Entries by Ryan Berg

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Scraping the Skull of My Psyche with a Scalpel

I’ve traveled to the center of my soul.  Doing this has been the single most profoundly difficult, exhaustive, and emotionally arduous inward journey of my entire life.  As I write this, my heart feels battered, bruised, its veins are sore, the wound still bleeds through capillary walls — has yet to clot.  This is all a welcome change from the deep-water arterial surges of depression, anxiety, an panic that have crashed over me as I lay at the mercy of grief.  I understand more fully now why we humans tend to avoid experiencing pain, particularly the soul-shocking fear, anger, and sadness pang waves that begin in the gut, travel up to the brain stem, and settle in for the heavy haul at the core of the amygdala. “Who would pay to feel this way?” I’ve often asked myself rhetorically.  It’s difficult, tiring, pulverizing, and requires inconceivable endurance. 

The Soul Crushing Pain of Family Estrangement

My mother was sexually abused by her father.  Growing up, I was completely blind of this horrible fact.  Yet I experienced its profoundly devastating ripple affects: from countless men entering and exiting our lives and home, exposure to my mother’s rampant sexual life, a gaping void of maternal and paternal nurturance, constant instability, role reversal — where I often behaved like a father to my mother — to pervasive feelings of depression, worthlessness, anxiety, stress, worry, rage, sadness, confusion, guilt, shame, and self-blame, which all flourished under a thick dome of denial.

How I Transformed My Relationship

I met my wife on the internet.  Eharmony to be precise. It was early 2015 and I just got out of a tumultuous short-term relationship, which ended because the woman forgot my middle name — I became enraged, packed up, and left her.

Torture in Mahmudiyah: An Unbearable Chamber of Suffering

Standing a few steps into the room, we both watched in horror, yet were mesmerized as we traded smirks.  We’d never seen anything like this before.  “If this person was responsible for plotting to kill us”, we reasoned, “perhaps he’s getting what he deserves.”  We walked out feeling concerned and debated whether to tell someone.  We returned a moment later to see that one of the interrogators was urgently fumbling with a small battery one long red wire.  “What are you going to do with that?” I asked the young Iraqi Army soldier.  “We’re going to electrocute him” he replied.  “Then, he will tell us everything.”  I felt a knot form in the pit of my stomach.  “This is not a good idea, but I want to see” I thought — as my desire to tell our captain strengthened equally.

Ali Baba: A Marine Squad’s Brush With Death

The boy came up to our first team and yelled out “Ali Baba!” while pointing northward. Long radioed details back to me and I made the decision to take the team in that direction, the target would have to wait, since there was an Ali Baba that called for our attention. The young man walked forward with our point team while I stayed near the center of our patrol with Lcpl. Schlehr, our radioman, to my side. Long remembers that as the team made its way north, more and more kids joined the parade, and eventually two adults joined in. We didn’t have an interpreter in our patrol that day, but Long could tell that Iraqis were trying to tell us there was danger ahead.

For Me, The Marine Corps Was a Suicide Mission

I joined the Marine Corps in hopes of dying an honorable death and restoring dignity to my family name.  My reaction to knowing that I would be deployed to Iraq in 2004 was nothing short of hysteria.  “Finally”, I thought, “If all goes right (or “wrong”) I can put an end to feeling unworthy and living this miserable life in one of the most honorable ways possible.”

For U.S. veterans, what does it mean to heal a moral injury?

The two corporals smiled at the chance meeting, their first in the war zone. “Happy birthday, Marines,” Giannopoulos said to Berg and a few others seated by him. Berg chatted with him for a minute before Gino, as most called him, strode outside to join his platoon for its next mission.
The following day, after returning to base from a patrol, Berg stood talking with his squad leader. Another Marine from Giannopoulos’ unit rushed toward them. Distress choked his voice. “It’s Gino! It’s Gino!” he said.

Phoenix Rising: Becoming a Survivor

It’s November 6, 1993, and I’m enjoying a beautiful evening on base in San Diego. I’m 19 years old – out with shipmates dancing and having a few drinks at the club on base. Feeling tired as the night went on, I decided to walk back to the ship early without my friends. It was raining sporadically that week, like it often does, so I was looking down towards the concrete, dodging puddles in the parking lot. What happened next was the most traumatic event of my life and would alter it forever.

As It Turns Out, I Am Worthy of Love

The first time I saw a Marine I was seven years old at a college baseball game in my hometown, Omaha, Nebraska at Rosenblatt Stadium.  They were in the outfield, frozen, wearing crisp white pants, holding a rifle salute during the national anthem.  It captivated me as I locked my gaze onto them. “What are they?”  How do they stand so still?”  I thought.  I just stared and remember feeling deeply touched by their grace, even as the wind blew.