28 March 2012

Somebody that I used to know

I've never been in a position to analyze every aspect of my life for eight hours a day, five days a week for eight weeks in a row. And now, after 10 years of complaining how I gave my soul to the Air Force and got very little in return, I must admit that the support I've received from across the Air Force (including, for the first time in my career, from my chain of command) has been overwhelming in a positive way.

Picture standing in an enclosed room and kicking a hornet's nest while wearing the sweetest perfume imagineable. There's nowhere to hide from the angry critters newly (and unexpectedly) unleashed from their comfortable nest. At first, there's a sense of shock..."oh my God what have I done," followed by "this is gonna hurt," and then finally a realization (at least in my case) that "I kicked that nest on purpose, so this is clearly happening for a reason."

Those hornets are memories (some quite traumatic), spanning some 30-odd years, 16 household moves on three continents, and a tour in Afghanistan. When I say it that way, it's daunting to think that I survived this long without a mental break. I did, and that's good. But a little more than two weeks ago, I recognized that the level of help I needed return to the world as a productive member of society was well beyond what one hour of therapy one day a week could provide.

My therapy assignment for this week is much more challenging than anything I've tackled before, and is possible only because of the incredible treatment I've received since arriving at Landstuhl's Evolution Program...write a letter to someone you lost. And the person I've lost who I've missed the most for the past 13 or so years is...myself.

Dear Lisa,

It's been too long since we made time to talk, and I've missed the joy and passion you shared with everyone around you for so many years. Sometimes I think you forget what an incredible person you were before you headed to college, and I think it's time to remind you of the you I remember so fondly.

You were always an athlete, playing softball, basketball, gymnastics, swimming, riding your bike, and leading other neighborhood kids in outdoor games. Remember the schoolhouse you built for Maria in our basement, where you patiently taught your little sister everything you knew, sitting her at the desk, and drawing lessons on the chalkboard? I knew then that you'd pick a career where you felt like you could make a difference...and you have.

I know that growing up in a Navy family was hard, and I'm sure that if we all had it to do over again, we'd make more time to spend together as a family admidst Dad going out to sea for six months at a time and Mom managing the house as the Navy moved us from place to place.

What I admire about you is ever since you were a teenager, you've always kept a tight-knit circle of friends by your side, and many of them remain your closest friends today...a true testament to your ability to reach out and connect with others.

But it's in high school, particularly your junior and senior years, when you blossomed and were the happiest I've seen you. Pieces of your art and photography hung in museums in Washington DC and you were recognized for your exceptional talent by teachers and later college admissions officers who lured you to their universities by offering you scholarships to study at their institutions. Teachers praised your writing skills, and you took great pride in everything you created. That same year, Loren challenged you to run on the high school's distance track team. You'd never run further than down the street, and by the end of the season, you were running 7 and 8 miles a day. You left for college glowing and confident...determined to face whatever the world had to offer.

And just as clearly as I can recall those great joys, I also remember exactly when we lost touch. It was your second year in college. There was no way to predict that your first serious romantic relationship, and one with a fellow Air Force ROTC cadet, would end in a date rape in your dorm room early that spring. Though your military leadership said over and over that it was your fault, and I think you recognize now, 13 years later, that nothing you ever said, did or wore made you deserving of such a crime.

As you entered active duty, I watched as you found solace in helping the Air Force establish their Sexual Assault Prevention program, meeting with more than 2,000 military women, hearing their stories, and filling a void by building a support community where there was previously nothing. But then I watched as you gave up on the things that brought you the greatest joy...art, photography, writing, sports...instead, drowning yourself in work you found unfulfilling, in relationships with no future potential, and in your personal quest to be "the best" at everything you attempted at all cost. You ran, just as you did in high school, this time not for enjoyment, but rather as a way to escape the pain and remind yourself of happier times.

For some reason, and maybe I'll never understand exactly why, Afghanistan brought back the you I'd missed for so long...the one who finds joy in little things jumping on trampolines, who isn't afraid to say what she means, and who makes choices that lead to personal happiness, instead of basing so many decisions on what others may think and feel.

You know who you are, and you've known that person for as long as anyone who loves you can remember...but now the challenge is to embrace that true, gleeful, intelligent and passionate version of yourself. Don't lose sight of your ultimate goal...to live a happy and fulfilling life. One with no regrets being surrounded by people who love and appreciate you for who you are and not who they wish you could be.

Watching you come back to life is like discovering the volume switch on the radio. A beautiful song has been playing quietly for years and years, and just recently did the crescendo begin. Use these next five weeks, then five months, then five years...and then a lifetime...living in the way that keeps you the happiest, making choices that keep you happy, and dreaming of all the great things to come.

It's a tough world out there, but you've taken the first step. You see what you've been missing. Now just get out there and do what you do best...make it happen.

I'll be watching. And cheering.

-- me

1 comment:

  1. Lisa,

    I've been thinking about you since your return from deployment and have appreciated your openness about your experiences both during and after your deployment. Just wanted to say that I'm wishing you so much peace and happiness on your journey back. Take care.