PTSD/Substance Abuse Committee Update May/June 2021

BY THOMAS C. HALL, PH.D., CHAIR

Upon returning to America, Vietnam veterans learned that each of us had experienced our own private wars alongside our brothers and sisters in arms.

For those of us managing PTSD or substance use disorder, we learned that no one could understand how the very fabric of our souls was changed by the experience of Vietnam.

Now we find ourselves slowly coming out of a pandemic. We experienced a quarantined, mask-wearing, socially distanced world in different ways, although feelings such as fear, anger, frustration, and confusion are shared by everyone.

All Americans experienced the pandemic together. We are survivors. More will get sick, and some will yet die, but, for now, we have survived. That is where we are now in managing the symptoms of PTSD and recovery from substance abuse. But survival isn’t enough. Survival keeps us alive, but I want us to thrive.

Thriving takes intentional action. Intentional forgiveness is a key factor in thriving. One of the best on-ramps to mental health and thriving is forgiveness. In preparing to forgive, it is usually best to start with someone close to home—ourselves. Only we know for what. Forgiving others for real or imagined slights is the next mile marker down the road. We cannot thrive until we find a way to forgive an entire country. It’s a daunting task but an essential step on the road to recovery.

You may argue that some things just cannot and should not be forgiven. The philosopher Jonathan Lockwood Huie wrote: “Forgive others, not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace.” The forgiveness is not for others but to improve your quality of life. We may not be able to forgive everyone for everything that has been done to us. I struggle with this myself.

Learning how to forgive begins with small actions. The people, places, and situations that feed our anger and resentment have been living rent-free in our heads long enough. They shade our awareness and sensitivity of the good around us and need to be evicted. Screw resentments! I never met a resentment that built me up, only ones that kept me down. Holding on to anger is like holding on to an anchor and jumping into the sea. If you don’t let it go, you will drown.

Intentionally taking care of ourselves moves the needle forward on our mental health. Reaching out for help if the needle is stuck is more important now than ever before. Initiating care or returning to care can seem like a big step, whether by telehealth appointment or in-person.

How you map your journey to care is personal. It might be reconnecting with a behavioral health counselor, or just meeting with other veterans or those you draw support from and swapping stories.

Taking intentional steps to rejoin all our support systems as the pandemic recedes and we can more easily come together is key. While we continue to ride out the pandemic, forgiveness is one thing within our control that we can work on. Work on forgiveness so that we are not just surviving but thriving as we plan our steps out from the cave of quarantine to an even better life.


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