Jack*, a soon-to-be retired member of our elite military forces, sat across from me, his eyes brimming with tears.
“I think I’m done," he said and looked away from the table for a moment to wipe his face and steady his voice.
Moments like these can literally take my breath away. I, too, had to steady my voice, as I asked him what he thought he’d do next.
I'd met Jack not long ago. He came to me bearing the signature wounds of our most recent war engagements: traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress. Symptoms such as headaches, tinnitus, chronic nightmares, hypervigilance, irritability and sleep apnea plagued him on a daily and nightly basis. To put it mildly, he wasn’t exactly certain that art therapy and expressive writing could even begin to scratch the surface of his deep soul wounds and physical injuries.
As I slowly warmed him up to the idea of creating art as a portal for healing, he started to relate to the idea of art as an outlet… because, he’d said, his teenage daughter was a talented artist, so—worst case scenario—at least he’d have something to talk to her about after playing with some art materials of his own.
He didn’t know he would find deep and meaningful healing in the process.
Jack, like many of our service members, had not only devoted his career to war fighting, but he lent his warrior spirit to protecting human beings across the globe who have been impacted by natural disasters and human trafficking, among other horrific events and atrocities.
It was one of those humanitarian aid deployments that haunted Jack for 6 years going forward, that would become the subject of his healing over the course of a couple weeks in working with me. With respect to his privacy and to his sacred work, I will not share the details of what was created in session.
But I will share that—by engaging in the process and not judging himself for what came up—Jack was able to work through one of his darkest memories to date: a memory of a time in which he could not save a life. Within those dark memories also remained the beautiful truth of his unfaltering ability to care for this particular individual with all of his heart, soul, and physical ability at the time.
In the therapy space, Jack recreated these memories and ultimately decided how to construct a healing ritual that would, at once, both honor the victim’s life and put to rest memories and guilt that would no longer serve him or the person he was trying to protect (even after all these years).
That day, Jack and I sat in front of two of the most beautiful and haunting pieces of personal imagery that I had ever seen. I told him that. Then, without any prompting from me, Jack explained that one piece—the piece that needed to be put to rest after all these years—would be going home with him to be buried in the ground. He would leave the other piece—the symbol of life, innocence, and purity—with me. He knew this was what needed to be done, and I knew it too. With a slight quiver in his voice, and through what I felt as deep gratitude in his heart and mine, he told me, “I think I’m done.”
I feel a calling to work with military service members and veterans to help them find healing through whatever means they require—be it EMDR, art therapy, counseling, mind-body connection approaches, or spiritual work. If you or someone you know is struggling with healing from the invisible wounds of war, such as TBI or combat stress and PTSD, please know that Gada Therapy can help. Reach out to me HERE. For additional reading on healing the warrior’s soul upon return from war, check out this book by Edward Tick.
*Name has been changed to protect confidentiality.