Bodies Speak When Words Fail

Kevin Sites, war reporter. Speaking at Yahoo!.jpg

Kevin Sites, war reporter. Speaking at Yahoo!.jpg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have a friend who served in Vietnam and had an exceptionally challenging life from his early years in an abusive household through his experience of Vietnam and the years of substance abuse that followed. I have great respect for him. He not only survived circumstances in which many would have perished, he endured with a gentle, open heart and a genuine interest in life and its promise of love and kindness.
I was laid over in the Houston airport the day before yesterday. I wandered into a bookstore and picked up Kevin Sites book, The Things They Cannot Say: Stories Soldiers Won’t Tell You About. What They’ve Seen, Done or Failed to Do in War.
As I read the cover I felt like this was a book my friend would relate to and perhaps it would be helpful to him. He definitely survived, but his body tells a story his voice does not speak about.
I am a somato-emotional therapist. My professional life is about helping people process their traumas. I have learned to listen to bodies tell their stories when the mind of their person cannot. It is a delicate business and a process that cannot be rushed. Even though they may not know how or why their bodies are traumatized, they must at least be aware that something in them is not fully functioning and be willing to trust the process of discovering what that is.
On the second leg of my flight home I started reading Sikes book and was immediately captivated by the candor of these young men’s war stories. Brilliant in its writing and brutal in its honesty, I began to understand better what these young boys who become soldiers overnight endure. As I read and thought about my friend, I remembered bits and pieces he has shared and related them to the narratives I was reading.
I don’t have words for the emotional response I have to these descriptions of war. I cannot imagine the toll that is taken on the soldiers who survive. The aftershock that reverberates through their nervous systems is impossible to fully understand. To attempt to come back to a “normal” life and act as if none of the unspeakable happened is a challenge their elders, with years of life experience, would struggle with. For these boys who become men through the staggering events on the battlefield it is nearly impossible.
Perhaps the stories that distressed me the most informed me of “survivor guilt.” These stories revealed the subconscious need to bring revenge upon themselves not only for what they did to others but because they survived when so many of their comrades did not. “Survivor guilt” accounts for outright suicide as well as subconscious attempts to kill or injure through dangerous acts like driving a motorcycle 100 mph while drunk, extreme drug abuse and intentional cutting.
I’m not sure why this book came into my hands or what I am to do with what I have read. Perhaps I will find a way to use my body-listening skills to help troubled Vets…at least the one I love.

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