If you ever feel like what you’re dealing with in life right now is overwhelming, I have a solution for you that will put things back into perspective about how, even when things suck, they are in reality pretty good: talk with a veteran, especially one who has seen real action. Say thanks for their service to their country, and if they’re willing, see if they’ll share their experience with you.
One of my friends is a veteran at the young age of about 25 years old, just getting started in life. He has a lot of wisdom for his age and we’re on the same life wavelength. I had heard a few stories of his role in the armed forces, and some of his issues upon return. But just a few. When I asked if he would be ok talking with me about it, and getting into the nitty gritty of what he saw, he surprised me by saying yes. So a few weeks ago, we hung out at the local coffee shop for a few hours catching up, and I gained some real appreciation for what these brave men and women go through – both in the field and upon their return.
It was a long tale of youth mentality shifting to adult mindset, of mundane tasks, politics, and death. Of heroism and bad guys. Of survival and simply living one breath at time. His experiences aren’t unique, and you could tell it has shaped his perspective – almost palpable changes beyond the lasting scars he wears. When he came back, he said he wasn’t in a good mental place. Him and his returning mates were still riding high off the war, and felt “invincible,” getting into bar fights and generally feeling untouchable after seeing what they’d seen. I imagine it’s like turning the volume down in life after you come back from being on edge for several years.
They dealt with post-traumatic stress as they struggled to process some of the situations that they had seen. “When you’re in the moment,” my friend said, “your mind uses various defense mechanisms to cope with this traumatic experience, to make it seem normal. Only when you are safe and away from this situation can you begin to process how fucked up the situation was.” He said his platoon had an inordinately high number of purple heart recipients, carrying out missions that were supposed to be mundane and maybe didn’t have that great of value. To see people he knew and cared for die for a mission that he didn’t agree with was something he struggled with as well. I’ve known him for a few years now and he’s processed through this much further than when I met him. He’s less angry and more reflective on the situation than before. But the war will have lifelong impacts on this young soul. Something he didn’t give due consideration to when he signed up.
So on the eve of this year’s Veteran’s Day here in the U.S., take the time to appreciate what our men and women have gone through and sacrifice(d) to allow us to have the freedom and opportunities that we have. I thoroughly appreciate my friend’s willingness to openly share his experiences, and would recommend reaching out to veterans young or old and try and gain some perspective. Makes the struggles we go through seem trivial by comparison.
So thank you Vets, thanks for all you’ve done and all you do, and the sacrifices you make for the rest of us.