While you're in the war zone there is no doubt, no uncertainty. You know why you're there, you know what has to be done. Even at the worst of times, even when confronted with death and unimaginable cruelty by fellow human beings, everything is still so incredibly clear. Everything is about survival, about making it to that period after the war, when you're back home and everything will be fine.
Or so one is tempted to believe: that one just has to get through those months, years or even decades of horror, death and tragedy. I must confess to thinking like that during the past eleven years as well. Just have to get that little bit further, make it to that elusive finish line and you'll be home safe.
Yes, for me my war seems to have largely come to an end, but like so many others the price one has to pay for years, or even decades, of traumatic stress doesn't become apparent until afterwards. In my particular case, I have already - years ago - been officially diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as well as likely Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) as a result of my experiences. I thought I knew PTSD.
The uneasy feeling that's been following me for the past months is one that's largely new to me. While I was still in the 'war zone', my goal was clear: to find medical help so that I can live happily ever after. Whenever I felt uneasy about the 'normal' lives of regular people (civilians?), I could push it away with the thought that I'd deal with it after I had found help and would be better prepared for it.
I feel like a broken shell of a person. All that I have learned over the past decades is how to survive in a world where nobody can be trusted, nobody can be relied upon. Where only the strongest, quickest and most psychopathic can carve out an existence. I have been raped, beaten, locked up, brainwashed, attempted to commit suicide and have on many occasions had to keep others who were on the verge of committing suicide from going through with it. I have seen the ugliest side of humanity in how people like me are being treated, even in supposedly civilised Western countries.
And then I suddenly have to reintegrate into normal society. With the war practically over, I'm now back to being a civilian, instead of a warrior fighting a desperate battle for survival. Physically I came out okay, I think, no more than some scars, nerve damage and other old wounds. Psychologically it's a whole different matter, though.
I was about five years old when I first began to lose my trust in other humans and began to withdraw into myself, likely as a result of possible (sexual) abuse I can (mercifully?) not remember. Puberty signalled the point where I lost my body as well. Decades later, I have regained the latter through a lot of pain and hardships, yet I never experienced life like a regular civilian would. What do I have in common with them, anyway?
In the end it's that sense of alienation, of not being able to picture a normal existence in civilian life, where I feel like I have most in common with returning war veterans. How to reconcile an existence where you have seen and experienced more pain, gore, suffering and human cruelty than one could ever consider possible with a quiet civilian life? How to live day to day working an office job while the slightest trigger nudges loose another traumatic memory, sending it screeching through your head?
I do not know how I can overcome this sense of alienation, of not feeling like I am part of civilian society. I'm not sure whether it's even possible. At some point it feels like one can simply have experienced and seen too much. How can one regain one's trust in fellow human beings, long after they have stopped trying to actively kill and hurt you and your friends?
P.S.: some more good reading on the subject: http://steinhardt.nyu.edu/appsych/opus/issues/2013/spring/duca