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Healing the Angry Warrior

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger, Anger leads to hate, Hate leads to Suffering.” – Yoda

Ever notice how many movies take a hard look at “unplanned for” consequences, which end up causing more pain and suffering when they were intended to be great solutions for mankind? Minority Report. I, Robot. Wall-E. Terminator. The Last Samurai. So many others.

They all have one thing in common. Some good idea fairy threw an idea out without considering the third and fourth level effects it would have. They all riff off of the one classic mythological story of Pandora’s Box. Something starts out good and ends very, very poorly. And once the cat is out of the bag, they cannot put it back in before it does significant damage. Quickly something seemingly innocuous becomes toxic, and uncontainable. Such is the case with anger.

Something triggered my anger this morning, and I threw on some Rage Against the Machine when I hopped in the shower because I felt an irrational need to have something with which to identify. And the anger washed over me just as warm and comforting as the water. If we get honest, down to brass tacks, we love anger. It is probably the most productive emotion, especially for men. The narcotic effect of Love and Adoration wears off. Sadness and Melancholy just seem to go nowhere. However Anger, “St. Anger around my neck, he never gets respect.” Yet, if you have ever injected yourself one-too-many times with a bubbling spoon full of rage, you know that you become addicted to how it makes you feel. Powerful and Invulnerable. Love makes you vulnerable, easily open to hurt. Sadness makes you feel useless and weak. But Anger…oh, sweet anger…it keeps you going. When you are angry, you will drive on and forget to eat, forget to stop, forget to relent. Anger takes over.

And so, I have had to come to terms with “the beast in me” as Johnny Cash would describe it. When I feel the cage begin to rattle, I close my eyes and find my center. I reinforce those “fragile bars,” and try my damndest to keep it from lashing out. I guess that’s why I like the Hulk so much, because identify with him. If you look at all superheroes, their strength is tied to their weakness. Tony Starks’ iron suit is simply a metaphor for the means in which he camouflages his insecurity by over compensating with a false narcissistic self-assurance. (maybe that’s why I love Iron Man, too.) Bruce Wayne’s weakness is being known by everyone as a nice and overly pampered playboy, so he becomes an unknown who trolls the alleyways and dips down into his Id for a little while to quench his inability to throw off the obligation of uprightness. Bruce Banner just happens to release his rage-monster through an experiment go awry, a modern Jekyll-Hyde amalgam. But do you really think that rage wasn’t lurking in there? I would contend that in the experiment, the true nature came through. Everyone else thinks that Bruce has to keep from getting angry in order to not have “an episode.” We learn his secret in the Avengers’ movie, “I’m always angry.” Yet, Bruce becomes most powerful and productive when he learns that he can control, channel and focus it. As you watch these superheroes grow up, you watch this beautiful story of boys becoming men, learning to find the balance of great power and great responsibility.

And so it is with soldiers. Every morning at Fort Stewart we sing the Dogfaced Soldier song. We reiterate that “they’re tearing me down, to build me over again…we eat raw meat for breakfast every day…feed me ammunition…you’re dog-faced soldier is A-Okay.” Really? Can I accurately describe someone who is so voraciously starving that they will rip through the raw flesh of an animal as “A-Okay?” Sounds like some half-beast out of an Eli Roth movie. It’s this way around the military, though. My favorite cadence from Chaplain Officer Basic, “A yellow bird, with a yellow bill, was sitting on, my window sill. I lured him in, with a piece of bread, and then I smashed, his little head.” We sang that while we marched in CHAPLAIN SCHOOL. Allow that to sink in. The culminating event of the Infantry Basic Training is a march in from the field, up to a secluded hilltop for a ceremonial induction into the brotherhood of the blue cord. As they climb the hill, through the trees with torches lining the way, speakers blast a Drowning Pool Song that goes:

“One, nothing wrong with me
Two, nothing wrong with me
Three, nothing wrong with me
Four, nothing wrong with me

One, something's got to give
Two, something's got to give
Three, something's got to give

Let the bodies hit the floor
Let the bodies hit the floor
Let the bodies hit the floor”

Now let me propose something. We have to do this. We have to tear down the nice, calm demeanor of the civilian and create someone who can fight. That is the job of the military. Without hesitation. We exist to fight the nation’s battles and win. We do not take up arms against our aggressor to make pecan pies. And we have to be conditioned to become desensitized to it, in order that we may remain in the fight and win. And our greatest weapon in that fight? Fear. Fear of dying and not making it back. But that Fear leads to anger, anger against the aggressor who would seek to kill us and prevent us from returning home. And if we harbor that anger long enough it become hate, fueled by the dehumanization of our enemy. He is no longer another man with a back story. We He is definitely not a person, because killing another human is an appalling idea that is cognitively incompatible with our personal concept as an American soldier who values honor, integrity and selfless service. And tapping in to that anger becomes easy, and second nature. But the most scary problem occurs when everything and everyone becomes a faceless enemy. Luckily, the resultant mental capacity of someone who has suffered through consistent high-intensity trauma is not conditioned to begin to feel as though everything is a threat. (Sarcasm).

So, spouses, that may be the reason why your significant other with significant trauma can go from zero to sixty in two words flat. It in no way excuses their behavior or words should they choose to act out in a destructive manner, but it does explain why they may later describe a feeling of being out of control of their response. It takes great practice to retain composure while the internal state of being is escalating. It is in those moments when you see your warrior physically stopping themselves, backing down and remaining quiet that he is reinforcing the bars on the cage of the animal. He is trying diligently to not “hulk out.” He is resisting his conditioning, and if he says “please stop,” he is giving you his best fair warning that should you desire to escalate he will gladly (and with a sick pleasure) meet you on that field of battle. For he knows how to numb out, how to push aside the haunting thoughts of the safety of friend and family, for the sake of a battle-focused self-preservation. And in that moment, he is attempting to retain the shreds and vestiges of a soul that he has brought back from war. And should he choose numbness and self-preservation, he will annihilate all in his path…for that is what he has been trained to do. It is not right. It just is.

So Warriors. You must, as the warriors of old have known for centuries, find a means to harness and bring into submission the fuel of anger. As gasoline, if left uncorked it will create a toxic and combustible environment, but if used correctly it will enable our vehicles to move us along with speed and efficiency. Lovers of Warriors, assist your warrior in finding flowing peace and tranquility through prayer, meditation, silence and guided imagery. Set down who is right or wrong, and kneel in submission to the Peace of God, which MUST take over the situation. Blame and shame will be gasoline on the fire of anger. Peace and forgiveness is soothing water. This takes and is practice, and you will find healing therein. I must admit, it is very Jedi.