War trauma at home

Shauna L. Smith is an author and therapist in private practice in Sacramento who is the coordinator of Therapists for Social Responsibility

Can civilians at home dare say we are experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of this ongoing war? Our military men and women learn the language of murder and mayhem every day, up close and personal, while we—in our armchairs or at rallies—must assimilate the horror tales from afar.

But could the symptoms of PTSD (shock, fearfulness, nightmares, avoidance, despondency and loss of faith) apply to some degree to us, the bystanders, the ones who watch in disbelief, feeling helpless to effect change?

We civilian homebodies are not having our nerve tested daily by shattered bullets and dry sand. Nonetheless, we may feel the fine particles in our nightmares, infiltrating our food and drink. We may feel the chaos and pathos of our world crumbling in a maze of contradictions and secrecies and lies.

We live in fear of an unchecked military, the loss of civil rights, corporate abuses and contempt for the common good. We agonize about the future for our children and grandchildren to whom we cannot find words to explain genocide and torture. We who are not having our nerve tested daily by shattered bullets and dry sand nonetheless read history and hear news reports of daily madness and aggression. We are sickened by our own part in the insanity, and find ourselves unable to stop the flashbacks and flash-forwards and the intrusive, plaintive cries calling to us, screaming at us from across the globe.

So maybe we do fall on the continuum of PTSD—not at the high end of the scale as do the soldiers returning from Iraq, or as did the soldiers who returned from Vietnam and Korea and the two wars to end all wars—but we are somewhere on that scale, because we also cannot return ourselves to a pre-crisis state of functioning on our own.

And perhaps the most authentic and constructive help we can offer each other is to listen—deeply and without judgment—and validate perceptions and uncertainties, outrage, guilt and fear. In so doing, we may be able to comfort and strengthen each other, at least well enough to work in tandem for peace and justice, integrity and sustainability, in the hope that the mad events of the present will not shatter us individually and collectively and turn the world we live in to dust.