A vet's response to being asked, "How are you?"

One military veteran offers the internal thought process of military members who are struggling with their emotions

By Sgt. Joseph Gunderson

This piece is intended to share thoughts I believe are common for those who can relate. I am safe but hope those who may not be can read this and understand they are not alone. If you need help, call the Veterans Affairs crisis line at: 1-800-273-8255 and press 1.

“I am at war with myself and, when I say war, I mean war. Have you seen it? War I mean, not me. I have – I have seen real war. I’ve seen blood and broken bodies. I’ve heard the screams from women and children. I’ve sat huddled with my friends waiting for the bombs to quit falling all around us. I’ve laughed during the sound of explosions in order to cover up the fact that I didn’t know if the next one would be the one that finally ended this story that I call my life. I have seen war. I have experienced it. When I say that I am at war with myself I mean that I am really, truly at war."

“I am at war with myself. I mean that I am broken. I am bleeding even though you don’t see the wounds. I am screaming even though you may not hear the sounds. I am sitting in a bunker as the bombs drop all around me and I am trying desperately to keep it all together. I am laughing with my friends at a bar so that they don’t see that I am really contemplating putting my pistol into my mouth tonight because every time that I close my eyes I see that one guy that I had to shoot that one time. I see him and sometimes I question whether I had to and then I wonder whether I am evil or not. I wonder whether I deserved to live when I knew men that never made it home. They never made it home alive that is. They made it home in boxes but I came home walking out of a plane. I walked off a plane after having, only about a day earlier, been in a warzone for about a year. I was just there. Not two days earlier, I can remember the incoming alarm going off and my friends and I jumped into a bunker and listened as the largest game of Russian roulette played out around us. Where is the next explosion going to go off? Nobody knows."

“I am at war with myself. I don’t wear my uniform anymore. I don’t stand tall beside the bravest men and women that I have ever had the pleasure of calling my family. I live alone in my tiny apartment because my wife left me because I wasn’t the same man that she had married. She took my daughter with her because she didn’t want her to be around me because I was what she liked to call unstable. I can’t sleep at night because I see and hear things when the world is too silent but then during the day I am so sedated by pills that I don’t want to move."

“I am at war with myself. At war with who I once was and who I am today. The man who once shouldered a rifle and willingly would walk through the fire and smoke if someone had told me to and now the crippled man who, if it is loud and sudden enough, jumps in his own skin at the sound of a loud noise. God forbid a car backfires near me because I won’t be able to move for a good few minutes."

“I am at war with myself. Fighting between what I want to believe and what I know to be true. Wishing that I could believe in a higher power and its plan and feeling as though the entire world is just going up in flames because no one and nothing gives a damn. I would walk into a church and ask God what the hell is going on but I don’t think that I am welcome among that kind of company.

I have hated, I have killed, and I have not been the best kind of person; I don’t even think that I would make it but a few feet through the door before everyone in the sanctuary realizes that I do not belong there. They wouldn’t say anything. They would probably even smile and tell me that I am one of God’s children but there would be that feeling in the pit of my stomach that they know the horrible things that I have done." 

“I am at war with myself. My emotions are always out of wack. I don’t know how to answer people when they ask how I am and I really would rather crawl into a hole sometimes in order to get away from everyone and everything. The world is too busy and too loud and too ugly and just does not look the same as it did before I saw war. Everywhere I go now, I see war; there is always something somewhere that reminds me of it." 

“I am at war with myself because I can’t be at war with the enemy anymore. I was trained, driven, and ordered to conduct war and, while I was doing it, I was fine. I could wage war with the best of them; in fact, I loved soldiering. Being a soldier was my calling and now it is gone. It was taken from me!"

“I am at war with myself because I don’t know how to stop. There is no cure for this disease, no antidote for this poison. I am at war with my ghosts because I must be at war. I was a soldier. I am a soldier. I am at war because it is what I know."

“I am at war with myself... I’ve been better.”