It is often said that those who serve together in the military or police form a deep bond that the outside world cannot understand. These individuals are willing to sacrifice themselves in order to serve their brothers and sisters.
One such soldier came to Acres for Life. A young marine who’d served multiple deployments and struggled since returning home. He had anger management issues. He used drugs and alcohol to numb the pain. He had attempted suicide multiple times. He got in trouble with the law. Transitioning to civilian life was a lonely struggle.
It was understandable really, for far too much had been asked of this man. It was his job to pick up the battered bodies and body parts of his brothers and sisters in combat. He had wrestled limbs away from stray dogs. This selfless act to return whole bodies to their families had left him entirely broken.
He was angry that God had let him have such an unimaginable experience. He felt abandoned and guilty that he’d survived what so many others had not.
He had tried counseling. He had tried lots of things. Nothing worked. Thankfully, his probation officer referred him to Acres for Life. He arrived leary of how horses could be of any help to him, yet willing to try anything.
His stature large, his demeanor quiet and polite. He entered the pasture and began to have a playful interaction with a mini horse. The mini flipped the baseball cap off the soldier’s head and the soldier laughed. They continued this routine for a while. During this time the large lead horse kept watching him. As the soldier moved about the pasture the lead horse never lost sight of him.
As his session was coming to a close, the soldier commented to the therapist that the time spent with the mini had made him feel care-free, something he hadn’t felt in a very long time. Then he asked what the deal was with the big horse. He had noticed it staring at him. He sensed the large animal’s presence even from a distance. He decided he’d better go meet the horse and find out for himself.
The soldier turned and began walking toward the lead horse and as he took that first step forward the lead horse began moving toward the soldier. Step by step the distance between the two closed. As they met in the middle the soldier reached out his hand, the horse put his nose to the soldier’s hand, and laid down at the soldier’s feet. The soldier immediately dropped to his knees and buried his head into the horse’s side. The horse wrapped its neck around the soldier as if to embrace him and the soldier began to sob.
For this soldier, this moment was a turning point. For him, in his journey, this horse symbolized God. He left feeling for the first time that God had not abandoned him, but rather kept watch over him.
The soldier continued to visit Acres for Life as he worked through the trauma he’d experienced. The EAGALA model is successful in part because clients are not asked or expected to relive the horrors they’ve experienced. There is no way to erase the brutal reality. However, there are ways to move forward from it.
This soldier could’ve continued to struggle. The end was sadly predictable. No one could be expected to be fine after what he’d gone through and yet our current system seems to ask just that of so many. If you are reading this and know someone who is suffering from PTSD please know there is hope.