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.

Wounds of a Friend or Kisses of an Enemy

I am writing a more personal post this week. I watched the movie Emma and was struck by her lack of self-awareness. This of course is the theme around which the story revolves. I’ve been doing some soul searching. How unaware am I of the impact of my words?

The movie was timely as I was just brought up short by someone who corrected me with what I am to consider as a ‘loving rebuke from a brother.’

Rebukes are those double-edged swords. They can wound and heal or they can destroy. In the movie Mr. Knightley soundly rebukes Emma for her insensitive remarks to Mrs. Bates.

Mr. Churchill initiated a game requiring everyone to say three very foolish things. Laughing, Mrs. Bates self-deprecatingly says she is sure to say several foolish things if she opens her mouth. Emma then responds that the difficulty for Mrs. Bates would be to limit herself to three things.

So simply and beautifully done by Jane Austin.

Emma has mis-stepped before, but how her character flaw is laid bare before her friends. Mrs. Bates fumbles a little and mutters, “I see. I see….I will try and hold my tongue. I must make myself very disagreeable, or she would not have said such a thing.”

Emma changes when the full impact of her actions dawns on her. She heeds Mr. Knightly’s rebuke, as spoken by someone who cares.

Mr. Knightley points out that Mrs. Bates is below Emma’s station in life and will continue to sink and this is why Emma’s behaviour is so disgraceful. He reminds Emma that Mrs. Bates has known her since infancy and that when she was younger “her notice of you was an honour.” He says others will take their lead from her in their view of Mrs. Bates. To her credit, Emma comes to deeply regret her words and determines to make amends.

Wounds that heal. Mr. Knightley is greatly relieved to see that he has not ruined his chances with Emma, and that deep down her character was what he hoped, not what he feared.

As authors and journalists, we have to hold ourselves to a gold standard that refuses to stoop to ridicule and chooses to see the world as it “could be.”

I watched a brief clip by Jordan Peterson in which he says, you don’t want a partner who will just pat you on the head; you want someone who will push you towards who you could be.

As authors and journalists, we have to hold ourselves to a gold standard that refuses to stoop to ridicule and chooses to see the world as it “could be.”

Comedians have recently come under fire. While I agree with the importance of having the liberty of free speech, I’ve been of the opinion that a good comedian makes us laugh, collectively, at ourselves, our lives and the dilemmas we face. ‘Collectively’ is the key word here. We may be embarrassed but we can laugh at ourselves without feeling we are a target.

It’s easy to go with the flow, and laugh even when we know something is hurtful to someone. There is a verse in the Bible that says, “Better are the wounds of a friend than the kisses of the enemy.” Do we really want the approval of the enemy? A true friend looks for fairness to all and is guided by kindness, while an enemy harbours malice.

Someone who does not like you when you are real will not like you if you fake it to go along with them.

I found a saying when I was young that went like this, “A fool convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” Someone who does not like you when you are real will not like you if you fake it to go along with them, either. You become subservient when another can make you change outwardly and your outward behaviour no longer matches your inner convictions.

There is tremendous power in words to wound. There is also power to influence others for good or evil. It is much easier to tear down than it is to build.

In today’s society trashing a person’s life seems to be some sort of sadistic sport: Let’s see whose life we can destroy this week.

In Canada thousands of caregivers risked their lives during the worst part of the pandemic and have now lost their jobs, on top of it all, due to vaccine mandates. Some provinces have decided against firing health workers as we approach the “endemic,” and the journalistic response has been disturbing. Chris Selley covered the surprising attitude in a recent article entitled, Canadians are enjoying firing the unvaccinated far too much.

Kudos to our local school boards and unions who have decided to continue business as usual rather than lose teachers.

I’ve led a sheltered life and cruelty always comes as a shock to me. It may be because I’ve stayed off Twitter. (Smile.) The real reason why I am not on Twitter is because of how much of my valuable time it would consume. But there is another reason. I would find it too hard to resist firing off those zingers in the moment. I need a Mr. Knightly in my life to hold me to a higher standard.