Part III — Don’t Make Your Bed, Get a Freaking Therapist.

Caroline Walsh
6 min readMar 6, 2022

The following is a reaction to Admiral McRaven’s 2014 speech and counters his wisdom that emphasizes task achievement and pushing past adversity as being useful for transitioning service members. The following writing is based on the idea that most service members have already been trained to overcome challenges and instead would benefit from self-reflection, addressing emotions, and healing past trauma.

(If you’re feeling behind on the story tie-in, check out part I and part II).

“If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another.”

Did I need to wake up early and make my bed, then check another box for another task and then another? Did I need to accomplish things starting at 0430 so that I would feel good about myself by 8pm? Was bio-hacking or a fasting regiment going to help me process the full situation that my life trauma and lack of healing had put me in?

Hell no. I needed therapy and I needed to sit with my feelings. I needed to stop accomplishing things and not worry about feeling accomplished. I reached goals just fine, I completed difficult trainings, I went to the gym daily, I stayed hydrated.

“But every morning we were required to make our bed to perfection.”

Aiming for perfection is where the trouble started. Like many veterans and intelligence community personnel, I didn’t need more discipline. I didn’t need a structural fix or someone else’s rules.

An abortion is not an easy decision for most and it shouldn’t be. The questioning of what if, the guilt, regret can weigh on women, even if the decision was right for them at the time.

If you want to change the world get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.

I lived five years “getting over it” by moving forward — and by that I mean I avoided the emotion attached to experiences, I had no problem in my life with “moving forward.” I left friends every few years, I found new gyms, new people, then I left again. I was a constant sugar cookie, dusting myself off, then getting covered again. I had no problem moving on the next challenge. I had a problem with sitting still.

I don’t think I was prepared for the heavy emotional toll. I wasn’t prepped to understand the hormones that were going to change and give me a feeling of great loss whether I considered it the loss I wanted or not. The state I was in at the time wasn’t the state that was going to lead me towards healing, just as it wasn’t the state of being where I could have responsibly brought in a child.

I think the liberal side of the aisle is so desperate for a woman’s right to choose to remain, that they forget about the emotions that are usually inevitable. Besides the hormone drops or surges that were occurring, I was actually ok with my decision for months, until my boyfriend and I mutually broke up. We had told ourselves the story that the pregnancy had been the wrong timing and looked to our future as to when we might have something planned. The story we told ourselves was a lie, we didn’t belong together and neither of us wanted to bring each other’s child into the world.

…stand your ground. Do not swim away. Do not act afraid.

But what if you are afraid? What if you need to feel afraid to process the sharks and what they are doing to you? What if a relationship makes you afraid for your future? What if acting afraid showed someone that I need help?

That was when the loss hit me, when I lost him and I lost the story of bad timing and something better in the future.

What was my story now?

I was sad. I worked, I played soccer, I traveled with friends. I had lost my story before and worked through it to the next, even if I rarely sat still enough to fully process the loss and instead just kept going. I found unique opportunities in my movement, I learned the art of standup comedy and I began to find more community and deeper connections. I joked about my other struggles, I looked at other things I’d been through and I tore them down to rebuild and share.

If you want to change the world, you must be your very best in the darkest moment.

I didn’t need more messaging to be calm and composed, even when going through something dark. My calm composure concerned people. I had learned and practiced being calm and composed at a previous unit where I had to interact with a soon to be known rapist. I was calm and composed taking midnight calls from frantic DEA agents concerned about their operation. I was about to end a potential life and have mixed feelings for years to come, being calm and composed was not an acceptable reaction.

The abortion story took longer to address than other situations in which I was “calm and composed.” I didn’t have jokes, but I began to appreciate those of others. I didn’t want to joke that it wasn’t a big deal, and am still finding the humor in the different sides of the issue both being completely wrong.

I mentioned it in my book, but I wasn’t ready to tell it. I didn’t want to frame it poorly, I didn’t want my boyfriend to look like a bad guy. He did everything right for himself at the time and maybe even kept me on a good path for myself. I wouldn’t want to tell his side of the story, but I know it involves his own struggles, his transition out of the military, his identify, our mutual willingness to stay in something that wasn’t right.

If you want to change the world don’t ever, ever ring the bell.

We rang the bell on the relationship. We rang the bell on the cluster of cells that our disciplined relationship had created. We finally rang the bell that should have been rung long ago. We rang the bell we were told not to ring and we were better for finally doing it.

“You cannot paddle alone. Find someone to share your life with.”

The pressure to stay in the relationship was strong. The cultural pressure, the community pressure. I didn’t want to be alone, my boyfriend had it ingrained that, as a man in his community, he should not be alone. But we both needed to be alone, or at least, not with each other. We needed to figure out our lives before we shared them. We didn’t need something tying us together for life. We didn’t need to share more experiences together.

This closes the play of attempting to tell my abortion story and the lack of self growth that put me in the place where I had to make that sort of decision. Counter to the Admiral’s message, pushing through challenges, being told not to give up, and keeping my composure were not the skills I needed to develop nor were they helpful for my new life post-military service. Perhaps his speech is more appropriate to non-military communities or those still in service who still need to maintain perfection to accomplish the mission.

I think it is unfortunate that as a leader of the military, many transitioning service members look his wisdom and others with similar recommendations. The same wisdom that got them moving past trauma, instead of dealing with it, probably isn’t the right wisdom to get any one through their harder experiences as more emotionally reflective and balanced people.

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Caroline Walsh

Former CIA Analyst and Coastie. PhD Student. Author of Fairly Smooth Operator: My life occasionally at the tip of the spear, available now!