Further on Grossman’s techniques for dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI) described in his book, On Combat:
“You are only as sick as your secrets,” Grossman says. “Pain shared is pain divided.” In other words, we need to talk with others about what we went through. But my tendency, for decades, like that of many Vietnam veterans, has been to hide from others the terrible things I witnessed and participated in during combat. There are still some experiences I can’t talk about. But they show up in my writing and my presentations.
The greatest comfort I’ve received has come from other veterans. They read what I have written. They hear my presentations. They don’t say much to me, but the way they look at me tells me they understand. Sometimes, they put a hand on my shoulder. Other times, they give me soft smile. They share my pain, and I share theirs.
“Tactical breathing” is another practice that Grossman recommends. The slow breathing while counting he describes is virtually identical to an exercise I developed early in my bouts with PTSI. The essence is breathing in slowly through the nose, holding the breath, then exhaling equally slowly through the lips. He recommends doing a slow count of four at each step and repeating the exercise. It always brings relaxation, which, for me, is a form of peace.
And Grossman reminds the reader that a warrior’s purpose is to help others. In combat, we see and engage in actions that leave the soul wounded. But our reason for being there and doing what we do is to help and protect others, usually our fellow countrymen. He ends the books thus:
“You see, it [combat] is not about killing, and it is not about dying. We are not all called to kill, and we are not all called to die, but we are all called to serve our civilization in this dark hour. It’s about preserving and protecting. It is about serving and sacrificing. It is about doing a dirty, desperate, thankless job, every day of your life, to the utmost of your ability, because you know that if no one did that job our civilization would be doomed.”
In sum, On Combat confirmed that I am not alone. All combatants go through what I’ve been through. Our service was honorable. Our families and fellow countrymen are safer because of us. Rather than shame and isolation, we should feel pride and brotherhood. I am at peace.