A few years ago I was admitted into the VA Hospital for a month stay in a lock-down unit on the Mental Ward for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The years following my return from a year in Iraq with the Marine Corps were challenging to put it mildly. It turned out I wasn’t equipped to find my way back from the war zone with all of its death & destruction on my own. Although I was very aware & educated on the subject, I still lacked the skills to manuever around triggers & keep myself safe. I think the biggest problem was that I was in denial about my skills, abilities & the depth of how depression & PTSD were truly affecting my life.
I was spiralling down fast when I finally admitted to myself that spending some time away from my life focusing on unravelling the meanings I made of everything witnessed & experienced in Iraq would be empowering. I knew I had to do something.
The program was for women only & they called it WISER (an acronym for something clever about women). I expected the other participants to be combat vets from Iraq & Afghanistan, but as it turned out during this session they were from the Vietnam era & were mostly Military Sexual Trauma victims. In addition, they were all southern women from various backgrounds that didn’t look anything like mine. They were kind but I felt like an odd duck for numerous reasons having to do with education level, income level, interests, time in service, rank, & color of skin. They all seemed to share a common southern language that was spoken quickly & softly using words in contexts I had never heard before. I found myself saying, “huh?” a lot, or just laughing & nodding at everything they said. Most of what they said was usually cracking a joke so laughing was a safe bet. These women loved to laugh, to eat & to smoke.
I spent the first week trying to figure out how I had ended up in a cohort of women who were nothing like me. What was the lesson here? Then one day while reading Brian Nepo’s The Book of Awakening, I stumbled upon a page that I had folded, penciled, underlined, & starred with little side notes. It was entitled, Ubuntu. Suddenly I got it!! They were not different from me. They were me & I them. I could not know myself without knowing them with compassion & love. My judgments were more about myself than them. If the women were similar to me, and had been in a combat zone, then perhaps I would have missed my opportunity to focus on myself. As it turned out, I was one of the youngest in the program, I think the oldest was 65 or so. This allowed me to take on a baby role, rather than having to nurture & mother those from the Iraq/Afghanistan era who are much younger. It was serendipitous to land in this pod of women.
The program was a very intense, life-changing four weeks where the life I had been living, the meanings I made of everything, even back to childhood, & the choices I made were all laid out before me & slowly unravelled to make sense or allow it to just not make sense.
I learned a lot during my stay but Ubuntu was one of the juicier lessons learned.
I wrote this poem below while in the hospital & read it to everyone at graduation.
I came here afraid, alone and lost. I
had forgotten who I was
in the shadow lands of darkness, I questioned:
How did I
But then a
whisper filtered through my heart ~
because you are.
my sisters appeared and I found me in them.
because you are.
is nurturing, motherly, love,
laughter filling the room,
So am I.
she is elegant, wise and brilliant,
searching and humble,
A courageous, proud, fierce protector,
So am I.
with heart, I take you in my heart.
sister was raped, I was raped.
sister has HIV, I too have HIV.
sister went to war, I went to war.
sister is an alcoholic, I am an alcoholic.
sister’s mother died, my mother died.
sister has been beaten, raped, humiliated, lost, tossed and mistreated,
So have I.
because you are.
we are reaching out,
love, loving ourselves,
Audacious enough. She is enough. I am enough.
All that I
witness in you, my sisters,
So am I.
you shared the gift of you,
I now know the fullness
What a beautiful poem!
so hauntingly, soulfully, beautiful. the heart breaking and healing kind. thank you sister.
incredibly, soul-stirringly beautiful! thank you ~
Thank you sharing your beautiful soul!! Deeply Moved and forever touched in my heart!
Katariina…we don’t know one another, but have quite a few mutual friends and “sisters”…but I have been following your creativity for a while and am always moved by your heart’s song. This post was particularly meaningful to me…thank you…with Love, kate
Wow, this is such an amazing post. Thank you for sharing this.
Thank you all for your lovely comments, it warms my heart to know you heard me.
Thank you for sharing this here, and at the Sophia conference.
Thank you from a far away sister. I have so much to learn.