Over the last few months, I have noticed that I’ve had to adapt to a new way of thinking, behaving, and feeling.
In this life, I have no direct experience with military service, though I have been around military personnel most of my life. It definitely was not enough to prepare me, though I’ve found that a good number of my friends and family (my father especially) have been surprisingly supportive.
Whatever you do, my first advice is this: if you have memories that are especially difficult to deal with, please don’t try to face them alone! Find someone willing to talk about the difficult things with because if you don’t, they’ll gnaw away at you until you can barely function. If you don’t have friends and family in the military, look around for online contacts who have had past lives with similarly difficult experiences. You’ll find that you aren’t alone. Also, I consider myself friendly enough for the most part so if you need to talk I’m here, and I can introduce you to some friends of mine.
Second, keep logs. This will help you sort out what adds up and what doesn’t. I keep pages and pages of personal notes on top of what I post here. Sometimes this is the first place I write something down, sometimes I do it elsewhere, but I never let anything resembling a clear memory go un-recorded if I can help it.
Third, remember that you are a slightly different person now and that you can choose not to repeat past mistakes. When I began to see myself not as the former John Harris, but as part of a continuum of the same person growing and evolving over a very long period of time, I realized that I had already begun to make up for past mistakes before I even knew what I was doing. They say people don’t really change but I find that’s only half true; within a single lifetime you won’t change much, but slowly, gradually, over many lifetimes, you do change, often for the better. Just think of yourself as a Mark II version of your previous life with several small but important improvements.
Don’t be afraid to face the very worst of your memories. If you’re suddenly having recollections as an adult like I did, it’s probably because you knew and chose to ignore it for a very long time. The most important thing to remember is that it’s over now, and these are only memories; the bullets, shells, and bayonets are gone and they can’t hurt you any more. I know it seems silly and intuitive, but at times a vivid flashback can cause such a deep panic that you need to remind yourself.
Also, take some time to enjoy the good things about being alive again. Nothing can drain you worse than regretting being born. Need comfort foods? Go for it. Have an urge to go on a long road trip? Do it. Have that one thing you’ve always wanted to try? Do it. Seize the day and fill your present life with things that are fun, beautiful, and enjoyable.
Now a warning: please don’t rely on alcohol, pain killers, stimulants, or opiates to try to bury the pain. There isn’t enough booze in the world to wash away the memories of death and misery; believe me, I know. Before I had my memories, I had a worsening drinking problem that was starting to affect my personal life (never got into hard drugs, thankfully, but I’ve seen what they can do to people). In hindsight I think drying out helped me confront them because I stopped drinking to self-soothe less than a year before the first memory.
Finally, don’t let the doubters get you down. Yes, it’s healthy to have some doubts, and you are making an extraordinary claim, but when the armchair psychiatrists call you delusional, don’t listen. The only person who can make that determination is someone who has actually had training and chances are, if you’re able to question your sanity then you’re not too far gone.
It won’t be easy, but there is much worse that can happen to you. I still manage to make an A average, write novels, and keep a long-term relationship going; this is definitely not the end of the world for me and it doesn’t have to be for you either.
Live to love, and love to live.