I accompanied my buddy to an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meeting because he didn’t want to go alone. We sat among a mixed group of ragged-headed teens and worn-out looking adults. Most looked hung-over or somewhat sullen. Across from me I observed a nearly chinless man and just by the look of him I surmised he’d probably taken a shotgun to his face and changed his mind once he pulled the trigger. I was correct.
Once we broke into small groups he told us his story about his drug addiction and how he felt it was better to kill himself than to let the drugs eat him alive. The addiction to meth was so strong that he could no longer control himself by stopping by his choice alone. So one night he put the weapon under his chin and slammed the trigger hard. Something within his mind said, “don’t” He jerked the shotgun away but not before the blast took away a good portion of his mandible, which housed his teeth and tongue. With emotional pain and physical difficulty he explained his story of survival and his will to live. It was incredible to me that he could actually speak but it was more incredible that he desired to fight against enslavement to drugs and PTSD. If only he had a reliable friend to talk with before he got so desperate by making poor decisions.
His story is not unique. There are thousands of men like him peppering every state of our nation. In quiet towns and bustling cities they feel like they are living in some nightmarish and naked isolation. They feel layed bare, for all to see their pain, yet there seems to be nothing to dull the deep ache. God bless them for going down that hard road of wanting to survive. But not just to survive, but to live and thrive.
I’m not an expert on suicide prevention. I’m not an expert on PTSD. I just know when someone needs me that its important to be there for them.
Many, many years ago a roommate on a very destructive path decided to live his life according to booze. As I sat at my keyboard and typed quietly, I turned to see his hulking shape right over my left shoulder, but it was too late. He punched me in the side of the face and I fell out of my chair and lay on the ground. I was completely shocked. I wasn’t sure what to do. He said, “Hit me.” I looked up at him from the ground where I lay and said back to him, “Have you lost your F___en mind?” He said once more, “Hit me.” He started towards me.
I lept up and grabbed a kitchen knife and said, “Get the F___out!” I wasn’t sure what to expect. Was he drunk? On drugs? He kept punching himself and begging me to destroy him. I watched a grown man imploding. I put the knife down and watched him fall apart. Rage turned into silence and then turned into a wrestling match after he charged me. We nearly fell out of the second floor bay window after falling over the sofa. When it was over he was a crying wreck of a man with bloody fists earned by punching the walls and beating himself.
I have witnessed many men cry. Is there something wrong with this? Not at all. Not all of them were combat veterans, not all of them were morally upright men, but I have been there for them. I have many friends who have been there for me.
I think back to the Batman movie, of all things to recall, where the character Thomas Wayne asks his young son Bruce Wayne, “Why do we fall Bruce?” We know the answer to the question Thomas asks his son. If there is anything in movie pop culture or the human condition that we can understand when we are hurting and certainly relate to then it must be the feeling of fear.
I’ve heard it said that anger is a secondary emotion and fear is the primary emotion that men feel when things go south. When we are confused, and cannot navigate through our hurt or frustration, our anger begins to mask fear.
In the stark character known as Batman we encounter someone filled with a lot of rage. He is a man at war with himself and the rest of the world because of the injustice he perceives and the hurt he still feels because of his parents deaths. When Batman is at a loss it is because his remarkable sensory adaptation and capacity for echolocation has failed. The hero has lost his way.
Batman knows pain and something was taken from him. He has two personaes. He has the happy face that he shows the society and an angry face that he keeps hidden from everyone else’s view when he is alone. He wears a mask to hide the rage he feels. And beneath the rage is fear.
The writer D.H Lawrence once wrote:
“We want to delude ourselves that of the problem of our emptiness, love is at the root. I want to say to you that it isn’t. Love is only the branches. The roots go beyond love. A naked kind of isolation. An isolated me that does not meet and mingle and never can. It is true what I say. There is a beyond in you and a beyond in me which goes further than love, beyond the scope of the stars. Just as some stars go beyond the scope of our vision, so our search goes beyond the scope of all love. At least, I think that it is at the root, going beyond love itself.”
But Lawrence was wrong and right about these two things. He was correct when he captured the feeling of pain, anger, isolation, and sadness that a man can feel but he was wrong to believe love or something deeper was responsible for the hurt. Love is the emancipator from our pain but if someone has never truly felt love then they can’t possibly know what liberation feels like. Why are you in someone’s life? Are you in someone’s life that is struggling with a range of emotions? Maybe you should be.
I believe we all know someone who no longer feels sustained by any creed, who feel they are living a life of impotency and faithlessness, and believe their life has come to nothing. Do not leave your friend alone to endure seering, seemingly unbearable pain. Be there. We can all understand that pain is a signal to the mind that the body has been damaged or something is wrong with it. Pain is a signal to us that we need to stop what we are doing or to take alternative action. Those who cannot identify some of their triggers, or comprehend what painful emotions are creeping up, or what alternative action they should take will need your help. Remember that their echolocation sense is broken. They let out a scream, a shout, a cry for help but nothing on the other end recieves the message and pinpoints the way. Show them!
Many once felt like life made sense. They felt like the world was something they could navigate and it all made sense. And now they are stuck. They have fallen and don’t know how to rise up. Brotherhood helps them to see through the darkness one more time.
I am not here to write about mitigating pain because their are millions of well qualified experts on the subject of therapy and healing. I want to talk about brotherhood. Why? Because the common thread among the stories I shared about these men is they did not feel like they had a friend to share their pain with. You may have been a great team member while on deployment but being present for them at home is equally important.
More men commit suicide than women. 3/4 suicides are by men. Count police officers and military members as the group that most frequently adds to the overall numbers in uniform nationwide. Women tend to be much better at building relationships, maintaining friendships and talking about how they feel. Men need friends who will make them feel courageous enough to speak up about what is going on internally.
There is not always a way to help your brother, or sister for that matter, but you should always try find a way. Sometimes just being in their presence is enough to get them over a hurdle. The first thing you need to do is show them you care. Let them know by your words and actions that you will be there. Your confidence while they are struggling with issues (perhaps divorce, PTSD, loss of a job, addiction, inability to visit their children, etc) can be an encouragement to them that it will all pass. Doing this will earn their trust. Trust takes a long time to build and can vanish in a heartbeat. Be positive and be an active listener when they share their problems. Sometimes all a person wants is to get something off their chest.
Don’t give up on them when they are going through their darkest hours. Make them feel wanted and valued. Do what you can and if the issue or issues needs something more involved than don’t be afraid to encourage them to seek counseling. You may not be able to rescue everyone but at least make an attempt to help someone. My friend who drunkenly punched me ended up in the hospital years later. His refusal to seek help drove his exasperated wife to leave him. His life was only cleaned up after a lot of destruction to the people around him was done. I wished I could have done more but I know that I did try to help him.
“Why do we fall down?” Thomas Wayne asks Bruce Wayne. “So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.” Thomas replies to his son Bruce. Batman’s father is the voice of reason to someone in need. Be that person. Be that freakin person.
In fact, after you read this article, how about you do a buddy check? Let ’em know you were thinking about him or her. Batman needed someone. Alfred, his Butler, became the voice of strength Bruce needed when we was uncertain. Alfred is the calm in Batman’s $**tstorm of a life.
Easy answers to complex problems don’t exist. There aren’t cookie-cutter solutions to every problem in life but don’t give up. Again, sometimes all a person needs is your presence. If that means being on the other end of the phone, or driving up to their house when they are on a rampage, then do this. You might find that your simple act of compassion for someone hurting will take them beyond the place of isolation and into the place of feeling like you truly are their brother.
Yes, Batman was a character from the comics and in the movies. But the character’s struggle in The Dark Knight Rises movie resonates with us because it is an eternal struggle we can all relate to. Every man, woman and child will be in a place of hurt many times in their life. One of the most powerful scenes in this movie is Bruce Wayne’s prison escape where he takes a leap of faith in order to set himself free from a literal hole in the ground. But he is not alone. A fellow prisoner, acting as his conscience, asks him questions and gives him answers. Perhaps you can be the voice in the darkness that a man needs to hear. I am not an expert in these matters. This is only my opinion but I will tell you, one day when the time comes, I hope you will teach a man how to rise to glory again.
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