Over the past week, events unfolding in Afghanistan have been a constant presence in the news, conversations and thoughts for many of the Redstone community. This news is especially tough as we come upon the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, which began our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Whether you served in the military or deployed to Afghanistan and/or have friends and family who made the ultimate sacrifice in combat, the events unfolding there are on the minds of many. Many are reflecting on the losses, the emotional scars, and the physical scars, wondering “was it worth it?” Some are experiencing the return of supressed memories and feelings, as video footage of Afghanistan trigger a sense of reliving the traumatic deployments.
If you find that you are having a difficult time right now, it is a normal response, and the following provides a perspective to help you and others who may be in need of support.
“What was the war for,” is a common phrase we’ve heard over that past week. While it is natural to have such questions in response to unfavorable outcomes after hard-fought efforts, this perspective can also lead to feelings of doubt, hopelessness and despair. The famous psychiatrist Victor Frankyl (1984), a survivor of Auschwitz and writer of “Man’s Search for Meaning,” stated: “If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.”
I present this quote not to gloss over the hurt that many are feeling right now, but as an alternative perspective, one that may bring solace to those anguished with the thoughts of “was it worth it.” You may have initially had this thought, but I encourage you to answer it with what will bring you healing. Find meaning by changing unhelpful thinking by assisting someone who is hurting right now. Support veteran or humanitarian organizations to help find meaning. Suffering will always be present but finding meaning builds resiliency to things that are beyond our understanding or out of our control.
Additionally, some may experience the reemergence of old thoughts and feelings as if new all over. This response is also a very normal human response. Take notice of what you are feeling and be aware of the thoughts associated. If you are feeling angry, take time to analyze the thoughts fueling the anger. Allow yourself time to grieve. Be mindful of rumination and becoming “stuck” in thoughts that bring on strong negative emotions. It is OK and normal to start or re-engage in counseling to help during this season of healing.
Finally, some may experience feelings of lack of control and helplessness as we watch events unfolding. Pondering what is to come. Some feel a sense of helplessness for the oppressed who experienced a form of liberation during our time in Afghanistan. Others may worry about the future and the security of the United States. Some may feel a lack of control that “I (we) just couldn’t do…” It is natural for us to have these worries and fears. They are our natural human way of attempting to control situations we may not have control over. This can often lead to feelings of anger or other strong negative emotions. Again, this is a time to note the emotions, the thoughts driving these feelings, and find a perspective that will allow you to experience productive anger and emotions rather than destructive and harmful negative emotions.
In closing, I encourage us to remember that our military service is not for one campaign or conflict. It is service to our nation as a whole. Let us also not forget our veterans who have served in other conflicts and may also feel they are reliving the events of their generation all over again as well. If you need additional support or know someone who may benefit from counseling, there are several options available:
If you are in a suicidal crisis, reach out for help immediately. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
For the active duty and Tricare beneficiary population: Military OneSource (800-342-9647), Military Family Life Consultants (226-7317), Chaplain Services (842-2176).
Fox Army Health Center: Department of Behavioral Health (955-8888 ext. 1032).
Additional resources: Huntsville Vet Center (539-5775), Veterans Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255).