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Why My ‘Invisible Wounds’ From the Army May Not Be What You Think

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I used to be an Army wife, but also an Army soldier. For many years, I proudly served my country as a combat medic, and later on as a human resources manager, two jobs I loved with the deepest of my heart. I have to say I truly loved my time in the military, and even when I retired a couple of years ago, I still see my little stint in the Army as one of the best moments of my life.

But, there is a truth I have to share with you. During the 13 years I spent fighting for my country, not a single day was spent in harmful ways. I was never sent to war, nor was I ever in a position in which I had to decide between my life or the life of another human being.

Do I feel relieved that I never got to be in combat? No, I don’t feel relieved. Actually, I feel ashamed, I feel embarrassed, I feel like I cheated the system. And, I genuinely feel bad that because of my “luck” of not having to go to war, other soldiers had to do multiple tours away from their families, and in harmful ways.

Did I pray for that? To be honest, no; I didn’t pray for God to allow me not to go to war. It was quite the opposite. I prayed for God to allow me the opportunity to serve my country the same way my brothers and sisters were doing it, but I never got the chance to do it. I guess God had other plans for me — plans that didn’t include me risking my life or putting my family through the pain of not knowing if I was ever coming home again.

For more than 20 years, I have been carrying pain in my heart — a pain my therapist told me was guilt caused by something called survivor syndrome, also known as survivor’s guilt. Why do I feel like that, you may ask? Well, let me tell you why.

While I was sitting at home eating a nice meal, one of my brothers-in-arms was dying at the hands of a terrorist. And, there was nothing I could have done about it.

While my children were enjoying the company of their mother, a child was crying himself to sleep because his mom was not there to tuck him in at night. And, there was nothing I could have done about it.

While I was sitting behind my desk drinking a cup of coffee and complaining about the weather in South Florida, a soldier was fighting in a faraway country under worse circumstances for my right to complain about silly stuff like the “bad weather” in one of the nicest weather states in the USA. And, there was nothing I could have done about it.

While I was celebrating New Year’s Eve with my husband, drinking a nice glass of wine and watching the ball drop in NYC on our TV in the comfort of my cozy home, there was a soldier trying to call home to get the chance to wish her mom and dad a happy new year, just to find herself not being able to get through the busy phone lines, missing her chance to use the last minutes of her life before a mortar killed her to speak with the people she loved the most. And, again, there was nothing I could have done about it.

So, when you think about my luck of not having to go to war during my entire military career, I invite you to also think about the invisible wounds that this supposed luck brought into my life. My wounds may not be visible, but they are there and every single day they remind me how I “failed” as a soldier — how I shouldn’t be calling myself a warrior, and most of all, how my service to my country will never compare to the service that those men and women performed in combat so I could have the right to stand here in front of you and have not only my voice heard, but also their stories told.

Life is very unfair, and by unfair, I mean extremely disappointing. When I say that, I really mean it. I wish I could have gone to war as my comrades did, but I couldn’t go; for that, I strongly believe that life, sometimes, is truly unfair. But, I do have to say that along with my invisible wounds from my embarrassment of not going to war and have the opportunity to serve my country the right way, I have had my shares of life unfairness, which in one way or another have contributed to the intensity of my invisible wounds. But, you know what? I still believe because God had shown me every single time that he does care about me.

The truth is for every five good deeds I do in life, I receive 15 unfair treatments from people who probably have no idea how badly they are hurting me. But I still believe.

The homeless veteran in the street reminds me how, for some of us, serving our country is not enough for some people to see the value in us, maybe because they don’t like the color of our skin or our sexual orientation, or maybe because they dislike the accent we have when we speak the English language. But I still believe.

A loving child who got seriously neglected at the hands of her own mother shows me how good my kids have it with me as their mother, even when they choose to do rebellious things, things that sometimes make me question the job I have done as their mother. But I still believe.

Remembering the lady who ran a stop sign on September 6 and crashed her car into my car, missing hitting my door thanks to my quick reaction — an impact that probably would have killed me and my youngest daughter right there shows me how the careless mentality of someone will probably contribute to the end of another person’s life. But I still believe.

Knowing that probably some of my most desired dreams will never become a reality makes me think that, maybe, some of us were never meant to achieve full happiness in life. But I still believe.

A look at today’s society, in which political parties and greedy leaders who choose unethical actions over fair treatments, brings me to think it’s time for a change, but a change that needs to start by changing what’s wrong with us as people before we even try to change what’s wrong with our society. It’s something that, unfortunately, most of us are not willing to do. But I still believe.

You may ask: How can she still believe if life seems to be anything but fair, and all people do in life is suffer? Well, let me tell you why I not only believe but why I actually choose to believe.

I still believe because when my youngest brother died in a hit-and-run accident 12 years ago at the hands of a drunk driver, leaving two daughters behind and leaving me to think it was the end of my world as well, all I did was believe. I got to live a semi-happy life again.

I still believe because when my oldest daughter had a life-threatening condition when she was only 13 years old, all I did was believe and she immediately got better.

I still believe because when I needed a force stronger than myself next to me in one of the saddest moments of my life, that strong force was right there next to me, guiding me every step of the way while pushing me to believe everything would be OK. Things did become OK.

I still believe because not too long ago, when my world was all shades of dark colors, all I did was believe and my world immediately became bright again.

And, I still believe because out of all the problems I have encountered in my life, none of them have truly broken me. I am still standing, stronger than ever and ready for what life has coming my way.

And, do you guys want to know why I’m not sad or scared anymore?

Exactly because of the same reason I am still standing strong today when I seriously thought I wasn’t going to be able to do it again, and that’s because I believed I could do it. And that’s why, my friends, that’s exactly why I not only believe but why I truly, in my heart and soul, choose to believe.

Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

Originally published: June 7, 2019
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