Focusing is about saying no. – Steve Jobs
Redeploying is ideally thought of as a return to comfort and normalcy. The paradox is that it is not by overwhelming accounts. Moreover this paradox can and has manifested in the mental and emotional state of every service member as aggression, irritability, frozen emotions or emotional distancing and sometimes isolation at varying degrees. These aren’t aberrant flaws in any combination that necessitate therapy, unless the common time period for these expected stress indicators exceeds 60 to 90 days after returning home.
I have deployed before. I was involuntarily mobilized to Afghanistan where constant incoming mortar fire and explosions were an average part of daily life. Also the sound of black hawks, chinooks and Air Force grey tails (aircrafts) were constantly roaring day and night, making sleep and focus a months-long struggle. All the while this was not what I would call experiencing real hardship in an official combat zone! My time was chill relative to that of combat soldiers and 88Ms (pronounced eighty-eight mikes; Army identifier for truck drivers) who went outside the forward operating base, totally exposed to IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and small arms fire. Nevertheless, this environment coupled with the stress of making the mission happen, in high and sometimes unrealistic demands by our higher command, made for long weeks and sleepless nights. I was wrecked but had acclimatized to the rush of Afghanistan. The world to which I returned in January 2013 took me down, and that return to the American way of life kicked me in the gut without remorse or hesitation.
Transitioning back to the United States came without the proper resiliency and education prior to leaving theater (Afghanistan), and therefore was a formula for a very, very tough but survived return. Without heart-wrenching detail, I fell apart. It all started at a Yellow Ribbon event–when it was nearly too late to prepare me for thoughts, emotions, fears and obligations I was already facing. (Yellow Ribbon is a mandated reintegration program for pre and post-deployment soldiers. The straight-up and down unspoken purpose is to prevent the homelessness, homicides, addiction, domestic violence and suicides we have witnessed in the previous generation of post-war veterans, and some of which I still see roaming the streets of my home city.)
At any rate, I returned, I got about my same routines from before I deployed, while inside I had changed. But to what had I changed? I was cold and indifferent. I felt alone. I felt aimless. I was aggressive and combative. Average concerns drove me nuts, like “I had to wait longer in line for my coffee at Starbucks because a lady couldn’t make up her mind.” I looked at my family, friends and work colleagues as if they were petty, over or under-sexed, disinterested, desensitized, hedonist, selfish, entitled, stupid ingrates. I disassociated from my friends. Church was annoying. Christians were annoying. God was painful to think about. I was angry a lot for reasons I did not understand, and mostly couldn’t know at the time. I confess that my family and friends saw a side of me that even I had not seen before. I do not feel this way today and I am glad of it.
From January 2013 to October 2014 I was hit with challenge after challenge after challenge that overwhelmed me and drowned me. All my hurts and all my fears bubbled to the surface. Why my return from Afghanistan happen this way, I still do not know. On the positive, all pain has an end and a place from which leverage for restarting can begin. Ironically, redeploying sparked the start of a change in me simultaneously toward healthy living. In hindsight, I came through in better shape despite not having the timely knowledge to have made a transition from active duty back to reserve status.
What’s the “so-what”?
This current deployment was voluntary, it is my second, and is not in a combat zone. However, the mission was harder by far compared to my last. I have felt certain common anxieties or stressors as I’ve indicated in my previous posts, and are like those of my last deployment. Yet the difference this time around is education and practice on how to be resilient, and the ability to transfer the skills from coping with the mission to coping with the work that it takes to go home. Going home is a long process of leaving theater, demobilize, fly home, readjust, rest, return to work to live and grow in peace. This is harder than it sounds! Again, it is a paradox that is overcome by willed perspective in thought and action. I say this because the temptation for me is to procrastinate on the immutable obligations that stand before me in response to fear, and the fear is of failure.
At this point I want to move to the matter of my fear–or the why– to better inform you, the reader, about the bravery you see in me today.
Fear is a phantom menace that haunts the subconscious with snark, sarcastic, sardonic language, or simply put, negative self-talk. Further, fear is cemented into our hearts by the glue of negative self-talk. Which leads me to say the subtler part of this self-talk is that it is cloaked by the fact of its existence in the subconscious. Therefore, it has to be changed through positive imagery, and the formulation of vision solely aided by disciplined reading of life-changing words of truth. (The latter is never to be confused with false humility and hubris, however. “I am the most fabulous person on earth!” “No one is better than me!” “I am beautiful inside and out!”
“David! That last one can’t be right! People can be beautiful inside and out!”
That is true, provided that the person is actually beautiful to his or herself for the right reasons. I am only emphasizing a person who is glorifying one’s self in the face of reprehensible profane inner character and living out a lifestyle that is anything but wholesome, lovely and true.)
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” Philippians 4:8
Fear has been a large fiery mountain in my life by which I’ve based so many of my past decisions. But in these recent months putting prayer to my steps, and my steps to faith, I have overcome so much through the reward of saying yes, instead of saying no. And, conversely the reward of being brave enough to say no to paths God did not prepare for my embarkation today despite how right-to-do they may appear. Timing is everything. The chaplain helped me realize this just yesterday.
As for the fear of failure, it is rooted in my childhood where painful corporal punishment was the impetus for obedience in my family. Had my nature been understood by my family (not my parents, but other relatives) through right relationship with me, they would have seen how congenial and docile a student of life I was gand still am) by nature. I was a child who was so very sensitive, filled with a voracious curiosity, held natural compassion for all people, possessed a prodigious philosophical mind and skilled with words of wisdom well beyond my years. Starting at the age of 5. But I was silenced with fear by broken people. And when my failures inevitably occurred, however small, pain was the common reward. When I would try something, pain came anyway from the adults and their children in my family. My inner dialogue became contaminated by a single thought:
Nothing I do will succeed anyway. Why try? Why do my best?
Defeatism is toxic!
This subconscious thinking trap affected my understanding of God and effectually disemboweled my faith in Jesus Christ to a shallow knowledge void of fervent devotion for years thereafter. The timeframe was roughly 1988 to 2011, age 6 to 29-years of age. From 1st grade to 10th grade my efforts were always mediocre and I did not study nor did I complete my homework. My relationship with my mother and brother up through my senior year of college was in gross need of repair.
But God has his ways. Way back in 1996 seeds were planted by my high school music teacher, Kathryn Larosa, and slowly changed my perspective on life through classical music. Through music, I excelled in my last two years of high school, was accepted into seven Florida universities, and chose the University of Florida. I chose to major in music education with a choral emphasis (conducting), although not willingly, as that was me settling for it from fear of failing as a voice major and not being a successful opera or oratorio singer. (Clearly, I was not yet fully healed from being bested by fear.)
I am overcoming this bad programming. (For the record, I am not a believer in hitting a child. I was spanked and beaten as a child.) I am a 33-year old man, brother, son, Christian, teacher, soldier, musician,and student of physics. By the grace of Jesus Christ, fear is being defeated. I am the successful human being he designed me to be. In him I have nothing to fear. Love shuns fear. I love the Lord because of his love for me. I am redeemed.
So, what’s different?
As a soldier, fear has played its role well in my career. But praise be to God for his masterful wisdom that frustrates the wise, because the Army has continuously challenged and equipped me with practical skills to “adapt and overcome,” not through fear, but composure, discussion, and being unafraid to ask and seek help when it is needed. The army rewards soldiers who initiate resilience and assistance on their own. Today many older soldiers complain that the Army has become soft and ineffective. I’d go out on a limb to say that these are the very people who would probably lay a hand on their own children to teach lessons that can otherwise be handled far more effectively and affectively through stern corrective discipline of compassion and one-on-one dialogue as opposed to ruling, or leading one’s soldiers and household by fear and punishment.
About four or five months ago I saw a video created by Bethel Church about one of their worship leaders named Amanda Cook. She too has struggled with fear all of her life, and in the last year and half she has obtained the power through Jesus Christ to walk beyond the shore into the waves, as she would phrase it. I admit that I became less composed as I watched and listened to her share her story because I can relate to how she feels. I love her words so much that I refer back to this video and the song for which this video was made. (You can view the song, “You Make Me Brave” at the very bottom of this blog post.)
What else is different?
My family and I are in a better place emotionally than the last time I deployed. I’m financially better. Although I am employed, the job I have is in a dark place. I don’t have peace about it at all. I see a dead end. So I am actively researching and planning a transition to continue higher education full time. Believe it or not, the search process has brought excitement and possibility upon which I have already enacted certain positive steps. I have decided to major in physics. I am taking the time to refresh on Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry and learn calculus in readiness for taking an actual college level Algebra and calculus course as a prerequisite to applying to a university for physics. This in itself has me feeling very good, to say the least.
In all, I am planning for success and growing from my mistakes by giving myself permission to face my fears, to borrow from Amanda Cook, and not beating myself up. The latter was me in 2013 to 2014, post-deployment.
“Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint; but blessed is the one who heeds wisdom’s instruction. -Proverbs 29:18 NIV
- Continue to petition the Lord to set my path and lighten it in regards to my current job and desire to return to college full time.
- Ask the Lord to condition my heart and mind for this complex math, as I do the work to succeed as a physics major.
- Recover from my loss earlier this week, and ask the Lord for the way forward.
I thank God for his love and revelation this day. This has certainly been the day that the Lord has made. I rejoiced to him, and I was glad in it.
I am focusing.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11