When Combat Got Real…

This is why I love working with vets. When it comes to hardships, the basic attitude is f*** it, just rip that bandaid off. The gloves come off. Nothing is safe from criticism. You expect a lot from yourself. You expect a lot from the people who say they’ll be there for you.

Except when it comes to what happened when combat got real. That is the moment that war became combat trauma. Sometimes, that’s becomes PTSD. Can happen to anyone, and yet, y’all are like .. I don’t want to talk about that. I have feelings about that. I don’t want to talk about feelings. I’m too tough for that.

I get that talking about feelings isn’t your thing. You’re on the move, taking care of business, and feelings are complicated and make things messy. It’s hard to rip the bandaid off the way combat got real. That requires something you’ve not been trained to do. You’re not even wired for that. Maybe you, or someone you love, can identify with Jon Archambault, a Canadian combat veteran and author of Operation: Wired Differently,

As individuals become consumed by their trauma, they may find themselves confronting their own mortality. Their belief in themselves – that they were stewards of security, tasked to “save and secure the world” – becomes eroded; a reputation stained.

The concept of “it will never happen to me” fades. A reality kicks in. There is shame. There is despair. There is giving up. Now they are the ones to be “saved” and that is not a role they’ve trained for. (pp. 34-35)

Skipping over your emotions doesn’t work for PTSD, but you already know that. With PTSD, memories of things that went down decades ago can be as fresh as the day things got real. That’s what we call trauma memory, and that is the core of PTSD. The main effect of trauma memory is that our thoughts and emotions about what happened keep recycling, just like the memory of what happened recycles. It’s very hard to get traction on sorting things out while that memory keeps rolling around, fresh as the day is long.

Vets remember when things got real downrange. Honestly, if you didn’t end up with trauma memory from those things, you’re one of the lucky ones. So far, we’re finding that 20% of you end up with trauma memory (PTSD), but you know that that’s a low ball number. You know that you hadn’t talked about it, until you finally did. Maybe you haven’t talked about it yet in any way that brings you lasting relief. And, you probably know at least 2-3 other vets who haven’t talked about it. Yet. A lot of you know at least one vet who has made the ultimate decision, to end their lives rather than keep living in it.

Fight PTSD. Stop pretending you’re not cycling through memories of when it got real downrange. Trauma memory is a real neuropsychological injury. It doesn’t matter how strong you are, or how brave you are, it’s a brain thing that happened then, and keeps happening now. The day before shit went down, you operated one way in the world. You weren’t jumpy or watchful or worried about terrorist attacks in your neighborhood back home. Since that combat trauma event occurred, you’ve been watching for trouble from any corner. It’s not a sustainable way to live. 

This week’s message from PTSD Unplugged is about respect for the extraordinary effort required to serve this country through thick and thin. It’s been a lot of thick for twenty years. Combat deployments and preparing for deployments. Barely time to take a breath let alone contemplate how combat getting real still affects you and your families.

We’re going to load up our social media this week for combat vets. Trigger warning all week. A lot of us civvies have very little idea what you’ve faced during this 20 year war. For us, this could be a wake up call.

Take back your life from PTSD.

Dr. Pam

P.S. Check out our #StrongerTogether resource page. We’re loading it with national resources, and resources that vets and their families have found helpful as they wrestle their lives out of this mess.


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