The Hell We Create

Editor’s note: The following is a comment a regular blog reader made in reference to a post I wrote earlier this week about the anniversary of the Iraq war.  I think what she has to say is so important, I didn’t want it to be overlooked. Sadly it will not draw as much attention as books that denounce hell. Ironic, really, because the point is we create hell on earth so much of the time. I know this young man and I know what his mother is saying is tragically true.
As callous as it may sound and I don’t mean for it to sound that way at all, but I sometimes feel blessed that my father didn’t return home to the living hell that is PTSD.
Our son is no longer serving in Iraq.  He was in the Army for 4 years.  In Iraq as a medic for 13 months.  He has always lived on edge.  He seemed to embrace the Army.  I don’t think I have ever seen him as happy as the day he graduated from Basic.  He was tan and he was fit. I was proud.
After the 13 months in Iraq, our son came back.  Or at least he said he was our son.  But I only see fleeting moments of him.  I am not sure what happened to him over there, but I don’t think he came back.  I know that someplace in Iraq, he is still there. Or his soul is. He is receiving 100% disability from the VA for PTSD.  This, coupled with a already existing problem with alcohol, has changed him into a unrecognizable person.
I know that there are many walking around with physical wounds, but his wounds are so deep I don’t know if he will ever heal. I believe the thing he loved (the Army) wounded him.  The love that he had to serve his country betrayed him. I don’t think this war was like any other.  These young men grew up in the time of 911.  They saw buildings fall and people die.  Many just wanted to do what they could to help America, but America shot them in the heart.
PTSD is a life sentence for the attempt to do better.
I am not bitter. I am proud of what he gave to his country, but I ask myself: Was it worth it? Many people have lost their sons to the war. They came home in flag-draped coffins. They are buried under headstones of honor.
But don’t forget the walking dead.  The ones with no flags and no honorable headstones.  The ones walking our streets with the 100 yard stares. The ones with PTSD.

As a faith community, what hope do we offer people like M.B. and her boy?

About Karen Spears Zacharias

Author. Speaker. Journalism Instructor. Four kids. Three dogs. One grandson.

  • Linda Elandt

    This is such a sad situation and becoming all too common. I am hearing many moms in my community discuss how “different” their kids are when they return from the war. This week our Blue Star Mother chapter is presenting for the second year a PTSD and TBI awareness meeting which is open to all. Several speaker from the different VA hospitals will share what is available for our returning veterans and help inform those who are unaware of the resources out there. Surprisingly, or maybe not, there are still many who do not know what PTSD is.
    How sad to have your soldier return from a war, physically sound and yet be unable to enjoy the freedom from fear that he so bravely fought for. I do hope this mom finds support with a group like the Blue Star Mother group I belong to.
    I also think about what if my son had returned in this way instead of dying in the war. Would it be harder to see him struggle every day to find peace and meaning in his life?
    We owe our returning veterans so much. After what they have endured they should not be just existing as the walking dead.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Linda:
      Thank you for sharing your story here. I am so sorry about the loss of your son. I know how much my granny grieved my father’s death so I have a glimpse of your sorrow.

      But yes, you are right. I get it all the time. A large contingency of civilians have no idea what PTSD is.

      Add to PTSD the head injuries that these troops are enduring today, I think it’s true that the son and daughter you send off to war will not be the one that returns.

      It does help to have support groups like Blue Star or Gold Star but so many of these families live in rural areas, like I do, where such groups do not exist except online. Thankfully, they are there at least.

      This is why I think the church needs to partner with these groups and educate itself and set up programs to help.

  • Lisa

    No truer words were ever written. Like you, Karen, my Daddy gave his life in Vietnam. The majority of Americans are oblivious to that fact that every service member who goes into combat “gives their life”. The loved one they said good-bye to never returns.

    • Dianne

      True. One day at a time is all one can live, with the hope in God that faith will carry through. My first husband “came home” from Viet Nam. I never was able to “know” that new person.He was locked inside a self-made prison. My husband of 25 years now has struggled with his PTSD and made some measure of recovery and found a bit of peace. We are enjoying this decade of our life grateful for what God has given us.

      • Karen Spears Zacharias

        Dianne: I do believe in healing. I’ve seen it time and time again.
        Vietnam veterans are doing their best to reach out to this younger generation, to share their voice of experience, to come around them and to say to them, “I understand.”
        Because they do.
        They really do.
        I am so thankful to hear that you are enjoying every moment that God has redeemed for you and your husband.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Lisa:
      You said it well ” Every soldier gives his life.”
      Yes, indeed.
      One way or another.

  • John in PDX

    I feel bad for this mother and all parents that grieve for their sons/daughters. Spouses also.
    My questions are – What can I do now? What can we do different in the future?
    Not going to war is not an answer I am looking for. US politicians don’t feel that’s an option.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      John:

      Sadly, so true. It seems that war is what we do best.

      What can people do?
      Well I’ve asked Mary and Mark that question below.

      But meanwhile I think we can:

      - educate ourselves
      - educate others
      -use our resources to help in whatever way feasible.
      - care for the homeless veteran
      - befriend a broken person
      - be a support to a broken family
      - write your Congressman
      - write letters to the editor
      - take a veteran out for coffee
      - listen
      - pray

  • scott camil

    The problem is that while he thought that he was giving to his country, these wars are not really in the interest of our country. I have PTSD from Vietnam, you give %100 believing that it is for your country only to learn that it was for a lie so others could profit.

    • Debbie

      I can’t begin to imagine what such a betrayal by your country does to your heart Scott. Betrayal in any form is very difficult to forgive.

      • Debbie

        I sometimes wonder if it should be forgiven as I struggle in my own pain too…sometimes forgiving to me feels like I am condoning something evil yet I also know God understands my troubled soul.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Scott:
      Thank you for your service, buddy.Welcome Home.

      And thank you for your comments. Yes, I agree that when a soldier learns that his/her sacrifice was exploited for selfish gain that can be a source of great pain and anger.

      Felt it myself for many years.

      This is why we need to exercise our rights at Americans. Why we need to educate ourselves. Why we need to demand better from Congress and our president.

      We cannot police the world.

      And we cannot keep the world economy afloat in the blood of our children.

  • http://www.healthyspirituality.org jean wise

    Wow I cried when i read this comment. such heartache. Both my brothers came home from Viet nam broken men and never the same. Hell is on this earth. We need to light the fire of passion to do more for our ‘walking dead.” not sure what but I certainly plan to pray about this and ask God to lead me. Thank you for sharing this important message. I will retweet this

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Jean:

      I have cried, too.

      Rivers of tears.

  • Steve T

    To your very important question, “What can we as a faith community do?” Fair Oaks UMC in Marietta, GA has an intentional ministry reaching out to families suffering through the reality of PTSD. You can find it here:
    http://bit.ly/hGTES0 This is an increasingly critical issue that is affecting 20% of returning vets. (http://bit.ly/gKkHDX) It is particularly hard on Guard and Reserve folks who have no standing community as found around active-duty military bases. We as a faith community must become serious about outreach to those who are suffering in silent desperation behind a facade created by those of us who just don’t want to know. There are congregations and people who are responding and I am deeply encouraged when I see such efforts as that at Fair Oaks UMC.

    Karen, thanks for holding this up. M.B.’s story is not unique. I have a young friend who returned from Iraq a few years earlier, during the early stages of the war. Largely due to his experience there, he decided to get out of the military.

    Although he had served in the Army for 12 years previously, when he began to struggle with issues of rage, the VA medical community diagnosed him as having a “personality disorder.” It took much outside pressure and two years before they properly “re-evaluated” him with PTSD. The good news is that such occurrences are becoming less the norm. It was also good that there were those outside of “the system” who were willing to listen to him and offer treatment and support for the PTSD. The VA is now doing a much better job of addressing this issue. You can see more at: The National Center for PTSD http://www.ptsd.va.gov/

    Those of us who claim this “Way of Jesus” are continually called to love the broken of the world. Regardless of where we fall out on the political spectrum, certainly we might all agree that we should love, support, receive, pray with, and stand beside military persons and their families who have been so devastated by the horrors of war. If your heart breaks for M.B., then let us do something about it.

    • Mary Bartram

      I experienced just the opposite here, the Guard families had all the support and those of us who have ones serving in regular army were to far from the bases and had no support.
      My son is recieving disability but he needs therapy…much of which he is refusing. So that is where we are. I pray light on him to guide him out of his darkness.

      • Steve Taylor

        Mary, my deep prayers are with you and your family, my sister. I do see your point with regard to families of regular military members being separated when not in the local base area. My hope is that you might find some community to assist you in your suffering. Please contact your closest VA hospital and see if they might be of assistance. If not, perhaps this is something you can start in your community. I suspect there may be others who share your story. Peace and grace, Steve

  • http://annsphillips.wordpress.com Ann Phillips

    Does God not still heal? Maybe we need to ask Him to help us learn to minister healing to our returning soldiers. Prayer and lots of it is a good start.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      I agree, Ann. Prayer is the place to start.

  • http://communityofjesus.wordpress.com/ Ted M. Gossard

    So sad to read this, Karen, and yet so needed, as well. War should definitely be last resort, and hopefully stamped out entirely sooner than later. But in the meantime, we must do what we can to try to help these living wounded, to be sure.

  • http://communityofjesus.wordpress.com/ Ted M. Gossard

    ….best I can do right now is just pray. For them and for all who are impacted by war around the world.

  • Mary Bartram

    MB here again. My son was raised a christian. He told me once that the reason that he never really came to embrace the church was because, he thought of it as judgemental. You know it true. I am guilty of it my self. We really do not have the right to judge any one. That is God job. But as human beings we think we need to be in control. We don’t the only one that should be in control is Daddy God. And Daddy God gives love. When we as christian’s can give love like our Father does, than and only than will the world change. Sometimes christians like to give lip services to the hurts and the needs of the world. “I will pray for you” Maybe we should say “I will love you”
    Praying is good but sometimes it an easy out….because we don’t have get out hands dirt. But loving some one is work. We really have to make an effort. And every once in awhile hug or smell a dirty person. We might need to love the unloved. I am not judging, because I have failed to do this my self.
    Loving means to love the ones that have not converted. The ones that stand on the street corners turning tricks. Yes brothers and sisters we might have to get our hands dirty and get nothing in return.
    I thank all of you that are praying for my son. At this time he in jail. Got drunk, beat his girfriend up, and is in jail. I have a hard time loving him. But with the help of Daddy God, I do. I have made the decision a couple to months ago to tough love it because everything else we had tried did not work. We were just enabling. So I let go and Let God. I believe that this is all part of His plan.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Mary: You are walking on some hard ground. Prayer is the way we carry you and your son right now. Well, that, and doing as you say — loving those within our reach.
      Thank you, Mary, for spilling your heart and your hurts out here with us, for reminding us that we need to stuff our lofty ideas into a pair of combat boots, and get to work.

      • Mary Bartram

        I know it is hard ground…but I am not alone…Jesus carries me.
        Thanks for your prays…I am sorry if I sound bitter. I am not, just a little angry. I have to Let Go and let Goc.

  • Mark

    My son’s story is similar. Michael (not his real name) did two tours in Iraq as an infantryman/tanker. He is now 24 and out of the Army. Michael has suggested that he did some things over there that he’s not proud of. I think it’s an understatement. I think he’s carrying around a lot of guilt, probably quite justified, and that is adding to his mental and moral pain. Our response as people of faith has been to remind him that God loves him desperately and wants to be in a relationship with him. However, we’ve also impressed on Michael that the first step toward healing and reconciliation is confession, admitting our sins and seeking forgiveness. He is carrying something very dark around with him, and until he can lay it at the foot of the cross he will struggle with it. We don’t say this in judgment of him – we’re in no position to judge – but out of love and a desire to see him whole, healed, and happy. We would appreciate prayers for our son, especially from MB, and we will add her son to our prayers.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Mark: Your son, Mary’s son, are one of thousands. We as a nation have not yet seen the likes of the sort of PTSD coming down the pike as a result of the wars in Iraq & Afghanistan and the multiple deployments exacted upon our military.
      The saving grace is Jesus but the church needs to step up its game. As Steve pointed out, these men and women walk among us. They live next-door. They shop at our grocery stores. Their children are at recess with our children.
      But they dwell in their own private hell because most civilians don’t know how to help — as John said: “What can I do?”
      Tell us, Mary.
      Tell us, Mark.
      How do we help?
      How do we reach out to the families like yours?

    • Mary Bartram

      hey, Mark….
      I don’t know what they had them do over there but I believe that my son also did somethings he is ashamed of. I agree about the confession, but often when a person thinks they are being judged they can’t confess. I will pray for your son. Sometimes I just wonder if it can get much worse…than I realize it could and that is when I realize I have drop it and let Daddy God take care of it.

  • http://mpdaniel.blogspot.com Michael

    I am moved beyond words. Thank you for sharing.

  • Dave

    As a Gold Star Dad, I have to admit, even though it was VERY hard losing my son in Iraq, I know that God knew the future, and trust that he knew what my son would/could go through. All the families with returning soldiers know that my family is praying for you. I chose to join up with my local VFW as an Auxillery member, and have found that they do offer classes for returning soldiers. I will say that I was skeptical until joining as to what was involved. For me, that is a way for me to thank our soldiers and do what I can to help them. God Bless.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Dave:
      I am sorry for the loss of your son. Thank you for your family’s sacrifice. My own grandfather never once spoke to me of my father. I don’t think he had the capacity for it. But I remember that when I was in college he took me to town once and introduced me to his friends at the diner where he got his coffee. “This is Dave’s daughter,” he said to the waitress. “You know my boy who was killed in ‘Nam.”
      That was the only mention he ever made in front of me about his loss.
      I know it pained him terribly.
      As it does you, I’m sure.
      That you would take that pain and turn it around, to do something to help those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, is such an act of mercy and grace and redemption. Thank you for the ways in which you put feet to your faith.
      Thank you for sharing your story, and your son with us.
      ksz

  • Jan Loar

    What do we have, as a faith community, to offer this young man? Only our most powerful tool in our arsenal – PRAYER!

  • http://www.rebekahsanderlin.com Rebekah Sanderlin

    My husband has spent most of our 8 year marriage deployed. He’s been shot, he’s hit IEDs, he’s watched his buddies die in front of him, he’s had a TBI and, though he has been remarkably fortunate and not suffered a loss of limb or similar injury, far too many of our friends have. Equally remarkable is that I have not seen evidence of PTSD in him. I don’t know why it affects some but not others, but I do know that the Army is trying to figure out why in order to reduce the numbers of soldiers with PTSD.

    The danger in discussing PTSD is, IMO, that it will not be fully discussed and understood and will lead to all who have served being perceived as “crazy vets.” We already see this in soldiers who, after getting out of the Army, choose to NOT list military service on their resumes because employers are increasingly hesitant to hire someone they perceive as broken. The message I would really like to see get out is that PTSD is real, but it doesn’t make someone a danger or a threat to others. It simply means that they’re sad and having difficulty adjusting, and often times PTSD gets better with time – and therapy.

    As for what other people can do to help, the answer is really quite simple: 1) Care. 2) Reach Out. and, 3) DO NOT OFFER PITY. No one wants to be pitied.

    It is my fervent belief that the rate of PTSD is increasing simultaneously with the degree to which America as a whole has checked out of this war. I have heard many soldiers say that they feel like the majority of people back home no longer notice the war. Imagine how that must feel for them: They get blown up and their buddies bleed out in their arms but all anyone at home wants to talk about is Lady GaGa’s dress.

    If we really want to help the troops serving and those who have already served, we will honor them by daily acknowledging their battle, both the physical one they fight together and the mental one they fight alone.

    Thanks, Karen, for bringing up this topic.

    • Mary Bartram

      My son lost a job because he told the boss that he had been diagnosed with PTSD. The guy freaked and let him go.
      And by the way they arent’ all “crazy” but many of the ones that have PTSD are a little crazy…or a lot dangerous. I am afraid of my son. He is a trained killer and if he is drunk and has a flashback it is not pretty. I was in fear of my own life and later my husbands when this happened
      Thank God you husband does not have PTSD (yet) Sometimes it is delayed. Many Vietman vets have it now that they are retired.


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