Our country has been at war for the past 14 years. Many young men and women are returning from combat and finding that “coming home” is more difficult and painful than they thought it would be.
Capt. Tyler Boudreau, former US Marine and author of “Inferno: The Unmaking of a Marine” put it this way:
“WAR IS THE FOYER TO HELL;
COMING HOME IS HELL.”
Recently I learned from new friend Dr. Bill Nash, Director of Psychological Health for the Marine Corps, that only 15% of returnees from Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD. That’s because a psychiatrist has to observe six specific symptoms in a patient in order to make that diagnosis.
But many more young veterans have fewer than that. Many are not shocked back into battlefield trauma by a loud noise, but can’t sleep because they’re hypervigilant. They got so used to sleeping “with one eye open” that they can’t relax anymore. Some can’t go to a mall or a stadium or even a church; they can’t stop scanning the crowd for the sniper or the bomber.
Others witnessed or took part in activities in combat that have shaken their deepest identity; they are morally injured. Many doubt they will ever be whole again. They’ve “come home” but are not at home in their own skins
Many young veterans are in the early years of marriages, are building civilian careers and are trying to raise young children, all while carrying a “soul wound,” a persistent ache that never goes away.
If we really are a United people, their struggles are our own. Pope Francis has often expressed the hope that the church would be a “field hospital” binding the wounds of battered humanity.
I am not a military chaplain. I’m not a veteran, but I am a citizen and a compassionate person. I’ve helped many who’ve been traumatized by childhood or domestic abuse. I’ve helped victims of natural disasters make sense of their lives and see the twisted blessings that come their way after horrific tornadoes in Joplin, MO and Moore, OK. In my 30 years as a Catholic priest and pastoral counselor I’ve learned a thing or two, which might help our wounded warriors. I have to at least try.
I’m attending every conference I can find on this subject. And I’ve written the first module of a series of retreats I’m calling “The No Place Like Home Project.” That one will offer insights from the Catholic contemplative and mystical traditions to help people rest for that third of each day our systems are designed to regenerate in sleep.
I have so much to learn, and some wisdom to offer. Would you like to be a part of this effort? Or do you love someone who is suffering, who might hope they really can get all the way home? Maybe we can help each other out.