There are times in life that many of us experience some kind of injury; physical, emotional or spiritual that puts us in the position that we cannot function at the level that we are accustomed to doing. For some people this might be the result of some kind of traumatic event, perhaps a serious illness or physical injury or even something that causes us to lose faith in God or in whatever higher power that we ascribe meaning in our life.
As any regular reader of this site will recognize I interpret or frame much of my life experience through baseball and baseball analogies. In my case I frequently frame that through pitchers or older ball players that have encountered injury or rough spots in their careers. I think about pitchers a lot because the craft of pitching involves such a degree of connection between the physical and mental dimensions of the game. There are many times when a pitcher suffers a physical injury that requires changes in his delivery or the kinds of pitches that he throws. When this happens it also affects his mind as he may lose confidence or over think what he is doing as he tries to make adjustments, also while experiencing residual physical pain. Some pitchers are able to make the adjustment, for others the adjustment is more difficult and they are not as effective as they were previously. Still others either cannot recover from the physical injury or never make the adjustments and end up out of the game.
Those that experience injury as they recover are sent back to the minor leagues, or if they are in the high minor leagues to a lower level league in order to get back to the level that they were before the injury. Even when they get back to the majors or to triple-A the pitching coach and manager may still go easy on them in order to ensure they are 100% and do not re-injure themselves. This is called a rehab assignment and it is part of the game.
In the military we seldom get that chance unless the injuries are so significant that we need to put on some kind of limited duty and a placed in a non-deployable status until they are considered fully fit for duty. I returned from Iraq in February 2008 with several nagging chronic physical injuries to my ankles, knees and shoulders and an elbow which coalesced to sideline me from much physical activity. Even worse I was dealing with PTSD which was not recognized or diagnosed until late June of 2008 when I was falling apart having flashbacks, night terrors, chronic anxiety, insomnia and moods that alternated from anger to despondency. When I left EOD Group Two I for my assignment to Portsmouth Naval Medical Center I was still in denial of sorts, though I knew that I was in ragged shape I went into the assignment trying to act as if and perform as if I was uninjured. I threw myself into the job pouring working on the average 65-75 hours a week for almost a year mostly on the ICU and PICU before my boss finally stopped me and put me on more administrative duties with minimal clinical duties and plenty of time to get back in physical, emotional and spiritual shape. Not many senior officers would give a subordinate that kind of grace nor would they rate an officer under them with an eye on their potential versus what they were doing for them at the moment. Mine did, I will be forever grateful to Chaplain Jessie Tate for giving me that grace.
Eventually his patience as well as my hard work and a lot of God’s grace were rewarded. Things started to turn around in December of 2009 in what I call my “Christmas miracle.” Slowly my physical injuries healed and I can now say that I am in as good or better shape than when I went to Iraq. I had to make some adjustments to my physical training regimen as well as confidence to believe that I was not going to re-injure myself. My mindset in my physical training went from timid to confident as I gained in strength, speed, dexterity and endurance. This was coupled with the loss of 16 pounds and a body fat percentage that went from 32% (when I ballooned from 167 to 194 pounds between April and November of 2009) down to 22% as of last week. Spiritually I began to believe again. Most of the time after Iraq I struggled with faith sometimes even doubting the existence of God or at best feeling alienated and rejected by him and many of his people. My spirituality has changed as has the way I approach my faith being much less doctrinaire to relational focusing on the grace, love and mercy of God and to trying to show that to others as St Francis said “preach the Gospel at all times, use words when necessary.” Psychologically I was able to come to grips with my PTSD and make the adjustments that I needed so that I might be able to function. I am much more in touch with feelings and what is going on in me than I was before and my observation of other people has improved, I guess once a person has had everything fall apart that they become more sensitive even to the unspoken things when they are around others.
In a sense this assignment became a rehab assignment for me. I was able to come back and become not only functional but able to be in the game again. When I was selected for promotion my boss had no hesitancy in nominating me for the supervisory Chaplain at Naval Hospital Camp LeJuene. I can see the future again and it is good. My plan was for Portsmouth to be an “All-Star” game for me where my clinical and academic skills would enable me to be a water walker but it was different, it was a fight to remain in the game a fight to regain confidence, overcome injury and return to relatively normal life. My rehab assignment is over and I am back in the game performing at a level that I expect.
For those that are in similar circumstances I hope that you have a boss with the grace to help you through the difficult times and not abandon you as “broken” or of little use to the organization. I know that happens in the military and outside of the military, even in churches.
Peace and blessings,