Not long ago on the trail a true friend looked me in the eye and confronted my jaded cynical crutch that has been all to common a companion in recent years of my life. These sharp and surgical words from my fellow traveler cut me quickly into the most needed place of my heart and soul where the most deadly of soul crippling cancers had taken up residence for far to long.
Through the long and dark years that I had spent away from the ones I loved most my heart and soul had developed a thick and nearly impenetrable callus that I held onto with fierce determination. This condition developed over multiple years of pain and sorrow that I find difficult to adequately describe. I will attempt to paint a picture through an experience that will be burned into my memory for the rest of my life. This particular event came before I ever stepped one boot into Iraq in 2003….in fact, it was the day that I said goodbye to my precious family before loading out the plane that would fly me over for one of my multiple combat tours in the Middle East. The time had come to give that last huge and kiss to my wife and my two sons. Jeri Lynn and I were doing our best to handle to situation with minimal emotion and stay in control. However, despite my efforts to hold back my tears they began to fall like a strong southern thunder storm. I didn’t want my older son to see me loosing control of my emotions and cause him additional confusion and pain that he simply could not understand at the tender age of two and one half years old. The time for walking away had arrived, and I literally couldn’t breath…I feared that I was going to pass out from my anguish as I watched Jeri Lynn get into the car and put on her seat belt. The boys were tucked into their car seats in the back of our small white sedan….and the car slowly began to pull away from me. In that moment I realized the essence my commitment and oath, and the weight of it was becoming nearly too much to bare in that specific moment. However, my oldest son found it within himself to get his hand out the window as they pulled away, and I will never forget what his words sounded like that day, “Come home Daddy”, as his small hand reached out as to show me that I was not alone in my pain…at his young age, my oldest son felt the weight of what was about to define our lives for the next 15 years.
I found a way to recover my emotions that day so that I could go find my squad, who needed me to pull myself together, to get them onto the plane and through our tour of duty in Iraq. The truth is I left something of myself there on that sidewalk. In that moment where I felt pain, sorrow, and heart ache that has only been matched by loosing a fellow Soldier. I subconsciously started the process of shutting off myself and the true feelings in my heart and the sacred beliefs within my soul. This process continued and intensified through the many other events like the one I have described above. Time and again the agonizing goodbyes and long months and years of separation pilled up…and the real me that Jeri Lynn had married, and the father that my boys had known, and should of had, began to disappear.
My oldest son is now nearing 17 years old, and he knows full well the costs that are associated with the current wars that are being fought still today…the very same ones that caused him to say good bye to me that day those many years ago. He is not alone, as I have four more children that all have this intimate knowledge of what the word sacrifice means on a level that most American adults cannot relate with.
All seven of us are together in our journey as we walk this trail, and it is pulling the truth out of all of us in varied and differing ways. My truth that I have been addressing is the “crutch” that I have been carrying around for all of these years. I figured out a way to not feel anymore, and it has been rotting away the inside of me for many years now. This method of copping with my pain was not a healing device what so ever.
The crutch, used properly, is employed for a temporary time until the injured person has recovered enough to start walking again and gaining strength for everyday activity. There comes a time when the crutch no longer provides the atmosphere and conditions for healing to take place…but it then stunts the essential growth and strength that is needed to ever truly walk independently again.
My best friend looked at me on the trail not so many days ago, and called out my crutch. My critical and highly cynical attitudes that have dominated my way of thinking and acting have been my go to method for avoiding any kind of realistic emotional growth. This crutch has fueled maladaptive thinking and patterns of behavior. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of positive ground has been covered for me in the last two years in my personal battles, but it is clear that this is the next one to tackle.
A true friend, like the one by my side on this journey, is absolutely priceless. They will look deeply into your life and not throw you out with the trash. But they don’t stop there…if they have our best in mind, they will tell us about our self destructive actions or patterns that will suffocate our lives and the ones next to us who we love the most.
My very real and life alerting pain and loss is now being put into its proper place; the place where it will fuel post traumatic growth and healing.