Almost seven years ago I returned from Iraq. It was a war that changed me forever and my return from it has been as traumatic as my experiences in Iraq.
I had a good therapy session today with my new shrink. It is a good thing, I am in the process of getting evaluated for things that should have been done years ago. However, dealing with PTSD, Moral Injury and TBI or Concussive injuries is not always an easy or straightforward task. Many of the symptoms that those affected with these injuries overlap. Unfortunately without continuity of care it takes far longer for professionals to make the connections, even very good and experienced medical and mental health professionals.
My case seems to be one of those kind of cases, and my memories seem to almost overwhelm me every year as I approach the date of my return home from Iraq. I fully understand the words of Bruce Dern in the movie Coming Home when he cries out
“What I’m saying is! I don’t belong in this house, and they say I don’t belong over there!”
While I no longer feel that I don’t belong in my own house, I still struggle with having to leave Iraq in 2008. I will discuss that more in the coming days, but it will suffice for now to say that I still struggle. What has happened to that while I still struggle I manage to live with it.
What I will say tonight is that I still struggle, that I often feel alienated from fellow Chaplains and clergy as well as the “true believers” who sit in judgment over those that express their doubts and struggles. My first shrink told me that be speaking the truth that I would be “radioactive” to many of my peers. He was more right than I ever thought possible, but as most of my peers abandoned me, he did not.
I can’t go back to Iraq. Truthfully I would if I could, if nothing else to try to help those Iraqis who I knew. I feel so terrible for them, their country ravaged by a brutal dictator, and savaged by the decision of my country’s former leaders to invade it, bringing about more death, destruction and instability than a thousand Saddam Hussein’s.
The fact is that many veterans of Iraq, and to some extent Afghanistan understand this. We did our duty. We served, we saw things that we wished we could forget. When we returned to a country that the vast majority of people, including many who served in the military but did not have “boots on the ground” we found that we really didn’t fit. We didn’t fit in at home, and our country didn’t want us where we did fit. For me that was in the badlands of Al Anbar Province, where I left my heart.
For years before going to Iraq I studied the people and the country, going there I was blessed to get to know many Iraqis. I still grieve for what they are going through, and what we as a nation are in large part responsible for, the rise of ISIS or ISIL, the existence of Al Qaeda and the rise of other extremist groups. Our intentions were not bad, but they were done out of ignorance and perceived opportunity to dominate others for out own ends.
We sowed the wind and we are reaping the whirlwind.
As for me, like T.E. Lawrence I wonder. Lawrence wrote a friend not long before he died:
“You wonder what I am doing? Well, so do I, in truth. Days seem to dawn, suns to shine, evenings to follow, and then I sleep. What I have done, what I am doing, what I am going to do, puzzle and bewilder me. Have you ever been a leaf and fallen from your tree in autumn and been really puzzled about it? That’s the feeling.”
I understand that feeling.
I’ll be putting out a couple of other memories of my time in Iraq and my return over the next few days.
Have a great night.