Memorial Day should never be spent alone. At least not if you are a Veteran. That was my thought as I headed out the door to meet a friend for burgers. And to talk. He wanted to talk about mental health issues.
I knew this meant reliving some tough stuff.
So I prepared. I prepared like I always do.
“Please God give me the right words to say.”
Talking mental health issues is never just about doctors, therapists and prescriptions. It’s about the struggle. The current struggle, the past and what’s next. It’s a mixed bag of emotions. The stories are like one of those brown paper grab bags. Not quite sure what you are going to get next.
The conversation usually starts at the end, ‘Z’, what’s currently going on. Then you might jump to the very beginning, but it often looks like ‘C’. Then on to ‘A’ and back to ‘Z’. Before you know it, you’ve started on a cross country road trip and you have no clue what state you are in.
Therapists are trained for this. They know how to get you back in the car and steer you towards a destination.
I just know what it’s like.
I know what it’s like to have muddied thoughts one minute and then clarity the next. I know what it’s like to have a racing mind. Then there are times when you just stare blankly out of exhaustion. Your thoughts seem to stop. And then there are flashbacks and nightmares.
I know what it’s like to be on medications with awful side effects. And have dosages so high you don’t remember driving to work. I know what it’s like to stand over the sink making yourself eat while you titrate off a med that’s not working.
I know what it’s like to have a ravenous appetite one day and then not want to eat for weeks. I know what it’s like to seek answers so badly that you fall down the rabbit hole. Many times. Answers bring healing. You believe understanding will bring closure. Then maybe you can start to compartmentalize and move on.
So I know what it’s like to go on the trip – to have days of desert driving. Then days of lush green fields. I know what it’s like to pullover during a bad downpour. Then have foggy mornings where you can’t see more than two inches in front of you.
I know what it’s like to take detours – to get lost. And head in the wrong direction. There’s driving in congestion – frustrated and impatient. There’s the days when you’ve run out of gas and the engine won’t crank.
But then there are times when you go full throttle, windows down. Singing. Feeling free. Recalling good times.
And I know what it finally feels like to make it to the other side, sinking your toes in the sand -- seeing the ocean.
I know what freedom feels like.
But I don’t know what it’s like to be a soldier.
My friend. He was stuck somewhere in the desert having a hard time coming home from deployment. One point of the finger, one command ended in the loss of a life. The loss of a friend. A brother. Someone who was a dad to a little boy.
I sunk down in my seat, digesting the realization of how big things are. Much too big for our limited perspectives. Too big for our fragile hearts to handle.
Just too much.
He relived it that day. I’d love to say, reliving was only left for special days like this – Memorial Day. Wouldn’t that be easier? We’d know it is coming and mark it on our calendar. We’d be able to prepare and control it.
But it’s not.
He thought the outcome would have changed had he only pointed in the other direction. My friend would have died instead of the soldier with the little boy. That’s what he thought -- that he could switch places.
Our days are numbered though (Job 14:5). And he knew that. He’d studied the Bible more than me.
“You must be some kind of powerful to think you have that kind of control,” I said. “Are you God?”
“Man you sound like my therapist,” he responded.
“I’ve had some experience with therapists myself,” I said giving a reassuring smile.
We talked for a few more hours at a coffee shop. I wish I could tell you that was the only traumatic thing that happened to him. For that alone is too much. But he was born into a hard life and it followed him throughout his years.
He had succeeded at so many things despite adversity. I wished he could see that.
Along with the heavy doses of several meds, because according to the VA doctor more meds meant less chance of suicide – he used alcohol as a therapist.
They apparently have too many soldiers ending their lives, so they medicate. Even though the side effects of many of those medications are suicidal thoughts. And who knows what happens when you stack the prescriptions.
You can’t measure neurotransmitters with a blood test.
He had just detoxed. Again. I have no clue how many times he’d been to rehab. He had lost quite a bit of weight this time. His color was pretty awful. His eyes looked a dark gray.
“Can I ask you something?” I said.
“How painful is it? The detoxing?” I asked.
“Does it get harder every time?” I asked.
“You like it don’t you?” I said.
“The pain. You like the pain, because you think you deserve it,” I replied.
After a few seconds of silence, he responded.
My heart was overwhelmed.
Memorial Day was hard that year. It reminded me of the verse about laying one’s life down for your friends. My friend would have gone back in time to switch places.
He settled for numbing his pain through his addiction. And releasing guilt through pain.
If only he wouldn’t let what Jesus did for us be in vain.
If only he would take His offerings.
To let Jesus heal him.
To let Jesus bear his burdens.
To let Jesus set him free.
A person’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed (Job 14:5, NIV).