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.


Not Alone on Easter Sunday

It is strange to think that churches are closed today and there will be no corporate Easter celebrations. I regret to admit, my husband and I have not been faithful attendees at church for some years. But I cherish memories of Easters past. As a little girl my mother would sew beautiful Easter dresses for me and my sisters for Easter Sunday. As adults we would gather after church at my grandmother’s home. She always had marshmallow Easter eggs for us and Easter Bread.

In my mind Easter is associated with spring flowers, freshly scented Spring air, birds, and robin eggs. I recall the special hymns of the season and my heart is stirred.

Yesterday I wrote a poem. It was Saturday, the day between Good Friday and Easter.

A Gray Day

An agonizing cry splits the skies,

As he hangs his head and dies.

Life lies suspended between

An empty cross

And a sealed tomb.

Doom hovers in a barren land that quakes beneath the weight.

The curtain is rent.

The sun is darkened.

While graves yield their dead.

A sunless day awaits.

Too quickly the bright rays burst,

And birds sing in chorus,

Resurrection songs of morning,

While blood-stained spikes

Lie on the ground,

A remnant of a gray day.

We move so quickly from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. Such stark contrasts. I was reminded, yesterday, of what a bleak day Saturday must have been for Christ’s followers. There is not even a hint that they looked forward to a resurrection. Although Jesus told them what would happen to him, they couldn’t grasp it. Saturday was a gray, sunless day indeed.

What gets me about the Easter story is not only that his disciples did not believe, but the fact that it was religious leaders that stirred up the mob to demand that Pilate crucify Christ. Religious leaders. Get that.

It wasn’t the prostitutes and sinners. It wasn’t the atheists. It wasn’t even the political leaders of the day, although they went after the disciples later, and had John the Baptist imprisoned earlier.

People can be cruel. We can be cruel. The other day someone said to me, “Compassion can be cruel.” I thought about that for awhile and decided he was right. In our obsession to defend one cause we can be totally blinded to another need. The religious leaders thought they were defending the faith. Their religion was being threatened. So, the correct thing to do was annihilate the perceived threat. This was completely contrary to the teaching of their faith, to love God and to love others…and not to kill. But they couldn’t handle a little bit of controversy in their midst.

We are told Pilate believed they delivered Christ to be crucified out of envy. That is an interesting thought to ponder. In the book of Proverbs we read, Wrath is cruel…but who can stand before envy…. Jealousy is more dangerous and cruel than anger.

My thinking is that the religious leaders felt they had something to lose and it was probably fairly wrapped up in their pride. As we have heard, Pride goeth before a fall.

My husband and I tried to continue to go to church but after a time we found we simply could no longer “keep up appearances.”

“Please come home,” someone begged us. That is the point. Church no longer feels like home. We no longer feel like we belong there. It shouldn’t be this way. But it is.

So, on this Easter Sunday, we are not alone. Strange thought.

Have you ever asked how this life was meant to be lived? Outside my window birds flit from branch to branch. They peck at the ground. They build nests. They lay eggs. They fly south for the winter. They return. Seems pretty simple.

The coronavirus isolation has made me see how we have complicated life. For some reason the high-rises I see grouped together, casting their long shadows, leaving streets in gloom all day, are halting my attention. I keep looking up at them. I keep thinking about them. I think about the elevators. About how complicated it is to get in and out of them now. It is as though they are symbolic of a bigger problem.

What Easter means to me is that every life is of infinite value. We must save lives. And life is worth living. Sins can be forgiven. We can have new life. And the question remains, How is this life meant to be lived?