The following narrative contains mentions of death, child abuse, and sexual molestation. Please do not read any further if reading about real life abuse is triggering.
It took some time to finally organize my thoughts into a cohesive narrative. It has been several weeks since I watched The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. When I finished the series, I immediately watched it again. And again and again. All of the thoughts and emotions surrounding Bucky Barnes, one half of the titular duo, have been restlessly churning inside my brain as I try to pin down why it is that I have such a strong connection to this character. It comes down to one word: Trauma. This young man has spent the majority of his very long and very turbulent adulthood moving from one trauma after another. The repercussions of which inform his every action, every thought, and even his sense of self. He struggles to see himself as worthy. Worthy of compassion, friendship, trust; he’s unable to come to terms with the fact that simply by virtue of existing, he has a right to all of these things. He is worthy.
Sound familiar? This is exactly how I have seen myself for years.
Only recently, I, like Bucky, have been able to see beyond what was done to me and finally recognize that I am also worthy.
I. Am. Worthy.
Born in 1917 on March 10, he spent his youth as the future, now former, Captain America’s best friend. He and Steve Rogers were inseparable. However, as the inevitability of the United States’ involvement in WWII loomed, he was drafted into the U.S. Army, as most able-bodied young men were. In 1939, at the start of WWII, Bucky would have been only 22 years old. By the 1940s, he would have still only been in his early twenties.
In 1943, by now 26 years old, Bucky and his unit are captured by Nazis and declared MIA (missing in action). In the time preceding that, the once sickly Steve Rogers has undergone a complete transformation into Captain America. Stronger, faster, and more durable, Steve takes it upon himself to rescue Bucky and his captured unit, with the aid of Peggy Carter and Howard Stark. Steve’s mission is successful. He extricates Bucky and the other captured soldiers, but unfortunately not before Bucky had already been tortured and experimented on by Hydra. After recovering from the horrors he faced during his time in captivity, Bucky joins an elite squad who were hand-picked by Steve Rogers, called the Howling Commandos.
The unit as led by Steve completed several missions aimed at stopping the Nazis and Hydra. It is during this time Bucky suffers yet another traumatic event. He falls off a train to his presumed demise, however, due to Hydra’s experimentation, he survives only to be recaptured by the enemy and subjected to more of Hydra’s cruelty. The culmination of this new experimentation led to Bucky becoming the Winter Soldier: A brainwashed assassin trained to kill on command for Hydra.
For decades, Bucky is stripped of his autonomy and used as a weapon to commit atrocities and further Hydra’s agenda. Being cryogenically frozen, thawed, further brainwashed, and otherwise tortured was the sum of his existence during these years.
Ultimately he escapes their control, only to be hunted down by both Hydra and the United States Government. On the run, he is framed for a bombing at the United Nations building which kills the king of the African nation, Wakanda, King T’Chaka. Eventually, Bucky is vindicated and under the protection of Steve Rogers once again. He opts to voluntarily be cryogenically frozen in Wakanda until a solution to his brainwashing can be found. He no longer wanted to be a danger to others.
Later, cured by Wakandan Princess and super genius Shuri, and deprogrammed by Ayo from the trigger words used to control him, he attempts to regain a sense of normality in his new home. However, he is drafted yet again. Alongside the Avengers, the battle he would have to fight is against the mad Titan, Thanos, who wants to destroy half of all life in the universe. The Avengers lose, and Thanos enacts his plan to erase half of the universe, and unfortunately for Bucky, he is part of the group who are erased.
In the interim, the Avengers are successful in stopping Thanos the second time they face him, and those who had vanished are returned, including Bucky.
His luck appeared to have finally changed for the better, but he then loses his lifelong friend, Steve Rogers. A loss that is yet another trauma from which Bucky must heal.
In present-day—2024 in the Marvel Cinematic Universe—Bucky has been granted a full pardon, contingent upon attending mandatory counseling with a therapist. Though acknowledging that the acts of violence committed during his time as the Winter Soldier was done through no fault of his own, he is wracked with guilt and he seeks absolution through making amends to those The Winter Soldier had wronged.
All of this brings us to PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
Bucky has nightmares that plague him constantly, resulting in long nights of wakefulness. This is in addition to the persistent feelings of guilt and shame about his past. He is unable to sleep in a bed and opts to sleep on the floor—insomnia and trouble sleeping is common among veterans returning home from active duty.
Even when completing feats of heroism, he is seemingly shocked when he is thanked profusely by one of the people he rescued. It is clear he feels unworthy of their gratitude.
A Kindred Spirit
As depicted in the Disney+ series, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Bucky’s hard-won journey from self-loathing to tentative acceptance is similar to the trajectory of my life so far. I have spent the majority of my adult life filled with shame, self-loathing, anger, and despair due to the childhood sexual abuse perpetrated against me as a helpless child. Like Bucky, through therapy and through the generosity of compassion from my friends, I was able to slowly regain my sense of self. I may never be who I was, or who I could have been had I not suffered these loathsome experiences, but I am coming to terms with the person I am today. Who I was is irrelevant. Who I could’ve been is irrelevant. All that matters is the person standing here today, who makes the conscious effort to persevere despite the pain.
This is who Bucky is at his core, and I hope to demonstrate even a fraction of the strength of character he has shown.
He is worthy.
I am worthy.
In the decade since the character has been introduced into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Sebastian has brought to this role an incomparable level of emotional depth and realism. In less capable hands, this character would not be as dynamic or genuine. I am grateful for having the opportunity to witness Sebastian take this character to new heights each time Bucky is on screen. His portrayal has allowed me to see that it is absolutely possible to find peace and acceptance in one’s existence, despite the darkness that was once all-consuming. I could spend another decade just trying to find the words to express my gratitude and admiration for Sebastian because “thank you” doesn’t seem like it could ever be enough. But all I have is my thanks to give, and I give it sincerely and I hope that he could know how much my life has been changed for the better because of this character.
Disclaimer: The photos and gifs are not my own. They are part of a collection of images acquired over a significant period of time, and the origins of these images are unknown to me.
If you’re searching for help with mental illness, please reach out to someone.
Below is an abbreviated list of hotlines for the USA. Click here for the full list.
National Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
Stop it Now! 1-888-PREVENT
United States Elder Abuse Hotline 1-866-363-4276
National Child Abuse Hotline 1-800-4-A-CHILD (422-4453)
Child Abuse Hotline / Dept of Social Services 1-800-342-3720
Child Abuse National Hotline 1-800-25ABUSE
Children in immediate danger 1-800-THE-LOST
Exploitation of Children 1-800-843-5678
Missing Children Help Center 1-800-872-5437
Gay and Lesbian National Hotline 1-888-843-4564
Trevor Hotline (Suicide) 1-866-4-U-TREVOR
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