A MATE is more than just a friend, writes Port Kennedy Sub-Branch President Steve Elliott.
I OVERHEARD an interesting chat between a Veteran and a young country boy in Lake Grace a few months ago.
They were sharing a beer at the local pub and looked like they’d been there a while, given the number of empties on the table. The young cockie was telling stories of farm life – seeding, harvesting, shooting, fishing – and from where I sat, it sounded ideal.
The Veteran, who must have lived in the bush at one stage, was jousting back with his version of similar tales. That was until he went a bit quiet. His talk shifted from country life to deployment – and how he’d then taken up residence in the city.
“I have to live in the city now,’’ says the Veteran, “…….. need to be close to the psych.’’
With that, the young country boy spun around and asked what that was. A pretty straight-forward response came from the Vet: he’s a bloke, like a Doctor, that you talk to about your problems, issues, feelings and such.
Full of innocence, the country lad looked at the Vet and simply asked: “Don’t you have any mates?’’
A mate is more than just a friend and is a term that implies a sense of shared experience, mutual respect and unconditional assistance.
It got me thinking about how we appear to have done a complete turnaround in our ability to talk and listen ….. when it counts. How many times have we heard: “My Dad was in the war, but I don’t know what he did ‘cos he never talked about it…”?
I remember going down to the RSL with my uncle as a kid. All they talked about was combat, mates who were no longer alive, and they laughed about what I thought were silly little things! It was almost like a valve, releasing the pressure until it was bearable – and that would be it for 12 months.
Was it the mates they shared hell with who enabled the floodgates to open? Did they have a special key to open them up? Was it the environment, surrounded by mates, memorabilia, uniforms, hats and the bugle playing the Last Post? I think a bit of everything – everything that changed their lives forever.
You know, I don’t really think it is just one thing but a combination of many – maybe the strongest of all being the olfactory memory, certain smells ripping the Veteran out of his relaxed lounge chair and instantly back into their own living hell.
What I see is that it is our responsibility to supply the environment and create a safe haven for those who gave so much for us.
One of the hardest things to do is to reverse the instance of social isolation. A sufferer of PTSD, or otherwise damaged, sitting at home – usually alone and perhaps in pain – may start to drink to excess, abuse prescription drugs and, before they know it, they have that Big Black Dog chasing them and unfortunately become a statistic.
Kevin Costner, in the movie A Field of Dreams, said build it and they will come. I have not heard better advice. Let’s turn our ESOs into places that are open and inviting, while communicating with as many members of our community as possible (remember, Veterans are also community members).
And most importantly: be that mate, use your assets in the right proportion – two ears for listening and one mouth for talking. Listen and embrace your mate, make him/her want to get out of the house – let them make more friends who share those experiences.