Unhelpful Labels

01/27/2016 05:09 pm ET Updated Jan 19, 2017

My son served five years in the United States Marine Corp, including two tours in Afghanistan. David still serves in Marine Reserves while enrolled at the University of Oklahoma. Like many combat vets, he has struggled. The death of his younger brother less than a year after getting out of the USMC made it worse.

I'm proud of his service to our country, but I am most proud of the man he has become since leaving active duty. He has dealt with physical and emotional issues with strength, wisdom, and grace.

He posted this on New Year's Day, after being woken by fireworks the night before:

FYI. As much as I hate the "Dysfunctional Veteran", or the " Vet lives here, please be courteous with fireworks," I still don't like being woken up to them at two in the morning right outside my house.

Those two saying sound cool to most Vets, but it is just furthering your own victimization. Gen Mattis put it much better than I can, when he said, "You've been told that you're broken, that you're damaged goods and should be labeled victims of two unjust and poorly executed wars. The truth, instead, is that we are the only folks with the skills, determination, and values to ensure American dominance in this chaotic world." He explained the nation has a "disease orientation" toward combat stress. Mad Dog's death blow was swift: "In America, victimhood is exalted." (From a speech in San Francisco, April, 2014)

So by labelling yourself as a dysfunctional vet, you are becoming an oxymoron. As a vet, we possess skills and traits that make us excel, not be dysfunctional.

Yes, there are many ways we will never fully blend with society. But I'm betting most people get startled when fireworks go off at 2 am. They may not wake up with an adrenalin rush, but that doesn't mean we can't learn to cope. By putting a sign in front of your house saying don't set off fireworks, in my opinion, you are making yourself a victim. You are surrendering to the disease, instead of fighting it.

It seems pretty plain to me. You have two choices:

1) Submit to how you think society sees you, and surrender to the disease, using it as an excuse to not excel, or

2) Fight for your right to return to society. Isn't that why we fought on the battlefield? "The most important six inches on the battle space is between your ears." That is even more true in our adjustment back into society.

Engage your brain, learn to control it, get help, reach out. Much like singlehanded none of us could clear an AO, few, if not none, can clear the wreckage of our past and reintegrate. Similar to learning how to dis and ass a .50 cal, we need to learn the tools. I learned them through those who have gone before me, those who went with me, and professionals who didn't go at all. But most important, I chose to learn them, instead of surrendering to the disease.

For me, manning up and taking it meant admitted I can't do it on my own and need help. That seems to be the truest test of my manhood in my life. Am I going to admit I can't beat something on my own, and ask for help, or just keep pushing through til it drives me insane. And this is with just about everything, from Harleys to health issues.

The Facebook conversation prompted by this post got me thinking about some of my grieving friends.

Many take on the label "Bereaved Parent" and wear it proudly. They claim their right to not handle life well, to break down in loud sobs at any moment in any situation regardless of the effect it may have on others, and to not participate in family functions that are simply too hard, even years after losing their child. "It's my grief. It was my child that died. The world can just go to hell if they don't like the way I handle it! Unfriend me if you don't want to read about my grief or see constant posts about my child," they may say.

Please, please understand me. I know how hard and painful those early days can be! I know that death and grief consumes our every thought when our wound is fresh, raw, and oozing! I know! I lived it after The Accident! It is almost impossible not to openly grieve in those early days and months.

But, like the label "Disfunctional Vet", "Bereaved Parent" may be a label that is best not worn our sleeve. Yes, the death of my twenty-year-old son changed me, but it does not define me.

To use the words of Mad Dog Mattis, "You've been told that you're broken, that you're damaged goods and should be labeled victims because of [your child's death]. The truth, instead, is that we are the only folks with the skills, determination, and values to [walk this horrible road of grief and to help others who walk it after us]." It is not road we would have chosen, but we are on it. And God can and will give us the skills, determination, and values needed to walk this grief journey with grace, love, strength, and forgiveness if we ask Him.

We can, with the help and by doing the next right thing, get better. We can find healing, joy, and peace once again. In time. And it will take time ... and work.

I don't have to give in to the grief. I don't have to be defined by the label "Bereaved Parent" or let it control my behavior. Even on hard days, I have learned to control my own behavior rather than letting my grief and emotions control me. That's what adults do.

When I am sad or filled with sorrow, I find an appropriate and safe place to express my grief. I don't need to disrupt things or call attention to myself at the expense of others by loudly sobbing or telling everyone my son is dead.

I may never completely fully blend in with society - I have been changed by my son's death in ways others may not understand. But I do participate in social events and family gatherings, and I attempt tasks that may seem daunting. I've often found those hard things are worth the effort! Friends and family show me love and kindness at those times and in ways I would have missed had I stayed home alone wallowing in my grief.

My social media posts sometimes include comments about my loss, but more often they are about my life and the good things in it. I want to encourage others as they encourage me. Yes, I am honest and transparent. My friends see me grieve at times. They also see that grief does not consume my thoughts or my life. I have joy, laughter, peace, and hope.

Just as my son has not gone it alone in his recovery, I have not reached this point in healing by going it alone in my own recovery. I had help from my counselor, my husband, my friends, my church, and While We're Waiting.

In the most difficult areas of my life, things are always made worse when I go it alone. It's not just a man up thing, it's a human thing. We are created to be in community with others.

Many think it's weak to ask for help, but it takes great wisdom, strength, and humility to admit we cannot go it alone. And the cool thing is that we don't have to go it alone! Others are willing to walk beside us and aid us in our journey.

If you are a veteran in need of help, contact your local VA. Yes, there have been problems with the VA, but there are good people who want to help you. Go in, don't just call. Take the time to walk through the system. Tell them honestly that you are suffering and need counseling. They will help you if you let them. And seek out other vets to speak with. Encourage one another.

If you are a Bereaved Parent, don't go it alone with the attitude that it's your grief and it will never get better! It can get easier to handle. Seek help. Counseling, Grief Share, or While We're Waiting may help you. Many if us walk this road and are willing to walk it with you. I know, because many took time to walk with me. We will walk with you as well if you let us.