Wednesday, January 11, 2012

On Survivors'-Survivor's Guilt, or "Mostly I just want my friends to stop killing themselves..."

There is a kind of survivor's guilt that you expect to encounter when you survive through a war (or two).  It's the kind of guilt that says, "Why did that person die and I didn't?" or "Why am I still here and they're not?"  It's an almost universal experience amongst other veterans that I've spent time with.  I had a healthy dose of it myself.  There were at least three times in Iraq in '04 where I probably should've died.  I didn't.  Others did.  That was tough to process.

But there's another kind of survivor's guilt that's much more underhanded and unexpected.  It hits you like a blow to the back of the head that you never see coming, and it can take the breath right out of your chest.  It's the guilt that says, "Why am I able to adjust and they aren't?" or "Why do I deserve this incredible support system when they have nothing?"

Another veteran I know committed suicide this week. 

I try to rationalize.  This one wasn't as good of a friend as the last one.  Sure, we worked together for a couple of years, but we weren't that close.

But it doesn't lessen the sting. 

The fact is that, just like regular survivor's guilt, it's less about the incident itself, and more about the existential questions that remain after the fact. I'm always wondering if I could've done more, or how I could've missed the signs, but mostly I irrationally blame myself because I feel so very undeserving of what I have.  I have been immeasurably blessed with an incredible support system that has kept me away from going to that cold, dark place where nothing else remains.

There's no grand lesson in this post, no grandiose purpose to these words.  There is no ulterior motive to this post save this:

If you know a veteran who is struggling, please, reach out a hand to help them. 

They may not want your help.  They may fight you or push you away.  They might act like there's nothing wrong, or they may have already started withdrawing, but it's never too late until it's too late.  I started down that road myself, more than once, but it was always the light of love from those around me that brought me back.

Regardless of our views on war, peace, the military, politics or any other superfluous opinions we might hold, these are real people who are broken in body, in mind, in heart, in spirit, and need to know that they are loved, that they are valued, and that they are not alone. 

Your words can literally speak life back into them.

Trust me. 

I know.

1 comment:

  1. I am sad to read this. Perhaps you are writing about the veteran from this area. Even so, it makes us all heavy. Best to you my friend.

    ReplyDelete

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