“Grant stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk, and now we stand by each other.” William Tecumseh Sherman
When I returned from Iraq in February 2008 it began the most difficult period of my life. Suffering from PTSD and a crisis in faith I felt alone, isolated, suffered terrible depression, anxiety was hyper-vigilant and angry. I felt abandoned by my former church as well as God. When I think about it now I can get still feel the deep emotions of those years. I am doing better now compared to how I was doing then. Thankfully I have some friends that are to me what Grant was to Sherman.
Life is about living in the real world. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from prison “I discovered later, and I’m still discovering right up to this moment, that is it only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world. That, I think, is faith.”
When I started getting help after I fell apart in the summer of 2008 I was really struggling and the first person that asked about how I was doing with God was my therapist Dr. Elmer Maggard. It was during those initial months when I discovered that there were others out there like me that I decided that I could not be silent. Those that have followed this blog since its early days have followed me as I detailed my struggles, experience and tried to be as transparent as possible within the limits of my emotional state at any given time. I was helped by a number of friends especially by my friends Greg and David, both Chaplains who have experienced things similar to me and without whom I would have been hard pressed to make it through my difficult times.
That was hard to do because I am a pretty introverted and private person. So I wrote what I could when I could. Sometimes very raw and unfiltered emotions came to the front, other times I was able to get back into my comfort zone and write from a more detached point of view, a particular virtue and failing of being a historian. I wrote an article in September 2010 titled Raw Edges: Are there other Chaplains out there Like Me? The next day I was asked to leave my former church although the two were not directly linked being ask to leave a day after I was talking to people about them not being alone even if they felt abandoned by God, their church or faith community or even the military.
A few months later in March of 2011I was interviewed by Hope Hodge of the Jacksonville Daily News after their editor had read that article and found that I was at camp LeJeune. The article appeared on the front page of their print edition and online http://www.jdnews.com/articles/cmdr-89433-stephen-military.html . This was a big step for me because by doing it I allowed someone else to write the story. Now Hope and the editors at the Daily News handled it very well and I felt that they produced a very good article.
A couple months later I was asked by the good folks at the Real Warriors Campaign which is an initiative of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) if I would share my story to a wider audience. I wrestled with that because things like this are scary, I am not a televangelist I don’t go in front of a camera for a living. I was helped by our public affairs officer Raymond Applewhite and the team that did the filming handled it well.
The video was released on the Real Warriors website as one of a number of videos featuring veterans sharing their stories of war and return. The video is found at this link http://www.realwarriors.net/multimedia/profiles/dundas.php and I viewed the final draft a couple of weeks ago before it went online.
My hope is that others struggling will be encouraged and know that there are indeed others out here that know something of their experience and that there is light at the end of the tunnel. My story is still being written. I am doing much better than I was but I am changed by war and while I still struggle that is not necessarily a bad thing. I have like Bonhoeffer so well put it that it is “only in living completely in the world that one learns to have faith.” Sometimes that faith comes at great cost and certainly is not something that is something that is done without help, spiritual, emotional and from people that are willing to suffer with you. The cost to families and relationships is difficult. My wife Judy has had to struggle with my issues and I know that what happens in war affects those that we love in profound and often painful ways. Bonhoeffer said:
“In normal life we hardly realize how much more we receive than we give, and life cannot be rich without such gratitude. It is so easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements compared with what we owe to the help of others.”
There are a number of people who have helped me through very dark times. To those that struggle, especially those struggling with faith and God following experience the trauma of war I just want to say that you are not alone.