Reflecting on the past couple of years, I now realize what a journey this has been. Not just the physical health stuff, but the mental and spiritual as well. PTSD is an insidious bastard. You don't have to be involved in big life altering events, direct combat, or direct physical abuse. The more treacherous is the slow wearing away of your sense of self in order to deal with the heightened awareness needed to survive. You lose your place. And then they send you home.
It mostly looks the same as when we left. Our people gather around; friends, family, community. They ask us questions, we tell them stories. even explaining "No, I didn't see direct combat. Some joker fired a few rockets in our general direction but my job was in the headquarters. If I was out in the field there would be nobody to do my job. I didn't get out much." Yet, you knew there were Taliban and Al Qaeda cleaning your office, emptying the toilets, delivering the water. You just didn't know WHO were Taliban or Al Qaeda. You're careful with your weapon, your ammunition, your information. You keep your eyes open. All day. Every day. Every day. It may be home, but we're not home yet.
It's not the signs, the parades, the speeches. It's not getting back to your routine. It's when you can walk down the street and not concerned about where an IED may be hidden or attack vectors. It's when you can take your kids to the mall and maintain a leisurely pace without serpentine patterns. It's when you can step aside and say "Excuse me" to someone crowding you rather than take them to the floor while reaching for zip cuffs. It's not completely freaking out when you reach for your weapon and find it's not there. It's when you realize it's not supposed to be there. It's when you finally don't reach for it at all. It's when we finally realize we don't need it. It's when we forget it. Then we're rendered safe, then we've found our place. Then we're home. Baby steps.