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You Are a Better Man Than Me

Dr Mike Colson

Trauma does strange things to people. A few years back I was spending some time with a good friend who I hadn’t seen in years. I was going through a cynical phase after many years in southern Africa and found this man immersed in life and whacking away at the reality of a hard life. Like many of us in a post-combat life, my friend was finding it hard to keep control of things in his life that had flowed well together in the past. In the years since our last meeting he loaded more trauma in his heart than people ought to be asked to handle. Yet, he remained buoyant, positive, approachable, attentive to others and their needs, and even patient with others even when they clearly had little regard for the struggles he was engaged in. In short, it was obvious to me that he was managing.

Our destination on that day was Disneyland in California. Like buddies often do, we jabbered back in forth in the car heading out to Anaheim. Sports teams, family, one or two pipe dreams, and the odd lie made up the bulk of the conversation. Every once in a while a really important message wedged itself into the conversation, only to dismissed by a louder than required half laugh. One of these kernels of truth struck resonated in me because it was clear that my friend was being extremely patient with a court appointed attorney trying to arrange custodial visits with my friend’s children. After hearing him describe the circumstances he was facing and interrupting a big but false guffaw, I said to him: “You are a better than me for putting up with all that.”

The silence that greeted my “better man” statement was deafening - and - prolonged. I knew I had stepped in it but the smell hadn’t wafted up from my shoes…but that changed fairly quickly. A grunt similar to what you might hear from a boxer getting pummeled escaped from my friend and I this is what he said:

“Mike, I am not better than anyone and it’s not getting any better”. He went on to tell me that I could offer that type of bullshit to guys who get C’s in math, a speeding ticket, or maybe passed over for a promotion at work. But, for guys like him who have lost track of hopes, personal dreams, kids and family, and all the stuff we think we have control of, you ought to just shut up. This was no kernel of truth. This was the whole corncob and trauma had reared it head.

“So, Dr Mike, what happened?”

We never made it into Disneyland and my friend spiraled downward – awash in the darkness caused by heaving seas. Two years later he was dead.

My friend’s trauma was his and his alone. But he never saw himself as a person of value, substance, importance, or significance. He has ceased becoming a man, a father, a husband, a member of his community, and an individual in his own right who has the power to find support. He did not take his own life. But he did isolate himself during the trauma years and crystallized dark behaviors that would keep him away from good resources and support.

So, let me revisit my original comment: “You are a better man than me.” Any one of us who face head on out trauma, who take a risk and talk to people about things, and even take risks in finding the support we rate…are better men because of it. And here’s the kicker: “You do that and you can be better than me…anytime.”