by Bill Protzmann
I’m writing to you this month about warriors in distress. Ones who have been discharged from active duty and ones who are about to be discharged. There’s a huge issue facing too many of these fine your men and women: suicide.
Two days ago, I sat in the monthly meeting of the San Diego County Veteran/Family Forum. VetFam was put together a few years back so that all the agencies and individuals and private and public companies and non-profit organizations who care about the second-largest population of veterans in America (hint: we’ll all in San Diego County together) — would have something like a clear shot at coordinating a County-wide approach to doing what needs to be done.
Unfortunately, even with that level of commitment, there’s more to do than VetFam and all the various groups represented in it can handle.
This last meeting, VetFam touched on the topic of suicide, specifically among warriors. The most poignant observation, made by an individual with experience to back it up, is that counseling someone who is suicidal is NOT intuitive.
Let me repeat that: counseling — helping — someone who is suicidal is NOT intuitive.
This means that our human tendencies will not — cannot — serve us well if our goal is to help someone in need choose not to take their own life. We need to teach ourselves some very specific techniques if we are to be effective in preventing suicide, even and maybe especially for those who are closest to us.
I absolutely urge each of you to immediately contact one the many many services available to you to learn what you need to do to be effective in identifying and preventing suicide. It may be of use to you some day, especially if you are the family member or friend of a warrior or are in any kind of counseling capacity, professionally or as a volunteer — and especially if you call San Diego County home.
It could save a life. Perhaps more than one life.
Here in San Diego County we are about to see a huge influx of warriors coming out the service with honorable discharges. As these men and women enter civilian life, they will face unemployment of 24% among their peers. They will face other financial hurdles of all kinds. If they have families, those two issues will be compounded. If they have combat experience, those two issues will be further compounded by recovery from wartime stress, commonly called post-traumatic stress. As if that’s not enough, there’s just no adrenalin rush from daily life in San Diego County that can compare to the war zone, and the camaraderie of the combat unit will be fractured and inadequately replaced by daily life without their fellow warriors. Getting through the first few months of assimilation is hard; some don’t make it. Resilience is low at this stage. Very low.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
All the agencies in VetFam are committed to a better result for all the warriors who return to San Diego County. I would hope that flagship corporations in San Diego — Petco and Qualcomm come to mind — also reach out to employ these talented warriors. It would be so cool if entire fighting units were employed as teams by savvy businesses. This could take full advantage of the built-in ironclad unit coherence forged as warriors and reduce the unemployment rate to something more like the civilian unemployment rate.
I hope that if you live in San Diego County or if you don’t, you will do your part to prepare to be a resource for your returning family warrior(s) or friend warrior(s).
It turns out that one effect of adrenalin is the spontaneous creation of connections within groups. Strangers who are scared tend to join closer together, for example, and emerge from frightening situations as an ad-hoc cohesive unit. This effect is powerful in a trained fighting force. It can also be a powerful non-fighting force. If someone you love is scared, and it scares you, pull together rather than separating from one another. Ride it out together, in silence if that’s what it takes — locked in an embrace if that’s what it takes — but ride it out together. Brain chemicals are powerful things, and working with them instead of against them is good practice.
You can use music to activate your brain chemicals. I’ve written before about the Viet Nam veteran I met who told me that, without music, he would not have been able to live with the post-traumatic stress of combat. He tried everything, but music was the only way he could self-medicate for 30 years before he had the courage to seek treatment by conventional means.
Grab an iPod, or a CD, and give yourself and your family and your friends a meaningful soundtrack to ride through the adrenalin rush, or depression’s pit, or the slashing, frustrating anger. Music will deepen the feeling, yes, and it will connect you with a way to understand that feeling for what it is: a feeling, one of many you may have, but not who you ARE. You will find that you can quickly develop an ability to program your own feelings using music. Program yourself some useful ones, ok?
You can use this for lots of things — but it won’t take the place of a short course in suicide counseling. Do that too, please, even if you don’t have a pressing obvious need. It’s like CPR; you never know when you’ll be called on to use it and save a life.
And, if you’d like me to come over and do my “healing with music” presentation with you, your family, and your friends, please give me a call.
Keep your music on!