Strength doesn’t mean you don’t hurt. Training doesn’t mean that you won’t weep. Even for a Navy SEAL.
When I think of the toughest of the toughest, I think of a Navy SEAL. Only the strongest men survive the grueling training that hones them into the best the Navy has to offer. The attrition rate in the SEAL program is 70-80%. Nothing phases these guys. They can dish it out, they can take it, and they’re fine.
But in a TIME magazine article in November 30, 2009, Mark Waddell, a decorated Navy SEAL commander, chronicles the other side of the battlefront . . . his internal battle back at home with PTSD. In spite of the training that as Waddell put it, “inoculates you against trauma,” it doesn’t eliminate the stress that gets packed away. He goes on to say in the article, “The first time you see someone dead, it’s a shock. By the 10th time, you’re walking over dead bodies and making sick jokes about what they had for breakfast. But all that stress accumulates.” And it comes home with even the best of professional soldiers.
What Waddell’s family began to notice was his explosive reactions to normal household stressors, increasing irritability with kids, and sometimes sleeping with a gun under his pillow. Changing the sheets on the bed became routine for his wife, Marshele, because of his night sweats and violent dreams. After one incident when Mark awoke from a nightmare with his hands wrapped around her neck and her face turning blue, Marshele developed an emergency escape plan for her and her children because of their fear of Mark’s escalating violence. It was 6 months after he had the daunting task of sorting through the remains of 8 of his comrades–men whom he’d personally trained, led, and fought beside–after the worst disaster in SEAL history, the downing of a Chinook helicopter in Afghanistan that took their lives and 8 Army aviators on a rescue mission, that Mark finally admitted to himself and Marshele that he needed help.
The request for help when a man is down is not an act of cowardice. Rather, it’s an act of courage. Steeling yourself against the trauma of war is necessary when the bullets are whizzing by your head. But after the long journey home, it’s time to unpack the residue of war–the pain, guilt, grief, and anguish.
While talking about it may be discouraged in the military, talking about it, unburdening your heart is necessary for healing of wounds to occur. Just like a deep physical wound needs to drain–and that’s yucky–talking about the invisible pain that you carry is like draining your wounded heart so that deep healing can take place.
In Matthew 9:12, Jesus reminded his followers that “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” Proverbs 13:12 reminds us that “hope deferred makes the heart sick.” And for warriors coming home from the battlefront with the images of war embedded in their hearts like emotional shrapnel, they need a safe place to begin to heal from these wounds of heart, mind, and soul.
Marshele Waddell has some vital words of experience to share with wounded warriors and their families: “you need an environment where the warrior can be vulnerable.” Check out Mark and Marshele Waddell’s website, Hope For The Home Front, for more of their story of living with and working through PTSD.
The War Within: Finding Hope for PTSD is a documentary DVD that we have produced to assist you in beginning your journey through the war with PTSD. Watch it free on line at the Day of Discovery website or order your own DVD. Check out our discussions with two vets who share how PTSD has become The Mark of War that they bear and how the resources of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ has given them hope in working through and experiencing healing from their internal wounds of war.