By Eric Beach
Since my friend shared this concept with me, it has become one of my mantras. Holding the space has become the root grounding me in my sobriety. The more I hold the space the more I come to understand it and the more I believe it may be the single most important thing we can do for our veterans. It may well be the most important thing we do in ANY relationship.
In truth, holding the space is the hardest, easy thing you can do. Being, and staying present is the key. Our hearing is the muscle we flex to "hold that space". Space is heavy, so holding it requires strengthen a muscle we need to actively work often.
Understand this... Veterans have seen behind the curtain. We've seen the dirt and grime in the wheels and cogs of government. We've seen the best and worst of society and culture. We have been manipulated and when our guards were down, when we were most vulnerable, people died while others took advantage of us. Then, we were asked to stuff down the embers of grief. When we couldn't swallow it, it was forced down our throats, "Suck it up and drive on." When that didn't work, we tried to wash down the bitter pill with alcohol. Once swallowed, we self-medicated, desperately trying to counteract the uncomfortable effects of "feeling." But, the only way to heal is to first feel... Once we feel, we must then speak out loud, in a safe environment, our deepest pains and darkness.
We can’t give voice to the our deep dark secrets unless we trust someone to hold the space with their whole heart and their whole being. For us to feel safe, to trust again, we are in a sense risking death.
We have been fed a lie that it is other than honorable to share our burdens carried home from war, or the ones put in our ruck sack before our military service. The fallacy “A real combat veteran doesn’t share their combat experiences. Those that do are imposters. They’ve probably never seen combat, because had they, they wouldn’t talk about it.” Has driven many to the dark, lonely caves of depression, shame, and secrecy.
The veterans that don’t share, the ones that don’t have a safe held space, that live with a false sense of “honor” laid out by a pseudo-initiated warrior tradition, are the unhealthy ones. They are the lost ones.
We don’t need to share the graphic details. We don’t need to be understood. We don’t need to talk about it all the time. We need a safe, held space. We need it so when the feelings creep in, and they will, we have a place to purge the poison we’ve allowed to sit deep in our soul. We need a training ground where we can "sit with the emotion" where we can feel it, process it, and FINALLY grieve it.
Hold the space. If you’re a veteran, or someone with PTS (Post Traumatic Stress) hold the space and get rid of anything that keeps you from doing so. For me, that means no alcohol.
If you know someone with PTS, hold the space. Don’t “fix” anything. Don’t force anything. Love them and be present. If they don’t share their burden, love them and stay present. Accept the reality you may never be the person they share with. In time they may share with you, but what I’m suggesting is your motivation to hold the space can not be that someday they’ll bare their whole soul to you. We need to know we are supported and loved. We need to feel this way until, and after we are able to receive those truth that we are supported and loved.
The path to healing is built on the foundation of holding the space.
Hold the space.
By Eric Beach
In middle school and high school, I was depressed. I was really only happy when I was able to make someone laugh. It's not uncommon for person to find an area where they fit into a group and live there, and there only. We plant our flag and declare, "This is my place! This is how I shall serve the group!" Unfortunately, when we perceive or experience a failure in that area (our role in the group), the hit can be pretty hard and further throw us away from our identity, our authentic self, and deeper into depression.
When depression (or more appropriately despair) hit, I had a routine.
Step one: Self loathe
Step two: Isolate
Step three: listen to music
I had my go to "despair: greatest hits" playlist. Music that kept me in the state of despair, and provided no threat to pulling me out of it. So why do I bring this up? One of those songs came up on Pandora and coincided with the end of today's workout.
It has been 15 years since I let this song carry me through the emotional waves of whatever boulder was dropped into my pond of Self confidence. But today, it moved me in a different way.
15 years ago, I would envision this song playing on my car stereo as someone came upon my wrecked car and found my dead body. I envisioned my funeral and saw all the sad faces. They did love me, I'd tell myself. Perhaps I'll only matter to them in death... In all reality, this song was the soundtrack to my desire to be dead... And Seen. At the time, I wasn't able to see I unconsciously was desperate to be seen.
The song was Epiphany by the band Staind. Take a listen, and when you do, try to put yourself in the mindset of a teenage boy (or girl) who had no clue who the hell he or she was but was desperate for someone the tell them.
Today I heard the song and its lyrics with different ears. I was empowered, no longer powerless. I advocated for that little boy today. These lyrics in particular broke my heart as I pedaled on my trainer and thought about the boy I used to be. "I am nothing more than, a little boy inside, that cries out for attention yet I always try to hide."
Those words speak of something very deep and diverse. Behind the screams of many angry adults can be found a little child that just wants to be seen. I wanted someone to see me, but to be seen is to be vulnerable and to be vulnerable is to open up to the possibility of being hurt. When I was hurt, I felt powerless so I hid as my heart cried out, "PLEASE SOMEBODY, SEE ME!"
Today in my workout, I let that little boy hop on my shoulders and we flew. I closed my eyes and saw him and I swear he smiled. God that felt good.
Thats the power and beauty of sport! When we push ourselves we can safely connect with the pieces of us that have long lain dormant. We can feel the full spectrum of emotion during one session, and inevitably if we're doing battle with our own inner "demons" we'll come to a place where we see behind the scary and find a sad, scared, lonely, and hurting little boy or girl.
When you find them, please hold them. Love them. Let their voice be heard. They've been silenced long enough. Feel their emotion, let them be seen. After you're done, thank them and assure them you'll see them the next time you push yourself to the place where your mind can be no other place than right here, right now.
By Eric Beach
I wrote this Blog about 2 years ago. Several things have changed in my life since writing this, but when I rediscovered it, I wanted to share it because its a snap shot of where my healing journey began. I'm sharing it in case it resonates with a new audience. If this resonates with you, know there is hope, and you can grow into a life of joy and purpose. I'm dedicating my life to understanding how, and offering up what I find to you, our Echelon.
I said it wouldn't always be pretty... Today... Yesterday... They weren't pretty.
Part of this journey I'm taking you on, a huge part, is a healing journey. I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It comes in many forms, from many different points of origin. In my case its from my time over seas in combat in Iraq 2003 and growing up with wounds and no sense of Self.
It rears its head at random sometimes. The last couple of days have seemed random. I've scratched my head trying to figure out why I've had intense depression and rage. We're on vacation and I've been so angry, at times to the point I don't feel safe. I don't feel I'll be able to keep my emotions in check. I've secretly been hoping to get into a fight so I could give this rage purpose.
I was at the mechanic and saw a guy staring at me for what seemed like 5 minutes. I wanted to scream at him "Can I help you?" "Is there a problem?" But I held back. PTSD can make you look for fights that aren't there. Everyone becomes the enemy to include my children and my wife. The baby cries, my 4 year old doesn't listen at times and my wife isn't perfect... How dare they be human... But, in these moments it's all I see. There humanity becomes a negative.
I've made great progress with my PTSD and so have many others, but we still have our days. They have become fewer in number, but it wasn't that long ago I had at least 3 days a week like this. Horrible way to live. Its one of the reasons the veteran suicide rate is so high. 22 a day. ABSOLUTELY HEART BREAKING. I won't be part of that number. I hope to eradicate that number.
So what to do in my state... It was getting late and there was about 30 minutes before sunset. I decided I needed to get out and run. Burn off this adrenaline that had been dumping into my system the past 2 days. I ended up running 3.84 miles at a 9 minute mile pace. Its a good pace for me at this point. In the last 1/2 mile I started to have a conversation with myself.
I was heading home and decided to keep a faster pace and not quit if it got tough. It got tough... Life always gets tough. Before it got tough I realized how bad a father, husband, son and friend I am when I get like this. My mantra became my wife deserves better, my daughter deserves better etc... I said it over and over. I asked myself is my body in charge or am I in charge? If my body says I'm tired, I can't do this, do I listen or do I tell it the race isn't over?
It hit me. I deserve better.
I realized in that moment, I deserve a better quality of life. It's not just for everybody else. Do I let the relationships in my life, as important as they may be, determine if I'm doing a good enough job, or do I get to weigh in and tell myself how I'm doing?
I deserve better because when I'm a better man I feel better and my family gets better from me as well. When I tell my body I know its tough, I know you're tired, I know you want to quit but we're not going to. I fight forward. I get stronger.
On this race of life, there are setbacks. Our days won't always be something we want to write about or share with others. Its not a success only journey (Thank God). I'm not always going to be the best family man, my event times won't always get faster but I'm not going to quit. On any of it. When set backs come I'll take a deep breath, really think about things and when I get that moment of clarity, I'll tell myself your're done quiting. If we don't quit, theres still a chance we'll get better.
Its not a success only life. We aren't perfect. We never will be. Obstacles will come... a lot. It will get difficult. We will fall short. There will be tears. There will be anger. We will feel like we suck. But if we don't give up and we work, the bad times become the exceptions.
I have been in therapy, I have a service dog and the teachings from the trauma resiliency program, writing, Video work, and now I have swimming, biking, running and a literal race to run. If we can find outlets, we can we can do battle with our "demons". We can learn a lot about ourselves in those moments when it gets hard, when we fight instead of giving up. Some call it the pain cave. Its a place we put ourselves on purpose in a healthy way (like exercise) where we must give it our all even when it gets hard.
Maybe your pain cave is getting out in public for a while because your afraid of crowds. Maybe its going to the fireworks wearing headphones and during the show, taking them off a listening to the booms. Maybe its picking up the phone and talking to that broken relationship you've been avoiding for years. Maybe it's telling your spouse you love them. Maybe it's planning a date. Maybe its playing with your kids. It takes effort. It takes love and dedication. But when the thing you try gets tough and you enter the pain cave will you quit? or will you address the reality of your situation and really think about it. Will you push forward?
I'm not perfect, but I'm pushing forward. It may take a day or two, or longer to get back on track but I'm always working to find the trail.
What trail do you need to get back on?
By Eric Beach
Have you ever started something new, or been doing something for a long time and still felt like you were achieving nothing? Have you ever felt as if you weren't good enough and never would be, so much so you feel anger. Anger followed by resentment and doubt? If so, hi my name is Eric, welcome to the club. This has been a pattern of mine and over the years, it's something I've been working on.
Why do I feel this way?
My response to an emotion may be severe or irrational, but I believe the emotion is trying to tell me, tell us something.
It's telling ME, comparison is the robber of joy. A good friend of mine shared that pearl with me and its become a life changing reality.
More often than not, we don't begin something and compare ourselves against the beginners. We measure ourselves against the best of the best. We want to know how do we stack up. I start making short films and immediately compare my work to that of the greatest hollywood directors in the history of cinema! When I do that, I don't stack up very well... I don't think I ever will and I lose the drive to try. The drive to get better, to grow.
I train for a triathlon and look up times from last years racers to see the averages. I find the average time for each event is far faster than I am currently capable of completing individually, let alone back to back to back! So, do I quit because I most likely won't place well in the race? Who's holding me to these unrealistic standards on which my success is determined?
Why do we, or at least I, compare myself to top level industry professionals and elite athletes who have been working, improving, and getting or honing their craft better for years?
Perfectionism mixed with impatience. I want to be the best... NOW.
I don't want to work for it. I want to be great without doing the work because doing the work is hard and involves failure. It involves adversity and I just want to fly.
I can't fly and its unreasonable to think I can. I can't run an IRONMAN Triathlon in 9 hours, so it's unreasonable to compare myself to someone who can. But, it is reasonable to aspire to that end. To learn from the established and work towards a goal... Over time.
It's not always reaching the goal thats important. Most often, its what we learn on the journey thats the real victory. Thats the real benefit of a goal.
To what end do you strive?
and Tom Voss, who were living with in darkness with the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Moral Injury casting a shadow on their true selves and preventing them from being the men they wanted to be for themselves and for their loved ones. These two veterans, who were diagnosed and treated for PTSD, were done waiting for their sun to rise, for their therapy and medications to "cure" them and they yearned for something more, they yearned for an inner peace that they had control over. Ultimately, Anthony and Tom embarked on a 150 day pilgrimage walk from Wisconsin to California in an effort to better understand themselves, their fears, their anger, their anxieties, and ultimately find peace with the world around them.
Project Echelon is almost one year old, founded April 1, 2017. Our journey, our story is our own version of "the walk." We started out with more questions than we had answers, and believe when I say there are still A LOT of questions, but those questions are starting to have more clarity and our path to the sunrise is becoming more distinct. As a civilian, non-veteran it can sometimes be hard to identify with the questions asked or the struggles shared, it can be difficult to find an entry point and provide "the right words." But in my journey, I have learned that my role is more about empathy, listening, and supporting than it is about providing, fixing, or curing. My role is to support the Echelon, help break the wind, and make the sunrise easier to see.
After having the opportunity to meet and speak with Anthony and Tom, it was clear our work with Project Echelon is good work and that we are on the right path. We are excited for the new opportunities and relationships that are presenting themselves as we expand our Echelon of support and share our story with more veterans, their families, and the community. We invite you to join us in our journey by following us on social media or connecting with us through our Contact Page.
We are walking the good walk, the sun is rising... and its beautiful!
Take-aways and insights from last night's event: