God is healing Iraqi War veteran from post-traumatic stress disorder
Nathan Fahlin was a soldier who served his country in Iraq. After an improvised explosive device hit the vehicle he was driving, Fahlin suffered post-traumatic stress disorder. Godly men and women surrounded Fahlinwith love, understanding and prayer. Today, he can laugh again.
Nathan Fahlin’s relationship with Jesus Christ has changed much of the pain and sadness of post-traumatic stress disorder to a joy that is often expressed in full and genuine laughter.
Paul Walsh / Living Stones News
“It’s OK. It gets easier every time I tell it,” 28-year-old Nathan Fahlin says with a nervous sigh while rubbing his face with his hands.
The Iraq War veteran then continues with a story of how God can be found in the middle of a war zone, in a place Fahlin describes as being somewhere “you kind of get used to seeing people die.”
Growing up in a military family, Fahlin’s grandfather and father ingrained into him what freedom means and the heavy price people pay to secure that freedom. In addition to the values instilled during his youth, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, “sealed the deal,” Fahlin said. Joining the military was just something he knew he had to do.
Fahlin enlisted in the Army National Guard when he was 19 years old.
“I had some health issues that needed to be worked out first,” he said. “It took about a year, but they were really accommodating. They worked hard to get me in.”
Fahlin became an infantryman and enjoyed his duties, and while serving in a combat zone such as Iraq, a soldier’s duties can vary from running patrols and looking for insurgents to burning garbage and getting rid of sewage. Fahlin took it all in stride.
“I did jobs that were above and below my pay grade. But you do what you have to do. You have a job to do,” Fahlin said.
But it was a job complicated by people trying to kill him and other U.S. soldiers while they worked. Coping with that kind of stress is a difficult task that can manifest itself differently in every soldier. Conversations about whether a person could get killed in action were uncommon. When combat death was discussed, the conversation would usually take a turn toward the kind of morbid joking that only a combat vet could really appreciate.
The realities of what was going on around him never hid from Fahlin during his 15-month tour. On a daily basis, reports were given about someone being shot at, injured or killed. Missile attacks were common. Gunfire or the threat of running into an improvised explosive device while on patrol was constant.
One of those IEDs would earn Fahlin his Purple Heart.
Dec. 19, 2006, is a day etched into Fahlin’s memory forever. Driving the lead vehicle ahead of a 30-vehicle convoy, it was the mission of Fahlin and two other soldiers to pave the way for the rest of the group. They were tasked with finding IEDs and looking for enemy insurgents. If anyone was going to take enemy fire, it would be them. It was their duty at that point to engage the enemy and return gunfire until the threat was neutralized.
While traveling down an offramp, Fahlin saw a ball of fire.
“It really was like in one of those movies where everything is in slow motion,” he said.
In an effort to protect himself, Fahlin raised his arms just as the shrapnel began to pepper his body. Immediately the force from the blast knocked him unconscious for an unknown amount of time. When Fahlin did wake up, he was able to put aside his own injuries to help the soldier next to him who was critically injured. After the chaos of the event and a 35- to 45-minute wait for a trip to the hospital, Fahlin found out the worst was yet to come.
“You see everything in (the hospital). Soldiers coming in; soldiers going out. Guys just tore-up, beat-up, banged-up, shot-up, blown-up. That’s when it really sinks in. This is the reality of war,” he said.
Living with the reality of war is often the hardest part. The memories that haunt a combat veteran are not visible like scars or a prosthetic. No one other than the person forced to relive their traumatic past knows for sure what is going on inside their head. Post-traumatic stress disorder has become a familiar term in recent years. Advancements in the treatment of the disorder and the understanding of what causes it have removed much of the stigma associated with the diagnosis. For the person suffering, however, isolation, depression and anxiety can block any feelings of hope for a better tomorrow.
Fahlin understands what it is like for a person to suffer with the effects of PTSD. Getting out of his apartment more than once a week was rare, and when he did get out, he kept the circle of people around him to a very small group. Most of his time was spent playing video games and drinking. Strangely enough, is was while Fahlin was self-medicating with alcohol and trying to deny what he was feeling that he noticed God was working on his heart. Fahlin knew war had changed him and he needed help if he was going to get his life together after facing the trauma and stress that a combat zone inflicts on a soldier. One by one, God began to place people in his life who could relate to him.
After some encouragement from his parents, Fahlin decided to give church another chance. He began attending the Vineyard Church in Duluth, Minn., and met a pastor who was a veteran and encouraged him to seek help. Meeting a pastor who “had been there, done that” made a big difference in Fahlin’s life.
Seeing that he was not alone gave Fahlin the courage to seek help through the Department of Veterans Affairs. God intervened and brought him to John, a chaplain who had been assigned to assist with his unit. Receiving council from strong Christian men continued, seemingly at every turn.
After the Vineyard Church moved from its Lakeside location to a new building, Fahlin began attending Anchor Point Community Church, which had moved into Vineyard’s former location. There he met Bob, a Vietnam veteran, and Peter, a pastor, who both took the time to mentor him. Surrounded by men after God’s own heart, the pain and loneliness that had been weighing him down began to slowly lift. Fahlin joined a men’s Bible study and sought prayer from the Anchor Point prayer team on a weekly basis.
Blogging and Facebooking about his experiences are helping him both vent and inform others about issues veterans deal with. Fahlin said he attends counseling on a regular basis and that God has started to “restore the years that the locusts have eaten.” (Joel 2:25)
As for his future, Fahlin wants to help others suffering with PTSD.
“I know I am going to do something with vets. I know that. I want to let them know that there is hope, healing and freedom. It isn’t easy, but soldiers don’t need easy. They just need possible,” he said.
While the pain, anger and sadness have not gone away completely, Fahlin said there is one telltale sign that God is changing his life.
“I can laugh. I like to laugh,” he said.
God has gifted Fahlin with a laugh that bellows and can be heard above everything else. It is a laugh that cannot help but share the joy that comes from knowing Jesus Christ.