietnam vets ended up in prison… simply not true. Vietnam vets were less likely to be in or served time in prison – only ½ of one percent (Bob Beavis). Over 82% of Vietnam veterans seemed to have made a pretty successful transition to civilian life in spite of dealing with severe injuries and PTSD.
So congratulations all you Vietnam vets; you have lived a truly exceptional life, served your country with honor, and had the incredible strength and internal courage to continue to live life with high principles and personal pride.
by Janet J. Seahorn
Every day there are more and more wounded victims of war. These are the spouses, the children, the parents, the sisters and brothers of the veteran… and the list grows. It is one reason that we continually urge those impacted by serving in a war zone to get help as soon as possible if they begin to feel the “fall out” effects of combat.
There are centuries of evidence that prove this point. When a person returns from a traumatic experience and normal life is no longer normal, those around will become part of the trauma. It is an obvious statement, yet, there are too many veterans and families that refuse to acknowledge and deal with the situation.
It is like having an elephant in the room that no one wants to recognize or admit is there. The unrealistic thinking goes something like this… “If I just ignore the large problem, it will eventually go away”. The only problem with the problem is that it does not go away, in fact, it often grows bigger and bigger. And it begins to become more active. Imagine having a raging elephant in the room charging around with its large tusk and huge trunk. Wow, and I haven’t even mentioned all the crap it leaves lying around. It feeds on everything in sight, so eventually your house is a mess and you don’t have a safe place to hide from the growing beast.
Human nature seeks coherence and peace, even in the most chaotic of times. It is always looking for that which is safe and enjoyable. It craves stability and excitement, joy and delight. When these are absent for long periods of time, it is easy for depression and hopelessness to set in. You see, if someone you deeply care about is not OK, then it is quite challenging for you to be OK. And if both of us are not OK, then WE, as a couple, a family, a relationship, are not OK! Herein lies the hard choice — you can either accept the “crap” and continue on the path you may currently be on, or you can make another choice. A choice that can lead to healing. A choice that may allow the relationship to be more positive and loving. A choice that begins to do something about THAT elephant in the room.
Either way, we all choose which way we will continue our journey. Whatever choice we make will not be an easy path. However, one definitely has more constructive possibilities than the other. We persistently mention that if children are involved, than getting the elephant out of the room is crucial to their well-being and healthy development. As adults, we make our own choices, but children are subject to the outcomes of our choices. More than likely, they don’t get to have a voice; they are the helpless victims of our selection, good and bad. Therefore, think deeply about what you are and are not doing. Your children’s lives depend on which options you make.
For some of us, we didn’t have the information about PTSD, TBIs (Traumatic Brain Injuries), and other impacts of war. We did the best we could; at least, we want to hope we did. New military personnel have better information. They can and must make better choices, if not for themselves, for their children and the future of our next generation. Healthy life truly depends on this choice.
by Janet J. Seahorn
For the last several weeks, my husband and I have been researching and preparing for a presentation we would be giving to the Nebraska Vietnam Veteran Reunion.
We were asked to talk about how we came to write our book, Tears of a Warrior: A Family’s Story of Combat and Living With PTSD. It was such an honor to be invited to be a part of this amazing event which has been going on for the last twenty five years. The night before we left, I read an article Tony had given me titled, “Our Helmets Duel No More”. It was written by retired Lt. General Hal G. Moore. Some of you may be familiar with General Moore as he wrote the books, We Were Soldiers Once… and Young (1992) and We Are Soldiers Still (2008).
Reading General Moore’s experiences regarding the Vietnam War, and later revisiting the country and meeting the Viet Cong General he fought against over forty years ago, made me wonder if such a reunion would ever be possible for those fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan? I questioned whether either side would be able to feel forgiveness. Whether the intense hatred some people in these countries feel for Americans, our way of life, our religions would lessen with time? Whether the many good deeds both our military and civilian organizations are doing building schools, hospitals, and other improvements will be remembered?
What I did not wonder about was the incredible amount of loss, pain, and sorrow war of any kind takes on a country, a community, and, most of all a family. General Moore began his story with these words, “When the blood of any war soaks your clothes and covers your hands, and soldiers die in your arms, every breath forevermore becomes an appeal for greater peace, unity and reconciliation between nations”. Wounds of the body and soul are branded deep into the heart. Those who fight for America pay a very high price for her freedom.
The article read like so many war stories. Trauma, victory, failure, sorrow, the ugliness of battle… and the list goes on. But the piece ended with some pretty profound advice:
When the heartbeat of one soldier stops forever, the heartbeat of our nation should accelerate, driving us to ensure that this life was not sacrificed in vain. It should rouse us to seek better ways to understand and deal with international differences. We owe our dead and their survivors no less. We owe our children, and our children’s children, much more”.
The leadership we loose with each life, the intellectual and emotional goodness broken by combat may only be repaired with each person’s prayer, and every country’s commitment to searching for more appropriate ways to solve our differences. But until or if this every happens, we need to make sure whoever we send to fight our wars, as a nation we must do everything humanly possible to mend, not only the warrior, but the family unit that was also part of the sacrifice.
God Bless America, and God Bless our Vets, Young and Old and their Families
by Janet J. Seahorn
There it is again – another message from a spouse needing help to cope with the conditions his/her companion faces after returning from combat.
Just reading their stories make me feel like weeping, screaming, and wondering… why our various government systems aren’t doing much in this area. To be sure, some Vet centers are implementing some innovative and helpful programs for spouses and families. Yet, far too many are going unnoticed and unheard. Some spouses don’t know where to go to access services; some simply can’t find anything near them that makes it feasible to get such services; and some want/need groups they can access through the internet. As one person explained… I am looking for a group that will tell me what they are going through and how they are handling it. I want some group I can talk to and be open and honest with that I can tell them the things that wives of PTSD vets are afraid to open up about…PLEASE HELP ME TO FIND THAT GROUP I KNOW SOME OF THE THINGS I HAVE GONE THROUGH I DON‘T WANT ANYONE TO KNOW ABOUT…
There is such pain just hanging out in our families and their personal relationships. Pain that few others see. Pain that the spouse and family don’t feel comfortable or safe sharing with anyone other than individuals who have been through similar experiences. Finding appropriate and effective programs need to be a high priority if our veterans and their marriages are to survive in a healthy and positive relationship.
After reading an e-mail from a wife of a Vietnam vet with PTSD who is also the mother of a son who just returned from combat with similar difficulties (double whammy), I responded with this note. I hope she won’t mind me sharing with our readers, since she is only one of hundreds who are worried, discouraged, and questioning what can be done to make things better. In almost every such message, the writer speculates if she has done something wrong or not done enough, whatever enough might be in these situations. Below is my response – I hope it helps.
Please know you have done nothing “wrong by your children”… war has done the damage. PTSD is similar to trying to swim upstream through raging rapids and water falls. It is a moment by moment and daily challenge, but there is hope. The key is to get as much information as possible, set and STICK to appropriate boundaries, and try as hard as you can not to make excuses for your husband’s or son’s behavior. I did this for a very long time and still, at times, fall into this hole. By making excuses for our loved ones, we do not hold them or ourselves accountable for the behavior. Just like any challenging illness or disability, the individual and family must work twice as hard as those not encumbered by the condition. What I was really saying when I made such excuses is that I didn’t believe that either I or my husband could do better or get better, and that simply was not true or accurate. We continue to heal, but we still have our bad days/times, which we know won’t totally disappear. The biggest hope is that we are better than we were before Tony got help with the VA center. By writing the book (Tears of a Warrior), I spent nine years researching the information and thinking about how it related to our situation. I kept saying to myself, “if only I/we had known this when… we could have done so much better or differently”.
It is important that both your husband and son seek help with your nearest VA center. If you aren’t happy with the service there, go somewhere else. We found we had to do that and finally found a wonderful VA center here in Ft. Collins and Cheyenne. ### was not so helpful.
As for your son, I understand how you must feel… both my sons are grown and on their own, but there are times I wish I could “kiss their boo boos, and make the hurt go away” like when they were little. A mother’s heart never is far from those of her children. Just the way it is. Now I tell my sons, “I can not solve their problems, because this is yours to do for yourselves. But I will always be there to listen, support, and love you.” I try to end by telling them this…”I know you are a wonderful, intelligent, and strong person. And I know you have the determination and courage to solve this situation. I know this with all my heart and I trust you. Keep trying. You can do it.”
The other point that I will end with is to ask yourself, “Do we have more good times than bad? Are we both trying and improving?” If the answer is YES, we keep going. If the answer was ever NO, things would be drastically different.
I hope this helps. Please know there is help out there. Check with your VA center to see if their are any support groups for spouses. For some these groups are a big help… I believe one has to be in the right group – not in a group where everyone just complains and leaves more depressed.
One last note: I was truly surprised when I did some recent internet searches on support for spouse to find there are few available. One I found is
If in all your searching nothing viable is available, think about starting a group. Almost every organization and many services began with one person taking action and building something useful for others who share a similar need.
Best of luck and blessing.
by Tony Seahorn
Reading stories from people in ancient civilizations can provide wisdom and understanding. Native American cultures often offer insight into the struggles we face as well as how to move forward.
In the book Keep Going: The Art of Perseverance by Joseph Marshall III, he speaks of a young Lakota boy talking to his grandfather trying to seek answers to his many questions. On one occasion he asks his grandfather “why life had to be so difficult sometimes.” The old man gave this as a reply:
“Grandfather says this: “Life can give you strength. Strength can come from facing the storms of life, from knowing loss, feeling sadness and heartache, from falling into the depths of grief. You must stand up in the storm. You must face the wind and the cold and the darkness. When the storm blows hard you must stand firm, for it is not trying to knock you down, it is really trying to teach you to be strong.”
Facing up to and living with PTSD offers an abundance of opportunities to practice perseverance and growing STRENGTH. At times, it is easy to hope that you have grown enough, but we don’t always get to choose when enough is enough. Life makes some of those decisions for us. And then, Grandfather, in his words of wisdom, offers his grandson these next words:
“Being strong means taking one more step toward the top of the hill, no matter how weary you may be. It means letting the tears flow through the grief. It means to keep looking for the answer, though the darkness of despair is all around you. Being strong means to cling to hope for one more heartbeat, one more sunrise. Each step, no matter how difficult, is one more step closer to the top of the hill. To keep hope alive for one more heartbeat at a time leads to the light of the next sunrise, and the promise of a new day.”
For all of those who face the demons of PTSD, perhaps Grandfather’s words will support you on your long journey. Perhaps Grandfather’s words will give you the power to get through one more day no matter how difficult.
And perhaps Grandfather’s words will “keep hope alive” for a bit longer until you once again feel the warmth of sunshine on your face and begin to live that promise of a new day.