Remembrance Day is almost upon us
I have worked with a significant number of military veterans over the years, and blimey what an education!
Lockdowns moved things in an unexpectedly helpful direction, forcing us outdoors, yomping through woodland, savouring elevated views of land and sea in the summer sun, and sheltering in Ellie’s barn when wet.
It felt like a privilege because the military can be something of a closed shop (to say the least!). I am not a veteran, not one of them, and therefore I am an outsider who, they feared, had limited understanding of their lived experience. And they were right. But I learned …
Yes, there was trauma, a great deal of it in some cases, and many of the things that these people have seen and done, thankfully most of us will never have to see and do, because of them.
And although I have been trained in cognitive and behavioural treatment models for PTSD in veterans, what I saw and felt most was a deep sense of isolation, dislocation, a lack of belonging and a lack of meaning in the new lives they have outside, after the military, often loss and in some of them a feeling of betrayal.
One of the things many of them have experienced is esprit de corps, a feeling of pride and mutual loyalty shared by the members of a group, a deep, deep bond that most of us will (sadly for us) never experience or understand. And when they leave the military, for whatever reason, a great many feel this loss keenly, they are bereft, adrift, without the emotional literacy to understand or describe how they feel or what it is that they have lost. Heartbroken, you might say.
We all share a common humanity, common needs, common frailties, vulnerability to common processes that can run out of control. Almost without exception we know heartbreak and loss.
I read a great book, Tribe by Sebastain Junger http://www.sebastianjunger.com/tribe-by-sebastian-junger.
He sees the ‘problem’ of returning veterans very differently from the mainstream. It’s not so much about what’s wrong with them, that they are ‘broken’ by their experiences of service and war, and need to be ‘fixed’.
He believes it is more what is wrong with us, what is wrong with the society that they come back to.
He believes that his deep and meaningful tribal connection that they have experienced has been largely lost in modern society, and that regaining it may be the key to psychological survival for all of us, not just veterans.
Broadly speaking, I think I agree with Junger.