Leaving Vietnam at age two with my parents, as Vietnamese Boat People, has left a legacy on myself and my family that has taken me my entire lifetime to make sense of.
I have lived my life walking backwards through the snow, erasing my footsteps as I walk, leaving no trace of my existence. I trained myself not to remember, so that there would be nothing to forget.
Like many Vietnam Veterans, I learned a fundamental sense of identity shame about who I am because of my connection to a war that I wanted no part in.
As a small child, I learnt not to look into people's eyes. To avoid seeing your guilt and pity, and the ghosts of your dead and wounded relatives whose soul wounds you cannot reach either.
These themes - of historical trauma, intergenerational trauma, survivor guilt, PTSD, auto-hypnoid story-telling, vicarious survivor guilt, and impostor syndrome underpinned by fundamental identity shame - impacts refugees and military members alike, and their families.
In 2021, I was invited by Charlie Pacello to speak to Vietnam Veterans, to share my story about what happened to my family after US troop withdrawal and the subsequent Communist takeover of Vietnam.
In preparation for story-sharing with these Vietnam Veterans and Adult Children of Vietnam Veterans, I brought up the topic of war into my regular addiction recovery support group.
I've attended hundreds of addiction recovery support groups over the year, of various focuses, with topics such as: addiction recovery, addiction rock bottoms, navigating feelings, resentments, codependency, parental mental health and substance abuse, family-of-origin dynamics, childhood abuse and neglect, abandonment wounds, and trauma.
But not once has war been discussed. ***Not once.*** I own or have owned nearly every addiction recovery Daily Meditations reader in existence - all bereft of the specific mention of war.
We don't talk about war, not even in the places where we go to talk about the things that we'd rather forget.
"My husband was horribly abusive....PTSD from the Vietnam War. Drunk every day since he got back from Vietnam."
"My father was a mean m*therfucker....PTSD from World War 2."
"My grandfather left Palestine during the war with Israel and made it to the United States."
"I am a veteran and I can't unsee the things that I saw."
"My family were refugees, seeking refuge from the aftermath of war."
(That was me.)
I was horrified. Every single person in the addiction recovery meeting that day had been impacted by war. Directly or indirectly.
We need to speak truthfully about the impact of war on our ancestors, ourselves, and our descendants. On our society. Without blaming or shaming or getting all political and intellectual.
Lest we forget.
And so that we can heal.
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