Friday, May 27, 2016

Memorial Day 2016 and "What are Memorials?"

What's a memorial? How do we best memorialize and honor those who are no longer with us?


Sunday, May 1, 2016

Trauma Therapist Podcast Interview

The Trauma Therapist Project Podcast with Don McCasland, LMSW-CCTP


If you’ve somehow been led to believe that the psychological services we provide to our veterans is outdated, sub-par, and lacking in creativity then you haven’t met Don McCasland.

Don is a warrior. He’s an Army veteran, as well as a therapist providing insightful, creative and inspiring therapy to the men and women serving our country who are returning with trauma.

Don is someone I’ve wanted back on this podcast for quite some time. He’s an inspiring blend of warrior, therapist and healer. A combination one doesn’t come across very often, yet one that is vital when it comes to healing our returning vets who’ve been traumatized.

Don McCasland, LMSW-CCTP, retired from the US Army after more than 21 years of service in August 2009. He served in Desert Shield/Desert Storm as well as 3 Tours in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division. After seven years of unresolved PTSD, survivor’s guilt, and contemplating suicide Don began to lose control of his life. He finally sought out counseling, and came to grips with his soul wound.

Don is now a Readjustment Counselor with the Vet Center in Clarksville, TN and works with survivors of combat-related trauma and military sexual assault. Don’s wife is an LMSW, and his daughter is a BSW and will earn her MSW this Spring.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

"I'm home... Now what?!"

No matter where I am, when I'm speaking to veterans or their families, one of the most common things that people struggle with is feeling like they don't fit in. Folks have transitioned out of the military, and they're trying to figure out which direction to head in. That by itself can be enormously confusing and frustrating. I continually see veterans struggle and have difficulty figuring out why things aren't working the way they are supposed to work out for them. So many of us have a plan, and all these great ideas and visions about what it's going to be like  when we transition out of the military... ("Awesome!" "Kick ass!" "Easy compared to what I just went through!") and then reality punches us right in the throat, and we can't figure out what the hell just happened. These aren't all of the magical answers that are going to fit everyone's situation. However, they are some starting points from which all of us can build on, in order to succeed in whatever it is we choose to do now that we're finished with our time in.

Living in a world of "Gray" instead of "Black and White"- Everything is tightly regulated and regimented in the military. What clothing we wear, how we stand, how we walk, how we cut our hair, how much we weigh, what food we eat, what kind of shoes we wear, and on, and on, and on. Probably the majority of what we do in the military and how we do it must be done in a very specific way. If it's not done in that very specific way, I think we all know what happens... we feel some pain! Pain in the form of something as simple as getting shamed, embarrassed, or yelled that. All the way up to losing rank, money, or time because we get extra duty. You could go as far as being kicked out of the military or put in jail to someone losing life or limb. From the first day we enter the military we learn that deviation, being an individual and doing things our way instead of the military way is a nonstarter. For the most part, any individuality is crushed with extreme prejudice. That's not necessarily a bad thing when you're talking about the military. But that's in the context of being in the military, and succeeding. We do that all day, every day for our entire enlistment, no matter how long we stay in. Even on the weekends when we are "off duty", we have to keep all of these things in mind. 

Fast forward to the day after you got out of the military. You've just been dropped into a world where everything is no longer regimented and viewed as black-and-white. You are suddenly swimming in an ocean of gray. Nearly every second of your day you are now faced with choices and decisions. Oh, sure we have choices and decisions when were in the military but not like when we are in the civilian world. You have literally untold numbers of choices and decisions to make through every step of your day. There are as many choices and decisions to make as there are individual people walking around. And of those uncountable number of choices and decisions that you're expected to make, there's not just one or two or even three options that are acceptable. There could be 10 or 20 different choices and decisions that you could make, all of which are acceptable. So, we go from living 24/7 in a world of limited options and viable alternatives to living in a world where there are unlimited choices that we can make. And, that's not even limited to personal choices we have to make. Everyone around us is doing the same thing, and everyone has feelings that you have to take into account. In the military, we don't spend too much time worrying about other people's "feelings" or how your actions are going to "affect them". But in the civilian world? You absolutely have to do that. 

So, again... here we are in the civilian world. So many of us come out here trying to use what we learned and what worked in a totally different environment and situation, fully expecting it to work. And then when it doesn't work- we get pissed off, we push back even harder and stick to what we did before even more. We walk around every single day wondering "Why people are so fucking stupid", or why they don't just do things "The right way". However, being perfectly blunt- maybe WE are the ones that are "so fucking stupid", and WE are the ones that aren't doing things the "right way".

What's the solution? Well, we all have different ideas and things that we'll have to do to make things work out dependent on us as individuals. I'm not the expert on YOUR situation- YOU are. But there are some things that are universal that we all need to do in order to try to adjust and cope so we can get on with our lives and feel like we can overcome & succeed.

Be flexible- as black-and-white and regimented as things are in the military, we do pride ourselves on flexibility in order to get the mission done. So... be flexible out here. That same strength can be applied when dealing with civilians. Realize that in most situations as a civilian there are no clear-cut rules regulations, or guidelines. For example: you go to the store and pick up 10 things, and head to the express line for 10 items or less, and the person in front of you has 12 items, what do you do? I know what a lot of us would LIKE to do (and many of us end up trying to do), but that's not what I'm asking. I'm asking "What do you do?, what SHOULD you do?" You aren't the rules enforcer, it's not your place to "teach them a lesson". Breaking the rule and having 12 items isn't a life or death situation. It's not a severe breach of etiquette that is going to ruin your entire day, or at least it shouldn't be. Is that person rude? Are they inconsiderate for doing that? Maybe. But on the list of things that you have to accomplish today, of all of the things that could possibly happen to you as you go through your paces, is THAT thing really that damn important? The answer is no it's not. Shake your head, roll your eyes, take a deep breath and let it out. Then drop it. They have two extra items, but the quicker they get through, the quicker you can move on, too. Because, that leads us into the next thing to consider-

You don't need to take on every challenge that you encounter- in the military, we are often forced to take on every single challenge that comes our way because of our job, our level of responsibility, or because you're the first one to see it which means you are the one that has to tackle it first. For many of us, it's been all about "on the spot corrections" when you see someone walking past you with a uniform deficiency. "Lack of attention to detail is gonna get you or your buddy killed!!" But out here, if you do that you will make yourself insane. You have to decide which thing to take on and which thing to just sidestep and walk past. You can't take on every single situation, you have to decide which ones are actually worth your time and effort. Seriously and honestly ask yourself "Is there anything to be gained by taking this on?" You have to choose wisely because it could not only ruin YOUR day, it can adversely affect those around you, to include the ones that you care about and love. You have to prioritize, and begin to sift through everything and decide what has a low priority, a medium, or a high priority. It really is OK to decide that something isn't important, and to blow it off. That's not to say you shouldn't give a shit about anyone or anything. But, what I'm saying is you have to find a happy medium where some things are acknowledged as wrong, but not important in the grand scheme of things. It goes against everything we've learned in the military, but trust me when I tell you out here in the world of gray, it will pay off big time.

We started the discussion about a few things that are going to make your life and transition to civilian world little bit easier for you. Now- some of the things I've talked might have had you shaking your head and thinking that I'm wrong. That's fine. But, I'll ask you one question. "How are you seeing other people, and their actions throughout the day, and how often do you have some of these thoughts that I mentioned at the beginning?" Be honest with yourself. No bullshit, no justifying your actions and choices- but really, truly answer that question to yourself. Because if you spend even as little as one fourth of your day thinking of you people are stupid, don't know what the hell they're doing because that's how we did it in the military... It's still too much. You are in a totally different situation that calls for focus, and the way you are going to be able to accomplish what you want to accomplish cannot be done using the lessons of our past. Until my next blog entry, I ask that you really assess what's going on in your daily life and how you view things.

This was a long one, but this is really important subject matter, so thanks for reading. If you have any feedback, questions, comments, or ideas please make sure you leave a comment in the comment section. You can even post anonymously if you want to, but I really want to hear what you have to say. Take it easy, and take care of yourself.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Veterans Day: "I'll take your free stuff & admiration today... but then leave me alone until next year!"

Veterans Day. A day that evolved from Armistice Day. In November of 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day by stating: "To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…" The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11:00 a.m.. Presently, it's the day we now know in the US as Veterans Day which is dedicated to recognizing everyone who has served their country. A day when flags are flown, T-shirts are worn, and social media profile pictures change to shots of people in uniform at some point in their lives. A day when, in many towns and cities across the nation, veterans and active duty service members are offered a free meal and when stores offer discounts to veterans or active-duty folks.

It's also a day of dramatic contrast. Where I live, (which is a military town), you can go anywhere along the strip where most chain restaurants are located, and see a ridiculously long line of people coming out of every single restaurant within a 10 mile radius. At the same time, there are countless veterans who struggle with large crowds, and people constantly getting in their personal space to thank them for their service, or veterans who don't participate because of a general feeling of unease or awkwardness for being thanked for their service. Or, there's folks like me- who aren't crazy about large crowds but can deal with them, and just can't be bothered with standing in line for two hours for a free meal. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, I've got no judgment one way or another. That's just where you're at and if it works for you- then great, have at it. However, as I said at the start of this really long paragraph, it's a day of contrasts and that's what interests me and makes me scratch my head and tilt my head to the side slightly like a dog that hears a strange noise.

It's more than a little confusing, and even frustrating to see and hear fellow veterans talk about not feeling welcome or feeling angry with the general public about not wanting to speak to them or understand where they're coming from, etc. Because of these feelings, veterans and even their family members walk around with this giant chip on their shoulder angry at the world. They talk about how much they actually hate civilians, and how clueless and useless they are. They separate themselves from people who haven't served, and wear those crazy ass T-shirts and put those bumper stickers on their vehicles that I've talked about on numerous occasions to make sure that everyone stays away from them because they're "dysfunctional" or "heavily medicated". We wear our feelings on our sleeves (and on our chests and on our vehicle bumpers) about how people should stay the hell away. But goodness help the store or restaurant that doesn't offer something free or at a discounted rate for us when we choose to go out and get this free shit that "we have coming to us".

We want our cake, and we want to eat it too. We demand our personal space and bully people into staying away from us, and yet if they were to stay away from us, we bitch because they're staying away from us and not giving us a free lunch one day out of the year. 

Not that you asked... but you know what I wish would happen on Veterans Day? I wish veterans would go out into the community and actually do something to improve our standing and how people perceive us. To actually turn this into a day of action to show people who've never worn the uniform what we learned while we served this country, and what we are capable of. The imagination, focus, drive, determination, skills, and level of compassion and caring that we have all shown or experienced while we were in uniform. THAT would start the process of people understanding what we are all about and what we are capable of.

On Veterans Day, go out to an assisted living facility or nursing home, and visit fellow veterans that live there and may not have any family to come visit them and thank them for their service and sacrifice. Offer to speak at a local school about Veterans Day, and the important contributions that we make to our community and our world. Volunteer for the day at a local homeless shelter, or at a "stand down" event where various agencies do outreach to homeless and unemployed veterans. Sponsor a stretch of road, or a flower bed in a median at an intersection and clean it up and plant flowers in recognition of veterans. The options are literally limitless, and if you can think it, you can tailor it to your particular situation and do it. Even people who are physically or emotionally unable to handle one type of situation or another can easily adapt and still make a difference somewhere.

Showing up for a free meal, or for a 10% discount on an Xbox game, only to then disappear again and complain about the state of things around us doesn't accomplish shit for us, and it doesn't help with how people see us or treat us in our daily lives. You don't want to be treated like you're fragile? You hate the fact that people view us as "dangerous", or like "charity cases"? Then why the hell do we keep reinforcing that perception? This shit isn't going to magically go away, people. No- many of us can't get out there and do public speaking or interact with folks in certain situations. However- many of us CAN. And just like we were used to doing when we were in the military, we should reach back and help our buddies or just step up and make it happen until they are able to do so themselves.

Go get your free meal. Go buy your stuff and enjoy your discount. But then, go out and make a difference. Go out and do something that will help people understand where we're coming from and what we bring to the table as far as contributions and abilities. Positive changes as far as public perception and how we are treated doesn't come from us materializing out of the woodwork one day out of the year and then disappearing again for the other 364 days. Positive change doesn't come from us getting together and griping at each other about "them". The things that we want, and the treatment that we demand and expect can only come from us reaching out and demonstrating that we are here to make a difference today, just like we raised our right hands in order to make a difference back when we first came in and served. Mutual understanding and respect isn't a one-way street, and can't be accomplished through the efforts of one person or party. As the saying goes- "It takes TWO to Tango".

Let's dance.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

"They're a vet- don't upset them... they might break!"

You sure have been through a lot of shit, and somehow you're still here. Why? I know I've asked myself that question quite a bit, and there's a reason for it. But that reason is fading fast, in my opinion. And something I encountered recently REALLY drove this point home. 

In my work, in speaking with different people I inevitably hear this narrative that is crammed down our throats as veterans. The narrative that we are delicate, that we are always on the edge teetering between total loss of control of our emotions and our actions, or just barely being able to hold it together and function day to day. That we should be left alone and not "pushed" or "upset" for fear that it will somehow cause the train to jump the track, resulting in our being reduced to a quivering bowl of Jello, in the fetal position and sucking our thumbs in a dark corner somewhere. Or even worse- that it will result in violence of some sort.

This narrative is so powerful, and the image of a veteran falling apart and wreaking havoc on themselves or others is so scary to some people that it becomes who we are, and how they view all vets. On top of that, the image of that happening to ourselves as people is so scary, and so unnerving that WE can't let go of it either. We don't let go of it, and in fact many of us embrace it and end up buying into it. Even to the point that it nearly erases our previous selves and how we used to identify ourselves as people, as individuals, and as a collective group known as Veterans. We forget that we've "been through a lot of shit" and that the overwhelming percentage of that "shit" has been overcome and conquered by us. 99% of that "shit" that we've been through, we have faced head-on and have tackled with motivation, with courage, and with strength. We took it on and we overcame it. But somewhere along the way we have forgotten, and we've allowed the general public to forget our accomplishments. We as veterans, and people in general are hung up on that 1%. The 1% is what we struggle with, and that has become how we define ourselves and how others define us.

And I'm not just hammering veterans here. This image is held by many people in the general public. And I'll take it one step further. This image of the unstable, quivering, and on-the-edge veteran is often held in professional circles. Potential employers, mental health care professionals, doctors, you name it. 

And it's this idea of who we are that drags us down and keeps us there. It's called a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy. We hear the lies, the sensationalism and the hype so much that we begin to believe it. Once we believe it, well, hell... why bother, right? 

Please don't misinterpret my intent here. Are these things that we struggle with bullshit simple things? No they aren't. Are these things we struggle with trivial matters that we should just be able to brush off our shoulder? No they aren't. As I've said before in other blog entries, they are some of the most horrible, traumatic and upsetting things that you can imagine. I know this not from a book I read, or just from working with vets- I've lived it like many of you have. I'm not minimizing any of it, trust me.  What I am saying here is that as difficult, upsetting and traumatic as these things are that we struggle with day to day, they aren't insurmountable. These memories that we struggle with and that keep us from doing what we want to achieve are obstacles just like any other obstacle to overcome in order to prove something to ourselves and to others.

Many of us have been through a lot, and some of it is pretty horrible to even think about. But the key word I want people to focus on isn't "horrible". The word to focus on here is "through". You've been through it. Meaning, you survived and were able to move on to the next challenge, the next objective. Veterans aren't weak, they aren't unstable, and they aren't afraid of taking on a challenge for fear of failure. We are strong, we are focused, we know how to get the job done. We know what it takes to overcome things that the overwhelming majority of people wouldn't be able to overcome, or wouldn't know how to even deal with in the first place. THAT'S who we are. I see it every damn day, people- every single time a veteran come in for a counseling session, every one that approaches me somewhere outside the office, and every time I get an email, Facebook message, comment on the blog- that's a person who is working to overcome an obstacle, who knows they want to make a positive change, and that wants to DO SOMETHING. Just "showing up" says "I'm here, and I'm ready to do this!". That's not weakness, that's not someone who's fragile or delicate- that's someone who's ready to get to work and get dirty in order to reach a goal. 

Whatever it is you face in your daily life that you carry with you from surviving a traumatic experience, look at it. Think about it. It's an obstacle to overcome just like any other obstacle. It's not just something to do and forget about. It's something that you face and take on and overcome. It makes you stronger, more confident and better able to appreciate and live your life. Maybe that obstacle is something that's pretty damn big, and that you can't just run toward at full speed. Maybe that obstacle that you're dealing with requires some planning, and some preparation for. That's fine. Plan and prepare for it, and work on things that will make you stronger and better able to handle that obstacle once you're ready to take it on. But don't just stand there and look at that obstacle thinking "Damn... That's a big obstacle". Don't do that to yourself, and don't allow other people to convince you to do it either. You never did it before, and you shouldn't do it now.

What's the obstacle? It's whatever you're dealing with and that's in the way of you feeling better about yourself and your situation. The obstacle is anger, isolating behaviors, fear of large crowds, hypervigilance, high-risk behaviors, use of alcohol or drugs to numb memories, loss of trust in others, physical limitations from being wounded or injured... you name it. That's the obstacle. It's whatever stands in your way and keeps you from reaching your goals.

I don't claim to be all-knowing, all-seeing. I don't claim to be the smartest dude out there. I don't claim to be the best Social Worker or counselor there is out there. But one thing I do know with absolute certainty- in the 21 years and seven months that I was in the Army, and in the 5 years post-Army that I've been a Social Worker dealing with Veterans & Veterans issues, every single damn day of those 26+ years I've seen strength, courage, focus, intelligence, and an appreciation of life, of friendship, of love & kindness that I've NEVER seen in any other group of people. Ever.

*NEWSFLASH!!* for potential employers and mental healthcare professionals- People with those qualities aren't shy about facing difficulty or taking on a challenge. They aren't scared to face their fears, and they aren't afraid of failure. They aren't delicate or unstable people that are on the verge of "shattering". They are people that, given the right tools and resources, can and will face whatever issue they're struggling with. They might stumble, they might get a little bruised up, but they'll get up and get back in there until they accomplish what they set out to do. Give them that chance. Give them the resources, the training, and the tools to get the job done (whether it involves counseling or employment), and watch what happens. You'll see they're anything but delicate or unstable.

Vets, yes- you've been through a lot of shit. So what are you going to do with it? Are you doomed to drag it around like a ball and chain around your ankle, sentenced to a life of misery and struggle? Or will you take those experiences and use them to negotiate that obstacle and in the process grow and gain strength?

I know damn well what the answer is. And so do you. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

The importance of truth, and the price of not sharing it & listening to it.

“If people only KNEW…”

“I can’t tell them what I saw and did. They’ll never look at me the same again”

“I can’t listen to that stuff! It’s too much.”

“Let’s not talk about the past- it’s over with. Focus on the future!”

We all carry things in our heads that we wish would go away sometimes. Either that, or we wish they didn’t affect us the way they do- nightmares, flashbacks, physical pain and all of that other stuff that seems to just show up, cause havoc, then go away and leave us with the emotional and physical aftermath. It’s like you’re on the beach building a cool sand castle, minding your own business, just so totally focused on it. Thinking of nothing but finishing what you’re trying to put together.  Suddenly some bully shows up, knocks your bucket and shovel out of your hand, kicks your castle apart, kicks sand in your face then runs away mocking you, laughing. Leaving you sitting there staring at the destruction thinking “What the hell just happened here?! WTF??!!” You’re pissed, right? Eventually, you get over it, and start again. You’re making decent progress, but damned if that friggin’ person doesn’t show up again to kick the shit out of your hard work and run away laughing and mocking you again. It sounds pretty ridiculous, but think again. The ‘castle’ you’re working on… that’s your LIFE, and rebuilding it following trauma. That ‘person’ or whatever that shows up to kick your castle down? That’s your bottled up story, your truth that you can’t or won’t share.

That’s the thing about your truth. You’re worried because you might get judged, or you’re afraid to let it out because maybe once you do, it’s “out there”, and everyone knows. The problem with that is if you don’t share it and talk, the scenario above is what happens to many of us (it happened to ME). Truth shows up and wrecks what you’re doing, then disappears again only to reappear at a time and place of it’s own choosing. Each time causing damage and leaving you to pick up the pieces.

In the short term, it’s easy to keep it pushed down and hidden from everyone. We may even trick ourselves into thinking that if we keep it buried deep enough and for long enough, it’s just going to somehow magically disappear. But, I’m here to tell you that it NEVER DOES. I’ve experienced it myself on my journey on the Warriors’ Path, and I’ll say that without fail it comes back with a vengeance for the bulk of the folks I speak to as a Social Worker. Another beach metaphor for ya- this one from my dear friend and Sister, Kate Dahlstedt Co-Founder of Soldier’s Heart. It’s like a beach ball that you’re trying to push under the water. You can push and get it just below the surface with little effort, but the deeper you try to push it the more difficult it is to keep under the surface. It pushes back against your hands and you have to try harder and harder to control it and keep it down. But… eventually it pops up to the surface- hitting you in the face, splashing you and everyone around you.

You aren’t “protecting” your loved ones, your friends or even yourself from anything by trying to keep this stuff hidden away in your soul, or pushed far back in the recesses of your brain. All of that pent up truth and memory is a burden on many levels. The effort you have to make to keep it hidden takes its toll on you physically- Migranes, TMJ (from grinding your teeth or constantly clenching your jaw), neck and back problems, joint issues, digestive problems like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Acid Reflux and Ulcers, problems sleeping or nightmares (which is your brain in an ‘uncontrolled’, relaxed state running free to release what’s buried in there day after day). That’s the personal physical toll that then sets up an emotional falling out. You’re feeling all of those things above when you’re awake, so what happens then? You don’t physically or emotionally feel well, and it comes out in the form of snapping at friends and loved ones for ‘no reason’. Shorter temper, lack of patience when doing tasks or interacting with people, road rage and other mood swings/outbursts. This affects relationships with friends, co-workers and family- isolating behaviors, issues with intimacy and with personal safety (because you can’t trust yourself or others). Struggles with self-esteem because of the above, in addition to that general feeling of “I feel so out of control/barely in control! What the hell is wrong with me?!” It’s difficult for others to be around you, or they’re not sure how to help. Hell… it’s difficult for you to be around yourself much of the time. All of THAT because you’re trying to “protect your loved ones” or yourself. Also- in the process of ‘protecting’ them, you’re leaving them in the dark, and they have almost no real idea of what’s going on and why. So, as human beings, what’s our first instinct when we don’t know all of the facts? We create things to fill in the blanks. It’s called “Heuristics”, which is a mental shortcut that allows people to solve problems and make judgments quickly and efficiently. It’s also called a “Rule of Thumb”, or what we used to call a SWAG (Scientific Wild-Assed Guess) in the Army, and they can shorten decision-making time and allow people to function without constantly stopping to think about their next course of action. It sounds good, but the downside is that just because an assumption has worked before in a different situation, it doesn’t mean it’s going to work again. Dealing with a situation like trying to make sense of a loved one’s actions (or reactions) following trauma isn’t something you can use everyday situations to fill in the blanks. Another name for this way of trying to make sense of things is- “Assumption”. I think we’re all familiar with the old saying about assumptions, right?!. Assumptions and generalizations are made, and that’s not good for our community of vets as a whole. It goes back to my post from February 24, 2014 titled “Civilians don’t get it. And neither do WE”. We complain about people not getting it, but then we don’t help them to- we just keep pushing them away and bitching about them not listening. Anyway… the frustration over assumptions and how they complicate and worsen a situation can be avoided by- yup, you guessed it! SHARING your truth with someone you trust.

I’m by no means saying if you aren’t ready to share, or if you don’t have someone you feel safe with confiding in that you should force yourself, or that you’re wrong for thinking that way. All I’m saying is maybe you should consider approaching the situation a bit differently, because if you’re going through all those things I mentioned above then obviously something isn’t working. Give someone a chance to listen, even if it’s just a little bit at a time. One small little puzzle piece at a time, and see how it goes.

Family members and friends, I’ve spoken about this before in another blog entry from March 5, 2014 titled “I’m just one person- what am I supposed to do?!”, so I encourage you to check that out as well. In a nutshell, just try to ‘be there’ for the person. It’s going to be hard, it’s going to make you feel uncomfortable and awkward, you might hear something you wish you didn’t have to hear or know, but that’s OK. It’s OK, and it can be so helpful to someone you care about so please give it a chance. You don’t even have to ‘do anything’ with it, other than just listen and accept it.

So back to truth. The English definition is- “the quality or state of being true, that which is true or in accordance with fact or reality, a fact or belief that is accepted as true”. I don’t much care for that definition in this context. I feel a better one is for the Greek word for truth- “Aletheia”. Pronounced “al-LEE-thi-a”, it’s literal meaning is “The state of not being hidden”. It’s truth- but not just spoken truth; it’s truth of idea, reality, sincerity, truth in the moral sphere, and straightforwardness.  That’s why I always refer to people’s stories as “Their truth”, “Your truth”, or “My truth”. It’s never THE truth, as defined by the English definition- it’s your truth, which is related to your personal experiences from where you were at the time. If what you experienced was traumatic, then it was traumatic. My experience isn’t “worse” than yours in the grand scheme of things- it’s just MINE, and that makes it just as valid as anyone elses. As I said before- the longer we hide our truth to protect people from the terrible details or what we experienced, the worse WE feel, the more confused, frustrated and helpless people that care about us feel, and the more the general population becomes detached and ignorant of the details.

*Something about that whole “civilians don’t know” bullshit- we all complain about people not knowing what we go through. How are they supposed to know if we don’t tell them, or they find out via a bumper sticker, t-shirt or shitty attitude from a vet? Prime example, the not-so-distant ‘moral outrage’ on social media recently over people confusing Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day. I saw a veteran’s blog post somewhere that said when people thanked him for his service on Memorial Day, his standard reply was “Why are you thanking ME?! I didn’t die!”. This person took joy in seeing the confused look on the ‘offenders’ face, like he was teaching them a lesson. Yeah… they taught ‘em a lesson alright. You taught them not to make an effort to reach out to a vet, because they’re all assholes with a chip on their shoulder. So instead of looking at it as a teaching moment and explaining the difference and maybe honoring the people they may have known and lost on deployment, they chose… that. Frustrating, and even infuriating to me. But you know what that tells me as I step back and look at the situation? That SCREAMS to me “There’s someone not sharing their truth”, because like I said before- keep it bottled up and buried. Don’t share it with anyone, and what happens? It comes out in other ways, most if not all of them counter-productive. And the giant divide between ‘Us and them’ that vets constantly moan about gets wider and wider….

I ask everyone who reads this- veteran, family member, community member, internet troll, everyone. Think about that word “Aletheia”- truth. It really is “…the first casualty” in war as Aeschylus, the Greek dramatist (and combat veteran!) said. It’s the first casualty on the battlefield, it’s the first casualty on the homefront, it’s the first casualty in our hearts and souls when we return and don’t share it with others, or hear, listen and accept it from others. It’s the first step towards understanding each other and making sense out of this whole shitty situation, and it’s within all of us to do something about it.
What are you gonna do?

Monday, July 6, 2015

What is a ‘functional veteran’, or do they even exist?

This video discusses a great question I got from a Veteran named Ray R. In the video I discuss the exchange we had on my "The Functional Veteran" Facebook page, and only AFTER I made the video did I realize some folks don't have Facebook. Below is the original conversation so that all of you are up to speed before viewing the video entry itself.  ENJOY!

Ray R- “Hello I have a question, since I was in the service and have traveled around the world, I have met a shit ton of soldiers from all sorts of different countries. Anyway my point is we're all Dysfunctional Veterans and if you claim to be functional well then that's why only 300 are on this page. I would really like to know what a 'functional veteran' actually is or if it exist.”

My reply- "Ray, thanks for asking.

A functional veteran is just that- someone who has experienced some pretty horrible shit, but is able to take that experience and turn it into a strength to use to their advantage. It's NOT an easy process- I've been there myself with PTSD and Survivors Guilt... through suffering and being a miserable fuck to myself, my family and anyone else I came in contact with. But after struggling for years, I finally admitted to myself that I had a problem and I had to do something about it before I lost everything and committed suicide (which I actively thought about doing).
Functional Veterans DO exist. They aren't like Unicorns, or some shit. I see them, I speak to them- they're EVERYWHERE.

As for why there's only 300 people on this page... it's because I'm one dude. One dude with no budget that's trying to make a difference by sharing my story and by doing counseling with survivors of trauma. One dude that doesn't sell t-shirts and bumper stickers encouraging and capitalizing on other people's misery. And I hope I didn't come across as a dick just then, because that wasn't my intent.

I really, truly appreciate the question and the feedback. It's an important question, and I'm going to write my next Blog entry about it. Take care, and you're welcome to ask me whatever the hell you want to, and I'll do my best to answer you. I'm a Licensed Social Worker and I do counseling, but I'm an honest guy who's been there, and I don't bullshit anyone. Thanks again!"

Ray R.- "Thank you for the response, I look forward to reading your blog if you could send it to me when it's release I would love to read what you have to say, I have many demons in my life and being 'functional' in the reality we have today seems like the impossible. Again THANK YOU answering my question, I look forward to following your page."

My Reply- "It DOES feel impossible, I know. And even when we feel like we're "doing good", we slip. I still do once in a while- I lose my temper once in a while, I jump at loud noises, and I'm just now getting over not liking the blinds being open at my house. I still have a trigger of smelling simple green cleaner. But what's different is that those things no longer totally wreck my day. I'm able to step back, take a deep breath and recover quickly. That's my life, and it's a minor blip in my day once in a while. It still sucks, but only for 5 seconds at a time, then it's gone.

You can get there, too. It just takes time."