Memorial Day symbolizes the day we pay tribute to our fallen soldiers who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. On the one hand, most of us have never or will never deploy in theater on active duty. In fact, the very concept of war might offend our personal sensibilities. On the other hand, many of us have served, know of someone who has served, or work directly with these courageous men and women who volunteered their service and life in the name of American life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.
Although it’s nice to focus on life-affirming concepts and issues, it is important to evaluate the very notion of war and violence within our own civilian lives. How often do we wage war against ourselves, those we love, and even those we don’t, based on differences of opinion, color, religion, social class, or simply because we think we can? If we lead by example practicing non-violence and compassion we begin to heal the world through peace that starts at home.
War changes everyone. Some say war gives meaning to life. The very concept of violence, destruction, and death as being a path to heightened awareness and mindfulness is troubling. War involves real live armed troops: young men and women who summon courage, valor, determination, loyalty, and honor for our flag to serve our country in some far off distant land in defense of varied principles and not-so-obvious missions. Behind the service uniforms and Kevlar armor there are hearts, minds, and emotions that can become hardened and fatigued with each battle. The collateral damage of life and limb is obvious. But the invisible wounds of war that touch the deepest and darkest places of our humanity are hidden out of reach and cloaked by emotional numbness, rage, depression, and addiction.
Welcome to the 21st century soldiers’ post-homecoming party called combat trauma, shell shock, battle fatigue, and Post-Traumatic Stress. The names are varied but their meaning is the same—stress overload—no matter how you slice it. Today’s military has been taxed by more than ten years of prolonged conflicts, multiple deployments, an often difficult-to-identify enemy as well as insufficient emotional resiliency preparation for what really happens out there on the battlefield. The American Psychiatric Association defines Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as someone who has, “…experienced, witnessed, or been confronted with, an event or events that involve actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of oneself or others.”
While the by-product of trauma and tragedy is obvious, the stigma attached to it by calling it a clinical disorder is like an automatic repellant for those in need of treatment and healing. Post-Traumatic Stress strikes me as a sane and rational response to insane circumstances and not at all a “disorder.” In fact, if we reframe the very notion of a bruised heart and soul as the normal response to witnessing heinous acts of inhumanity we can create a humane and workable method of helping others to heal.
When we are numbed by fear and succumb to the dark nights of the soul we also become numb to living fully with passion, purpose, place, and meaning—that which are the cornerstones of a joyful life. Therein lies the heart-centered treatment plan of successful post-deployment reintegration and healing Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS). This does not involve avoidance or emotionally bypassing the issues. There is no one-size-fits-all right way to heal. Healing the invisible wounds of war takes warrior-like courage to actively transform from Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) to Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG).
So as we usher in summer and memorialize the day with friends and families, consider taking a moment or two to honor those who have fought for our rights and our democratic ethos. There are less than six degrees separating all of us and we are all fighting the good fight in one form or another.
In order to evolve as a country we must move our nation to care about our veterans and serve them as they return home and transition back to civilian life. This involves a very humanistic approach through unconditional positive regard of another’s experience that may be very different from our own.
Please learn more about Harvesting Happiness for Heroes, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, offering integrated stigma-free positive and spiritual psychology coaching and programming, all at no cost to warriors and their loved ones challenged by combat trauma and other post-deployment reintegration issues by visiting: www.HH4Heroes.org.
Lisa Cypers Kamen is acclaimed for her engaging blend of positive and spiritual psychology coaching, workshops, and philanthropic projects. Through her books, radio show, media appearances, and inspiring documentary films, such as “H Factor: Where Is Your Heart?,” Lisa recently launched Harvesting Happiness for Heroes, a non-profit corporation dedicated to bringing integrated psychology coaching tools and mindfulness training to Veterans and their loved ones. She has been featured on The Huffington Post, ABC and CBS television, Yahoo News, and Money Watch. You can visit Lisa on her website, Facebook or Twitter.