Once a Hero, Always a Hero

Do you wish you were back in combat?  Do you long for your buddies, for something that feels important to do?  Do you find yourself looking for places to help, to save, to protect?  You aren’t alone.  On a Facebook page, I read a recent thread that was filled with comments from spouses about their hero soldiers doing hero things – and being pretty exasperated with them.  Ding!  A light bulb went off in my brain. Was there something to this notion of hero-ism?

When I joined the Army, I remember thinking “Wow!  I found something I’m good at.  I’m important.  I am making a difference in the world.”  Those were the thoughts of an 18-year-old girl fresh from small town USA.  They didn’t change as I continued in my Army career.  I found my importance in the job I did.  When I got out, nothing seemed satisfying or nearly as important as what I did in the Army.  I was a wife and a mother with two babies to care for.  Life should have been good.  However, as I watched out my front window, everything seemed like a gray scale picture.  My mind believed that I was doing something important, but it just didn’t feel like it was important.  I had always been one of the ones to stop and give aid at accidents, and help someone getting mugged, and being the protector of my family – even though I’m a girl.  I got a lot of satisfaction from it.

As I continued to think it through, and read other pages and other threads, I realized that it is true – once a hero always a hero.  I remembered a soldier at Ft. Bragg who died saving his family from a devastating house fire, others who fought off muggers to save strangers, some who took on neighborhood watches, and still others who voluntarily went back into combat to watch over squads of friends.  Mostly, though, I remembered watching the end of the Lord of the Rings trilogy – Return of the King.  In the final half hour of that set of movies, Frodo, the hero of the story, ends up with his mission accomplished and back in the Shire.  He realizes that he has changed irreparably, and that he feels disconnected from his fellow hobbits.  How do you go back to what you were before after the greatest challenges of your life have been overcome?  Can you?  For him – the answer was no.  He sailed into the west.  For us -the short answer is – no.  You have been changed by your experiences.  You cannot unring a bell, or unspeak words.  However, unlike Frodo, you can live life well and fully.

You will always tend to help where you can.  It’s who you are.  However, there is a difference between helping (and getting the rush), and looking for opportunities to find adrenaline rushes.  The first keeps your life intact.  The second reinforces your separateness and dissatisfaction with your life at home and in civilian life.  We all think about going back to what made sense to us.  Life after the big stuff seems pretty gray scale at first.  We need to look at the effects of adrenaline on our brains to understand the difference between living in color and living in gray scale. The color is adrenaline based.  Gray-scale life will color up after awhile.  Eventually, you will be able to hold your kids and your spouse and feel love again.  You will be excited by something besides activities around hero-ism.  The tragedy is not that you dared to do what others would not, the tragedy is that you might hold your spouse, son or daughter and think “Meh!”




I'm Kim, and I am a licensed trauma therapist working in Fayetteville, NC. I'm prior active duty, and grew up in a military family. I play keys in a band, play practical jokes, and feel enormously privileged to write for this blog.

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