What Is Your 'Vietnam'?

"You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience by which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along." -- Eleanor Roosevelt

When my father was just a young man he was drafted to serve in the Vietnam War. At the time, he was young, smart, athletic, and open to unlimited possibilities for his future. Yet he still went to Vietnam, leaving behind the comforts of his home, his family and friends, and the immediate pursuit of his academic and athletic dreams. As one might imagine, he was terrified, confused, and like so many Americans, uncertain of America's presence in the war.

But, in spite of his extreme trepidation, my dad honored his country and served nearly two years in Vietnam. He returned home safely to later reconnect with my mother, to marry and start a family. Now, one could find many reasons for my father to experience intense anger, depression, frustration, or isolation from experiencing one of the most horrific events in U.S. history. But, that's not my father. As one of the most positive people I know, my father has never spoken a negative sentiment about his experiences in Vietnam. In fact, despite suffering, unknowingly, of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and witnessing his entire life flash before him, my father always said, and continues to say, "I don't regret Vietnam. How can I regret it? If I regret it then I regret my life and who I am. Vietnam made me who I am."

Throughout my childhood and adulthood I have heard my father mention Vietnam quite often. I imagine not a day goes by that a memory flashes through his mind. However, rather than bemoan about his past, he uses his Vietnam experience of pain and trauma as his barometer in coping with life's inevitable challenges and setbacks. He says, "If it ain't Vietnam then I can handle it". If he can survive Vietnam then there's nothing else he cannot only survive from, but thrive!

When I painfully lost my dog two years ago, my heart turned inside out with pain, loneliness, and despair. My beloved pet was my comfort and constant companion for nearly 14 years. The routine of caring for him filled my own voids and gave me purpose, which I never quite understood until he was no longer with me. During my grief, my father lovingly and patiently comforted me. He not only wanted to comfort his daughter, but he also recognized and was very familiar with my pain. He would say, "Sweetie, you have experienced your Vietnam!" He was right. I had experienced my deepest, most gut-wrenching pain and isolation. And although I wished for my little companion back, in a paradoxical way, it served as my greatest lesson and miracle.

As Eleanor Roosevelt states,

"You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience you really stop to look fear in the face."

Our experiences and traumatic events in life may vary but our experience of pain is the thread that connects us all. However, the irony is that our deepest fear and pain often prepares and strengthens us. When we experience a life-shattering episode, life often takes on a different, more malleable character. We may cultivate the practice of letting go of the smaller, mundane, and perhaps trivial aspects of life. If it's not "Vietnam", then we can survive.

In life, bad things do happen to us and we are challenged with life's fluctuations and everyday common stressors. But, when we reflect and compare them to our greatest challenge, we can recognize that we not only coped, but we survived. So, we can also survive this. Through our great challenge we may gain strength, knowledge, and courage.

So, what is "your Vietnam"? How can you use "your Vietnam" to help you cope with life's uncertainties and everyday upsets? When bad or unexpected things happen, consider thinking about "your Vietnam" and the ways in which it has strengthened and prepared you to face fear and challenges. If you survived "Vietnam" then you have been equipped to survive other obstacles. It all begins in our mindset. I offer you to consider "your Vietnam" as your emotional barometer. When bad things happen weigh them fairly against your deepest anguish and upheaval that you not only survived, but also lived to perhaps share your story and inspire others.