Episode 277 Scott DeLuzio Dealing with Guilt and Shame: Coping Strategies for Veterans Transcript

This transcript is from episode 277, Dealing with Guilt and Shame: Coping Strategies for Veterans.

Scott DeLuzio: [00:00:00] Thanks for tuning in to the Drive On Podcast where we are focused on giving hope and strength to the entire military community. Whether you’re a veteran, active duty, guard, reserve, or a family member, this podcast will share inspirational stories and resources that are useful to you. I’m your host, Scott DeLuzio, and now let’s get on with the show.

We’ve all heard the stories from other veterans. It should have been me. Who got blown up or shot or killed in that accident? I shouldn’t be here.

It should be me.

Shame and guilt. Crop up and survivor’s guilt happens when someone survives this kind of incident. And somebody else doesn’t.

And in a way, it sort of makes sense. We’re all really interconnected as a team in the military. We’ll do anything to protect each other to the man to your right, the mint to your left. [00:01:00]

We’ll do anything to protect each other, that you can actually start to feel guilty that you survived when someone else didn’t.

You’re going to feel ashamed. Uh, imagine coming home. Uh, and having to look the mother or father. The spouse or the children. Of the fallen in the eye.

You may already feel guilty that you’re still here.

And now you start to feel embarrassed or ashamed. That when you meet the family. They are going to start to blame you for their loved one’s death.

And this type of stuff can happen from combat. Related experiences. We. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars, other wars that we’ve been in, um, It very easily can happen from combat related experiences. Right. And. In combat, you might have to shoot. A child or a woman. Uh, if you don’t, another soldier might get killed, but if you [00:02:00] do.

I mean, seriously, kill a kid. What kind of monster are you like?

That kind of thought process is what goes through your head.

It changes. Everything that you once thought about yourself and then they call this a moral injury. And I was faced with that exact same decision when I was in Afghanistan. Uh, and while I didn’t end up shooting the kid, it’s still mess with my mind.

I thought to myself, what kind of person am I? I thought I was the type of person who would protect kids or other innocent people. And here I was with. Uh, weapon pointed at one.

Now that’s a moral injury. Which made me feel ashamed of who I became.

But it wasn’t me. Who became anything? It was the circumstances that I found myself in. And through counseling, I’ve been able to realize [00:03:00] that. Who I am or who I was at the time. Was a soldier who was doing his job and protecting his men. Had I not done what I did. Maybe someone could have gotten killed.

I think we need to realize that war isn’t pretty. And sometimes you might have to do some ugly things. And this is one of those. I’m sure other people have different stories. Maybe they did pull the trigger. Maybe they did kill the kid. Maybe they did shoot the woman. Um, Maybe they were armed, maybe they thought they were armed and they weren’t, you know, this type of thing.

Just plays over in your mind over and over. And you think yourself, what type of person am I really.

And then when you do survive, And incident. Something that happens. Your, your buddy got blown up. He took your place in the truck on that day. And.

Ran over an IED. And [00:04:00] he was the one who got killed, but not you, you were on the other side of the truck and you survived or he got shot because he took point and you were supposed to be there instead. And you start thinking of yourself. That should have been me.

Uh, it could even happen to a medic where a medic is faced with a. Two soldiers who were, who were injured. And he goes and treats one. Uh, and that one. He’s maybe he’s able to save. Maybe he’s not. And then the other one doesn’t make it because he didn’t get the medical treatment that he needed in time.

Um, and so now you might be dealing with, oh, well, had I treated that person first? They would have survived. And this other person, maybe they would have survived too, or they weren’t going to make it anyways. I made the wrong choice and I picked the wrong person. These types of things play over in people’s minds. And.

And it makes them feel the shame, [00:05:00] the guilt, the. Just these negative emotions that come with. This whole thought process. Th these, these, uh, situations that you find yourself in. And there may even be things that. Occur outside of combat. We were talking a lot about combat right now, but. You could deal with trauma outside of combat as well. You might have.

Let’s say you had too much to drink and you call the buddy to come pick you up. But on the way there. They were killed in a car accident. To come pick you up. Um, And so you might think that you should be the one who was killed instead. Because you were the one who was stupid and had too much to drink.

But if you were to go back in time and do things differently, If you had this magic time machine and you went back in time and you’re like, okay, I know what I know now I’m going to do things differently. I’m just going to get behind the wheel of the car and I’m going to drive. I myself home instead of calling my buddy, because I don’t want my buddy to get killed. [00:06:00]

Not only could you hurt yourself or kill yourself in this situation because you got behind the wheel. You’re had too much to drink. And you go wrap your car around a tree or telephone pole or something. But you also could get into an accident with another car, another vehicle, or drive through somebody’s house or something.

You end up killing a whole family. Because you decided to get behind the wheel.

I think it’s important for us to realize that. What happened happened? It, you can’t change what had happened. You have to make the best decision from the situation that you find yourself in and in a case like that, where you get behind the wheel. Uh, or sorry, you, you had too much to drink and you call somebody for help. That’s the best decision that you could have made. You can’t have a crystal ball and know the future of what’s going to happen to your friend. You have to assume.

That like any other time that anyone gets in the car that they’re going to make it to their destination, safe and sound.

Otherwise, no one would ever get in [00:07:00] the car and drive their car. No one would ever go anywhere. You just stay in your house and lock yourself away.

Um, sometimes there isn’t a great decision to be made, but in a case like this. It’s pretty easy to see that you would have made the right decision. If you called for someone to come help you. Even if something did eventually happen to them, that was bad.

So. The VA. Has done. A bunch of studies on things like shame and its link to. Suicidal thoughts.

And these studies and there’ve been multiple studies. It’s not just one, there’s been a bunch of studies and papers written, and a bunch of research has gone into this. Um, still more research needs to be done about this, but. They show evidence at shame and guilt. Click the link to an increase in suicidal thoughts. Suicidal ideation is what they call it.

Um, [00:08:00] in veterans with PTSD. And one study found that shame may represent a key link between PTSD and suicidal thoughts. Among veterans and it went on to indicate that shame. Actually fully accounted for the effects of PTSD on SU suicidal ideation. And another study, connected shame to the rise in verbal aggression, amongst vets with PTSD.

Um, I’m not entirely sure. I’m not part of this research study or anything like that. I’m not entirely sure why. And unfortunately, The people who are involved, don’t entirely understand it either. They still need to do more research because they’re not sure why shame plays such a big role in veterans with PTSD and having suicidal thoughts. But if I was to have a guess,

On why this might be, and this is just a complete off the wall guests. It’s not. Based on anything. It’s just my gut feel on this. [00:09:00] If I was to guess why. There might be this increase in. Suicidal thoughts based on shame or guilt that you might have. Been experiencing. My thought here is that.

You’re ashamed too. Uh, about what happened and you don’t want to even admit that it happened. It’s too painful to even bring it up. So maybe. Talking to a therapist and in bringing it up to a therapist to you is too painful to do or talking to a friend or a loved one. Is too painful to do. Uh, you don’t even want to admit that it happened.

You don’t want to hear those words spoken out loud.

It’s too painful for you to do that.

But it’s eating you up inside. The shame. I should, I shouldn’t have let that person go. Or I sh I should have been the one who was there instead. The guilt. Uh, of not doing all that you could, in the case of like that medic that we were [00:10:00] talking about, I should have been able to. Protect that that person or help that person. Uh, I should’ve been able to.

Uh, save both of them. I just didn’t do my job well. And they feel guilty about that.

It gets so hard to live with. That those thoughts are constantly in your mind. And. When you don’t talk about them, you don’t want to hear those words spoken out loud.

Started thinking of ways to turn those thoughts off. And that’s my, that’s my thought. Is. Why. Why would shame increase? That those suicidal thoughts or ideation.

And if you think about other cultures too, it kind of makes sensors. Uh, some other cultures, Japanese culture, where, uh, Shane is a big thing. Um, you know, you don’t want to dishonor your family or yourself or, or anything. Uh, historically in Japanese [00:11:00] culture, they. Would take their lives. If they brought shame upon their family.

Um, and that’s.

Just the way things were dealt with. I’m not saying that it’s a right way to deal with it. It’s just the way that people had dealt with things in the past. And. I can sort of understand the thought process. I can’t. Say I’m on board with it and like, yeah, that’s the right solution, obviously. But.

When they’re thinking about all of these. Veterans in these studies who. Feel the shame, they feel the guilt and it’s linked to the suicidal ideation that they are experiencing.

I mean in a way it sorta makes sense. Um, Um,

but there needs to be more done. Um, and we need to be able to cope with these things better. To manage the guilt and shame that we might feel from. Different situations that we might find ourselves in. [00:12:00] As a brother of a soldier who was killed in action. So my brother was killed in Afghanistan, 2010.

I never once blamed a single American for what happened to him. I didn’t blame. The soldiers who were on the ground that day with him. I didn’t play anyone in his chain of command for sending him out on that mission. That he was killed on, uh, none of them not, not a squad leader or platoon Sergeant, not his company commander or anyone in his battalion or brigade.

I didn’t even blame the president or anyone else in between. For any of that?

‘ cause you know, who was responsible for his death. The guy who pulled the trigger.

And that guy’s dead now. So I’ve got no one else to blame. I have no one else to. Point my fingers at and say, you did this, you did that. You didn’t do enough. You should have done more. I can’t do that.

There’s there’s nobody else to blame. And so for the people who were on the ground that day, And the people [00:13:00] who maybe. We’re in his chain of command and maybe feel some guilt or shame. About what had happened. I don’t see it that way. And if you feel like. You’re guilty of doing something. The only thing you’re guilty of is beating yourself up.

Over something you had no control over. You couldn’t have. Looked into the future in known that there was this ambush that was going to take place that would have taken his life. If you had known. You’d have done something about it. You would’ve said something and said, Hey, I, I see this thing coming up ahead.

You would have raised a red flag and it would have been communicated and then you would have done something different. Okay, but you didn’t know, and you can’t tell. The future.

And you might think, oh, but my case is different.

I really did get someone killed. Or seriously injured, maybe. You might feel shame or guilt about that as well? My, my. I’ve said that [00:14:00] you swapped seats with the guy before. Uh, you rolled out on the mission and his side of the truck got hit by the ID. And he got killed and it should’ve been you instead of him.

But think about all that, the teeny tiny seemingly insignificant decisions that you make. Every single day.

Could you really put the weight of somebody else’s life. On every single one of those decisions. The weight of every single person that you know, that you care about is riding on every single seemingly insignificant decision. Where you sit in a truck. Where. You’re on the left side. They’re on the right side.

They’re in the passenger seat. You’re behind the driver.

Th that is a seemingly insignificant decision. But it was a decision that was made. And you got in the truck and you rolled out. And you hit an IED. You couldn’t possibly have known what was going to happen. Sure you could prepare for those things, [00:15:00] but it could have hit on your side of the vehicle to.

So had you switched, maybe the driver was driving on. You know, the, the right lane. And so the left lane. Of the road and it hit your side instead of theirs. Or. Vice versa. You can’t tell these things. These things are out of your control. And what if you decided to take the highway. You’re back home now and you take the highway driving to wherever it is that you’re going instead of the back roads.

And a truck on the highway jackknifes and kills a passenger in your car. Was that your fault? I mean, you did choose to take the highway that day. You could have taken the back roads and avoided this altogether. But does that mean that you can never take the highway ever again? So you have to give yourself some grace here. I mean, given the circumstances.

You made the right choice. The highway was a faster choice. In this case, right? It was the way that you’re going to get to where you’re going. [00:16:00] Uh, Maybe you’re you’re in a rush. You’re you’re going to miss a flight or something and you had to take the faster route or there’s less traffic on the highway. Um, just happened to be that one truck that.

For some reason. Pull Jack knife and, and, uh, cause that accident. But given the circumstances you made the right choice, you, you left the house thinking to yourself, how do I get from a to B. And accomplish this mission. The mission being get there. Quickly. Got there safely highways are generally pretty safe.

But freak accidents, accidents happen.

You know, it’s easy for anyone to be a Monday morning quarterback. And point out all the things that you could’ve done or should’ve known about. Even if you did make the wrong decision. So what? You’re not perfect. And guess what that makes you, it makes you human.

So. When you are dealing with these situations, you have to. [00:17:00]

Look at what’s going on right now in the moment. And practicing. Mindfulness has been shown to help you increase your ability to cope with these difficult emotions like guilt and shame and other. Uh, difficult emotions that you may be feeling. It’s going to help you become more focused and aware of the.

What’s going on in the present moment instead of dwelling on the past. And as you learn to be more mindful of the situations. That you’re in and the present moment. You learned to observe what’s happening in your body and in your mind. And when those difficult emotions do present themselves. It also helps you to process them in a healthy way.

Now. That’s like one piece of the puzzle. You may need more. You may be more help than that. You may need to go out and seek professional help. Um, there are different forms of therapies that are available. Um, [00:18:00] Definitely talk to a professional about these different forms of therapy to help you with us, to help you process through the shame, the guilt, cognitive processing therapy and prolonged exposure therapy are two ways that you can.

Work through these things and process the emotions. Um, But you do that with the help of a therapist. So yes, you’re going to have to talk to somebody about. These negative emotions that you might be feeling. The VA, the VA, uh, even has an app for your smartphone. Called the mindfulness coach app.

Uh, and then I’ll put a link to that in the show notes, but it’s an app that just kind of helps guide you through some different mindfulness practices that will. Ultimately help strengthen that resilience. On your end.

But. Just know that guilt and shame are, unfortunately they’re, they’re common amongst military veterans and service members. [00:19:00] But they don’t have to take over your life. Um, the good news is that you’re not alone in that. So there are other people out there who feel the same way that you do. You’re not sitting there.

Alone dealing with these emotions. Like nobody else knows what I’m going through. No one else can talk to me about this because I’m the only one in the world who knows what I’m feeling. There’s other people.

No matter how bad you think something that you did, or maybe didn’t do. Uh, how bad any of that is? It’s not as bad as you think. You know, What happened, like I said before, what happened happened? Things are done. Now you have a new set of circumstances in front of you, and you have to make the best decision with the information that you have available. Just like.

If you were leaving that bar and you call the buddy to come pick you up. That was the best decision that you could have made. Given the circumstances you called somebody to come in and help you. You needed the help. [00:20:00] That was the best.

Decision given the circumstances that you had in front of you. Um, now a new set of circumstances. Uh, have arrised now. Your buddy got into an accident and they were either really injured, really messed up. Maybe they got killed. In this, this accident, but.

You’ve. Now got a new set of circumstances in front of you and you have to make the next best decision that you can given the information that you have.

Um, I’m pretty sure your buddy. I would not want you to. Waste your life away. Blaming yourself, feeling guilty, feeling shame.

Because of what happened to him. It’s not like you’re the one who. Killed them in this accident. Maybe. They weren’t bad driver and they made a bad decision and they, they lost control of their car. [00:21:00] Or maybe somebody else was on the road who shouldn’t have been on the road. And they’re the ones who caused the accident. It wasn’t you who caused the accident. It was somebody else.

And I’m not saying you always just pass the buck and pass blame onto somebody else because that isn’t a hundred percent helpful all the time, either. There’s other circumstances where. You’re going to have to. Face the fact that maybe you did screw up. Okay. But again, That’s a new set of information that comes in. You now have to make the next best decision with all the available information that you have in front of you.

So. Just know that no matter whether you experienced guilt and shame from combat or some other traumatic event, there is help available. You don’t need to feel ashamed to ask her to help, and you don’t need to go through this alone.

And when you do ask for help. You won’t be judged for whatever it was that you did or didn’t do. [00:22:00] Uh, when I first told my therapist that at one point. I had to decide whether or not to kill a kid. My initial thought before even bringing it up, it was nerve wracking to me. My initial thought was at the therapist with think that I’m this terrible person. They wouldn’t want to talk to me anymore. And that was going to be end of it. And I’m going to be forced to figure this out on my own.

And. In my mind. It totally makes sense. Why wouldn’t they. React that way. I mean, I thought I was a terrible person. I didn’t want to deal with it on my own. Um, So why wouldn’t somebody else feel the same way, but. We are our own worst enemy. Sometimes in our heads, we beat ourselves up over the smallest, most insignificant details.

And when you have an objective third-party out there, somebody who’s trained how to deal with this type of stuff. They’re going to treat you. Much differently than you treat yourself. And in my experience, exact opposite of what I thought was going [00:23:00] to happen, ended up happening. There was no judgment.

No disgusted looks or nasty comments. I wasn’t called a baby killer. Like so many people from the Vietnam era were called. The therapist is there to help. And. They’re not going to try to make things worse. They’re not going to call you names. They’re not going to beat you up. They’re not going to make you feel even worse than you did when you first walked through the door, they’re there to help.

So you have to allow them to do their job. You. You have to let them.

Go through the process. If they’re trained in to be able to help you. Nope. Maybe the process works for you. Maybe it doesn’t. I don’t know, but you have to give it a try. ’cause I can guarantee you right now. If you don’t. At least give it a try. It won’t work. It can’t work. It’s impossible. It won’t work. If you don’t.

Give it a good faith effort. You actually have to try to make it work. [00:24:00]

So if you’re dealing with feelings of shame or guilt, or even if those feelings are making you think about ending it. Go talk to someone professionally. They can help you realize that. You don’t need to carry the guilt and shame around with you. The way that you have.

Sure. These thoughts might creep back in from time to time, but they’ll help you figure out ways to manage those thoughts. And realize that there are nothing more than just thoughts. Um, in my experience, it’s hard though. It’s not easy. It’s not like you’re going to walk into an appointment with a therapist day one, and they’re going to give you this magic pill. That’s going to solve everything. And you’re going to all of a sudden feel better because if it was that easy, I would just tell you exactly what they told me right now.

And boom, everything will be great. Everyone would be healed and we’d never have any problems with this ever again. It’s not that easy. Even for me, I’ve been [00:25:00] in therapy for several years. Dealing with. These types of feelings.

But I’m not giving up.

I try one thing, maybe it works. Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it helps a little bit, but not enough. And so I try something else. I’m not going to quit on this. I’m going to keep. Working at it until I. Feel some sense of. Uh, ability to manage this on my own.

And that day might come next month. That day may come next year. It may come several years from now. Who knows, but I’m not going to give up. I’m going to keep trying. And yeah, some days are harder than others.

Especially around certain holidays. Anniversaries birthdays, things like that, those, those types of things. Tend to make things a little bit worse.


I’m going to keep trying. [00:26:00]

And I think you should too. I think everyone does. Deserves a chance.

Too. Get better. And not let their past. Control them.

So go. Ask for help. Don’t be ashamed.

No, one’s judging you. Any worse than you’re judging yourself. So go get help.

Thanks for listening to the Drive On Podcast. If you want to support the show, please check out Scott’s book, Surviving Son on Amazon. All of the sales from that book go directly back into this podcast and work to help veterans in need. You can also follow the Drive On Podcast on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and wherever you listen to podcasts.

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