On Saturday I picked up Continuing Actions, by Dan Sheehan. It had been sent as a gift, so out of courtesy I thought I should at least take a look. (I get about one book a day in the mail.)
I wound up reading it in one sitting. It is really good, one of the best things I’ve read about coming home from war. It is much less clinical than most books and much more straight talk.
Two things set it apart: First, it is written by a Marine for soldiers and Marines. Example: You’re so jarhead tough you think you don’t have to discuss your emotions? “Get over it. This shit is real, it can really destroy you and your family, and you have to get over this hang-up about ‘emotions’ and move on.”
Second, it emphasizes that coming home is an essential part of the warrior’s journey. Compartmentalization was necessary for surviving in combat. But now it keeps you wired up. So de-compartmentalization is required to mentally come all the way home.
You’re not a syndrome, he argues. You’re a warrior who went through some defining moments and now you need to understand them. Right now you’re hunkered down behind the hesco barriers on your mental FOB, taking indirect fire from self-doubt, anxiety, depression, guilt and rage. You’ve learned some uncomfortable things about humankind and maybe about yourself. He writes of a friend who had to make a quick decision in combat. “His conscious decision to kill the boy was in direct conflict with his self-image as a good, caring person. The fact that the boy lived didn’t matter in the least. He’d made the decision to kill him—and now he knew what he was capable of.”
You need to get outside the wire and conduct patrols to deal with those things, he advises. Until you do that, you’re gonna be screwed up. “If you spend your life hiding behind a mask of strength, Hollywood heroism, or some shallow concept of warrior-hood, then nobody will ever truly know you.”
His recommendations also differ in some ways from the clinicians. Instead of seeing risk-taking activities such as parachuting or motorcycle racing as things to be avoided, he sees them as necessary—as long as they are done right. These people are natural risk takers, he notes. “The activity should be enough to give you the tingle of danger, not the intensity of actually dancing with death. You’ve done that and survived.”
He offers some very specific steps about how to proceed, and also some guardrails about when to call in a friend or a professional for help.
--Tom Ricks, Bestselling author of Fiasco, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, contributing editor at Foreign Policy Magazine, and Senior Advisor on National Security at The New America Foundation.
Continuing Actions: A Warrior's Guide to Coming Home won a Bronze Medal in the 2016 Independent Publishers Book Awards, "Psychology" category.
Continuing Actions: A Warrior's Guide to Coming Home won Gold in the 2015 Nautilus Book Awards, "Personal Growth" category.