It’s 4am and I’m awake again at the sound of the car door closing outside the window. My instincts are kicking in with my body and mind ready to respond in the blink of an eye and as I look around the room I realise I’m not in Baghdad or Kabul, Portharcourt or Baiji or anywhere else that is a threat, I’m on my own sofa in the living room of my own house.
My heart is racing as I struggle between two realities not completely sure which one to chose and not always knowing which one I prefer. It’s hard to step away from the chaos, fear and excitement that comes with combat, as crazy as it sounds it can feel more reassuring for a while than the quiet of a so called normal life with a host of new uncertainties that are alien and in their own way just as scary at times.
We were trained for years to respond to threats with a highly calculated, swift and utterly devastating level of aggression and violence on the battlefield, and to be able to turn that aggression down like a dimmer switch. It’s a hard skill to learn and one of many that never leaves you, and like so many it gets confused in the civilian life that we all end up in at some point.
When your brain is so used to high speed threat assessment it is easy for mistakes to be made in the civvy world because we feel constantly under threat as we navigate our new environment and unsure of the new rules of engagement. Sometimes we’re not sure who the enemy is and ironically, particularly in the early days, we are our own enemy. Our mind is struggling to cope, half knowing we can’t respond the way we do but not knowing any other way yet, until we learn what’s acceptable in this new world. And this takes time. Not something given up lightly in a frantically fast and ruthless world that we live in because time is a commodity, it’s precious and people and business hold onto it like it was a newborn child at times, protecting it with every ounce of strength they have.
Being conditioned into who we are has many advantages in both worlds. We are fiercely loyal, we have a work ethic that is second to none, we are extremely adaptable, learn fast and want to learn, we are highly disciplined, fantastic team players and very capable of getting the job done on our own when need be. We make great leaders because we have been trained and led by great men and when the shit hits the fan, there is no one else you would rather have by your side.
So when you meet or know someone who is struggling with their own mind as they work to come to terms with physical and/or psychological injuries from their time in the military, please share some of that precious time, allow them a little more of it and some space to come to terms with their new world.
And for you my brothers, when there is no need to brace yourself as the tailgate lowers and there are no more doors to kick in, no more need to try and squeeze yourself into the tiniest rut in the ground as the dirt kicks up all around you, when there are no more explosions that vibrate every organ in your body leaving you deaf, nauseous and disoriented and there is nothing left but deafening silence.
Remember that when the faces come rushing at you in those quiet moments, when you least expect them, with your heart racing as you check your exits and for people who are a threat, it is just your mind and the way you’ve been conditioned to be. Remember the simple things, remember to breathe, and as you breathe in clench your fists and as you breathe out open your hands and flex your fingers till they strain and imaging that you push those faces further away with every breath out. Keep doing this until those faces drift and fade into the distance and when they’re gone relax your hands at your sides and let that complete relaxation in your hands and forearms to flow all the way up to your shoulders, up your neck and into your head and face, then let that relaxation flow all the way down your upper body, through your hips, down your legs into your feet and all the way down to the ends of your toes. Remembering to breathe slowly as you do this.
You may well find this takes a bit of practice, as crazy as this sounds, but we all do it from time to time, we forget to breathe when we are stressed, under pressure and we tense up. So when you catch yourself tensing up like this, even if there are no faces to push away, just practice it like any other skill you’ve learned and create a new conditioned response when you feel stressed and threatened on any way.
Just as in the military and on operations we have each others back, well I have your back now. If you need to speak to clear your mind and get things off your chest then get in touch with me either on Facebook or my email, firstname.lastname@example.org and we can arrange a time to chat. We need to look out for each other just as much in this civvy world as we did in the military and sometimes more so. Despite retiring from that old world we will always be that band of brothers and that loyalty does not need to fade because we are not side by side physically anymore, technology has seen to that and made the world a much smaller place. So let’s take advantage of that and keep each other safe.
On that note ladies and gentlemen spoofers, I believe I am done.
Per Mare Per Terram