A post submitted by E. F. Grossman’s Wife:
The horror of combat and survivor’s guilt, leaves veteran’s permanently wounded, even if they survived battle without a physical wound. They can never come home, at least, not as the people they were when they last saw their family and friends. They are unrecognizable to everyone they left behind, and far too often, to themselves, as well. That person they used to be is dead. The person that returns to the world has experienced sights, sounds, and horrors that loved ones cannot even begin to imagine, let alone understand, or relate to… so even though the veteran looks like the same person, they are not, and can never be, again.
My husband had a friend that was a former Navy Seal. Like most that served in the various branches of Special Forces, he had given years of service to his country, and had dedicated his entire life to that service. Since Seal operations are often ‘top secret’, and he took an oath to remain silent (like all special ops soldiers),. As a result, he was forced to swallow his rage and pain, and memories.
He began his service in his youth. The Seals became his only family. When one of his teammates, his closest friend through many missions, and many years, died in his arms, it hit him harder than anything else he had ever experienced. The trauma was so great, that he could no longer function. He was hospitalized, and eventually ‘retired’ from the Navy.
He came home to a world he could not recognize, and tried to blend in. He took a job as a mechanic, but could not hold it. He had a small pension that allowed him to live, but he could not work, or go to school, even though his benefits would have provided an education, he could not keep the focus required for college. Mind you, this was a highly intelligent man. The Seals don’t take dummies. He was just lost in wounds, so permanent that they would never stop bleeding.
His mother could not understand him, even though his father had been a military man. His brother, who had served twenty years in the Army on a base in California, had never seen combat, and could not relate to him at all. He had no friends in the outside world, having joined the Navy at eighteen. He felt most comfortable in that underworld of society, often referred to as ‘outlaw’; because so many in that world were fellow veterans whose experiences were close to his own. They provided him with a foundation of family that he could relate to, since his own family, and society in general, had driven him away. Even when he found a lady and fell in love, she told him to “…just get over it!”
He could not. None of them can.
If you love a combat veteran, you must love them enough to accept them as they are, if you are ever to be able to help them learn to cope back in the world.