Chief Chris Kyle, Navy SEAL and author of “American Sniper” who was killed Saturday, was a friend of ours. He was a friend to many. Chris’ death is yet another loss for the special operations community which we’ve served for more than 30 years. Hearts are broken. Anger is reignited. Traumatic memories are triggered. Our wounds are opened once again. And yet, in an irony that trumps Saturday’s apparent blue-on-blue kill, we have a crucial opportunity as a nation to reach for another measure of healing and wholeness.
The alleged shooter, Eddie Ray Routh, is one of our own, a member of the U.S. military family. Initial reports reveal that Routh, a veteran of the Iraq war, had been in and out of mental health care. The cost of his apparent slipping through system’s cracks is now incalculable and irreparable. Even more shocking than the news about Kyle and his colleague, Chad Littlefield, who was also killed, is the harsh reality that untold numbers of other veterans teeter on the brink between mental wholeness and mental hell as they struggle to reintegrate into our communities.
Last weekend’s tragedy underscores the responsibility that we as people of faith have in helping our veterans to completely come home. For years, I’ve held a workshop called “Fighting PTSD with PTSD,” and I’ve learned and shared ways the faith community can help military families dealing with the invisible wounds of war: posttraumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. I use the PTSD acronym to help others remember what helps and what hurts veterans and their loved ones.
Veterans and their families don’t need:
P. . .to be pigeonholed or pitied, to be placated, pacified, prodded to share or pushed or preached at
T. . .trauma caused by ignorance, their triggers activated, more temptations to self-medicate
S. . .surprised or shocked reactions from us, sarcasm, taking sides, or shame
D. . .to be allowed to stay in denial, our legalistic dogma, dry doctrine
Veterans and their families do need:
P. . .our presence, peace of mind, professional help, physical rest, pardon from real or false guilt, a plan, a path, peers, pleasure, their productivity restored, reminders of their potential, and provision for material needs
T. . .your thank-you, simple and sincere, a team of trustworthy friends around them, your time
S. . .your servant’s heart, solitude, space to sort it out, spiritual guidance, service opportunities, survival skills for life stateside and on the home front, and side-by-side interaction (for men) and face-to-face interaction (for women), your silence vs. clichés
D. . .debriefing, opportunities to download memories and questions, a dream sheet, a map to that destination, doors of opportunity
A Better PTSD
By faith, posttraumatic stress disorder can become a better “PTSD.” If we don’t give up, the pain of the shattered dream can become passing through someplace dark and finally, peace in the shadow of the divine. As members of the community of faith, we also have been given a form of PTSD:
P. . .You and I have a priestly function to speak to God on behalf of the veteran and his/her family and to speak the promises of God into their lives.
T. . .God has put his trust in you and me. He is trusting us to initiate the veterans’ transformation which takes time and truth.
S. . .God has set you and me apart to let the veteran and his/her family know their souls are secure.
D. . .God has designated you and me as ones who can direct the hurting one to the divine healer.
The effect that PTSD and TBI have on the warrior and the warrior’s home is a shadowy place where personal plans and dreams die an agonizing death. The valley of the shadow of PTSD is no place to walk alone.
Marshele Carter Waddell is the co-author of Wounded Warrior, Wounded Home: Hope and Healing for Families Living with PTSD and TBI (March 2013). She served with her husband, CDR (ret) Mark D. Waddell, USN, a career Navy SEAL, for 25 years around the world.