"Life is old there, older than the trees, younger than the mountains, growin' like a breeze . . ." From Take Me Home, Country Roads
The recent season of my life has been somewhat of a winter - my (now ex-)husband's aneurysm rupture, the subsequent divorce and loss of my family as I knew it - dreamed it would be, starting over, so many changes, transformation . . . and now that it feels that spring may stay for a while and summer is even possible . . . I want to celebrate the winters we all experience, rejoice for what they bring.
Scattered throughout this post are photographs from the Shenandoah Valley in the winter. Some of them were taken from inside a Comanche Piper, single-engine aircraft right after this year's first snowfall.
In a previous post, I quoted from the off-Broadway classic, The Fantasticks
, and it is worth quoting again:
"There is a curious paradox that no one can explain, for who understands the secret of the reaping of the grain, who understands why spring is born out of winter's laboring pain, or why we must all die a bit before we grow again?" (From the Fantasticks by Tom Jones & Harvey Schmidt)
Today I'm working in D.C.. Another blizzard is expected to come up through the Valley, and I'm hoping I can both get in the work I need to do here, and get home again before I'm snowed out.
Winter, winters . . . some winters are longer and harder than others.
I received an email today from a former client. A war vet. I've worked with a lot of them, so this could be anyone of many. This particular vet was worried about sharing with his fellow soldiers, in a very exposed way, how he has struggled with post traumatic stress. He spent a good bit of time in Iraq or Afghanistan or both or somewhere else . . .I won't specify much to protect his identity. . .but war was hell for him. Hearing his stories was hell for me at times. Helping him begin the healing process was a gift to me, but he moved away, and the work has felt unfinished. We have kept in touch periodically. This is what I wrote to him today, with identifying details deleted. Please tolerate grammatical errors, etc. - the letter was written in relative haste, and with the desire to be like a conversation:
"Dear . . .
Maybe you can work on reframing these things as ways you've survived - versus failed.
ok - so here is this bottled up hypervigilance, anxiety, angst, anger from the war and other traumatic experiences in your life - lets call this "You post-war"
"You post-war" meets with an unfair, personality disordered job supervisor and does well in many ways until a certain level is reached, and You explode. You pre-war would not have exploded, even if the situation was such that it made sense to blow-up, but You've used up your tolerance, your ability to hold things in.
Each new thing, post-war difficulty, adds on to the stress within you - you have to figure out some way to get back to baseline - but that is not going to happen over night. How long did you spend in theater? How intense were those days and nights and weeks and months? It took a lot to get you where you are. Have you really had the chance to work that intensely on tackling your recovery? I don't think you have. You've had to worry about raising a son and caring for you both financially and the day to day events of life PLUS recovery. You're fighting an uphill battle.
What you could say to those who you're afraid might judge you, could very well convey the message that you are slowly winning - that you are still in a race even though you've been shot down multiple times. You hang in there, you keep working at it, and little by little, with some downturns, of course, you will eventually make it through. Making it through does not mean perfection - it means a life worth living. These are not failures, this is a journey against the current. How many of your peers are going to know this about you, who have been through as much as you? Do you really think those who have been through as much are going to judge you? Don't you know many other soldiers who went through a lot and have their own struggles? I do - they struggle in private and in shame and until some of you who look like you've got it together, who did a great job in theater, who are cool in so many ways - until more of you who are the walking wounded point out your hidden wounds, everyone who is struggling in private shame will keep doing so.
You don't HAVE to "come out" about the post traumatic stress, of course not, but it could be a very big piece of your recovery. Both on a psychological level, but also on a practical level. This may lead to opportunities that you would never have found. I can't make any guarantees, but must say YOU have a terrific charisma, magnetism, personality that shines through all the shrapnel that has hit you, it just needs to be seen, recognized. Here is a quote for you:
"You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do."--Eleanor Roosevelt.
. . .I came across this quote the other day and you're the first person I thought of - you have embodied this many times in your life. I'm scared shitless to be on a TV program as an "expert" - but I'm going to face the fear and make my life more and more what I want it to be. I know you can do that, too - you are so strong, so smart, so capable.
Listen, call me if you need - - come out to DC and give this thing a go. It may be transformative, and if it isn't working when you're here, you can say so to them. They're dealing with ALL PTSD cases - they get it. You aren't dealing with a hand grenade; you'll get more than one chance. O. K.- seriously call if you need.
I'm thinking of you,
Shortly after, he responded, encouraged, and said to me "you rock." I wrote back:
"My clients teach me to be a better therapist everyday. You gave me a gift in our work together - because it challenged me, because you showed courage in the face of fear, and also because of the sacrifices you made in the name of our country -you rock, you are a rock - maybe pushed around by glacial forces, but a rock all the same. Here is another quote from Albert Schweitzer, Nobel Peace Prize recipient:
“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”,
Hang in there - and let me know about next week as soon as you can, so we can meet in DC if possible.
Finding the beauty in winter, the promise, the hibernation, the recovery.