“Coming Home Alone”
By Dr. Robert R. Rail
*This is an article from the Fall 2023 issue of Combat Stress
They feel alone as they return home from serving in the war zone, to where that “other person” they used to be, once lived. They are asked, “is everything all right,” and “thank you for your service,” or “great being back huh.” But they feel like the words are being asked of some other person that’s lost deep inside of them. Their families don’t understand their constant excessive apprehension for their safety and overly protective, guarding nature. They want to tell their family members so much of all the things that are on their mind, but they know friends and family cannot understand where they have never been and the world they have just come from.
They think now and then about those who will not be coming home and those who have been so badly scared. After a deep sigh of relief that they returned home safely, there are still the unrelenting thoughts of the loss that others have suffered and it feels like it is all part of them. Time does exist for them, but very differently. It is measured by counting their sleeping and waking moments, and the numbness in between that is frustratingly difficult to remember or even care about. It is a welcome escape to seek out a dark room of seclusion and isolation, or a vacant open field, or talk to an old pet – or a too familiar weapon. They cared for the weapon and the weapon cared for them. As time goes on it becomes less a weapon that others see it to be and more the one friend that will never let them down. It is that something, somewhere, or someone to listen to them, that will understand them during one of their overwhelming moods that explodes out of nowhere from the most insignificant of things said, seen, or done. They can wash away any and all moods or feelings of frustration, anger, and confusion, with an instant of destructiveness, wildness, or a last option.
They search for anything they can do or consume to provide them with that past adrenaline rush, and the welcome relief it brings masking the hollow pain of emptiness they feel. All that happened while they were in the war zone was worked out. No matter what it was, it was just handled in some way, and it was done, finished, because they were not alone. Here, they are alone in a crowd. Here, they cannot even hear the music others hear. Here, the humor that others understand, they don’t care about. Here, what others touch they cannot feel. Here, the affection that others show, they reject. They know that something is gone that was once part of them, but now they can only touch the emptiness and loss that has taken the place of what was back there. Here, at their own home, they sense they do not belong.
There are two paths they see ahead of them as they return. A path that has been born of conflict that is ever narrowing that leads them to only a quick resolution. Or a path of understanding that widens with time. The sooner they realize they are not alone and that their actions and feelings are not unique to only them, the sooner they will realize “they belong home.”
Only seeing through their eyes, will allow us to understand what they see…
Robert Rail, “Surviving the International War Zone”