This post is lovingly dedicated to our veterans in honor of Memorial Day weekend.
I said that the day I could no longer give 100% to my veterans and their families, was the day that I would leave the VA regardless of whether or not I was eligible for retirement. That day came for me on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, 5/25/2007 just 3 years shy of when I was eligible to retire with full benefits.
For 19 years, I dedicated myself to serve those who served. I was passionate about ensuring they received the benefits to which they were entitled and helped them to navigate the often turbulent waters of the VA Healthcare System. I was an advocate, a counselor, a trusted confidante and had no qualms about giving them tough love when appropriate. They deserved everything I could offer in my role as a social worker at the Boston VA Outpatient Clinic.
The compassion I lavishly offered to them, was the compassion I could not yet offer myself. The healing I brought into their lives was the healing path that I would need to walk after leaving the VA.
I worked at the VA as an intern in 1983-1984 and returned to work there in December of 1988. As a society and as a healthcare system, we were all trying to figure out how to help our Vietnam Veterans come home. The particular methods of warfare used and the sociopolitical climate they returned home to was a perfect storm to complicate the care and management of the emotional and physical injuries of the war.
From my memoir: Coming Home: A Memoir of Healing, Hope and Possibility
I left home at the age of 5 – my earthly home that is. I contracted childhood paralytic polio. Polio was the AIDS of its day. If you contracted polio, you were shunned. There was a fear of contagion. Fear breeds ignorance that is far more devastating that any disease. Three years later my father fell into alcoholism and I was raped and beaten, threatened with death and tortured by my father for 9 years until he ended his life. My maternal grandmother physically, sexually and emotionally abused me with cruel rituals that tortured my body and my mind. My mother was addicted to prescription pain medication. My older brother was numb and trying to survive the chaotic household as best he could. He chose to align himself with the aggressors. I learned early on how to dissociate and to harness the power of my intellect to survive but I paid a steep price for leaving home and disowning my body. I bided my time until it was time to heal.
My veterans shared with me their struggles to come home; to be able to feel at home in their bodies, in their lives and to come home to live fully in the present moment. They felt a constant tug to the past and to their own inner storms of powerful emotions. I was able to be fully present with them unafraid of the stories they needed to share and the pain they needed to heal. I too had been through a kind of war.
During these past 7 years, I have had my own healing journey of finding my way home from the injuries of a childhood fraught with violence and healing the emotional and physical injury of paralytic polio. I know how incredibly fortunate I am to have found the time and the resources to find my way home. I have been blessed by the unconditional love and support of my husband and the running community. It hasn't been easy and it's not always been pretty, but I am here now living a full, vibrant life with passion and purpose to share my message of healing, hope and possibility.
While I am no longer physically present to care for our veterans, they are in my heart and my prayers. I pray that they are able to find the strength and the will to heal. I pray for their caregivers and for those who are caring for veterans in the VA System. I pray that we as a society are able to support our veterans from every era. They need ongoing care and love no matter when or where they served. We need not wait for Memorial Day or Veterans Day to honor those who served. Let's help them know that every day they are coming home to hearts that embrace them and are grateful for their service. I am deeply grateful and humbled by the trust they placed in me to bare and share their emotional and physical wounds of war. I am blessed to maintain contact with a few of them who have found their way home and are thriving in their lives.
We taught each other well about the importance of coming home!