I was reading some of the comments posted on Facebook reference my post of “Home ain’t home anymore . . .”
I’m not the only person who felt like they’d returned to a place no one understood them.
I’ve heard it from WW II vets, Korea, Nam, Gulf, and this extended war we’ve fought for the last twenty years or so.
Some have returned with anger. Some returned feeling empty. Some cry for what seems no reason. Even after almost 60 years, others wake up nights in a cold sweat or reach to scratch limbs that are no longer there. Some have waited years to tell their stories. Other’s never will.
So, I’m going to share part of my journey here.
When I came back, I was a mess. The sheer stress, sights, smells, and emotions brought about during the Gulf War had threatened to overwhelm me. Add to that the pressures of twenty-plus years of Law Enforcement, and I was at a tipping point.
Trying to tell people about it was almost a waste of time. Try describing moving through the remains of a tank battle and encountering the only enemy soldier to survive it. Try explaining the smell of burning flesh or seeing a glove on the ground and realizing a hand was still in it.
Or as a police officer rescuing a child who had been raped or being covered from head to toe with someone else’s blood.
People didn’t want to hear it. They couldn’t understand it. They’d steer the conversation to anything except that.
Fine. They don’t want to hear it. I’ll just shut my mouth and let it simmer.
The Bible tells us in James 5:16 to “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”
I’ll be honest about it. I cringe at the word “Sin” here because what I needed to confess wasn’t a sin. I just needed to talk about the pains I’d been going through, and I often think that maybe the words “Troubles” or “Issues” or “Woes” might have been better choices. Somehow, sharing it is often the best thing in the world.
But I wasn’t doing any of that. I’d taken it all, pushed it into a cage, and locked the door. The trouble was there was so much stuff in that cage it was going to come bursting out sooner or later. It was a little like one of those Bugs Bunny cartoons where the big lion or whatever has been trapped, but it’s throwing itself against the bars. The bars are bending out, and sooner or later, they’re going to give.
So, I’m getting quieter and more withdrawn.
I thank God for the woman I would eventually marry. Julie and I were already going together. But I was pushing her away also. Now she’s a licensed counselor, and she had put two and two together and figured out what was going on.
So, one day I’m at her house in Del Norte. It was an older home, with no central heating, and had a wood stove that kept the place from freezing over in the winter. The trouble was, she had the wood, but none of it had been split down to fit into the stove.
I was outside chopping wood for her.
It was lightly snowing, and she came out with a cup of coffee for me. She dusted off a log, invited me to do the same, and then said, “I’ve been watching you.”
“And you need to talk to someone about what you’ve gone through.”
“Well, you’re a counselor.”
“It can’t be me. I’m in a relationship with you.”
I took a sip of the coffee. “Nah, I’m Okay.”
“No. No, you’re not. And if we’re going to have a future together, you need to do something about this.”
I called the SLV Mental Health the next day and was assigned to Joseph. Joseph had been a SEAL team medic. I thank God for Joseph. He might not have walked the same miles in my boots, but he sure knew what color they were.
I got to admit, getting me to talk right up there with draining the ocean with a sponge. It took him weeks to get me to open up.
But then, one day, the very thing I feared happened. Whatever it was I’d locked away hurled itself against the bars one last time and it got out.
But the raging anger I expected wasn’t there. Instead of crying out in rage and frustration, it cried tears. The hurts and pain I’d suppressed came flooding out like a river with the tears. I wept over the war and all I’d seen and experienced as a police officer.
I wept for the man who’d been blown apart, leaving only his gloved hand behind. I cried for the neglected child that had been sexually abused.
Everything that flowed out was cried over.
And the tears lasted for weeks.
And one day, I realized the cage was empty. The things I’d seen and been part of would always be there, but they couldn’t hurt me anymore. That’s what James was saying in his letter. Let the pain and hurts out. Once it’s out there, it can’t hurt you anymore.
And that’s something else a lot of people couldn’t understand.
I’d told Joseph in one of our sessions that I never came back from the Gulf War. That I was still wandering the desert like a ghost and had no idea who I was.
But I began to realize I had returned. I was just different, and I’d become a square peg everyone was trying to fit into a round hole.
That realization made me chart my own course. I’d never fit into their world, so I had to make one I would fit into. It was a course that left many people behind (you know the old expression that it’s hard to soar with Eagles when turkeys surround you). I wasn’t going to fit into their world anyway, so I built one of my own.
I married a beautiful woman, found God, and lived a life most would envy.
In the course of my writings, I’ve written about this journey. It’s a journey that is by no way over, and it’s been a great ride.