When dealing with battlefield injuries, we typically focus on physical suffering. But there is an inner wound that is just as crippling to daily life once it attacks its victim: Guilt, more specifically, Survivor’s Guilt. It is said that “Guilt is to the soul what pain is to the body,” and for Severa Rodriquez, this adage personally resonated. This is exactly the headspace Severa found herself in when she retired from the Marines in 2006 due to injuries sustained in Iraq. The void seemed to suck away her inner strength, and any assurance left was then swept away by the streams of survivor’s guilt stemming from the loss of a fellow Marine. Survivor’s Guilt (or Survivor’s Syndrome) is the mental condition that occurs when a person perceives themselves to have done wrong by surviving a traumatic event when others did not.
After her comrade’s helicopter was shot down, she couldn’t help but stew, “Why him? Why not me? He was married and had a daughter who he’ll never get to see grow up – he had everything to live for. I didn’t have those kinds of ties. It should have been me instead.”
These were the thoughts Severa dealt with every day. Self-judgment, blame, and a sense of looming responsibility for the tragedy seized Severa as her own emotional hostage, and her Survivor’s Guilt manifested into depression and rage.
When she returned home, she instantly withdrew from the world and erected an emotional barrier around herself. When communication was attempted, it was common of her to lash out with angry eruptions. She had thoughts of hurting herself and found herself constantly trying to distract herself from her anxious mind. Often times, in the early stages of Survivor’s Guilt, individuals can be discouraged from seeking out support in groups for such symptoms. They may feel they do not have the right to “complain” about their own situation since they have it “easier” than others. And when you feel you have it “easier” than others you feel as if you should automatically be more positive…then you feel guilty for not handling your situation in a more positive way. It’s a harsh cycle of self-abuse.
It was during this time of silent desperation that a saving grace found its way to Severa. When she discovered the Wounded Warrior Project®, it unified her past experiences, gave her a bridge of connection with others, and served as a launch pad for her future hopes and ambitions.
The specific event within the WWP that made all the difference for Severa was Project Odyssey®, exclusive to female warriors. Through Project Odyssey,® Severa was able to make a pivotal and lifesaving mindset shift. She once again found the camaraderie of others who understood her plight, which helped accelerate the healing process. She’s watched her relationships with friends and family improve because they are also involved with WWP and are well-informed about what she is going through.
Severa did what we all must do when faced with guilt–she felt it, expressed it, and found a connective source where she could process and release it.
Severa has since graduated from the WWP TRACK™ program and is currently studying health services management at DeVry University where she plans to continue promoting the health (both physical and mental) of other injured warriors.
Severa’s words of wisdom for anyone facing the damaging effects of guilt in their life reflect her partnership philosophy, “It’s so important to connect with other warriors and to share that same teamwork you had in the military. Individually, we’re strong. Together, we’re invincible.”
Thank you for your service, personal strength, and social awareness Severa!