It’s just another hot sandy day in the wonderful country known as Iraq. Standing in the street a young buck sergeant looks at Sadr City with a suspicious gaze in his eyes.
“Just another day in paradise,” he chuckles to his driver. The young sergeant refocuses his attention to the conversation between a terp and a middle-aged Iraqi Policeman about a suspicious parked car down the street.
“No, no bomb down there, everything safe,” says the shady Iraqi policeman. The young sergeant has been in country long enough to know his Iraqi allies can be trusted as far as they can be thrown. The oh shit meter goes off in the young sergeant's head like many times before and in his better judgement the squad doesn’t push forward. BOOM! The parked car goes off. Pieces of the vehicle fly in every direction. The young Sergeant laughs hysterically at the smoke and fire covering the city blocks away.
“I guess we missed that one didn’t we?” the SGT nudges his driver satisfied with his instincts. The key to surviving overseas is to listen to that gut feeling and trust nobody.
Years later, the same buck sergeant is fighting off the demons he once embraced overseas. He returned home safely, but brought home a survival mechanism that has no place in normal life. The displacement of trust and applying suspicious perceptions to everything has only hurt the Sergeant’s personal life. Relationships ruined, people alienated, trust given to the wrong individuals, walls constructed, depression, and loneliness echo through his experiences. The same instincts used for physical survival fails to produce optimal results when dealing with emotional issues.
So as warriors who do we trust? Obviously the brothers and sisters that served with us. But then who? Family? Friends? Coworkers? Spouses? There isn’t one mold that fits everybody, but for me my biggest issue with relationships is trust. I’ve survived so many encounters by dissecting the actions and the words of people. Sure, it works great for us route clearance guys when approaching an IED but does it help when dating someone new? Ha, hell no. It doesn’t take the worthless Psychology degree hanging up on my wall to realize I have a problem with my faith in humanity. Not everyone is out to hurt me! I have to remind myself of this constantly. I’ve built so many walls around me to protect the warrior that I am that I’ve cheated myself out of meaningful relationships. But what can one do to fix this?
I’m no relationship guru, nor do I have all the answers. But I do recognize the value in sharing my life with somebody else. As the cynical, dysfunctional, paranoid veteran that I am, I still want my partner in my crime. I’m by no means saying let your guard down when going out into the world, but what I’m preaching is give people a chance. It takes time and effort to relax the mind of analyzing every action of somebody you expose to your life to. Not every woman or man is going to mess around with Jody behind your back. Each person you meet is an individual and deserves the benefit of the doubt. So instead of thinking the worst and getting set into a destructive pattern, weigh it out real quick. What’s the worst scenario? What’s the best scenario? Has this person given me a reason not to trust him or her? Take a moment to really think how you approach people because unlike our wonderful experiences overseas we must not let our instincts dictate our behaviors. Do not let the fear of uncertainty control how you welcome people into your life instead embrace it.
Every day is a lesson for me and I’ll admit I suck at the trusting game. However, I’ve been blessed to have built a relationship with a great woman who has shown patience in my journey to believing in humanity again. She won’t allow me to build my walls back up and alienate people. In fact she’s strong enough to bust down the metaphorical walls every time I want to protect myself. I don’t know how she does it, but deep down I appreciate the faith and confidence she has in me as a person. We all strive for the normalcy we lost when we made our first trip overseas, however, that same normalcy can be found by controlling the internal instincts that plague our minds and prevent us from being happy. We have survived and earned our place in this world we deserve happiness. Strive for a better you tomorrow and keep up the good fight.
Thank you. -Don Lowman
“Sometimes we put up walls. Not to keep people out, but to see who cares enough to knock them down.” - Socrates