01 November 2009

Skeletons, Closets, and Uniforms

I deal a lot with guilt. Or, actually, I do not deal a lot with guilt, and so it sticks around and causes problems.

I used to be a member of a veteran's organization. I was also an officer of my local element of that organization, and a member of the honor guard. I participated in meetings, drank (occasionally) at the bar, and carried a flag in several local parades. I wore the hat, and saluted the flag. I did as much as I could to live up to my role; to make the organization see what I (and others like me) needed as members, and tell others what a good idea the organization was. I was not the most active member, nor was I the least, but I will say that I was a pretty active participant. Had I stayed, I'd likely hold another office by now.

But, I left-- I'd been feeling anxious about meetings for a while. There was, and I'm sure still is, an effort underway to recruit younger veterans to be members. As a "younger" veteran, I was under a lot of pressure-- both to move up in the organization, and recruit other "younger veterans". It had gotten to the point where I was dreading going to meetings. I'd been trying to suggest ways to get in touch with potential members, people who were, like me, students with one or more jobs (and with things like PTSD).

At one meeting early this year, I suggested the organization participate in, or at least support me in participating in, a local 8K fun run. It happened that the same day, the honor guard (of which I was a member) had a parade scheduled. The organization pretty well laughed at me for suggesting doing anything else besides the parade that day-- how dare I want support that day, they were busy!

So I left that meeting, and didn't show up for the next couple of meetings.
I sent an email to another officer of the organization, explaining why I wasn't there, explaining why I felt humiliated, and why I didn't intend to come back. I never got a response-- other than a couple of calls and emails from other members, asking me what the hell my problem was-- so I haven't been back since that meeting.

But I still have the honor guard uniform. I should give it back, or throw it away, or something, but I haven't done so-- yet.

My military experiences, both good and bad, have gotten me through a lot of difficult civilian experiences. I rely on that experience often.

There is a veterans' group at the college I attend-- it is just getting started, and could probably use someone that would step up and make things happen. There are other things I could do-- other organizations to join, other activities to participate in, other causes to support-- but I'm not doing any of them. Right now I'm concentrating on myself, on what I need to do to get through school and survive. I'm a veteran all day every day, but I have priorities and responsibilities that are all day long civilian.

I read a lot of things online, about veterans that have issues readjusting, problems with the VA, with the 9/11 GI Bill, college-- and I want to help. I want everyone to get help, I want us all to be a coherent unit getting our stuff straight and getting through life and being successful.

I want to be a veteran who lives up to the title.

But I get triggered and anxious hearing about other veterans having the same problems as me. I have a hard time trusting that if I support them, they'll support me. Look what happened at that veterans' organization when I asked for support.

I know I was right to leave-- it was a situation that was causing me anxiety and stress that was not healthy for me.

I still have that honor guard uniform.

I've been thinking that one day, I'll package it up nice and take it back and drop it off-- but I can't bear the thought of going back there. Or maybe I'll mail it, and not include a return address. Or, maybe I'll give it to a friend who is still a member, and ask them to drop it off.

The honor guard uniform, and the guilt it represents for me-- for leaving the organization, for not living up to the title-- need to go.

I'm an honorably discharged veteran with war on my chest because I went to the desert, among other places, and I did my job. Not because I marched, or didn't march, in a parade.

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