I have this friend who is dealing with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). We flew in the Navy together. We weren't very close...other than one night that I don't even know if he remembers. Since we connected on Facebook, he wants to talk all the time. At first, he wanted to talk about the good ol' days and different things that happened when we'd flown on the H-46D helicopters. We'd talk about missions and people we flew with and our Rescue Swimmer or Aircrew or SERE schools. Today, though, he wanted to talk about what happened in Somalia.
While he saw many dead people as a Rescue Swimmer, the event in Somalia seems to be the thing that keeps him up at night. He told me his story. He, like me, was .50 caliber aerial gun qualified. When the incident in Somalia occurred, they were weapons free which means that if "unfriendlies" were encountered, they were free to fire. They were being shot at from the ground. He engaged and "greased" the attackers. Now, he feels guilt over what he did and relives this incident in "slow motion" in his head. He said that I'm the only one who can talk him through this. That I get him and always have the right words. I reminded him that his actions were not only to protect his life, but to protect the lives of everyone on that aircraft. I asked if he'd ever seen what happened on the ground in Somalia; how the innocents were torn apart by the rebels. He had. I asked if he'd ever thought about how many lives he'd saved through his actions that day. While soldiers or those in positions where they are protecting themselves or others are sometimes required to defend themselves or protect others through use of force, it is never ideal for anyone who has to act upon.
We all have different trauma's from our pasts that we allow to define us; that we allow to make us victims over and over again. For my friend, he feels like he is a bad person because of what he had to do that day. He cannot reconcile with the good inside of him and allow himself forgiveness. He cannot hear that he has done well and saved lives. He cannot just accept that sometimes the choices we have to make in life are neither good nor bad, but that they give us another chance for tomorrow. Forgiveness of ourselves and our choices--whether good or bad or some version of both or either--is the first place we each need to start. We each need to remember that the choices we make are just that...choices. They don't define us; they define our path.