The terrible irony is that if a veteran refuses to face combat memories and forces them into his unconscious, the recollections can lie dormant for decades and then resurface. The only way to cope with them is to bring them into the conscious mind and train the emotions to respond less violently. That worked for me. These days, I have an occasional nightmare, and the worst emotional reaction I allow myself is to cry. It can be done.
A veteran suffering from such memories often chooses to deal with it by himself. He’s inclined to believe that he’s the only one who can’t cope. That makes him a coward or weakling. His sense of shame for engaging in combat, for having survived, and for having seen others die at his side is compounded by his sense of inadequacy for failing to deal with his memories. He is ashamed to admit his failure to others.
That’s why it’s so important that we veterans come together and help one another. We soon discover that the hurt of combat memories is universal. Sometimes no words are needed. I can look into the eyes of another veteran and see what’s going on. A friendly greeting, a slap on the back, a handshake is often enough to tell me that I’m with others who understand what I’m going through because they are going through it, too. We are brothers, there to help each other.
Most important, we can show respect for former fighters. We can encourage each other to take pride in what we did. We can say to one another those words so precious to me: “Thank you for your service. And welcome home.”