The universal human condition is one of struggle to find meaning, fight loneliness, pursue freedom and face our own mortality. When people are subjected to near-death experiences or put into harm’s way on a regular basis, and live to tell about it, they often find it challenging to regain their place among their family and peers. The human condition, in all its intricacies and challenges, can be difficult to decipher.
I am blessed to have the most amazing marriage possible, but it was once in danger of falling apart forever. My wife and I had married in 2006, just one year after my return from a tour of duty in Iraq. I served as a Crew Chief on a Medevac Blackhawk in Tikrit, Iraq, the heart of the Sunni Insurgency. Just two weeks after returning, my contract fulfilled, I was a civilian again.
Although I did experience the typical struggles that many combat veterans do, they faded with time...or so I thought. I was working with troubled youth at a school in southern Vermont, pursuing my degree in teaching, and living in an apartment complex that brought about conflict with neighbors. I began to react to stress, or perceived threats, with increasingly aggressive methods. My sleep patterns reverted to those I had faced in Iraq (only 4 to 5 hours per night) and I was ready to explode in rage at the slightest provocation.
Everything came to a head with a simple question posed by my wife. The actual question is irrelevant, but upon her asking it, I exploded in action. I treated her as a threat, felt trapped and in danger, and although I did not physically harm her, she did not know if her physical safety was assured. I left our residence in haste,
and my wife informed me that she did not feel safe with me in our home, and I should not return until we found out what was happening to me.
I was shaken by my own actions and realized that I had experienced a blackout during my angry outburst. I was terrified by myself, and could not understand how things had gotten so out of control. Desperate for help, I remembered an encounter with Dr. Anne Black, who had started up a program for combat veterans.
Reaching out to her via telephone, she was instantly welcoming and understanding of my plight. As it turns out, her good friend Jerry, who had long helped combat veterans to heal, was visiting her. She invited me over to speak with her and Jerry, and their incredible understanding and recognition of my current state of mind were the first steps to helping me feel like I could be healed.
I attended a TWC retreat in the summer of 2012, and my life has never been the same! An entire book could be written about my experiences during the retreat, but really it can be summed up in a few words: LOVE, FORGIVENESS, STRENGTH. Love for yourself can be discovered when you experience the circle of healing that the retreat brings you on. Forgiveness for your “enemy”, forgiveness for actions you may regret, forgiveness for those who have harmed you and for surviving when others did not; those too was experienced by me during the retreat. Strength to continue living as a Warrior was also a part of my journey during the retreat, the focus of the battles may have changed, but being a Warrior is to be celebrated!
Immediately after leaving the retreat, I was riding a high that was very spiritual and free. My wife could feel and see that something about me was more open and free. As life began to flow back into “normalcy" for us, it was evident that real change had occurred. My wife no longer needed to avoid certain topics or be the one to hold everything together for us. We realized that a wall had been torn down and we could experience the much deeper emotional depth and more solid love.
As time has gone on, our relationship has gotten richer and more fulfilling, as I am now able to thrive emotionally, where I had once struggled to simply survive. I am eternally grateful for the work of Dr. Anne Black and all the volunteers and community members who make The Warrior Connection possible. I am forever grateful for the many combat veterans who have given all for our country!
Peter Towle, Iraq, 2005