I wrote a book review over at Old Musty Books this morning about a book that touched me to my very core. It was a difficult review to write, because how does one review a book that had a profound impact in a very personal way?
I’ve mentioned before I’m a veteran. I am also a veteran who is just now – at the age of 40, having been out of the military for almost 20 years now – looking back on my experience in the military and realizing the affect its had on my life. Frankly, its been a painful process; and one I didn’t expect. Realizing the amount of institutional abuse that goes hand in hand with the military, and how accepted that harassement was (and to some degree, probably still is), has been one of the toughest things I’ve had to come to terms with.
Karen Armstrong’s experience in the cloistered life reasonated with me, because the process the nuns go through to assimilate into the religious life is similar to assimilation into the military. Further, the feeling of frustration and loneliness when you leave the institution seemed very similar.
I think this book would be a magnificent book for anyone who is a veteran and is suffering the effects of PTSD, MST, or even just beginning to look at how the military might have affected how they react to different things in their life.
Armstrong also discusses her falling out with her faith and her realization that, for her, God doesn’t exist. I’m talking to veterans specifically here. Think about how during boot camp, you began to believe in nothing more than your duty to your country, and the strength of your faith in your fellow recruits; and then think about how that same belief transferred on to your unit and grew stronger; and the longer you were in, the stronger it became…until it didn’t. Until that belief in duty and faith in your fellow soldiers began to wane; and ultimately, you began questioning why the hell you were still in the military. If you read Armstrong’s The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness with an open mind; and you substitute the religious aspects for what you felt about the sanctity of service, you will see she’s describing it exactly.
And reading this book, should make you feel better – because you were 18 and how could you have known? How could you have realized you were giving up the best years of your life for something that was going to screw up all the rest? And then, you’ll realize that with some work and some openness on your part, the experience can be an advantage and you can come to a peaceful place; and the best years of your life really and truly are ahead of you.
At least, that’s my hope for you. Because, honestly, reading this book has helped me more than the trauma therapy I’ve been doing. I suspect the honest truth is without feeling a sense of something missing from my life, I’d never have found the first book of Armstrong’s I’d read, the history of God; and without that experience and the talk therapy I’m in now with the VA, the summary on the book wouldn’t have resonated with me enough for me to buy the book, The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness.
In no way shape or form am I saying ditch your therapy, buy the book, read it and you will be healed. I don’t think it works that way. I am saying, consider reading the book, and be open to looking at your experience from a different perspective. It might help you find a bit of peace in areas you’ve had precious little. It might also give you some strength and inspiration in which you can draw from when the well begins to get dry.
…hope it helps.