War Time

Life can be and often times is an ongoing battle, especially for those of us with mental health issues. Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, BPD, Addiction, etc. make going through our days all the more difficult and turbulent at times. When I first got clean and was living at the halfway house I got a tattoo on my chest. A full “Chest Plate” image of an Eagle that is holding the quiver of arrows in one claw, and the olive branches in the other. The image is strikingly similar to the Eagle on the back of a one dollar bill. It is almost identical. The difference between the two however, is that on the Dollar, the Eagle’s head faces the Olive Branches. The Eagle on my chest, his head faces the arrows. An Eagle who’s head faces the olive branches is known as a “Peace Time Eagle” which symbolizes a time of great harmony, joy, and peace. Mine is known as a “War Time Eagle”, which symbolizes exactly what you may be thinking, a time for war. War with and within myself, war with the world, and war with my past and future. I knew it was going to be a very long and painful pilgrimage ahead. I didn’t know what might happen or where it would take me, but I was here for it and I was ready to start fighting.

Before soldiers head for battle, they prepare and strategize. The ways of preparations have evolved throughout history, but typically those who emerge victorious are the ones who had best planned and showed up most equipped. This is not always the case, but usually the more advanced a side is, the better the outcome is for them. Typically, from the little I know about actual war, the generals and leaders devise their plans of attack and defense, and then pass those plans down to the soldiers to execute. The soldiers, I imagine prepare in much different ways; prayer, hyping themselves up, making sure their weapons are functioning properly, and of course suiting up into their outfits of protection.

These pieces of protection that are described in the bible, “The Armor of God” are as follows: loins girt with truth (belt of truth), breastplate of righteousness, shoes with the preparation of the gospel of peace (peace), shield of faith, helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit/word of God. Now, you may not be a person of Christian Faith or have never read the Bible and that’s okay. I really like the description here, and it is one that is very widely known. So humor me even if it doesn’t particularly speak to your faith.

So what do we have in all of this War Ready Ensemble? A belt, probably not a leather belt from Walmart with holes in it to help hold our pants up. More than likely a heavy steel belt, very wide in breadth to protect our midsection and lower torso. Just above this belt begins the Breast plate, a large and heavy fortified shell of sorts which protects us from swords and arrows that could be hurled at us. Shoes, more than likely heavy boots outfitted with steel to protect our base. A very sturdy shield, emblazoned with the insignia of whom we are fighting for. A very sturdy metal helmet for obvious reasons. And a massive sword, or in modern day instances, a very high powered high capacity rifle. Hopefully you can get the imagery. I can see it now, and when I think of armor I think of the British Soldiers in the movie Braveheart, with the chain mail, and the heavy metal swords.

But, as I am thinking about it now, as the armor is described in the Bible; what is significant about each and every piece? What do they all have in common? What is missing? Notice that “The Armor of God” does not include or describe any pieces of protection for our backs, the backs of our legs, the backs of our necks, or funnily enough, our asses, or rear ends. What do all of the pieces have in common? They are all front facing pieces. They all fit and protect the front facing portions of the Soldiers. I wonder why that is? Well, I believe it is because we cannot win a battle that we are running from. If we are getting hit in the back, then we are not facing the “enemies”. In order for the armor the serve its purpose, we must go in face first. We must march directly into our adversaries, with courage and bravery, and trust that the armor is going to do its job.

Now I know that this is a bit metaphorical here, especially as it pertains to mental health. I can see the connection though. I have felt the effects of both running from my issues, and confronting them head on. They are stark in contrast to one another, and have dramatically different results.

For years I thought that me getting better was just about not drinking or using, and for a time it was. This was also an excuse of sorts, for me not to boldly and fearlessly confront the actual reasons that brought me to using to begin with. “Hey, I’m clean/sober so I must be doing something right”. And I was. But that was just the very beginning for me, and many of us out there. It was also a defense piece for me. It was a piece of my “armor” so to speak. It was my shield of arrogance. I held it with me everywhere I went. Any time I felt something threatening an old vulnerability of mine, I would hoist that shield and display my own insignia: “clean and sober”. Or I would hide behind humor, and deflect it away. But, as with all armor, no matter how modern it is, there are always weak points.

It took me really spiraling out, once I finally had something and someone to lose, to finally be ready to take a step back and objectively look at myself and say “I am missing something here.” And that, I believe is one of the most fascinating things about trauma, it hides within us. It literally hides. We don’t always think about it, in fact I hardly ever did. It is so subtle too, often times we don’t even realize that we are having a trauma response, or acting out on our mental health issues until after the fact. You see, I honestly thought that I was a changed man when I began spiraling out. And I was. But I still had so much to explore and confront in order to achieve the level of significant healing that I was really striving for. And unfortunately, with unhealed parts of us, we don’t even realize that they are there until they “flare up”, or “rear their ugly heads”, with often dramatic consequences and leave us again auditing what the hell just happened. This is what they mean when they say, “We don’t know what we don’t know.” I believe this very much.

We simply do not and can not know or understand how much an event, a season, a loss, an addiction, etc has truly effected us if we do not examine it. I believe that really truly processing things beginning at an early age is critical, before harmful events and seasons become traumas. If this is not possible, as is the case with far too many in this world due to lack of access to adequate mental health services, then as soon as we are able, we must initiate the process of processing. Even if we believe that we are well adjusted, well rounded, mature and mentally healthy adults we should attend some kinds of therapy. I always say that everyone on this planet would benefit from going to rehab at least once, even if they have never done a drug in their life.

You see, this is important because we may not know how something has and is actually effecting us now. Remember, we are used to our own “normals”, and what we interpret as normal may be anything but. And it is in those subtle unexposed isms inside of us that we could be living, acting, thinking, and believing in maladaptive and corrupt ways. I suppose, in keeping up with the Armor/battle metaphor this would be the binoculars of new perspective. Or the spyglass of fresh vantage points. We cannot simply rely on our own first person perspective and our own thinking to solve our own problems and survive our own troubles. It is critical that at some point in our lives, we all find a therapist, pastor, mentor, counselor, or just someone who we truly trust, and tell them the whole story. It is imperative that we learn from ourselves and from our own life stories and actions. This is how we can find self awareness, and grow past the hidden things that are holding us back and causing us to act against our character.

You see, I didn’t even know that the vulnerabilities, the wounds, the traumas existed inside of me the way that they did; until I again and again acted out on them, messed my life up and was essentially forced to take a good long honest look at my life in total. And I didn’t know about them, because I am me and they live inside of me. I had always been using my own thinking, beliefs, and perspective to interpret the very life that gave me those things. That doesn’t work. We must be willing and able to confront those messy parts of ourselves and learn how they went into creating who we are today.

We don’t have to, and shouldn’t be made to feel weak or ashamed for embarking on such a journey of self discovery and healing. For getting vulnerable and open about my most sensitive parts of my life story was the most courageous I have ever felt in my entire life. It provided me with new armor, quite possibly the most valuable piece of them all, wisdom, knowledge, understanding, insight, and self awareness. It helped me identify the places that I had been “weak” in the past, or “more vulnerable to attack” if you will. A fool knows how strong he is, and a genius knows how weak he is, and where he is weak. We gotta do it. We gotta armor up, and walk into the battle with ourselves and with our own stories. That is how we learn the most valuable knowledge we will ever hold, and that is the knowledge of ourselves.

We cannot change what we refuse to confront. What we resist, persists. All of the armor listed above makes no mention of protecting us from behind so if we refuse to walk boldly into it, and we choose to run away, we die.

The armor we slip on as we prepare for battle is all designed so that we can face the enemy, not run away. Please be bold enough and brave enough to face those dark and scary parts of yourself and your story. Your life may depend on it.

As the old saying goes, “If you want peace, prepare for war.”


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