“What do you think of me now Ma’am?” He asked.
My head was racing. I had worked with this Marine over the phone for several hours. His wife was there to support him. He told me his name was Joe, but I didn’t know if that was true. I did t know if he called me from a friends house or his own phone. I had no idea what he looked like and would most likely have passed him by on the street.
But I had heard his stories. Stories of intense trauma.
Vietnam did that to people. All wars do.
He was uder care of the VA and had permission to try EFT with me.
Story by story we unpacked whatever he was ready to share. He was a high ranking officer. He took command of the session, decided where to go and what to talk about.
In the beginning, we just worked on his physical stress. That’s all he could do.
But as he learned to trust me more, he began to share stories that nobody other than his pastor had ever heard.
He didn’t talk about it at the VA, and his therapist hadn’t even asked him to do so.
He asked his wife for forgiveness for some of the things he had done to her, when he was raging, infuriated and out of control, destroying so much of their relationship and hoping that she wouldn’t break up with him as a result.
As we worked together, his voice changed from session to session. It became lighter, friendlier, and had a new sense of happiness, even purpose in it.
He was stoic and monotonous when we started, now, after just a few hours, he talked with a sense of freedom and relief.
We addressed some childhood issues, memories with his father, who was also a Marine.
They were intense, some of them more dramatic than his war memories.
I was grateful that we could work through them so safely without him tuning in emotionally.
But then, there was this afternoon, when he told me that he wanted to share something that only his priest knows.
“Ma’am,” he said “I need you to understand that I am not asking for forgiveness. I have been blaming myself for this every day since it happened, since I did this. I would give my life to make it undone. I am a monster and I deserve to burn in hell for this. My guilt is my punishment and I accept that.”
“Can you talk about it?” I asked? I am here to listen
“I talked with my priest. He was trying to make me feel better. But I didn’t want to feel better. I deserve to live in hell for this.”
This was a strong man. I had learned to respect him for so many reasons. I could feel his pain and confirmed that I’d be there for him.
“So here is it.” He said: “I was a Sniper, special forces. My job was to take out the enemy before it took out us..”
“I understand that.” I replied.
“My mission that day was to blow up that civilian bus. We expected enemy forces to be in it. ” “Yes.” I said.
“But…,” he paused, overwhelmed. It took some time for him to regain his composure… “But here’s the thing: the bus was ready to leave. But then, at the very last moment, I saw a father with his son running up to the bus….”
“And I waited until they got on before I blew it up.”
I could hear the crying in his voice. But he had no tears left. He had been carrying this for so many decades.
“I talked to my priest. He was trying to tell me that maybe this was gods will!” That’s bullshit. He was trying to tell me that maybe this little boy would have turned I to a terrorist! But seriously! This was a 9 year old kid! What are the odds of that???”
“What do you think of me now, Ma’am?”
My mind was racing. Could I help him with this? What was I going to say? Was there an appropriate response? Was I the right person to help him, given the severity of the story that he had just shared? Could I even find it in my heart to talk about this differently than he did?
I realized that this was a pivotal moment for me as a healer. If I couldn’t find a way to work with him now, I couldn’t do the work I wanted to do, helping Veterans release war trauma What was my place in this? And was I prepared to take it?
All this took just a few seconds. As I listened to the silence in the other side of the phone line, I realized that I hadn’t asked him the most important question yet.
“Joe” I said “my job is not to judge you. It is not to condone or excuse what happened. My only job that I have signed up for is to help you heal what happened.”
“Please tell me more. Who were you at the time? What were you trained to do? What were the real circumstances of this?”
“You don’t judge me?”
“No. I don’t.”
“Ma’am” he said “nobody has ever asked me this. Even my therapist at the VA never wanted to know.
You see” he continued ” at the age of 8, my dad put me in a secret military cadre for gifted kids. I was raised there. I was brainwashed. They put those headphones in us and made us think things about ourselves that I can’t repeat here. We believed to be so big, so invincible. I speak Russian and Vietnamese in my sleep. I do t recall to have ever learned this. I can tighten up my muscles so hard, that they can’t even give me a shot at the hospital when I feel threatened. I just break the needle. I am in my 70s now, but I can still pick up a live size tractor if necessary. Had to do that to save someone a little while ago. I am trained and programmed to be invincible and to not think. We all were. We didn’t have a choice. ”
He told me many more stories that I promised not to share. But it became apparent, that what happened that day had a big, huge, decades long story.
That this man had been systematically trained to forget about his humanness so he could do his job. So many of the troops I have worked with report this.
“Joe ” I said, when he was finished “I’d like to share something with you:
I understand why you say that the priest telling you that his was gods will is BS. And that the odds of the boy turning into a terrorist are very very slim. I understand why you want to take full responsibility for what happened that day. And I respect that.
But after listening to you, even though I am a healer not a Marine, after learning more about you, after hearing how you were raised, trained and prepared for many many years to do this job, I can’t help but seeing this differently now”
I paused, as this was huge for me, and quite frankly, it still is…
“Joe, I realize that if I had your background, your upbringing, your story, I would have done the same thing. Anybody would have. Not just you.”
There were many emotions coming up for him now, and we tapped through all of them with EFT.
Eventually we were done, and his demeanor had completely changed.
“I still have a lot to give.” He said “There are many poor devils like me who carry their mess around every day of their lives never knowing how to put it down. This EFT stuff works. I want to reach out to them and support them, too. I have a new mission in my life. No I am ready to take that on now.”
When we send our troops into war zones, we must expect for them to come back changed, injured and deeply impacted by what they were exposed to.
When they return, it is our job to take the responsibility for sending them into war in the first place. And for the things that happened while they were there. It is our job to
Never excuse what happened
But instead to help heal what happened with respect, listening and acknowledgement.
There needs to be a place for this in our society, where we hold and cherish our troops, and not just want them to “get themselves fixed so they can operate again.”
War trauma impacts everybody, not just the service members.
But when we learn how to acknowledge this without judgment, forgive without condoning or excusing and are truly I recreated in taking the time to listen and learn, our troops have a chance to return home
and have a place in the civilian world.
Thank you Joe for having the courage to step forward and teach me this important lesson. You have saved many lives.