This is the very first column I have ever written so it was important for it to communicate exactly what I wanted the readers to learn from it. As a Christian, as an American, as a veteran, I have several issues that are heavy on my heart. These three things are different, but they share some things in common. The first is love. Love of your Creator; love of your family, love your country; love for your fellow veterans. I want to empower you so you can be the difference.
When someone you care about is suffering, you suffer with them. You may feel powerless and hopeless. So what can you do about it that will make a difference? First and foremost is to get educated about their pain. Knowledge is power. So what do you need to know to make a difference? What is causing their pain? Too often people in pain won’t talk about it. So its important to learn about the signs and symptoms. Learn about PTSD triggers.
Its been called many things, Shell Shock, Battle Fatigue and PTSD. The names are
different, but the pain is the same. To make a difference for someone with PTSD, be the
difference. Let them know by your actions that you care enough to listen. Let
them know you care enough to give them time to share when THEY are ready, and that you
will not push them to talk until then. Love isn’t always about what you say. It’s about what you do.
Let them know that while you are giving them the time they need, that you are going
to get educated about their issues. There are a lot of resources for people who want to learn about PTSD and how to help loved ones who are dealing with it. Let your loved one
know you are NOT going to try to FIX them. The idea that they need to be fixed can be
insulting and hurtful. It can reinforce negative ideas they may have about themselves. Your goal is to help them help themselves.
Take the time to learn about the following do’s and don’t:
• do be patient; but don’t procrastinate
• do let them know you care about what they are feeling and how you can be part of their healing process
• don’t pressure them to talk
• do encourage them to do the things they used to do that brought them pleasure or peace of mind; music can be a powerful source for healing
• do ask them about how they feel about joining a Support group, but do not push it
• don’t give advice, do offer suggestions and ask for their suggestions
• do be a good listener;
• do develop good listening skills:
• do focus on the speaker, don’t focus or what you think you should say in response
• do not interrupt
• do resist distractions; turn off your cell phone and television
• be willing to listen to things that may be hard to hear; personal war stories can be gory
• after the speaker has finished speaking, ask them if you can ask some questions to make sure you understood what they wanted to get across to you
• do not judge them for things they may have done while in combat
• do not offer advice or criticism about their behavior
• do pay attention to nonverbal cues; theirs and yours; facial expressions, eye contact or lack of eye contact; physical distancing, fidgeting; signs of anger
• lean forward, do not cross your arms
• do not stop them from talking about things you find difficult to hear
• do not invalidate, minimize or offer quick fixes about the seriousness of their pain
• if they have lost someone they cared about, do NOT say “they are in a better place now”, or “they are at peace now”. Even if this is true it does not take away the very real pain they are feeling right now
• do not tell them “everything is going to be alright”; give them time to share their feelings about hopelessness, depression; allow them to grieve when they are ready
• do not offer your own experiences unless asked about them.
Find ways to rebuild trust and safety. Create routines, housework, grocery shopping, regular times for meals. Watching programs together that the veteran enjoys. Especially comedies. Pay attention to things that cause stress at home. Develop ways to avoid them.
• Make time for relaxation. Do not make promises you cannot keep.
• And last but not least, strengthen your faith. Be the example. Do not push it. Many veterans and First Responders have a hard time believing in anything good when they have experienced so much evil. Until they are ready to join you in prayer, let them see you praying.
Veterans and First Responders have a hard time with grief. Let them know having feelings of grief is NOT a sign of weakness. It is a sign of the love they had for others who have fallen in the line of duty. Veterans and First Responders may not want to share they pain because they believe it would be a sign of weakness. They may be concerned that it will change your opinion of them. Let them know that nothing they share with you will ever cause you to love them less. It will strengthen the bond you have with one another. If you want to make a difference in the life of someone who is hurting, be the difference.
If you need someone to talk with about any veterans issues I am Chik-fil-A almost everyday between 11 AM and 3 PM. Believe me when I say I love you and I am willing to share your burden if you will let me. Let’s make a difference by being the difference for those we love.
Grace and Peace from the Teddy Bear Marine
P.S. Understand their reasons for not talking about their issues. They may feel it’s unfair to ask you to share their pain. They may feel it’s a sign of weakness or of being a complainer. They
were taught that they need to be strong, and strong people just “suck it up”. They may feel that there is no way anyone who hasn’t experienced what they have can possibly understand. Let them know you do NOT feel burdened by sharing their pain, you feel more connected. Sharing the truth is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of being emotionally connected.
Let them know that even though you did not have the same traumatic experience they have, you do have the same desire to be loved and understood. No you can’t share the experience,
but you can share their pain.