*This is an opinion piece. Feel free to disagree*
One fine morning in the merry month of January, I walked into the room after having gotten off work and started moaning into the ear of anyone who would listen. That person of course would be my one roommate who happened to be unlucky enough to be there. “I can’t believe Bob (we’ll call him Bob,) decided to do that? You know what he is?” He’s a This portion of the post has been removed by the moderator for excessive swearing and vivid descriptions of impossible adult acts. You sir, should be ashamed of yourself. I stomped and swore and spat, then I looked at my roommate after I had finished my little adult tantrum. His eyes were glazed over, the look of a patient martyr painted on his face. It was at this exact moment I thought to myself, “I think I might have a negativity problem here.” Then, the more I thought of it, the more I realized I’m probably not the only one at all.
So, I started looking into it. I realized not only is it a problem in today’s veteran culture, it’s been a huge issue for a lot of years. This problem spans generations. Think back on the portrayals of Hollywood and maybe even on some of your own past experiences with loved ones or people you know. “The Grumpy WWII Vet,” “The Crazy and Angry Nam Guy,” and for us the “Disgruntled OIF/OEF Veteran.” (authors note: I’m aware of the group known as DV this is not a stab at them, they’re cool folks doing good work. I’m speaking of the atmosphere in general.)
Interestingly enough, we not only see the stereotype we revel in it. We love the idea. We put it on T-shirts, we make jokes about it, “It’s our thing! It’s what makes us unique!” I believe however, it’s also destroying us in ways that we can’t even see as a community and as an individual. Allow me to elaborate.
1. First, we need to figure out what we’re talking about when we discuss being “Disgruntled Vets” So let’s go to the good ole’ dictionary. Merriam Webster has this to say about the word disgruntled, “to make ill-humored or discontented —usually used as a participial adjective” Ok all well and good but let’s really dissect that, Ill-humored and Discontented. What a strange way to go through life. And what an odd word, all the synonyms are just as nasty: aggrieved, discontent, discontented, displeased, dissatisfied, malcontent. None of these are pleasant to the eye or ear are they? (Don’t worry I’m going somewhere with this; I’m not just throwing words at you for giggles.) Now dear reader, I want you to do something for me. I want you to go to the words I’ve just typed and really look at them. Chew them over in your mind. Think about the last time you’ve heard them used when not connected with a veteran…... done? Ok great. I am willing to bet my bottom dollar none of the times these words were used was it ever said in a playful tone, or with anything other than malice, sadness, or anger in the speaker’s voice. These words just don’t lend themselves to playful use very easily. So why do we wear the descriptor as a badge of pride?
2. Well, So what? You may ask. Don’t we deserve a lit bit of anger over how things are? The VA is a joke, we’ve pretty much been neglected, and no one outside of our circle can understand exactly what this is like! True, true, and sadly true. However, circumstances do not, never have, and never will force you to be a certain way. Let me make this perfectly clear. If you are an angry individual, it is solely 100% your fault and no one else’s. We are responsible for our emotions. We are responsible for our self-care. Yes, PTSD is a real thing, and yes it is the devil. However, like any other disease and sickness, you can choose to allow it to consume you or you can fight back with positivity. Let me be clear here, I am NOT suggesting that this is the sole reason for any type of suicidal thoughts or PTSD. I’m not nearly that foolish. However, if we can kick one strut out from under the monster, I suggest it is our duty and in all our best interests to do so.
Alright, cool. Let’s all just be happy right? Well, it isn’t quite that simple. We need to determine WHY we are unhappy. So what causes us to be so “grumpy” all the time? In many cases I have found that it can be attributed to a few different factors.
1. We refuse to take responsibility for our lives. It is always someone else’s’ fault and because of this we feel like helpless victims.
2. We have lost our way in life, we feel like we are just running around with no purpose (we have no mission any longer)
3. We have lost our support group. We don’t have any friends, we don’t go to church, or any other group gathering place, and we have no one to be with no “group” to sit and have a few beers with. Sure online spaces are fun, but they aren’t flesh and blood human interactions by a long shot.
4. Our Initial gut reaction to any situation that isn’t pleasant is anger. It’s so ingrained we literally have no other response mechanism.
Let’s look at these a bit more in depth.
1. Look, this first one I think we have all been guilty of at one time or another. The truth of the matter is; you choose your victimhood. When something in life happens to you, at some point you make a decision that whatever the injustice to you is, it is so terrible it cannot be overcome and you shouldn’t try. In this moment, you become a slave to whatever the incident was. I am not saying that you shouldn’t be upset. What I am saying is that when the situation is over, and it’s time to go back to work, choose whether it will control your life. Being sad about a past event and being enraged over it are not the same thing. With sadness comes acceptance, with anger you wake up fighting the battle every single day as if it had just happened. Let it go, meditation is probably the best way to do this. (I wrote a whole post on it some time back. Scroll down and read if you need help with that.)
2. Ahh, Purpose, a life’s work, Beethoven and his symphonies. Van Gough and his paintings. Da Vincie and…… whatever he was doing with that 4 armed dude in a circle. I don’t know, I’m not a history major. The point is, we have a huge pressure on us in today’s world to come up with a purpose, or in our lingo a mission. We need something that drives us. There are a thousand blogs all across the internet discussing how to discover purpose in life. It’s almost like a drug addicts scratching. I’m no life coach, but I can give you a piece of advice that has worked for me. I heard this on a NPR episode that I can’t find for the life of me, (If someone stumbles on it please throw it in the comments.) on discovering passion. Explore your curiosities, if something intrigues you follow it until you are satisfied. If you die after a full life of searching out what makes you curious, that isn’t a bad way to go in my book. Who knows, follow enough of them and your passion might just present itself long after you have forgotten to look for it.
3. This one requires work. If you have no friends or loved ones it is most likely because you have isolated yourself at some point. Go out, take a class at a community college. Attend a church, ask that pretty girl or handsome guy on a date. If you’re married, start taking her out a bit when you can. (after a discussion on why and telling her you want to be more positive) This one will take effort. But you’re vets. You’ve been through a war you can do this. (I might do an entirely separate post on meeting people in the future. Stay tuned)
4. This one requires the most work out of the bunch. You have to unlearn something that has become a personality trait to you, and the only way to do this is to become mindful. For those of you who are looking at me slack jawed with a little bit of saliva running out of the corner of your mouth, allow me to explain what mindfulness is. BEHOLD THE INTERNET DEFINITION: “A mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.” Cool. This isn’t a game of weeks, or days, or even minutes. It’s a game of seconds. Now, Ideally you would be aware of yourself all the time and be in the moment, however it rarely works that way. Usually I’m just a ghost driving a meat sack at full speed trying to get crap done that, at the end of the day doesn’t really matter all that much. When the anger monster approaches, look inward and analyze. Ask why this is making you angry and if getting angry will help (spoiler 99% of the time it won’t) Then start using breathing techniques to calm down. If you can make it through a week and remember to do this 25% of the time, well, that’s one quarter less that you would have acted rashly that you didn’t. This is how it begins. One trick that has worked for me is to wear either a bracelet or some other form of beads on it that I can use to count. This helps me to remember to be mindful as well as gives me a handy device to count on when I need to practice breathing techniques. What I have given you is a VERY simple primer on mindfulness, if this idea appeals to you, look it up you can get a lot more information from a lot of places online.
Now, this is by no means an exhaustive list. But it is some of the most common ones that I have seen. If changing any of these habits could help you, then we owe it to ourselves to do so. As a final note. Guys, cool it on the angry rants. You have no idea what your battle buddy is struggling with silently. Even if your angry outburst has nothing to do with his or her issues, it might simply add to their negativity and sadness. It certainly won’t help them. At the end of the day, we all have one extremely short life to live, why on earth would we choose to go through it in a state of misery when we could be otherwise?
~ The Jackrabbit
The Jackrabbit has also just started a podcast for men’s self-development and betterment. If you’re interested check it out at 248network.com the podcast is Clog the Cog Radio