Soldiers and Suicide: Putting the value back in life

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The news about vets/returning soldiers and suicide has really caught my attention in the last few months. This is primarily, because it is such a waste to lose them after families, friends, as well as the soldiers themselves, prayed so hard for their safe return from combat tours. I have also been interested in the conversations in the media about the post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnosis. The ongoing debate about labeling our vets with this diagnosis and what this means socially or militarily seems less of a conundrum than it is made it out to be. Being affected by traumas of war is what makes us human, not less than human or a ‘problemed’ human or disordered human. Would it be more honorable to be unaffected? I am not so sure. The war is disordered, not the people who experience it. Wouldn’t referring to them as ‘a person who has experienced intense combat stress and trauma’ be a more validating label?

anxiety coaching groupThere are many emotional, spiritual and physical consequences to the atrocities of war. Of course, this stress and trauma affect us all in different ways– flashbacks, hypersensitivity, fear, guilt, grief, sadness and shame, to name a few. All of these ‘consequences of the trauma’ can be despairing. The media is riddled with news of suicides, drug abuse, domestic violence and homicide among returned soldiers. When I hear these sad reports, I think, “Where has the value of life gone for these vets?” But I know the answer. The ‘consequences of the trauma’ sometimes plays mind games. For example, one message that often comes to the soldier from the ‘consequences of trauma’ is, “How could I have participated in killing people, or not saved someone even though I grew up knowing killing and violence was wrong?” The war has disrupted this valuing of life. Often experiencing trauma can disconnect people from the sense of who they were before. They think that they no longer hold that value, because how could they have done this otherwise? They come to identify themselves as someone who does not care about life. Life and living is no longer sacred. I argue that re-connecting them with their value of life is a crucial suicide prevention tactic. In fact, this re-connection can decrease many of the effects of trauma.

Therapeutic conversations that help re-connect are possible. I take these examples from the concept of ‘absent but implicit’ which is an innovative idea of Michael White (a world renowned therapist who spent decades studying and treating trauma). For example, the very presence of the guilt and shame often suggests that they do value life. So, questions about what is absent from the expression of guilt, but implicit in its meaning, are very important. Guilt suggests ‘remorse’ about one’s participation in, perceived responsibility in hurting or not protecting something they hold precious. Naming ‘life’ as precious is a common response of the vets I meet with. The conversations can then follow the ‘preciousness of life’ they now recognize and trace its history to before their tour of duty and link it to significant people in their lives. It connects them to their sense of self from before the combat experience. I argue that this value never left them but they just feel like it has.

Another way to help this re-connection and decrease the consequences of trauma is conversations about how our brave soldiers have responded in many ways during their combat experiences. Some of these responses may go unnoticed but, they too link with values these men and women have from before. Reconnecting them to their values will help them reconstruct their lives. Once noticed and linked to history, this could have them standing in a different place, hopefully a place where they not only want to live, but also feel good about themselves.

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5 Comments

nikky44

“Being affected by traumas of war is what makes us human, not less than human or ‘problemed’ human or disordered human”. Thank you,
War creates all kinds of traumas, to soldiers, their families and also innocent civilians living in the war zone. One of the things, people can’t understand unless they lived it, is the way we kiss each other goodbye every single morning as if it was the last time we will see each other, and hug each other every night thanking God we’re still alive

nikky44

I needed to read this again now. I was just saying now how a war memory of 30 years ago is still that fresh in my mind today. It happened on the 2nd of April. To think of it in a positive way, I try to see how lucky we have been that none of us was injured, that we survived and were brave, that it’s just a memory. That thinking calms my mind, but still, it’s not always simple.
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Jodi Lobozzo Aman

You’re right that it is complex, taking the good and bad together, the ugly and beautiful and making peace with them both, knowing God it there no matter what. We die, we are in God’s hands, we live we are in God’s hands. We are scared we are in God’s hands, we are hurt, we are in God’s hands. No vulnerability anywhere.

War and the Soul | Heal Now and Forever

[…] What is shocking and disgraceful is that for every American soldier killed on the battlefield this year, about 25 veterans are dying by suicide. “An American solder dies every day and a half, on average, in Iraq or Afghanistan. Veterans kill themselves at a rate of one every 80 minutes. More than 6,500 veteran suicides are logged every year — more than the total number of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq combined since those wars began.” says Nicholas Kristof in his NYTimes op ed “A Veteran’s Death, The Nation’s Shame.” We need to do something. Read my article about Soldiers and Suicide. […]

Easing symptoms of PTSD: Nightmares, Panic, and General Anxiety | Anxiety-Schmanxiety Blog

[…] of imminent danger, gross instability, neglect, sexual abuse, physical violence, (including living in a war, experiencing child abuse-physical, sexual, emotional, being in a natural disaster, a terrible […]


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