Child Soldier: Where Did I Get this Gun?
Someone pulled the trigger.
I have been wounded.
I am hurt and angry, and want to shoot back.
Over and over and over again.
This is the story of life. It’s hard, and it hurts. Most of us are walking around, getting our hearts shot, shooting back, bleeding openly, or wearing so much armor we can barely move. 2020 removed much of what we hide behind and locked us in with ourselves to come face-to-face with our many wounds. We, collectively, realized we desperately need a doctor, and there are none to be found. “Get help,” they say. “Seek out a professional,” they say. All the doors are closed. The professionals are in crisis.
I am speaking emotionally, but more and more, socially and scientifically, we are waking up to the fact that emotions – the mind – drive matter. You can literally worry yourself sick, grieve your way into chronic illness, or be traumatized into brain damage. Thoughts matter. Emotions matter. Mental health matters.
Mind management is life-changing. What most of us don’t realize is that the entire world – all of society – is experienced by each of us, individually, through the filter of our own minds. Everyone lives in their own universe. What this means is that few things, in and of themselves, are good or bad, safe or dangerous, exciting or terrifying (even spiders… there are people on this planet who love spiders. I know, mind blown.) They only become what they are to us. We only see things through our own lens, which distorts and colors and interprets based on our experiences. In any given society or community, the lenses tend to be similar, because they are shaped and colored by the people around us, the way we are raised, what we believe, what we’ve experienced. So all around you, you will find similar-minded people to confirm your worldview: “You’re right, that’s stupid”; “No, that’s not acceptable”; “This is common sense”; “Everyone should understand this,” “That’s just wrong.”
To change your life is to accept a most uncomfortable idea: You will never change the entire world by making everyone agree with you, but you can change the entire world by adjusting your own lens. (And sometimes that means stepping back a while from those who shaped your lens.)
If you want your life to change, you have to change your life.
Be the change.
World peace starts within.
A single drop makes a big ripple.
On and on, we’ve heard this idea before, but use it in the wrong context. You do not grow change by starting with one, and adding members to your worldview by giving them same glasses. You start with one – yourself – and you end with one – yourself. What changes the world is not your tribe. It’s your eyes.
All this has been on my mind lately as I continue a long, excruciating, but fascinating and liberating journey through mental wellness. After 20 years on high doses of pharmaceutical antidepressants, I’m 1 year and 3 months clean of all drugs. I get depressed as an emotion, not as a lifestyle. I get anxious as a manifestation of unprocessed fear, not as a medical diagnosis. I get angry – I get triggered – when I feel unsafe. And in between, I’m doing a lot of hard work to recognize and reconceptualize all this, and experiencing peace, love, and joy like never before.
The world has not changed, people have not changed – if anything, they’ve gotten worse: more impatient, more ignorant, more angry, more hurt, more scared. Yet it bothers me less. And not because I ignore it by turning off the news and quarantining (though that helps a lot); in fact I’ve become an empath and I see it more. I care more. I feel more! But I changed my lens. My old lens saw, “I can’t even deal right now,” “People are stupid,” “They’re just evil,” “Sucks to be them.” My new lens sees, “My God, look at all the pain!” “How can I share love to the unlovable?” “How can I assist them after I’ve adjusted my own oxygen mask?” I didn’t make anyone less stupid. I simply changed my “jerk” lens to “wounded” lens. My “sinner” lens to an “afraid” lens. And it makes all the difference.
What I was meditating on this morning was that, aside from violent and forceful acts (trauma), no one can wound me. True, people hurt me all the time – not a day goes by that I am not triggered by a comment, a sound, a thought, or a look. I get hurt a lot. But when I sit, listen to my body's signals, and process my emotions, I always find that they didn’t wound me. The wound was already there. People who hurt me pick open the scab, they press a finger into the bruise, they cause more pain, but they don’t cause the raw gaping hole in my heart. They simply expose and draw attention to it. They pull the trigger, but the gun was already there.
Where did I get this gun?
This is the Work of self-healing, inner peace, mental health, mind management, forgiveness, changing the world by changing your lens: looking at all your signs and symptoms – illness, anxiety, depression, fear, mental illness, yes, even physical brain damage and idiopathic diseases – and finding the root cause. Going beyond identifying bullets and classifying wounds and binding up pains, and figuring out where did you get the gun? So you can transform it.
The gun, or the original wound, is Trauma. We are familiar with this language from PTSD: we get triggered when something reactivates the original trauma. What is life-changing is to understand that trauma isn’t just “big T” Trauma as we know it – war, assault, crime, an major accident, a near-death experience. It’s “little t” too: feeling abandoned, threatened, or unseen by a caregiver, guilt and shame over innocent mistakes, religious institutions threatening hell and damnation for mere thoughts, educational institutions controlling and threatening our futures, are all trauma. And there’s messy in-between trauma and on-going trauma (Complex PTSD), racism, politics, poverty, sexual and gender identity, illness, loneliness. All of these are rooted in the same mechanism in our brains: fear. The brain doesn’t care if you’re about to die from an enemy missile, or because you’re two years old and can’t comprehend that mother isn’t leaving you to die alone, but merely going to work. The brain only knows FEAR. Life is in danger. Sound the alarm. (Please research anxiety and the limbic system! Fascinating stuff!) Fear is always the gun. Whether that gun is a little toy water squirter or a massive missile launcher depends on how and whether or not it was ever identified, explained, and deactivated, or the trigger was pulled over and over and over again, deepening the wound.
Who gave me the gun?
Who knows it’s even there?
This makes all the difference. Why should I be angry with someone who accidentally pulled the trigger? It’s not their fault I had a gun aimed at my heart all these years. How can I hate people who pull other people’s triggers? How can I hate people who get triggered? How can I hate anyone, blame anyone, when I see that we are all armed, and most dangerous because we don’t even know it? In a very painful journey of self-discovery and liberation, I am going deeper and deeper and deeper, and realizing over and over that the people I am most angry with, the people who hurt me the most, are actually just pulling triggers. Until I get down to the person who gave me the gun. Aside from big T events, this usually occurs in childhood (because children do not have the reasoning brain structure to express, explain, or disarm – they don’t have coping skills).
Why would you give a child a gun?
The most painful, deepest, agonizing question we could all possibly wrestle with.
...Because deep down, we know everyone has one. We thought it was normal.
...Because someone gave it to me, and I don’t know what else to do with it, but pass it on.
...Because I’ve been shot at all my life, and I want help shooting back.
We can’t stop the bleeding, we can’t stop the wounding, we can’t stop the war if we can’t even identify why we all have guns in the first place. This has been key to forgiveness and healing.
There are so many layers to this. I am not judging anyone with deep, traumatic wounds who cannot forgive their shooter. I’m not saying, “Just think like this and it will all go away.” I’m not here to pull your trigger. I’m talking about mine, and in my hurt for this world, hoping that somehow it might draw attention to all our weapons (while keeping the trigger locked).
If we want disarmament, we have to start with ourselves. If we want gun control, we have to start inside.
I am speaking metaphorically of emotional and mental health. But does this apply literally too? Is the mind driving the matter here too?
More tragic shootings recently bring this to mind. The conversation always ends the same: who’s to blame? What’s the solution? Take away all the guns? Better mental health? Better surveillance? Harsher punishment? And we never find the answer, or we never implement it. We all get shot with trauma from these events. No one ever admits to pulling the trigger or planting the gun. We kick it into the bushes for another child to find.
This is where metaphor meets reality: an emotional trigger sets off a literal trigger. What if… emotional disarmament sets off literal disarmament? What if, like our mental health, the answer to social health lies within?
My heart bleeds. I rarely see evil in individuals anymore (because I no longer see it in myself). I see hurt. I see pain. I see us all walking around with loaded weapons. And whenever someone writes the book on disarmament or trigger locks or inner peace or outer peace… someone’s trigger only gets pulled more.
We are all child soldiers. Carrying weapons we were never made to hold. Dear God, teach us to lay them down.
Several resources have helped me in decommissioning my own weapons:
- "Switch On Your Brain" by Dr. Caroline Leaf - "The Body Keeps the Score" by Bessel Van der Kolk, M.D. - "The God-Shaped Brain" by Timothy R. Jennings, M.D.
- "A Mind of Your Own" by Kelly Brogan, M.D.
- "How To Do the Work" by Dr. Nicole LePera (I have not yet read this book, but following her work on Instagram has been very impactful) - "Medicating Normal" documentary and resource There are many diverse resources for various types of emotional weapons; I will never have the privilege of discovering them all! Have you been on a lens-changing journey to health and forgiveness? Drop your favorite resources in the comments!