Ditte Marcher:

“When a sol­dier re­turns home, it doesn't mean that he is at home al­ready”

The Ukrainian Week - - SOCIETY - In­ter­viewed by Ro­man Malko

The Ukrainian Week spoke to the leg­endary Ditte Marcher, direc­tor of Bo­dy­namic In­ter­na­tional and the founder of a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­gram for the mil­i­tary, which has helped thou­sands of peo­ple re­turn to nor­mal life af­ter the war. To­day, she's help­ing Ukrainian sol­diers. Apart from re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and Bo­dy­namic, we also spoke about for­give­ness, un­der­stand­ing, the war, and about ways to learn to cope with this all.

Hid­den dan­gers. To­day you have a com­mon en­emy. The only thing that unites you is the de­sire to pro­tect your bor­ders. But when this is all over, there will be just lots of peo­ple with their var­i­ous ide­olo­gies and dis­ap­point­ments...

You have some units that are not sub­or­di­nated to the army com­mand, and they are very dis­ap­pointed with the state. There are many peo­ple at the front­line who are now fight­ing in the Armed Forces, but who were against the rev­o­lu­tion. Sup­pose, all Rus­sians sud­denly duck out, and the war is over. Can you imag­ine how all these hid­den things will ex­plode? I saw this hap­pen within a week in the for­mer Yu­goslavia. Every­one seemed to go nuts, friends started killing each other, and the whole na­tion went crazy.

Of course, there is another sce­nario, and I strongly hope for it. There are peo­ple who are work­ing hard to make a dif­fer­ence. Un­for­tu­nately, they are a mi­nor­ity.

What's next? War crimes are com­mit­ted by both sides. It has al­ways been like that. To­day the author­i­ties are try­ing to crack down on vol­un­teer bat­tal­ions. This is a dan­ger­ous prac­tice that only ag­gra­vates ten­sions. Sooner or later, you will have to deal with the sep­a­ratists, who are not Rus­sians, but just some spoilt Ukraini­ans. And sooner or later you will have to de­cide what to do with them, to seek com­pro­mise. If Ukraine could es­tab­lish the kind of the Truth Com­mis­sions that were set up in South Africa, then it would be not about pun­ish­ment, but about heal­ing. This con­cerns the Berkut mem­bers who fired at the Maidan. I have been to South Africa, and I saw those com­mis­sions. There were lots of chal­lenges there, there were many po­lice­men who had kid­napped, tor­tured, killed, and raped peo­ple. But one of the rea­sons why the Civil War did not break out af­ter the col­lapse of the apartheid was the TC that ex­isted in ev­ery vil­lage.

How it worked. The whole vil­lage would come and lis­ten, and a man would talk, ap­peal­ing to his vic­tims and telling his own sins: we killed such and such peo­ple and buried them at such and such places. Vic­tims in their turn could tell what they had to ex­pe­ri­ence and how an­gry they were. These com­mis­sions were com­prised of con­flict res­o­lu­tion spe­cial­ists, psy­chother­a­pists, psy­chol­o­gists, and priests. Vil­lage res­i­dents were wit­nesses, and crim­i­nals had to apol­o­gize to their vic­tims. Some did it with shame, some were not sin­cere, but this had a heal­ing ef­fect, and vic­tims could speak truth. It was also im­por­tant be­cause many peo­ple were con­sid­ered miss­ing, and their rel­a­tives could only guess what had hap­pened to them...

In Rwanda, though, they did it dif­fer­ently. It has a tribal so­ci­ety, with two large tribes. If you killed the son of another fam­ily, you had to fol­low a cer­tain rit­ual and, fig­u­ra­tively, give your life to it. You drink spe­cial herbs and be­come a son of this fam­ily. In this way they get many mixed families. It is their spir­i­tual and tribal tra­di­tion.

What Ukraine should do. A Dan­ish cen­ter was es­tab­lished in the for­mer Yu­goslavia af­ter the war. In Sara­jevo, Croats, Serbs and Bos­nian Mus­lims had to work to­gether in such cen­ters. My step­fa­ther was there, I was there. We taught them what it means to de­velop democ­racy. Be­cause this is something that East­ern Euro­peans know lit­tle about. You didn't have that ei­ther. Be­cause democ­racy is not just about vot­ing rights. The main thing is my re­spon­si­bil­ity to the so­ci­ety.

Many peo­ple now fight­ing in the East come from the western part of the coun­try. They fight out of solidarity. But if it is only the solidarity with the coun­try, with the land, and not with the peo­ple, then you have a prob­lem. I have no solidarity with any piece of land in my Den­mark, I don't care, but I do care about my peo­ple. I am loyal to the peo­ple, not to the land.

All wars are the same. On the one hand, they are all slightly dif­fer­ent. On the other hand, if you step back and have a look from above, af­ter the WWII most of them are about money. But peo­ple some­how need to be con­vinced to go to war, there­fore, a lot of emo­tions are created around it. What you need to ask is: who is mak­ing money on that war? Who is ben­e­fit­ing? Def­i­nitely not those who fight in it, come home with no arms and no legs, and can­not even pro­cure a pen­sion. We have to teach peo­ple to be free, not to be slaves. Free peo­ple have a choice and make it. But, most im­por­tantly, they have to deal with the con­se­quences of that choice. Not to com­plain about others, but to take the re­spon­si­bil­ity for their choices. Den­mark is not fight­ing any war, but our sol­diers are dy­ing daily. Same as here. No one re­ally knows what you have. Every­one knows you have a prob­lem, but what's its name? Be­cause you are, in a way, not at war with Rus­sia, you can't even say it, or it will in­vade. You don't want to call this a civil war. So what do you have then? In Den­mark, we have the same thing: we are not at war, but our sol­diers get killed. In Afghanistan, in Iraq. They are al­ways at the front line. Over the past 25 years, we got 36,000 veter­ans, out of the en­tire pop­u­la­tion of 5.5 mil­lion. It is a bit too much for a coun­try that is not at war.

What makes peo­ple go to war? There are many rea­sons. I have met those who went be­cause their life was trau­matic, and the war for them was a hol­i­day. Some have romantic il­lu­sions, some have ideas, some have fear of Rus­sia, some have hopes for a bet­ter fu­ture, and some do it for the right to speak their own lan­guage. And I think that you have a deeply rooted de­sire for free­dom, which you have never had. But it would be good to try to un­der­stand what kind of free­dom you re­ally want. Be­cause peo­ple seem to fight in the name of free­dom, but in re­al­ity they have very dif­fer­ent ideas of it. Many are fo­cused not on the fu­ture, but on the past...

And this is where, I think, my coun­try might help you. We are a very an­cient demo­cratic state, which has been de­vel­op­ing its democ­racy over hun­dreds of years. We were never oc­cu­pied, ex­cept by the Nazis. We have the men­tal­ity of the free peo­ple. A long time ago we some­how con­trib­uted to the rise of Kyiv, and maybe it's time we came back, not as Vik­ings any more, but in another ca­pac­ity. I think Scan­di­navia has something to of­fer Ukraine. I'm talking not just about Den­mark, but also about Nor­way and Swe­den. In fact, we have lots of sim­i­lar­i­ties, we don't have purely cap­i­tal­ist life­styles. We have very many things that could help build a se­cure fu­ture for Ukraine.

Help­ing Ukrainian sol­diers. I was here when the Maidan started. It was a strange feel­ing. You could sit and eat a pizza, as just 20 me­ters away from you bul­lets were fly­ing. As if the doors to another world were open. I have sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence from Le­banon. I was tak­ing a walk with my son in the beau­ti­ful Ro­man ruins when the shoot­ing started. I bended down my son's head im­me­di­ately, and we be­gan our de­scent from the moun­tain top to the val­ley. As it turned out, the Is­raelis were fight­ing Hezbol­lah. You could sit, eat a sand­wich and watch the war... When I left Ukraine, the sit­u­a­tion here got worse: the an­nex­a­tion of Crimea, the war, it all hap­pened too quickly, and there are many peo­ple here to whom I am at­tached. I got a call from Ro­man Tor­gov­it­sky, who had also been to Maidan. He had heard that I was do­ing something, and two months later we started a train­ing ses­sion. It was rather chaotic, but we coped. Many peo­ple re­ally ben­e­fited from that first ses­sion. We ac­quired sev­eral pow­er­ful vet­eran co-train­ers. Then we had the sec­ond, the third, the fourth, and the fifth ses­sions. The teams of Po­bratymy and Wounded War­rior Ukraine work with the veter­ans. Over a thou­sand peo­ple are in­volved in our projects now, and it will grow big­ger. To­day we have teams who have ex­pe­ri­enced veter­ans, psy­chol­o­gists and psy­chother­a­pists, who also got cer­tain train­ing and know what to take care of in the process.

To re­cover from war. The big­gest chal­lenge is that the mil­i­tary don't want to talk to psy­chol­o­gists. And they ab­so­lutely don't want to talk to mil­i­tary psy­chol­o­gists, out of fear of ru­in­ing their ca­reers. This is what the idea of my pro­gram was based on. It came to my mind in Ja­pan, where I su­per­vised drug ad­dicts and al­co­holics, and where I learned a lot about the Al­co­holics Anony­mous or­ga­ni­za­tion. I thought that some of its prin­ci­ples could be im­ple­mented in some other so­cial sys­tems, when peo­ple know each other, peer-to-peer.

By that time many veter­ans had taken their lives, and the news­pa­pers wrote: "We have so many pro­grams, why don’t veter­ans take ad­van­tage of them?!" I talked to the veter­ans from the Balkans and I heard: "We don't want to talk to psy­chol­o­gists! What do they know? They think they can save us!" Veter­ans were very acutely aware that they were be­ing treated like kids, with pity. And I thought that we could take sol­diers who also had PTSD, but had a bet­ter in­ter­nal struc­ture, help them cope with this, and at the same time give them some skills so that they could help others in the fu­ture.

Those who failed to open are not that many. I know the way to every­one's heart, I have cer­tain ad­van­tages, and I have de­vel­oped an en­tire sys­tem. Since the age of 22 I have been work­ing in war-stricken places, I have been imprisoned, shot, cut, and tor­tured. So there are very few things that I can­not deal with in sol­diers us­ing this prin­ci­ple: peer to peer.

How does it work? First of all, when work­ing with a sol­dier, you have to speak his lan­guage, you have to for­get the lan­guage of psy­chol­ogy. Sec­ond, for me it is es­sen­tial to teach peo­ple dig­nity and in­ter­re­la­tions. And thirdly, the main mes­sage is, you are not sick. You have a nor­mal re­ac­tion to an ab­nor­mal sit­u­a­tion, it re­duces the level of fear, and you are shar­ing this. For ex­am­ple, hav­ing flash­backs is very scary, but hav­ing the fear of flash­backs is even worse. And if you can tell about it so that peo­ple can un­der­stand, it is un­pleas­ant, but it shows that you're not crazy. This is a nor­mal, healthy re­ac­tion. Al­ready by do­ing this you re-

duce the fear. At the be­gin­ning of the train­ing ses­sion, we work to re­duce the fear and ac­quire new re­sources. These in­clude new re­sources of our bod­ies. Veter­ans learn how to be care­ful and aware of the sig­nals sent by the body, how to mon­i­tor the information com­ing from it. In this way, we build up the con­tact be­tween the brain re­gion hous­ing our bod­ily ego and the re­gion, where our in­tel­li­gence abides. I will ex­plain this us­ing a very sim­ple model of the tri­une brain. The brain, of course, is much more com­plex, but when I train sol­diers, I al­ways think of how to ex­plain to them the com­pli­cated things in the sim­plest way pos­si­ble. So, the tri­une brain is made of the rep­til­ian brain (re­flexes and in­stincts needed for our sur­vival), the apish brain (our bod­ily sen­sa­tions and emo­tions that are very use­ful to an­i­mals liv­ing in flocks and al­low for com­mu­ni­cat­ing and liv­ing with each other) and the hu­man brain (our abil­ity to cre­ate and de­velop). It is im­por­tant that all sec­tions of the brain, es­pe­cially the apish and the hu­man brains, in­ter­act and col­lab­o­rate, be­cause they are all part of your per­son­al­ity. How­ever, the brain where your in­stincts lie is not part of your per­son­al­ity, it's part of your sur­vival. It does not com­mu­ni­cate with your per­son­al­ity too much, and it can do things you would never do. This re­gion of your brain doesn't care about what your per­son­al­ity thinks. The only thing it cares about is how to save your life. Your per­son­al­ity may or may not accept it, but this is how it is.

My apish brain has the emo­tion of fear, but I can learn how to use my body and breath. Es­pe­cially breath, be­cause it's not the lungs that are breath­ing, it’s the mus­cles that are stretch­ing. If your breath is shal­low, you can­not with­stand a lot of fear. And then it can turn into ter­ror, and no one can with­stand ter­ror, be­cause it is at the deep, in­stinc­tive level. I tell peo­ple that there is a dif­fer­ence be­tween sim­ply be­ing afraid, be­ing scared and be­ing ter­ri­fied. The trick is not to run away from fear or to get rid of it, it is im­pos­si­ble and even bad, but to be able to re­tain, sup­press, and con­tain it in con­tact with another per­son. And here you need your body to help you with this. Other­wise, you will get ei­ther ter­ror or the de­nial of fear. And if you re­ally deny your fear in a fright­ful sit­u­a­tion, this means that you are stuck in your in­stincts, you are too much in your in­stincts. And peo­ple who are 100% fright­ened don't even know it, they can't feel it. The only per­son who can­not see that something is not right with you is your­self. What we re­ally need to train is this apish brain, the emo­tional in­tel­li­gence that is very at­tached to the body; then you can nor­mal­ize your body's chem­istry.

For those who can­not at­tend train­ing. When we have post trau­matic stress, we need help! We can­not cope with it on our own! Pe­riod! You may be a Doc­tor of Psy­chol­ogy, but when you have PTSD, you need help! You will never tell a doc­tor who has acute ap­pen­dici­tis to op­er­ate him­self. When we have PTSD, we ex­clude our­selves from the so­ci­ety, and the so­ci­ety ex­cludes us. It is mu­tual ex­clu­sion. Some say: “The so­ci­ety doesn't want us.” Wrong! You don't want it ei­ther! It's like you ex­clude your­self from the flock. Sut we are all so­cial an­i­mals. Any­one liv­ing out­side the flock dies. If not phys­i­cally, then psy­cho­log­i­cally. If you look at the cases of sui­cides among Dan­ish veter­ans, these are peo­ple who ex­clude them­selves from the flock: first, "I don't want to talk about it," then their fam­ily pulls away from them, they don't want to be to­gether, then they die in their mind, and ul­ti­mately kill them­selves. There­fore, it is im­por­tant to ex­plain to peo­ple that when a sol­dier re­turns home, it doesn't mean that he is at home al­ready. The real re­turn might take many years. Peo­ple of­ten ask: "What can I do at home alone to cope with this?" It's im­pos­si­ble.

Many years ago I came home from So­ma­lia, where there was a war and a hor­ri­ble famine, where hun­dreds of women and chil­dren were dy­ing ev­ery day. The air was al­ways full with the sweet­ish smell of death. It was aw­ful to see how chil­dren died, ex­pired their last breath, and their mothers died with them, hold­ing them in their arms. You don't even need a war... I spent al­most three months in all this. Then I re­turned to Den­mark and landed at the air­port, where food is ev­ery­where, clothes, and all sorts of junk. I had to meet some friends at a restau­rant, and then a friend of mine started com­plain­ing that the gov­ern­ment de­cided to raise some taxes. And I just had a fit of hys­te­ria. Thanks God I didn't beat her up, but I threw a chair at her with curses! I just came from a place where peo­ple are dy­ing to one of the rich­est coun­tries in the world, and you dare com­plain­ing! But she has not been there. She came from her own house, with her own con­cerns. Then I be­gan to dis­tance my­self from my friends, to crit­i­cize them for be­ing stupid. But this is cer­tainly not so. They live with their own prob­lems, but I came from another part of the world and could not stand this. At this point, you al­ready start to lose, be­cause you only see your own part of the world, you don't see your friends any more. This is the mo­ment when you can be­come a fa­natic: now all have to see the chil­dren starv­ing in Africa, and no one is al­lowed to talk about any­thing else. This is a part of my trauma. And this is a way to get iso­lated in my own coun­try. This is what hap­pened to many sol­diers who came back from war. How can you sit here, eat your pizza and jab­ber when peo­ple are dy­ing there? This is ab­so­lutely the same. It was the same on Maidan: we sit and have a breakfast here, and we die there.

We have to re­mem­ber that the families of those fight­ing in a war live in the con­stant fear for them. They watch TV ev­ery day, and it seems to them that their loved ones may die any mo­ment. So, they also need help. Af­ter liv­ing through something that is far from the norm, and the war is ex­actly such thing, you will never be the same. You will change. In­stead of down­play­ing and de­pre­ci­at­ing your­self, you have to accept that part of your history and your per­son­al­ity, you have to grow due to your post-trau­matic stress, rather than di­min­ish­ing your­self. This also means that your en­vi­ron­ment will have to get to know you anew. “Hi! I'm your new girl­friend! I look the same, but I'm not the same. Nice to meet you! Let's have a date. Be­cause you are not the same af­ter the Maidan and the war, I’m sure about it.” What I have to live through is so un­usual that I have to re­de­fine my whole mode of ex­is­tence in this world. And my fa­ther, mother, girl­friend or brother — all of them have to re­de­fine them­selves for me. This takes time and help. We need some­one to sup­port us and to help us get back to the flock.

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