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THE HEALING : WHERE DOES IT BEGIN .....

IT'S A PROCESS AND IT DOES NOT START  IN THE SAME PLACE NOR DOES IN START IN THE SAME MANNER FOR ALL - FOR SOME IT STARTS WITH ONE VET "TALKING" TO ANOTHER VET; FOR SOME IT'S WHEN WE REACH OUT FOR HELP FOR THE FIRST TIME; FOR SOME IT'S THAT FIRST  TRIP TO THE WALL  OR  A HOME TOWN MEMORIAL; FOR A VAST MAJORITY IT TAKES PLACE WHEN WE REACH OUT FOR HELP AND ACCEPT IT AS WAS IN MY CASE; FOR MANY THE JOURNEY IS JUST BEGINNING; FOR MANY IT HAS NOT BEGUN. THERE ARE THOSE OF US WHO ARE STILL OUT THERE IN THE COLD--- LOST--- LEFT WITH THE FEELING OF BEING FORGOTTEN..BUT, WE MUST NOT FORGET.

I have attempted in the past 34 years to bring myself to grips with each new reality that has manifested in my life, since returning home from the Vietnam War. Yet the task has not been so much dealing with these realities in different situations, rather each and everyday life situations. The task that has presented itself to me and other veterans has been to identify the problems or shall I say the primary cause of my past and immediate dilemma.

Another important factor is dealing with the questions and answers presented regarding our experience in Vietnam (or other wars). The gist of this writing is to deal with "What to say?" when approached by those who want to know not so much about our experience in the war rather " what has happened to us and why are we like we are today." 

It comes down to at times attempting to "explain" ourselves. In all honesty I owe no man an explanation. And yet, I will do my best to explain at times "what's going on with me." However, these explanations mostly short and to the point are not always met with understanding or accepted.

After all, how do you explain to someone something that is going on inside you that you can't explain yourself. See we find that denial became just another survival tool. It was one thing to be in denial regarding our circumstance and it was another thing not being able to identify or put a name on the condition.

It was quite some time before I faced the primary cause of all that was happening to me. It was quite some time before I reached deep within and confronted the various ever present demons that took me on a road of self destruction. It was quite some time before I unmasked the person hiding within this shell of a man. It was quite some time before I realized that I was not alone in my quest for a simple thing known as "peace of mind" and the desire to live like a normal human being; moving through life as a productive member of society. It was quite some time before I found that there may not be a cure; but there is a solution.

I left Vietnam in 1967. This is 2002 and my debriefing just began a few months ago (and it just may be a lifelong process). This debriefing is not coming at the hands of the Army as it should have been instead of being turned lose to roam carrying such  untapped feelings of grief; loss; anger; depression; isolation; unconfused loneliness and false pride all these years. There were feelings masked so well and that I was able that they were numbed beyond recognition.

However, I am being treated in a VA facility for *Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This as part of a discharge plan I agreed upon and committed to only after spending a total of 11 months in a VA facility acquiring some tools and coping skills that would hopefully contribute to me learning how to look at the war and eventually get on with my life. Little did I realize then that it was all part of the (1)healing and later to be identified  (2) debriefing process.

Group therapy is just one source; a beginning. And the beginning of the healing process is different for each of us who returned back to the "World".  The tragedy is that we had to be prepared for our debriefing since it has taken so long to come and once prepared who better qualified (specifically in the case of the Vietnam veteran) than one who has shared your experience.


But, real debriefing is coming from one veteran helping another veteran. This debriefing is in the form of stories from other veterans. It is in the form of weekly and sometimes daily exchanges often in group therapy. It is in the form of being connected to the veteran community and a willingness to help a fellow comrade. The debriefing, is an ongoing process essential to the healing.  It comes from the courage in understanding that I am on a journey. For with each new piece of the puzzle we face the same and sometimes amplified psychological often traumatic experience accompanied by all the triggers.

The healing happens when a veteran in Florida calls a veteran in California who calls a veteran in St. Louis who calls a veteran in Denver. The healing happens when a letter or an email or a phone call manifests a voice or a face from the past. The healing takes place when the Vietnam Wall and other war memorials are visited by veterans of all wars. The healing takes place when two buddies reunite after 34 years.

The healing beginsthere is no ending. The road back can be a haunting and traumatic journey. We have had to find ways to live in today and we've had to do it one day at a time. We've had to do it knowing of some who made it and some who didn't. We have had to face our past in a way not like others as our condition is as it relates to the Vietnam veteran.

We are to some a strange breed. We have been singled out at times as the "crazy bunch". Why?

How do you walk up to another, especially one who does not understand and talk about the horrors of war. After all, we were not a welcomed lot as we returned home. And consider this, many of us returned not with the comrades we fought with; not with the friend who went with us to Nam. We seem to have developed and not overcome the fears attached to feelings surrounding our situations encountered in Vietnam.
For many of us the mere mention of the word Nam stirs up memories we'd like to forget. We have built around us survival mechanisms learned during our time in the war zone. We find it is easier to avoid various situations because we have not acquired the skill or the confidence to allow ourselves to "just feel" to "just deal with". And more sadly, we look for explanations and answers and when we can't find them we look for someone or something to place the blame for our behavior.

Overcoming these ever present obstacles for the veteran community as whole will not be accomplished overnight. However, taking a look at them one situation at a time can sometimes become overwhelming, simply because we have a tendency to allow one situation to be intertwined with another and another. Just  as the horrors of war become one big picture, so does the healing process.

And when we look at the healing process we find we have to turn to the same bureaucratic system that initiated  all our problems in the first place.

Hence, the issues of trust and dealing with authority just to name two come into play. But the real question after all these years comes down to "Do we want help?"

Some of the questions were about to be answered. Some of the pieces of the  puzzle were about to placed into the blank spaces. Some of the people were about to be reunited.  My life was about to take a turn in the road that would lead directly to the UNFORGOTTEN !!!!!











COPYRIGHT 2002 BY WILLIAM R. I. "EASY"SMITH