Following the interview with our inspiring guest, Essi Bagheri, last Tuesday, I will try more diligently not to complain about my circumstances. He fought a war similar to wars many of us face, and he has come through heroically.
Essi is the author of Shattered Soul The True Story of a Child Soldier.
The title of his book might give away one of the situations in his life that brought him grief, but until you read his book you won’t learn that it was because of early traumas in his life that he became a child soldier in the first place.
Being born in Iran in 1966 to an 11-year old mother and a 30-year old father became Essi’s first challenge. (Not that he remembers it). Six months later though, the separation from his mother would prove to put him on a path where tragedy would surely follow.
Upon learning at the age of five that the mother he believed was his was not, the doubts about his value and worth began to haunt Essi. Discovering your life is not what you though at any age can be devastating, and because Essi was simply too young to truly understand, he was being set up for more trauma which would shape his identity.
After friends and family betrayed and abused him around the age of 9, Essi began to take active note of life. He wanted to belong to a family he had a bond with. He wanted to feel part of something that grounded him to culture and society. His search for these feelings led him to make a decision that would endanger is life.
At the age of 14-15, Essi joined the Revolutionary Guard to fight Saddam Hussein’s army who had invaded Iran. Prior to enlisting, Essi had seen soldiers coming home from war in coffins and being lauded and praised for their courage and sacrifice. He wanted that praise. Even if he died getting it.
With the promise of going to heaven, and having 47 virgins meet him there, the teenage Essi was “brainwashed” (his description) to seek for such greatness in serving his country.
After basic training Essi went to the front lines of battle. His role: disassemble land mines. A soldier would be lucky if he had opportunity to find a landmine before it detonated. Very rare circumstance indeed.
In fact, when Essi watched his friends blown to smithereens while searching for mines, he began to realize how wrong it was to put human beings – especially young boys – in charge of such a barbaric mission. This did not feel heroic to Essi any longer.
The only way out of this situation was to be injured. At least then he would have time in the hospital away from the fighting. Yet, what were the chances Essi would only sustain injury in such a dangerous task?
Essi chose the unthinkable – he used his own gun to shoot himself in the arm. Believing it was a battle wound, Essi was treated medically with great care; and treated honorably as a war hero. Isn’t that what he wanted?
Essi would soon realize that being sent home this way was not honorable. It was not heroic. This began the emotional spiral of pain into the darkest abyss of alcohol and drug addiction. Surely Essi’s whole life had been a lie and being sober only reminded him of that.
For 30 or more years Essi stayed on the battlefield he had created in his head. He fought his identity, his worth, his very existence every day for three decades.
When the light was lifted, and his purpose was revealed, Essi fought for someone else – you and me. Those of us who have suffered trauma, abuse, and/or addiction have a coach to talk to . Someone who truly gets it. Someone who has been that shattered soul.
Essi’s book is well worth reading, if only (as I mentioned at the top of this post) to help each of us recognize our own blessings, and help us feel grateful for the people around us who’ve lifted us up and made it possible to heal.