I thank God every day for Vietnam Veterans.
Without them, I wouldn’t be alive.
It sounds melodramatic, as if it’s the first lines of a voiceover in a movie about the effects of war. For me, however, it’s a simple fact.
It was the fall of 2009. I had been in individual therapy intermittently since the onset of combat related Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms in May of 2007, and it was helping. I felt steadier, I was sleeping more (though still not every night), and I was beginning to learn how to live with my PTSD.
It was hard. Harder than I expected, and I stumbled continuously, unsure of where to turn.
I felt so alone.
I was in college, away from my family, and had a few close friends but they had no experience like mine. I was involved with the Veterans’ group on campus, but didn’t spend much time with the others in the group outside of school. Most of the others in the campus group were still in the “gung-ho ‘I served in the military’ phase and I didn’t have much in common with them, as I had moved into what I call the “unsure if it was the right course for my life” phase. I’m sure most Veterans have them.
I was afraid I would never learn how to live with PTSD. So when my counselor suggested that I attend one of the group sessions offered at the Vet Center, I hesitantly agreed. This specific group was called “Depression and Self-Esteem” and I knew I was likely to be the only woman. Most Veterans groups are all men, and I was uncertain how I was going to be able to connect to them. Would they have anything in common with me besides our military service?
Turns out, I shouldn’t have worried. These men, the majority of them Vietnam Veterans, let me in and I felt comfortable there. Here were people who understood what I was going through in a way others in my life could not. And even though these men were old enough to be my father, they accepted me as one of them.
Well, not right away. It took a few sessions for me to feel comfortable with them and for the men to stop apologizing for cursing in front of me. As if I’ve never heard (or said) a curse word or two! We eventually began to connect and understand each other, even though their war had been fifty years before mine.
I spent the next two years attending group therapy in addition to my individual therapy. And for me, group therapy was the turning point. In individual therapy, even though my counselor was a Veteran, it didn’t help with the isolation that my symptoms had made me feel. Attending a group made me feel connected, and that more than anything helped me learn how to live with my PTSD.
I still have occasional suicidal thoughts, and there are a few times throughout the year which are harder than others, but I do not actively wish for it any longer. For those two years, it was a near-constant option and solution to my problems. But these men in group therapy were everything I needed and nothing of who I wanted to be.
Almost all of them were divorced. Most had been addicted to drugs or suffered from alcoholism. Most of them were estranged from family members or children who they had not let in to help during their struggles, and those families didn't understand. And I, with the benefit of being thirty years younger than they were, had time. Time to heal, time to make sure I knew how to manage my symptoms—which I knew would flare up from time to time through the rest of my life—and time to make myself ready for healthy relationships.
I am more grateful to these men than I could ever express, though I hope I have conveyed some of that here.
Remember that when you wish a person “Happy Veterans’ Day” they may not have only happy or heroic stories to go with it. Their stories may be of pain, and suffering, and loss. But I do not think you’ll ever really find someone who regrets their military service, though they may regret what they’ve lost because of it.
I am a Veteran. And I’m proud of that fact. I served to the best of my ability in the United States Army from 2001-2005. I have PTSD.
And I wanted to kill myself nearly every day for almost two years. I can’t be sure that feeling will ever completely go away. But those men helped me through the single most difficult time of my life and I will forever be thankful.
So enjoy your day off.
And Happy Veterans’ Day.
Writer/Editor. Voracious Book Reader. World Traveler. Veteran.