“I Won’t Soon Forget This”

Introduction to Blue Nostalgia: A Journal of Post-Traumatic Growth, Vol. 4

by Joseph Stanfill

I’ve been at this a while. This thing we call combat. So loosely do we use the terms associated with it, words like battle and trenches are synonymous with athletes running into each other on the gridiron or a pitcher on the mound dueling with a batter. This isn’t a sport. This is war. Real battle, real trenches, real enemies, ones who want to kill you.

I go to Iraq a few times per week. When I’m not crossing the Euphrates or spending time arguing with locals about who exactly Ali Baba is, I’m climbing the peaks of the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan, or watching the sunset deep within the Korengal Valley. Occasionally, more so lately than before, I’ll head over to the humid jungles of Vietnam and make a game of swatting horseflies, or sometimes wade through rice paddies while keeping a close eye on the wood line.

How do I manage such travels you ask? My work as a therapist who specializes in treating veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder takes me to these far off lands. Each work day is spent helping my fellow veterans to help themselves overcome or at least mitigate their PTSD. This involves intimate and emotionally charged conversations about their worst experiences in these distant locales. I’d be lying to you if I told you it’s all water off a ducks back after I punch out for the evening. You see, I’ve been to war myself. I’ve lost people I cared deeply for. I’ve been to many funerals and proudly handed folded flags to too many loved ones.

I have my own emotional weight to carry, and because of the phenomena known as post-traumatic growth, which is what these stories demonstrate, I can handle a little more. A few more pounds of salt is okay, welcome even. For I know that sharing the weight of guilt, shame, regret, fear, anger, frustration, and just plain sadness makes it easier for the veteran sitting across from me.

I don’t know if there is a data set from research that can truly put into perspective the catharsis one appreciates from sharing their story with someone who cares, from putting their truths on paper, and sharing their story with the greater world. The release one experiences in doing so is indescribable and not easily understood by most. Here, in this and other volumes of Blue Nostalgia, we hope to start the dialogue of war, coming home, learning to live with our experiences, and the growth which springs forth from such a journey.