In my last post, I wrote about my most recent experience of sharing some of my Vietnam war-related poetry with a public audience. It is interesting how people often differ in their responses. I had one older veteran, who attended my writers group’s public reading last year, remark to me, “You always tell those sad stories.”
I had others come up to me and quietly say “I could relate to what you were saying.”
And then, there was the mother of the young Army soldier who had just endured his first major trauma, of seeing a fellow soldier crushed under a vehicle when it overturned during a training accident. Her response to me was one of great gratitude for sharing some of my own traumatic experiences.
While she and I shared a conversation after the reading, so much was unspoken between us. I think just the fact that I was there, telling my story, gave her hope that she will survive too. Her son will soon go off to war. She needs to know that with all the terror and foreboding of having a loved one in a war zone, millions upon millions of mothers, fathers, spouses, children, and other family members have gotten through it.
Many times in my younger years, when my loved one was in Vietnam, my emotions were so raw, that I often felt that I wanted to die–just to escape the fear and pain. Then when my son went to Germany, while serving in the Army, I wasn’t sure I’d survive that. It was right after an American soldier had been killed there, in a bombing of a nightclub.
Plus just days after my son arrived in Germany, the Chernobyl, Ukraine, nuclear accident happened. I remember watching the Phil Donohue talk show days later, where he talked about the fact that radiation was wafting over Germany. To this day, I worry about the long-term effects of that on my son.
Thinking back, I also was reminded of the time years ago, when I first started going to Al-Anon and Open AA meetings. I can still picture one young woman who got up and spoke to a large group of AA members. She was in Al-Anon, and wanted to share her story of how the group had helped her improve her situation, and how their support had allowed her to learn to laugh again.
She glowed as she spoke enthusiastically about the program, and its positive effects on herself and her family. I remember being so impressed by her, and feeling just a glimmer of hope that perhaps, someday, I could crawl out of my deep despair, feel joy again, and perhaps in time, even get up in front of a group of people and share my story too.
Sometimes, I can’t believe that I’m there! It’s taken years to achieve enough personal growth to believe in myself enough, to stand in front of an audience and talk about my life; where I’ve been, how I’ve healed my mind, body and soul, from the many heartaches and traumas that I’ve lived through.
I’ve found that by learning to speak out about my traumatic experiences, I have felt a great sense of peace and validation. It’s very empowering.
I have to say, I am now grateful that I have lived life so fully, with its drama, confusion, disappointments, and challenges. I’ve gotten back much more than I’ve given.
For all of you out there, who’ve yet to share your PTSD story, be encouraged. It gets easier each time you talk abut your deepest trauma. I liken it to lancing a boil. There is so much relief when you lance it, and get the poison out. Don’t let if fester. Get it out!
If you’re not ready to tell your loved ones, just think. Sometimes, it’s actually easier to tell strangers. I’ve found this to be true. I’m sending positive thoughts for all of you who may not even be aware that you “need to tell your story.” Someone else is out there, eagerly waiting and needing, to hear what you have to say.