My father was a WWII veteran. He served with the 1st Canadian Parachute Corps. It was a division of the Canadian army that was comprised of servicemen from all across Canada and the US. It was not a regional regiment. The people who belonged to it were from a mix of ethnicities and cultures and I believe it was the first military regiment in Canada to be “inclusive”. (Of course I may be wrong in my assumption, but I think I can safely say it was a fairly new concept in Canadian military composition.
I was born several years after my father returned from the war. I like to think I was a happy accident. My parents loved me with all their hearts, and I returned their love as much as I could. They were great parents to me. My father was gentle and loving to me his entire life. Anyone who knew him knows what a gentle, funny and kind man he truly was.
Yet, as a child I learned something about my father when he was sleeping. I could never wake my dad up touching him. He would jump awake if you tried to wake him when he was asleep. I learned as a child that the best way to wake him was to turn the lights on and off and call him. I don’t remember ever approaching him closely to wake him up. This – thirty years after he returned home from the horrors he faced in that war – was how ingrained his reflexes were to being caught off guard when asleep. It was a remnant of his years surviving. There is a name for such things now. We use the term PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome) when we speak of the vets returning now from their overseas duty. In the 1940’s, however, a person returning home would more than likely have to deal with the resumption of civilian life on his or her own. How many vets took up alcohol, spousal and child abuse, substance abuse, crime and suicide as a way of coping or escaping from the experiences abroad?
People are becoming aware of the lingering effects of battlefield stress on soldiers as they re-integrate to civilian life. We think of the effects of PTSD as an unfortunate side-effect of battlefield survival.
At my wedding reception my father and a friend of mine who had served in Vietnam as a soldier engaged in a deep conversation out of the way of the main reception. I noticed the two of them discussing something quite serious – but I was too far away to hear their conversation. When I was finally able to approach them, the conversation quickly turned to a light subject and a “code” of behaviour was adopted between them. In their brief discussion, the two bonded over their experiences. As my father’s son I was jealous that they engaged at a level I could not.
I see this a often with my military friends – there is a connection that vets have that civilians cannot understand. I thought I would not be able to understand this code either. That was, until I began sharing my story of abuse with others.
When I began sharing my story of abuse, I found that other abuse survivors would share with me as well. We shared a common bond of survival. The bedrooms, basements, washrooms, classrooms, closets, locked offices and dormitories were our battlegrounds. Where we fell and fell often – and where we sometimes tried to take a stand if we could. When I meet another survivor I feel a connection that I cannot explain. There is a silent bond that is created. Survivors understand survivors. I have shared many tears with other victims of abuse. They are my band of brothers and sisters. Like soldiers, we have this bond of understanding.
I also believe that we (survivors) have a version of PTSD – for the trauma that imprints on the body, soul and brain of a child is also deeply etched. Only through years of healing and sharing our stories can we begin to feel as though we are worthy of the space we occupy. I am sure that is the same for all who suffer – however small or large – there is comfort in the knowledge that we are not alone, and even more comfort in knowing we are worthy of love and compassion as well.
I know the memory of the abuse will be with me – it is a part of me. It is something that I live with – and I have my ups and downs with it. Some people don’t understand. Others do. Some people don’t know what to say when they learn the story of abuse. They don’t have to say anything. They just have to “be”. No judgement, no advice. Just “being with”. That is all we need at times.
We don’t earn medals, we don’t have stories written about our battlefield days – but we have the power to heal. Like the vets, we will soldier on. I hope that one day there will be more meetings for survivors. For while we are loved by our families and friends – the bond between survivors is something we need to continue to build upon.