David Wood, reporter for the Huffington Post, and one who I consider a friend, recently asked me a compelling question- “When does a, ‘Wounded Warrior’ move past being a, ‘Wounded Warrior’? What is that journey like?” I felt that this question begs to also answer, “What can I do if the one I care about is struggling to get past trauma?” I start by trying to help understand what is going on and then how to help, without jeopardizing the relationship.
First, the journey we are speaking of is actually one of mourning. We don’t realize it, but we mourn many things. As humans, we resist change. We go through some form of mourning every time there is a change. It is a natural, healthy phenomenon. Some pass through this phase faster than others, but we all pass through it. I still mourn certain things. For example- I just recently started getting dental reconstruction from the IED blast 7 years ago, although my teeth have been a wreck for 7 years. Why did I wait 7 years to do it? It was because the only fix was crowns, several crowns. That meant shaving down the old teeth and adding in new ones. The old teeth had already had root canals done and were turning 3 different shades of gray. Why would anyone wait? It only took 3 hours to fix! It’s because for some reason, I had to mourn the loss of my once beautiful teeth; my pride. I don’t know why I suddenly changed my attitude, I was just ready. I marched straight into the dentist and we shaved those suckers right off! Now I have a great smile again. This time last year you couldn’t have tied me to the chair to get it done. I had finally completed the mourning process to my satisfaction. Another example is my hair. In the IED blast I had suddenly and without warning lost all the receding, but beautiful hair on my head. I mourned the loss of my hair and worked with the VA to replace it with a prosthetic. Now I fight year after year with the VA to replace old worn out prosthetic hair pieces. Why? There is nothing wrong with my look. I ask friends and acquaintances alike if they think they would judge me any differently without it and they say after about 30 seconds of talking with me they wouldn’t even notice. Yet I don’t want to let it go. I am not ready yet. I know I will be soon, but in the mean time, I need to go through the mourning process. In contrast to these examples, I pushed through the mourning process in my career very quickly. I had lost a good career, and could have mourned for years, but chose not to let it get in the way. To me, it was too important to pick up the pieces and keep marching. Life was too short to sit on the back porch and let it get the best of me. I decided it would be easier to face the world and not let the thought enter my head than to sit and contemplate it all. So I made a conscious effort and pushed through the mourning.
What if the one you care about is struggling to put their injury behind them? Here’s what you can do to help.
First, listen for the individual to seek validation. Like Stephen R. Covey mentions in his book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People & The 8th Habit” we need to speak validation into others. The individual may be fishing for confirmation that they are worth more than being a disabled veteran. They may, “fish” for affirmation. Comments like, “I could never do that” are just begging for affirmation! When you hear these comments, jump on them. “You CAN do that!” or “I don’t know what you’re waiting for!” are amazingly helpful. They are positive seeds that germinate late at night when the words of a nation mistakenly embarrassed at the cost of freedom grow loud, “You’re a Wounded Warrior! You don’t need to do a thing. This country owes you. Just sit back and take the handouts you deserve”. The truth is, these words rob self worth and cripple our nations Warriors. They sink us deeper and deeper into a hole. What we need to hear is, “You have LIFE left inside of you! Make this second chance WORTH something! If you quit now, the enemy WON.” Listen for fishing for validation and heap it on at every opportunity.
Next, speak it into existence yourself! It’s easier to see in others what we miss in ourselves. You don’t even need to wait for it, find it and speak it, but it MUST be authentic. It’s not hard to do, but it does take a bit of mental effort. Be prepared for counters of excuses that society has fed them. When the excuses come back, empathize, don’t sympathize. Be understanding, but stand your ground. If you see potential, say it, even if there are hurdles to overcome.
Bottom line, you can help bridge this gap. This is a condition that America created, and America need to help overcome. Maybe one day, long after your words of encouragement have faded into the past, you’ll find out they were the words that bridged the gap. You may, however, never hear how your encouraging words changed their lives. Either way, speak these words and you will be helping our, “Returning Warriors” move beyond being, “Wounded Warriors”.