I love watching YouTube videos that capture veterans returning home to their unsuspecting loved ones. The videos steal rare moments of vulnerability when spouses, mothers, children, fathers, and even dogs discover that the soldier for whom they have endured a tortuous distance is suddenly within their grasp. But what happens when the distance does not stay away? What happens when the distance comes home in a uniform? What do spouses, lovers, and soldiers do when they find that the trauma of combat is as intimate as their own embrace?
Self-kindness was never a coping strategy I had, even with my posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Remaining 'busy' likely had a lot to do with having had a satisfying career. Many people who've experienced a traumatic event can understand the sentiment of keeping their minds occupied and off of their agonizing memories with tasks; when their lives abruptly change, things can feel unmanageable. I'd practiced medicine for 25 years and then survived a car crash, suffering multiple, life-altering injuries. My concerted efforts to practice medicine being unsuccessful meant that I had to retire and simply accept my disabilities. This was devastating. The traumatic memories from childhood and the crash and its aftermath were overwhelming. There was no way to merely work it all away, which had been my typical strategy, as well as work having been my identity for years. I experienced a major depression after repeatedly telling myself with astonishing certainty, that "I am a failure."