Recovery from Moral Injury

In Canada we set aside November 11 as Remembrance Day. Flags are lowered and there are ceremonies across the country honouring veterans, along with a minute of silence at 11:00 a.m. This year I was deeply moved as I read two articles posted on Facebook by relatives of veterans. One relates to the Battle of Vimy Ridge, in the First World War. The other is about the D-Day Battle at Normandy, in World War II. Both were turning points.

It struck me that many of the men on the beaches of Normandy only had field experience and, as was reported, “were already in the boats when they learned it was no exercise” that awaited them. Only four of the eleven member company of Abe Goertzen (below) returned.

As we commemorate Remembrance Day I think of those who gave their lives and the loved ones they left behind. I think of the ones who returned and try to comprehend what soldiers endured. I know I will never fully understand.

In an article by Charlotte Cuthbertson, in the Epoch Times, entitled, After War, the Journey Home Takes a Lifetime, we read that the community has to share responsibility for what happened in a war. Psychotherapist Ed Tick, who has worked with veterans for 45 years, puts it this way, “You acted in my name, I paid the bills, I sent you. You didn’t do this on your own. And it wasn’t your decision, you were doing it representing me and our country, and you thought you were protecting me. So I take responsibility for you. And for whatever you did, and I’ll carry it with you, and I’ll help you come home.”

As a community we often don’t even begin to know how to help veterans return home. This became very clear to my husband and me some years ago when we discovered a veteran deceased in his room on Remembrance Day. He lived in the townhouse complex we managed. We were alerted to something being wrong when the tenant beneath him called to tell us the music had been on all night in the suite above him. The tenant seemed distressed earlier in the week and related some of his wartime experience in the Korean War to my husband. We were deeply concerned, but didn’t know what to do beyond offering compassion and lending a listening ear.

Moral injury is defined as a wound to the soul caused by participation in events that violate one’s deeply held sense of right and wrong.

After the War The Journey Home takes a lifetime – Epoch Times

The Epoch Times article outlines six therapeutic steps to recovery from wartime trauma and it is worth the read. It points out that moral injury is the most difficult to process. From the article, “Moral injury is defined as a wound to the soul caused by participation in events that violate one’s deeply held sense of right and wrong.” According to Tick, “Even witnessing morally questionable acts will cause moral injury….Moral injury is at the heart of PTSD.”

The article states, Moral injury symptoms include profound shame, guilt, betrayal, grief, and alienation.

In the words of Dr. Tick, “We really have to get our warriors in service and our veterans afterward to feel safe and secure so they can deeply explore their own conscience and their own value system and how they feel about what they did. And then give them opportunities for restoring and recovering those more esoteric moral dimensions of their being.” Tick relates the moving story of healing that happens when he takes vets of the Viet Nahm war back to Viet Nahm where they meet their fellow “warriors.”

What stood out for me was the view that veterans do not become normal citizens but are instead warriors. “Traditional cultures didn’t call somebody a warrior until they could carry the experience without traumatic breakdown. Because warriors are supposed to become community elders and leaders and teachers after service,” states Tick.

I recently heard Jordan Peterson allude to the necessity of a higher “spiritual” experience in the context of recovering from addiction. This revelation draws a person out of the depths to a higher plane of experience. I see a similarity of experience here as veterans view themselves as unique contributors to society.

…war is brought about by those who violate their consciences and do unconscionable things. When there is an aggressor there is correspondingly the defender.

As I contemplated moral injury, I was reminded of the words of Jordan Peterson, in Beyond Order, Twelve More Rules for Life, where he stresses the importance of not doing anything that would make you “contemptuous of yourself” or that makes you “weak and ashamed.” In other words, “Don’t do anything that violates your conscience.”

Wartime causes men to violate their conscience. I venture to say war is brought about by those who violate their consciences and do unconscionable things. When there is an aggressor there is correspondingly the defender.

While we are privileged to live in a society where we are not compelled to violate our conscience, we want to value this freedom and guard our hearts and minds to avoid moral injury and its devastation. There is an old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Read the article for more insights. As the title states, After War, the Journey Home Takes a Lifetime.


Follow-up on my recent article

As a writer I am always interested in learning from other writers and so I want to acknowledge a writer I admire whom I have observed to frequently have an unusual clarity and the ability to bring a broader perspective. Compare my recent “outrage” article to this reasoned one. There is a place for outrage, but reason should follow. Read Pandemic Disruptions Give Reason for Optimism by Jane Menton.

Writers Needed

Now is the time to hone your writing skills. Now is the time to learn to express the important things on your mind and in your heart.

It may be your voice that is heard. It may be your voice that makes the difference.

This is the time to shine your light. This is the time to assess what is happening around you and to determine your role. What can you do to move things forward in a positive way?

I think the most important thing we can do right now is to work on building good, strong relationships. Learn from the best. Watch how others do it. It doesn’t come naturally to everyone. You may have to change your tone. Maybe your attitude, or your approach. Learn to listen well. Learn to hear people’s heart. Learn how to reflect back what people say, so you are sure you heard the right thing. Learn to respond with clarity and sincerity. Learn how to bite your tongue, sometimes.

Most of all, be a helper. That is what this is all about. As the beloved Mr. Rogers said, many years ago, “Look for the helpers.” Better yet, be a helper.

Help with your words. Find something encouraging to say. Find something enlightening. Put the pieces together and share what you discover.

Be ready. Don’t expect everyone to appreciate what you say. Find better ways of saying it, rather than giving up.

Leave a legacy. Leave something people can read, or listen too.

I’m Back – Why I’ve Started Working on My Novel Again and What I am Learning

After a long break, I’ve returned to the editing process of my novel, From a Distance. Some of my readers have been with me from early days and I am extremely grateful to you for your patience. As writers, we know this is a complex process that involves many different components, not the least of which is believing in the value of our story.

For awhile I took a side-trip into journalism and almost gave up on my novel. I questioned whether I am actually a novelist. What caused me to return to it now?

I simply decided to apply the most basic truth about writing, namely, the butt in the chair principle. No amount of talent can compensate for time spent refining the craft. I simply said to myself that I am not going to give up without doing the hard work.

After I doing everything I know to do…I will see what progress I have made.

So, this is the beginning of the process. After doing everything I know to do, after spending a year, with an average of two hours of writing on my novel a day, I will see what progress I have made. I’m not allowing myself to quit this time.

I think I have found a new faith and grace to write. It happened after I watched a movie last night. The main character reminded me of my main character and her challenge was similar to my character. I began to feel like I had a worthwhile story to tell. This is what every author needs.

I spent about four hours editing my first chapter and I thought it sounded pretty good, so I called my husband into the room. He is turning into my editor, support, and critique group, all rolled into one. I didn’t get halfway down the first page before he was correcting me.

“You have too many pronouns. Who is “her” and “she”? The reader is being taken out of the action.”

I looked at my paragraph and it was indeed filled with pronouns. It was an easy correction to make, but I missed it on my own. I began to see how badly I needed another set of eyes.

A little while later he commented, “I like that. I like what you did there.”

Good. I thought that part was done well, too, and I really appreciated that he noticed. My reader was in the action, feeling what my character was feeling.

Before long I had another pronoun issue but then we ran into something bigger. Too much telling, not enough showing. I’ve had this critique before. It is a critique that most, if not all, new writers get.

I was sharing back-story. I had too much back story, another very common mistake. You can really only afford to have a couple of sentences of back story in your first chapter. I shortened the paragraph and tried it again.

“It’s probably alright to “tell” when it’s backstory,” my husband said.

He is the reader, I acknowledged. I need to pay attention to how he feels when he is reading my story. If he thinks the amount of telling I did was alright, then it’s probably OK.

I was beginning to see how these little adjustments were making a big difference.

But his next critique was more difficult to digest. He didn’t like several paragraphs describing what was going on in the setting, and highlighting the scenery.

“What’s the point?”

In other words he was asking, Who cares? Long ago a critique partner did some serious damage with the same question, because, after all, I care. I care a lot. Everything I’ve written affects my character’s experience and the development of her story. I’ve tried to get my reader to enter into my character’s world.

Evidently there is a more effective way to do this.

I swallowed and took the critique in stride.

It’s not uncommon for writers to burst into tears or experience something near tears when their laborious efforts are effectively trashed. We are supposed to develop a thick skin, supposedly. It’s not what most sensitive writers have. But we can have an open mind, which is probably just as good.

Parts of my writing distracted the reader from the main story, which my husband saw clearly. I didn’t want that to happen, did I? So, how could I correct this?

I felt troubled. Should I just delete these segments? Delete part of them? Shorten them? Combine them?

We had reached the end of the chapter and I returned to editing.

I did all of the above. I cut my chapter from 1800 words to 1200 words and ended with the main part of the story as the focus.

An hour later my husband kindly listened to another reading.

“That’s great. You did it.” He was almost emotional. “You’ve got a hook, now.”

The hook is the all important thing readers need from a first chapter. It is the thing that makes them want to read the next chapter.

In the first chapter a writer has to accomplish the task of making the reader feel invested in the character. They want to know what happens next to her. This is not as easy as it sounds.

Needless to say, I was encouraged. But now I am looking at the rest of my book and asking, Who cares? What’s the point?

What to Write About – Leave a Legacy

I don’t very often talk about content in writing. In fact, I don’t believe I’ve touched on this subject before.

There are messages out there that need to be shared. A few questions I always ask myself:

1) Am I the one to speak about this?

2) Where/to whom do I talk/write about this?

3) What is the best format/presentation method/platform?

5) Is now the time?

I think for awhile Facebook hijacked my ideas in the sense that it was where I posted short scripts, rather than blogging them or writing a book. As writers we need to determine what specific message we are to make a priority and write about. After this we determine when and where and how we will deliver the message.

This morning I read a couple of blogs I follow. I noted this in one blog: The Russians, for their part, wanted paralyzing chaos and to destabilize the United States politically — Mission Accomplished, Ivan. This blogger posts political content and adds personal commentary. The reason I chose this quote is because I see a lot of material these days that is causing destabilization and I think as writers this is something we could respond to. I would add that Russia does not get all the credit for chaos and destabilization.

Another blogger I follow, who is an inspirational writer of poetry, confessed today that she is actually a “political junkie” on Twitter. She deviated from her usual form and wrote about being moved to tears by a mother who lost her son this past week when a passenger plane was shot down over Iran. She felt the need to draw attention to the plight of Iranians at this time.

I hear from more and more people who are distraught by what they see around them and want to speak out. Don’t allow your voice to be silenced when you have a conviction that you need to speak. Some things need to be said, even if there are repercussions.

Although our privilege to speak freely is being challenged, today, silence is not the answer. Wisdom is.

Count the cost. Be courageous. Be considerate. Be prayerful. Think through what it is you want to say, then choose your words carefully.

I read this recently:

Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. – Elie Wiesel

As writers we have a very significant role. We communicate a message that has the potential to influence others. We pass on information. We help people look at things from different viewpoints. This can be encouraging to some while it is threatening to others. Once again, I do not believe the solution is for people of good intentions to remain silent.

What is your motivation? Why do you write? I am encouraged when I see writers who aim to achieve good in the world. As we have seen, there are those whose motivation is less lofty.

In deciding what it is we want to say, it is also helpful to know exactly what it is we are doing. One person may want to document their journey. Another may want to give a commentary, or an evaluation. Some write to teach and share information. Others feel the need to alert people to current events or developments.

Occasionally people write cathartically, as a form of personal therapy. Some want their words to soothe and heal and bring comfort. Others write to entertain with wit and humor.

Our personality will incline us in a certain direction. A few people have expressed a sense of “call” to communicate a specific message or to deliver it in a very specific way. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what sets us writing but I think it’s safe to say it is interest and concern.

Whatever your content, whatever your style, I encourage you to contribute. Your voice is unlike anyone else’s voice. What you have to say matters. Together we can work towards creating a more insightful, more caring and more peaceful world. We can address some of the chaos and hopefully bring a greater sense of stability. Let’s leave behind a legacy for those who will follow. Your voice could be the one someone has waited for.