I learned a new PTSD phrase and a new idea today. It’s called “Survivor’s Guilt” and it apparently plays a huge role in PTSD for many of us. I won’t bother you with the textbook definition of that phrase I’ll just tell you that, for those of us who saw combat, it is the constant question of why I got the chance to live while people within inches of me lost their lives?
I cannot speak for others. I cannot explain why others feel this soul gnawing guilt. I can tell you that I’m glad that it finally has a name and that, I’m told, there are ways to overcome it. Like PTSD in general, Survivor’s Guilt, in my years after Vietnam, was treated as if there was a mental issue that you just had to deal with and move on. As that wonderful VA counselor told me in Portland, Oregon so many years ago, there was really nothing “wrong” with me except that I was a “whiner” like so many other combat vets he had suddenly been seeing.
Personally, in the years following my return from Nam, I made a conscious effort to forget the names of the people I knew there. A little voice inside my brain told me that if I could forget their names then, eventually, I could forget them and then my soul would find comfort. Well, I learned that forgetting their names was rather easy, since I’ve always been bad at remembering names and faces and place names anyway. But the events in which they played a part have remained crystal clear and razor sharp for 40 years.
In my case, which is all I can reasonably tell you about, I can immediately think of three men that would have been greater gifts to the world than I have ever come close to.
Okay, so I’ve come this far to recognize that I deeply wish I could trade places with any or all three of those guys. Now what? I can’t trade places with them nor can I relive the last 40 years and make up for being such a mess and for all the mistakes I’ve made in this life I was gifted with. I don’t believe in any sort of god and the concept of “fate” is just, for me, a toss of the dice on a second by second basis. I do believe a bit in the concept of Karma since my days as a mechanic and power plant operator taught me that nothing works well unless the system itself is in balance which, I suppose, is as good of a definition of Karma as I’ve found. But the Karma I’ve accumulated or sent out into the universe was, for a rather long period of my life, of the decidedly negative variety so I’m still wondering how to balance out why I was allowed to come home breathing and they weren’t.
So, is there really any way to answer that question? Is it all just “Screw it! They died. I didn’t. Pass the Tequila and salt”? I guess the most basic question is, is there really any rhyme or reason to anything that happens to us?
I’m 62 now so the odds of my being involved in anything that alters the course of history for the better become slimmer by the day. I’m not rich so I can’t but enough of this or any government to force a change of direction towards the ideals that the great teachers spoke of. I’ll never be powerful enough or well known enough to meet and confer with anyone with the power to change the world’s course away from its current path to miserable, self absorbed, selfish and greedy self-destruction.
So, I guess all I’ve done is learned a new concept today, a new phrase to rattle around in my tiny brain, searching for an anchor or place to germinate. Is that a good thing to learn or is it just a distraction? Does even one word of what I write mean squat in the day to day lives of “ordinary” people? I doubt it. But I suppose I have to try. It’s either writing or another visit to that black, oily ditch of sadness and regret known as PTSD. I don’t like that place.