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.