Both Tom and I hope all of you had a wonderful, relaxing, and fun-filled Christmas, wherever you may be. Tom and I spent Christmas in Flagstaff, AZ. Christmas Eve gave us the opportunity to Skype and Facetime with family. I was fortunate enough to Skype with my family as they opened gifts. It was great to see my daughter open her gifts and excitedly run around the living room with her new doll. She spent time reading a story to her new Elmo doll. It was fun to see and I’m glad I had the chance to be involved, even if it was via Skype from 2,000 miles away. Tom got to catch up with his girlfriend and experience, as best as he could, opening gifts through an electronic/internet based way. On Christmas Day, Tom’s mom and dad came to meet us. Their visit was the first time they’d seen Tom in 4 months, so I’m sure it was very special for them to spend Christmas with him. We were able to see some sights during their visit which we otherwise wouldn’t have had the chance to see.
The other day, Tom and I walked to a laundromat to do our laundry. While there, I found a little brochure left for all those who have nothing but time while waiting for their clothes to be washed. The topic of the brochure was peace and why so many people struggle to find it. After reading it, I began to think about how a Veteran struggles with so much internal strife and how that finds its way into the Veteran’s world.
When we come home, we are looking at our world through a whole new set of eyes. We hear words differently, experience life differently, share our lives differently. Usually, those around us make as many adjustments to us as we do to them. For me, I always felt a bit out of place. The lens I used to see and experience the world was forever altered. This change created great upheaval in my life, both personal and professional. A lot of the upheaval stemmed not from the experiences I was having, but from my inability to communicate how I felt about what was happening around me. I felt powerless to influence my world and, by relation, my own life.
But what I’ve found out on this trip regarding that has changed my perspective. To have peace within one’s world, you must find peace in and with yourself. Peace, in a Veteran’s world, can be a tricky thing. Despite all of the experiences I’ve had in life, going to and experiencing war is by far the most influential. To go to war and come home and seek peace may sound natural. But it is very hard to do. When you fight for your life, everything you do after that becomes a fight. Every fight becomes more turmoil. Each new layer of turmoil makes it harder to find your way home, even when you’re physically there. Being physically present at home is NOT the same as being home. This walk, while taking us away from home, brings us home. It provides the opportunity to experience, for better, all the negativity that was created, fostered, and perpetuated by us in our own lives. But with each step we expel it. We have found that through this walk we are able to confront, in an honest way, those things we have struggled with. We sought help in the past and portions of everything we tried worked to a point. But taking these literal steps has allowed us to take all the previous help and sort through it in ways that work best for us.
Finding peace within yourself allows you to find peace in your world. Finding peace in your world allows one to bring peace to the world. We have been walking, not just for ourselves, but for others. We’ve walked to help Dryhootch. We’ve walked to help Veterans, the bulk of whom we’ve never met and may never meet. We’ve heard from several people that have told us how much our walk means to them. This is an example of peace within one’s self finding its way into the lives of others. It takes effort, sacrifice, and a willingness to be uncomfortable…all things a Veteran is acutely aware of. This is why I feel there is tremendous hope for those who struggle. With help from yourself and others, you possess the tools required to find peace within yourself. It is hard. It may take counseling, medication, or some other form of intervention. But, the key is within you. It always has been and will continue to be.
When we struggle, we often look around for help and it can be very discouraging when the help you need isn’t immediately apparent. It can be discouraging when someone says, “Do it yourself” or “Just try harder.” I am not saying that at all. We relied on support our whole lives and certainly while in the military. Everything we know was taught to us either through models or through trial and error. It is at this time when our world is completely upside down that we have to be honest with ourselves and determine what we need and where we can get it. Maybe it’s at the VA. Maybe it’s at Dryhootch. Maybe it’s in AA meetings or with a therapist. But, it has to begin from a decision within to want to help ourselves. Without that decision to find peace within, we cannot expect peace around us.
When I was struggling, my struggles extended to my family and friends. At some points, people avoided me because they didn’t want to deal with my drama or I had exhausted them. When I chose to change, I made a decision to seek the peace within myself necessary to bring peace to them. It was the best decision I made. Still, making the decision is not enough. You will hurt, you will make decisions to leave some people and situations behind. But, all of those decisions are made with peace for yourself at the forefront. Once that step is taken, peace will find you. Surroundings change, people change. It will take time and effort, but it is so worth it.
Tom and I have said, repeatedly, that Vietnam Veterans have been the most influential Veterans for us to seek our own peace. For decades they struggled with personal and professional chaos. They lost jobs, families, friends, and time. They never gave us advice. They taught through their stories of experience. I am 30 years old. Tom is 29. We sat, listened, and discussed the lives of Veterans who, in their 60′s and 70′s, were just beginning to seek the peace that they desired for decades. This motivated us to seek it now, rather than waiting until decades went by and lessons were discarded. Tom and I have the utmost respect for Vietnam Veterans as their struggles have taught us about what we can and should do now. Without their help and support, we would be wanting peace instead of working for it.
In 2 days, a new year begins. If you have been struggling, now is as good a time as ever to try and change. Go to a Vet Center or the VA. Go to Dryhootch. Seek out the resources in your area. It is the first step in finding the peace you seek…the peace that will change your life and those around you.
See you on the trail,
Anthony and Tom