Inside a café in a Midwestern town sits a man in his forties. He sits alone gazing out the window remembering things others would find painful and hard to bear. Many people in the café have thought of approaching him; however, they sense stoicism, matter-of-factness, and at times vacant lucidity. They ask themselves questions like: “Why is he like this? Why does he stare all the time? Why the same coffee type? The same meal type? Why doesn’t he try something new or different? What is it about him that makes me apprehensive about starting a conversation with him?”
If only they knew; if only they had the courage to push past the protective walls that have been constructed over the years. You see, this man, when in his twenties started out life effervescent and adventuresome, seeing positivity in everything he encountered. One day while seeking something larger than him; he joined the military. Four years went by and then it happened. He ended up trading his youthful effervescent and vulnerable self for seriousness, matter-of-factness, and emotional vacancy. During the first four years of his military career, he found himself in a combat zone facing the seriousness of pain, death, and performance. He went on with his career for over sixteen more years, repeatedly finding himself in the same situations while learning even better how to put up emotional walls, and build upon his performance base as coping mechanisms.
Here are the answers to some of the questions above:
Why does he stare all the time? He stares, because blinking would mean that he was no longer vigilant. And because his mind is stained by the blood of his buddy.
Why the same coffee and meal type? Because, field mess and MRE’s didn’t afford the luxury of a full variety menu; eating was a necessity not a hobby.
Why doesn’t he try something new or different? He has become suspicious of new and different things. Changes to his environment warrant a call to EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal).
What is it about him that makes me apprehensive about starting a conversation with him? He’s a warrior, and he puts off facial and physical repellents, familiar to other warriors only, in hope that those who don’ t have the courage or want to understand him will leave him alone.
Deep down inside, the warrior’s only hope is that once again he can learn what is like to feel. You see, “We train our warriors to use controlled violence and aggression, to suppress strong emotional reactions in the face of adversity, to tolerate physical and emotional pain, and to overcome the fear of injury or death. (Brene Brown)”
If you want to help a veteran: Walk with them, talk with them, and above all else help them find the vulnerability they walked away from for your protection. But, if you aren’t willing to go the distance; then don’t start the journey.