The Blog

“The experience of being in war alters a person’s way of being in the world. The specific lived story that takes place within each individual [and in each family] then becomes both the tale of trauma and the source of healing.” -Michael Meade

Please join Veterans Heart Georgia, and others everywhere, in telling your stories of military service and war. This includes not only veterans, but those who grew up in a family during a war or in a family in which a member was a war veteran, as well as the military service experiences of those who did not serve in combat. Narrative, or story-telling, whether spoken or written, is age-old and has been known to provide and nurture healing down through the ages. Continue reading

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Johnny Cries

Hey pretty lady

It’s me

How them boys doin’?

How’s that old man of yours treatin’ ya?

I just called to hear your voice

It’s like mental honey

Johnny cries

 

Hey pretty lady

Why do you do me like this?

Don’t tell me you care about me

I can’t stand it

I’m seeing those things again

Those things you sent me to the hospital for last time

Johnny cries

 

Hey pretty lady

I hope this cancer kills me quickly

Death would be a relief

Hell can’t be worse than the hell I live in

I’m scaring myself

I’m losing control of the thoughts

Johnny cries

 

Hey pretty lady

Would you come to my funeral?

Would you really?

How them boys doin’?

How’s that old man of yours treatin’ ya?

I love ya, girl

Johnny cries

(JE – Army 1966-70  –  Infantry – Vietnam Veteran)

 

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Coming Back

Coming Back
I’ve spent nearly fifty years trying to overcome one
That one spent in Vietnam
Trying to come back to who I was
Nearly half a century fighting demons that gnaw at my soul
I still don’t know why I was there
I still can’t conceive of how leaders of this country could be so wasteful
To waste lives—human lives—in a sacrifice they were not even a part of
To watch my comrades, the fallen, loaded into piles and carried away
Like garbage to be disposed of
If the fallen were worth so little, then what leader would be concerned about me
Me, the living
Still, I live and still I wonder who cares and who can be trusted
I live without any acceptable justification for the waste of young lives
Lives taken by death and lives stolen by the experience of war
I see death and I smell death
And I wonder how I am considered alive when death stares at me
I followed their orders
The orders were theirs, but the burden is mine
And I want to be around people who understand
But I’m terrified that they will understand too well
That they will see inside of me, the me I battle
And will find me too ugly and too scarred to love
But I will keep fighting and I will keep pushing
I think I’m finally ready to share my stories, my soul

—I penned the words, but he (HT – medic- Vietnam) told the stories.  It is an honor to have been a witness.

Tara

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The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for Veterans Act

This morning I read a Washington Post article about a young Marine who committed suicide after struggling with PTSD and not getting much  help from the Houston VA.   A new bill may actually pass through Congress in the December session (shocking that Congress might actually do something!).  It has bi-partisan support and sponsorship.  The act will allow treatment by outside-the-VA-system therapists and treatment will be individualized rather than the same medication merry-go-round that is standard now.  The article mentioned that 22 vets commit suicide daily – a horrendous statistic that is generally not known by the population.  (However, the nation seems to know all about the new IPhone).  Clay Hunt sounded like such a wonderful young man who was trying his best to help others and move on but his pain got to be just too much in the end.

On another note, I wonder how much family transmitted PTSD is aggravating the situation in Ferguson, MO?

And yet another note:  my son is racing a motorcycle around Barber Speedway in Birmingham while I write this.  Is this a warrior trait – to always be pushing the edge?  I am at home wishing to neither hear nor see motorcycles racing each other.  I am thinking Jung missed an archetype – The Idiot . . .  I must be suffering from over-protective-mother-I-don’t-understand-young-men syndrome.

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Veteran’s Day 2014

it’s a veteran’s day sunday under Pastor Benno Pattison’s rule

corralled as we are like sheep among the pews of his church

settled in for the sunday service hal-le-lu-yah

captured by the intimacy of the simple altar before us

mollified by hymnal sounds and the bray of the organ

fortified by the beat of holy ritual and the beatitudes implied

 

yes we all know it’s for the best to have the beatitudes handy

to be poor in spirit we can do it on a good day no worry

and we can listen deeply to those troubled lads among us who endlessly mourn they know not what and mourn along with them

can easily put an arm out to the meek cadets for holding them up

righteously bake loaves and make wine for the hungry stricken

yes go on setting things upright again mercifully contained

glad enough to be cleansing the contrary corners of the heart

forgive the children and make peace the norm hal-le-lu-yah

 

our names are called out as veterans and the rector is so glad to walk among us and he shakes my hand and I begin to cry

cry because his hand is so strong and the grip

the Benno-grip dissolves my resistance

the Benno-grip of absolution reducing me to a chastened child

 

how could I ever eat of god’s body and drink of his blood again

but I go to it all the same weeping a’tremble

and as if that was not enough I submit speechless to a curative anointment that seems was what I needed all along

 

by afternoon we’ve convened the few of us of together

veterans mothers widows daughters healers and all

the veteran’s heart group gathered in a quiet space

to listen to each other’s tellings

heating the talking stone in hand after hand

kneading the salty heart-shaped stone

be still just listen be still

for the sake of healing for the hope of it at least

forgiveness and degrees of hate all mixed together in the room and for each of us driven as always by the fear of pain

listening to the sounds of moral injury spoken plain

 

if the human body is a church I mean a temple where he lives

why a temple of disrespect

why would he torture himself

when the shit hits the fan he’s all surprised

all about saying how he can’t stand it the way things turn out

choosing to feed from the bowl of humiliation instead

 

better open the doors and windows and let the wind flow through blow the stink away let the sun in

maybe tell him somehow he doesn’t have to take sides

but best to just listen to him

accept him bleating just listen

even if he can’t stand the shite that happens

rather him choosing to rate life so low

yet for the sake of those of us still standing I say

just open the doors and windows for a breath of air

 

 

even if it is a veteran’s day sunday I cannot do the parades

as my body can be a teary temple of regret

it is only another veteran’s day thank you for your service and all

not to get inspired nor have the expectations

even if you cannot speak or breathe or look up at the sky

because God had just now appeared before you in the next pew

for the love of God I never tell a lie

and because of the numb-love darling community

walking away having done their done-withs

 

the moment always passes

and you can wipe off the gooey tears

and smile a bit for the sake of the others

over there all glancing downward

knowing that love true love is rare as a hen’s tooth

but should we manage to get a crumb of the affection

from some reckless saint

if we can still swallow down

we’ll gulp the love-crumbs down

along with the poor lovers themselves if possible

never thinking to chew or to even take a taste

of the either the love or the lovers themselves

gulp them down because we are starving

for the least bit of the fondness-in-life

we’ll take even bits and pieces

we simply can’t remember what’s the proper thing to do

what our mums would’ve said to do

 

then there’s the soldiers laid out in their early graves to consider

thank you for your service never mind

that’s what people say

in the old days you might be called a serviceman

or a woman-in-the-service but not now

people are always saying now thank you for your service

but there’s no service for them in it

nor for the U S of A nor for the gov-ner-ment

the service was for yourself admit it

for yourself you went to the battles

you could have not gone refused

you where curious adventuresome light of heart

I mean to say young restless stupid selfish

and above it all indestructible

afterwards a child would want to know

if you killed someone in the war

or the girl friend would want to know what it would feel like to go on the attack with your rifle to kill

some asians or arabian/sunni/shia/muslim types

 

it would be self defense you could say

they would fight back or maybe they tried to run away

or hide in the caves or the dug-out tunnels

but the lieutenant said they were bad-ass-killers

killers is what he said so best to kill them

first before something bad happened

kill them and be done with it

or get the big guns on them

blow them to bits to be sure

that was only part of the service we provided

and we were paid for our services

 

but our local sun is shining bright today and the autumn sky clear

we grow noble as we listen to each other in turn and truth

the afternoon progressing until we are each grown into

gigantic men and women swollen by feelings of empathy

grace chiming in our bones

wanting to be good and to help each other

wanting to be the meek one, mournful, and merciful

and soon we begin to hum together

the women too crooning angelic phrases

we’ve learned the words of the life psalm by now

singing the song loud and louder still

drumming our feet on the floor

 

singing

“I see that today is another beginning …

that life is a miracle …

I’m attentive to each moment in its passing …

I keep my poor mind clear like a calm sea …

awakened now I smile at hearing the bells toll in the tower …

I vow to live fully in each moment …

and to look at all beings with tender eyes …”

singing until there are no further words possible

to be heard today or spoken

and we are reborn colossal beings

parting hugs and all

on this veteran’s day sunday afternoon ha-le-lu-yah

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Blessing beyond blessing

Sitting in a circle yesterday with some fellow travelers and hearing their ideas, stories, and hurts and, in turn, having my own stuff listened to by them was very releasing.  I have discovered over the past several months, the staggering level of angst, violence, and confusion that I hold within my heart about the rips, shreds, and tatters of our warriors’ souls and lives and those who love them.   During those months I wanted to run from civilian to civilian shaking them awake, write righteous letters of indignation to the powers that be, and scream challenges (to whom I don’t know) off the back of my deck so that I could hear them echo up and down the hills of my neighborhood.  I have brought to a dead stop conversations at dinner with friends with horror stories of PTSD, soul injury, and war facts.  I think there are a number of people who avoid me now.  I find that sometimes even I am wearied of me.  I realize yesterday that this is not good; I am only alienating and dividing what needs to be brought together.   I have made a tremendous muddy mess and now it’s time to let some clearness pour inward.

I do think that while it is important to recognize the anger within me, I do not need to let it hold me hostage.  I have not been in combat.  I have not even been in the military.  I have not suffered  nor watched the devastation of war in a loved one and how it rotted all things from within.  I am not accomplishing anything of worth by giving myself over to raw, reactive anger.  By doing so I am but adding my personal can of flammable vitriol onto an already raging conflagration.  But I can be present, must be present and remain present to all who have been scorched, burned, and maimed by these horrible flames.  I can place myself where I am available and allow my anger to subside so that I can hear as fully and as compassionately as possible those who have been consumed in whatever way by war’s claws and teeth and fury.

To be a holder of sacred space is an honor and any place where I am given the gift of another’s story becomes a place of sacredness, of ageless mystery, an altar of peace making.   To hear another’s story and feel the pace and movement  of his or her journey is a blessing beyond blessing

 

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Holding Space

I found a book today in a long lost corner of my basement.  It is a huge book entitled “The American Indian” and is supposed to be an encyclopedia of all the Native American tribes that existed in North America before the whites destroyed most of them.  I sat down and became engrossed in the photographs.   I realized that the photos are of what whites thought was important and that most likely the Native Americans would have taken different photographs.  But the photos, despite who took them, called to me to be a witness.

I looked at the pictures of the warriors in battle dress – everything they wore had a purpose, a deep full significance.   The decorations were of legends, spiritual truths, of community well wishes, and protective symbols.  The warriors did not go into battle alone; the entire community went with them in some form.  In some tribes, various groups of the community went into chanting circles while the warriors were away and stayed isolated until they returned or there was confirmation that there would be no return.   I looked at photos of the women dressed as warriors, as the children dressed in symbolic warrior garb.  These peoples knew something about community that we lost long ago or maybe we never had it.

I wish I did bead work and I don’t mean bead stringing.  If I could I would make something for every soldier going into combat.  I want them to know that I am with them somehow.  I am with them when they come home.  I want them to know I am chanting for them.  It is a silly, ridiculous wish.  Or maybe it isn’t.  I only know that I do not wish to remain disconnected, fragmented, deadened by cultural sloth and small heartedness.

 

 

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Veteran’s day: storm bunkers and medicine

Dear Wistar,

I just typed “dare” Wistar instead of “dear”. Yea, I am daring you. Daring you to speak through me, the one who holds memory of you closer than anyone, closer than I want to bear sometimes. Part of me wants to be your living testimonial. At least for now. Please speak. Veteran’s Day is coming round again. How it inched towards you each fall, right after your late October birthday, like what? Like a thunderhead that might explode into twisters…or maybe, just maybe, it would pass and blow over if you hunkered down well enough with just the right medicine to keep the anxiety tuned down. All the pain, rising into dark billowing clouds and keeping you awake, despite any amount of alcohol or pot or entertaining evening distractions, although sex was a pretty good bet to provide a few hours of solid sleep. Every November, I watched it coming, especially those last 10, after Bush started that unnecessary war for made-up reasons. I tried to listen, to be the body you needed, to be a comfort in your restless nights, but you never trusted that I had the capacity to understand. Although I must say, one day, you came close to considering it, when you turned to me, right after I had been spilling tragic stories of my traumatized students, and you said, “I think what you experience in your classroom is a lot like what I experienced in Vietnam.” I COULD understand after all??? Maybe. But, let’s not dwell on it. Dwelling is way too painful. And true enough, I guess. Who am I to tell you how to process your pain? That’s your job and eventually I learned to leave you to it, after decades of trying to break through your bunker, reinforced by the occasional glint of understanding I know I saw when I challenged you and our eyes met over the top layer of sand bags. Over the years and in the end, you would have none of it. Distraction was way more pleasant and a hell of a lot easier, especially after the bunker was built. And so I left you, my head so bruised on those bunker walls, I knew I was losing my sanity. I had to turn away from those thick walls and walk back into life.

Veteran’s Day for you meant remembering all those that died before your eyes and the living hell that war became in your young unlived life. You so hated that anyone would glorify that hell in the name of those that bore the cost of it. It so angered you and saddened you. The intensity of the storm on Veteran’s Day was always at least a 10. How I wished you could have learned to sit with that and feel it and know it to be a testament to your humanity. You were a sensitive witness that needed to be heard in this world. But instead you hunkered down in your bunker with all the wrong medicines and you were left weak and sad and broken. But still, I know and believe in that soft squishy heart of yours, exactly because of the fact that you built such a fortress to protect it. It had to be in there somewhere. Knowing it was there behind the wall, was all I could know of it any more. And it had to be enough. And so it still is. Enough.

Your sweet Sue, who does love you.

p.s. How many notes and letters did I sign that way? Still true.

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Civilian boot camp?

I went to a Twilight Brigade training this weekend in Birmingham.  Exhausting, joyous, heart wrenching, information packed, a lot of laughter, even more tears.  Did I say exhausting?   So exhausting.  I had gone thinking that the training would be exclusively about hospice for veterans but the topic was more of  hospice-for-everyone.  But towards the end there was a short video of a hospice program at a VA hospital and it was really good though very introductory.  One of the trainers heard that I was involved with VHG and asked me to do a brief chat on PTSD.   Me?   The first Just Listening Circle I had ever been to was last July – what the hell did I know?!  I don’t KNOW anything;  I have only begun to learn.  I spoke anyway.  I spoke of my experience in the Just Listening Circle; I spoke for maybe 10 minutes to some folks.  Very few of the civilians attending the training had ever heard of PTSD.  They really listened to me.  Most whispered, “Omigod, I didn’t know.”  Some were very, very young.  Some of us are at the other end of the aging spectrum.  Omigod, we didn’t know.

I think we need a boot camp for civilians:  we do need to know.  And I really believe that many of us civilians do sincerely want to know, to understand the best that we can; our souls are empty as well.  We want to be filled.

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Semper Fi

Being the wife of a veteran makes me a better therapist. Being a therapist for veterans makes me a better wife. The poem below is written for a client, but was made possible because my husband allowed me to witness his own reconciliation with being “Semper Fi.”  -Tara Continue reading

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The Bumper Sticker

I visited my son at Ft. Rucker last week.  While he did his student pilot thing, I did my insignificant “mother thing”:  cleaned, did laundry, grocery shopped, cooked and did other relatively useless things.  I walked around his neighborhood and felt like an alien being trying to figure out how things worked in this very strange planet where everyone wore big shoes and the same outfit.  The language they used was short, clipped, abbreviated.  They stared straight ahead with blank expressions and they hurried – urgent, the pace was “loud”, strong.   Continue reading

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Kiss You Home

My husband has been stateside for 10+ years, and writing this was easy. Then, I read it aloud to him and began to cry. I suppose that even when one has healed from the effects of war, a phantom pain can still sneak in at times.    -Tara

Continue reading

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JUST LISTENING 10/12/14

We’re gathered in the choir loft  about a dozen of us for a Just Listening meeting as happens every second sunday of the the month I’m anxious about the approach of veterans day because who knows except it brings up junk from the past and the gestures of the community are canned and faint and minimal and in the end the vets are but honored for the killing they did on behalf of Continue reading

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Tough Guy

I am the first son of a Korean vet. My dad always told us he was a clerk at “Headquarters” and never saw combat. After he drank himself to death, I learned that wasn’t true. My uncle told me he had been a ground pounder on the front lines. They had slept in 3 man tents, and my dad happened to be in the middle one morning… when he awoke to find his tent mates on either side had had their throats cut during the night. My uncle said he was never the same after that. Continue reading

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Army Brat

The first 17 years of my life were lived as a member of the Army “family” – a fact that I have spent much of my adult life trying to hide and disclaim.  I was born in 1963 and my first continuous childhood memories are of my father being in Viet Nam.  My mother was very proud of my father for his service and faithfully imparted this pride to me & my siblings.   We were raised knowing that our actions must always be considered in the context of how they might reflect upon our father.  We were always ready for inspection and in all ways we strove to do nothing to dishonor my father and the U.S. Army.  This was part of the glue that held us together and it also caused much inner turmoil for me as I grew up and yearned to extricate myself from my role and create an authentic path.  In recent years, I have been in a phase of re-visiting my childhood and my father’s service and have been seeing my life through a new lens, one that is refined with an adult’s heart and understanding.  As I have re-lived my and my family’s experiences with particular focus on the painful ones, I have found a treasure on the other side: a surprising lightness of being has come with seeing things more clearly as they really were and are.  My relationship with my family is closer than it has been in years – I feel like I can finally come home.

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the daughter of a WWII veteran

In the ten years since I discovered photographs my father took during his time in the European Theatre of WWII, I have been on a mission to understand how his service shaped my childhood. The ice cold, deafening silence about traumas I suffered as a very young child had created deep depression, negativity, and melancholy that was beginning to infect my young children. Continue reading

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Just a thought

Something has been very interesting to me over the last several years & that is how the effects of PTSD seem to be generational. I realize that there are several articles and a few studies studying this phenomena, but when it hits home that is what makes it interesting to me. I suppose that returning to Viet Nam in 2001 brought the light of knowledge to my life and how PTSD was acting like a cancer in my life, my families life & my professional life. So, I discovered that I had PTSD from the traumas in Viet Nam. My reaction was anger and distrust. I tried to drink my way to health for a while, but found it difficult to function that way so I stopped. Continue reading

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War Baby

I was a war baby. My father enlisted shortly after Pearl Harbor, as did all of his friends and family.  My parents were married in May of 1942, a small home wedding, with my father in his uniform, my mother in a blue suit. I was conceived about 18 months later, probably in Cambridge, MA, where my father had been sent to teach something in the War College at Harvard. Continue reading

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My Monster

I don’t really remember my dad before the war. My first memory of him was at the grave of my great aunt. He was really close to her. I must have been 4 years old. I remember him kneeling at her grave crying, and when I stepped on her grave that’s when I saw the monster. After Vietnam, he was stationed in Japan, and we moved there to be with him. These are my first memories of him. He was my hero. He was a monster. He was drunk a lot of the time. After about nine months, my mom had had enough, and moved us back to Kentucky. Continue reading

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