Catherine Lieb – Listening to Stories of War

It Takes Courage to Listen


My plan was to launch this blog with posts about PTSD, its origins, the controversy over diagnostic labels, etc.  It took weeks of struggle for me to hear the voice inside saying, an intellectual discussion about PTSD can wait.  What do you really want to write about? 

Since late August heartbreaking images have been seeping into our collective unconscious: desperate Afghans chasing airplanes, US troops holding back people pleading to get through airport gates, a US Marine grabbing a baby from raised arms and passing the child to safety over a wall topped with barbed wire.

Then came the 20th anniversary of 9/11, more destruction and grief.  Dare I write about how I feel?  Angry, helpless, sad, yes, really sad, and guilty mixed with gratitude to have such a comfortable life when others are suffering so much.

I’m thinking about veterans I knew at the VA and later in my private practice.  In 2008 when I started my VA job, most veterans requesting therapy for combat trauma were Vietnam vets.  Many of them told me it was news about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that prompted them to call mental health.  Post 9/11 veterans were starting to trickle into the clinic.  They were a different generation, fought in a different part of the world with different technology, but their psychological and moral injuries were the same. 

To the veterans I had the honor to serve, and to veterans and active-duty military I will never meet, I appreciate the sacrifices you and your families have made.  I hope you have people in your lives who are there to listen and share the burden of your losses, your sense of betrayal, or whatever current events are stirring up in you.  

To your loved ones, it takes courage and emotional resilience to listen.  I hope you have the support you need.  Most civilians have the luxury of shutting their hearts and minds off from the tragedies of war.  You do not.

To the people of Afghanistan who supported our troops, I hope my country keeps its promises to you.   And, to anyone reading this, I welcome your comments and feedback.  Writing this book has taught me that collaboration produces my best writing.  I hope you will join the conversation.  I know Listening to Stories of War will be a better book if you do.


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