Are you suffering from Moral Injury?

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My sister sent a group text with an article titled “Set Down Your Rocks” attached. As I read, I felt my knuckles tighten around a rock or two.

University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine’s Dr. Athena Diesch-Chham’s rock theory says.

humans tend to pick up things they think they need to carry – in other words, they pick up “rocks.”

Don’t ask me to put these down. I felt my heart tighten in my chest.

I read on, wanting to understand my sister and Dr. Athena Diesch-Chham. Dr. Diesch-Chham is a clinical social worker who counsels people in veterinary medicine. She studies what she calls Moral Injury.

Moral Injury results from personal experiences, which violate a person’s deepest and most closely held values and principles. 

Most of you know that I come from a big family: five sister and three brothers. We became diverse as we grew: urban and rural, mixed-race, immigrants. We became almost evenly divided politically.

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We come from an extended family of fervent debaters; observing spirited and sometimes angry political debates while still babes in arm. And, on the other side of our history is the Quaker concerns for peace and nonviolent resolution of conflicts, simplicity, integrity, equality, community, and the right sharing of the earth’s resources.

These past four years we gravitated toward silence; the philosophical split dividing us literally and figuratively into different rooms. I coached Love-One, who sometimes can’t control his passion, as we traveled to gatherings. We went over topics that we thought would come up. We came up with ways to signal each other to cool it. And then, for example,

I blurted out, “That’s just nuts,” to a sister’s assertion that Climate change is not real.

I’m not ready to set that rock down.

We experience Moral Injury when we engage in activities that don’t always line up with our due north. It’s a phenomenon similar to PTSD. According to Michael D. Matthews, PhD, who studies this phenomenon in military personnel, “Moral Injury is more associated with an existential crisis, stemming from the violation of values pertaining to the sanctity of life, than with trauma.”

I think about all the ways my families differ on how best to support life: climate, immigration, healthcare, the pandemic, social services, etc.

“When emotional connections are formed, there is a higher level of devastation when the bond is broken,” asserts Dr. Diesch-Chham.

That might be why it’s so hard to put my rocks down. I want to remain connected to all of my family. I want to be nice. And, I feel like I’m betraying my some of my deepest convictions when I do.

In the past four years, I’ve read about people who gave up on friends and distanced themselves from family members. They’ve made the decision to set down that rock.

I’m not ready to put that rock down.

Apparently, Mother Theresa required nuns take an entire year off every four to five years, to allow for them to heal from the effects of their work. You might call it a spiritual setting down of rock, at least for a time.

I think I’ll take a week or two to set my rocks in a corner. I’ll fast from media and spend some time in quiet meditation. Who knows, perhaps the relief will be so great, I won’t need to pick those rocks up again.