Frozen river in northern Minnesota, Photo Courtesy of Aaron Leonard.
The other day, someone told me that I seemed like a "relatively well-adjusted veteran." They wanted to know how long it took for me to feel like I was back in society. After a long pause, the individual repeated the statement and the question, concerned I hadn't heard him. After all, the chances of a veteran having bad hearing are pretty good, and I do ask people to repeat themselves often. I hadn't responded, however, because I was confused by the statement and the question. So if you're the one who asked the question, here's my answer.
I've been home for more than six years now, but I still don't quite feel like I fit into society. I'm not sure, even prior to my military experience, if I ever felt like I fit into society. In the military I never felt at peace with my identity in uniform. Many of my mentors in the service -- some whom are still in, and some whom got out -- regardless of rank, never fit into the mold. It is what (in part) made them admirable and worthy of emulation.
What I can answer, is that it has taken me six years to realize that I'm still reacting to my war, and to the more jarring experience of coming home. Home to a country which, despite its flag and the funding associated with the deployment of millions of men and women overseas, was never, and has never, been at war since Sept. 12, 2001. Like the quarterback Jeff George before me, who in his early years with the Indianapolis Colts always threw off his back foot, I've been preparing for the next body blow each day for six years. Even if the protection didn't break down, I'd lean back and huck the proverbial ball of life forward. I wasn't, and still ain't, stepping forward into the pocket. Wasted talent.
Alcoholism and addiction were my first backward steps in avoiding the pressure of life. My first two-plus years of recovery have been more of the same. I was backstepping to avoid the negative impact that first drugs (I cleaned up before I sobered up), and later alcohol, had become. Amidst it all, I've had a bevy of success in my life, just as George did, in hucking the ball downfield. My success shocks me every morning I wake up, and is in large part due to the support and love of a huge group of incredible people. First and foremost among them, my fiancée, my family and my battle buddies, in and out of uniform.
The challenge now, however, is to step up and throw, or charge forward, when I have the chance. It is also about creating opportunities, and a game plan, to move forward without constant waiting. The great ones create. Certainly, there's value in being able to react, but shifting to a posture of action, versus reaction, is not (according to my current experience) an easy one. Nor will it help me fit into society any more than coming home an alienated and confused survivor of war has helped.
We are not conditioned, or even encouraged in this country, to step up and take action. It's acceptable to work against something -- it's far harder to work for something. Even my actions have been a reaction to my struggles, which certainly isn't wrong, it's just different than creating a better life. If I hadn't reacted, I wouldn't be here today. It's a fine survival technique, but it's certainly not how one can thrive long term.
So to sum it all up, it's been six years and counting, and to be honest, I hope I'm never all that well adjusted. None of my heroes ever has been.
For more by Stacy Bare, click here.
For more on mental health, click here.