January 22, 2009

Not One, But Two Stars Died to Make You

I posted my last article over at A Soldier's Perspective and received this comment that I would like to share with you. It was a beautiful gesture from a special person. Thank you Zoe for your truly kind words:

For my sins, in between architecting submarine combat systems and suchlike, I've worked on the Australian Dept of Veterans Affairs computer systems. Specifically the medical databases. So I know a bit about this stuff.

I hope you're getting sufficient support from the VA. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder causes visible changes in the brain, you can see them in MRI scans.

So these feelings are not you: they're caused by some neurology that's gone awry. Neurology that is plastic to some degree, and can be corrected with the right therapeutic intervention. Often just time.. and that may be decades. Often just knowing someone gives a damn about you, someone who shows some understanding, can help you heal yourself. Medication to re-balance the neurotransmitters can also help, like a splint on a broken leg.

You hurt because you were in a position where people just like you were trying to kill you, and you had to kill them. And because people like me do our darnedest to make sure that it's *not* a fair fight, that the guys and gals depending on us have the best systems we can think of, you massacred them. As we intended you should.

Please put the blame where it lies. And because we are not perfect, we are not godlike, sometimes the boys and girls who depend on us die horrible deaths. We know that, it's a thought that's with us decades later. So we try to do better the next time.

And if that doesn't work… try something that I do. On a clear night, look up at the stars. Reflect that each of those tiny points of light is actually a vast ball of gas, more vast than you can imagine, burning matter into energy. And that they were there long before you or anyone you have ever heard of existed. That they will be there long after everything you know has turned to dust. Reflect on just how little even great tragedies matter in the grand scheme of things. How insignificant all our concerns are!

Now look again, and realize that every atom in your body has been created by mighty stars like those dying: it took one star dying to make the elements lower than iron, and then a Supernova, an exploding star, to twice-bake every atom of phosphorus, or calcium, or magnesium, or any of the dozens of other elements in your body. Not one, but two stars died to make you.

Then realize that each star you see generated photons, often many thousands of years ago, just so your eyeball could detect them on this one night. You are special, something rare and wonderful in the Universe.

It works for me.

Zoe, I do get help from the VA, I have therapy every three weeks and am starting exposure therapy next week. The therapist I am seeing has an awesome command of competency and skills. I trust her. I am 4 years sober, attend college at the Kent School of Social Work and have found my place and purpose in this vast stellar orchestra. Today I am working on the nuances of PTSD, as I have arrested the major symptomology, such as anger, resentments, and behavioral problems.

I have learned coping skills and have completed cognitive and behavioral restructuring. Today I feel the most prevalent problem I face would be the grief and guilt of witnessing such slaughter and surviving. I am not so sure that this spiritual wound will ever heal completely.

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