Message to Afghanistan Veterans from
Dr. Paul Whitehead, VTN Clinical Director
Special Message for Afghanistan Veterans
If you are an Afghanistan veteran who is angry and frustrated about recent events, you are not alone. VTN is receiving calls across the country from veterans struggling with revived memories and post-traumatic stress. It’s not just you.
Was it worth it? Did my friends die in vain? Many questions and feelings may be coming up in a difficult and confusing way right now.
Tim Laidler, VTN’s board chair and Afghanistan veteran, told the Globe and Mail recently:
“It’s triggering all the memories,” he said. “It puts your body into a high level of alert. It feels like I’m back overseas on operation again. There’s this level of stress, this cortisol pumping through my blood – I can feel it.”
“My own experience with traumatic stress is, it’s not healthy to live like that.”
The recent events in Afghanistan will undoubtedly be difficult for all those who believed in and fought for a different reality for the Afghan people. It makes sense that the first reaction is shock as the goal you sacrificed for is lost, and then anger and frustration as the reality sinks in. Post-traumatic stress reactions can re-emerge or be heightened as the body’s threat reaction kicks in and old memories return with vivid intensity.
Post-traumatic reactions tend to isolate us from others. The feelings that may come back from events that happened years ago can be as real and intense as if they were happening now. This can create a sense of being disconnected from current relationships, normal activities, work or even Canadian society as a whole. Trauma isolates individuals in the difficult details of their own personal history. As the rest of the world watches news coverage of events in Afghanistan, the veterans who were there will experience a host of memories that others can’t see and don’t necessarily know about.
The intense news coverage and many striking images in the media may reignite memories of what you lived through, and may bring up old feelings and experiences you hoped were buried. Thoughts of the individuals you knew – the interpreters who worked beside you, as well as their families and others who are now in danger – may arise with a sense of urgency and the feeling of needing to do something to help. So what can you do to manage these feelings?
Connect with other veterans
It is important to share these thoughts and feelings with others who can understand them. Talking with other veterans, and getting support from mental health professionals, can help you gain perspective on the meaning of your efforts and sacrifices, as well as make sense of what lessons we can learn from this and how to move forward from here.
The first step is to find a safe space to talk out these reactions with others who know the circumstances and understand the experience of being there. Hearing from other veterans and witnessing the impact their experiences have on them is key to understanding that these reactions are normal, given the extreme reality all of you had to face. This is why VTN offers group counselling because it greatly helps veterans see that their trauma is real, valid and shared by others. VTN’s clinicians also understand that military trauma is different, manageable and important to address so it doesn’t consume you.
If you are looking for support in managing your thoughts and reactions to the current situation in Afghanistan, please contact VTN to talk to another veteran about Afghanistan or one of our programs. If you’re looking for more resources, we recommend this communication from the Atlas Institute for Veterans and Families which provides clear information regarding symptoms you may experience along with some tips on how to cope with them.
We want you to contact us
VTN’s programs are free, confidential and open to all veterans, no diagnosis is required. Over 1500 Canadian veterans have participated in our programs. They can tell you what a difference learning to manage trauma made in their lives and the lives of their families.
You don’t need to manage trauma alone. VTN and other Afghanistan veterans are here to help. We look forward to meeting you.
Dr. Paul Whitehead
Veterans Transition Network