While I was frying potatoes for dinner the other night, there was a report on the news that a well known Iraqi vet had killed himself. This was a man who for years had helped so many of his buddies manage symptoms of PTSD while suffering himself. The operative word here is “manage” symptoms. Methods that cure or relieve symptoms of PTSD are not yet highly known and yet are short term and easily applied by a trained lay person. Without this knowledge, what is left is managing symptoms.
A gifted friend who works with combat veterans has some clients from WWII whom she has cured or greatly relieved. The first reaction of these old vets is gratitude, the second, sadness that it took so many years and the third, anger that it took so many years. So m any years. My first work with PTSD was with combat vets many of whom had been suffering PTSD most or all of their adult lives. Remember these are kids who are traumatized in their late teens or early twenties and are not getting treatment and are not recovering. Many of their lives are pure hell.
I wanted to throw my spatula at the TV nestled in the corner of the kitchen. I wanted to yell “ Damn damn damn, it wasn’t necessary.” Stamp my foot. That death probably wasn’t necessary. As I became aware of how sad and angry I was, I was glad the parents of this man couldn’t hear me rant as they spoke with such dignity about their son, his work, his character and sense of responsibility to others and expressed their appreciation for the VA for what it had done. What had it done? It was a heartbreaking story especially when I know how the story could have ended differently. And, I guess I did yell because my grandson came in to ask what was wrong. I told him and apologized for yelling. “That’s OK” he said patting my shoulder, “I like your passion.” He is 18 and would be eligible for the draft if there were one. And, he knows that.
And of course, the VA did the best it could. And of course, everyone did the best they could. The best they could… given what they knew, what resources they had but, there are times when “the best” isn’t good enough. And this was one of those times.
Many of us had determined years before Bessel van der Kolk, MD, an internationally acknowledged expert on all things trauma spoke out a couple of years ago, saying that traditional psychotherapeutic methods had failed to resolve traumatic stress. Failed. Many of us have known and/or practiced methods that do resolve traumatic stress symptoms. And, symptoms are the primary means through which we identify PTSD. Yes, these methods which you will find listed below often resolve trauma. Cure it!
I’ve written about yoga and the Calming Breath which take longer than others but do get there and are very important as maintenance for a brain that is always going to be vulnerable to PTSD, but there is also writing, and a method called Traumatic Incident Reduction, another, Narrative Exposure Therapy, and tapping (Energy Medicine -- David Feinstein, PhD ) for which studies of its curative effect also have been done. The one I know best is: EFT whose go--to person for me is Gene Monterastelli. He is especially good for and with young people. There is also a newly emerged form of EMDR called Brain Spotting and OEI –One Eye Integration developed in British Columbia, Canada and used over the past ten plus years. There are things that one can do -- right now -- to resolve trauma. I hope you will check with one of us. There is no need for all these wasted lives – to say nothing of the hell experienced by the people in those lives. And this is not just combat vets. There are battered women, service professionals (police and fire fighters), medical personal, inner city dwellers who are constantly live in fear for their lives, refugees, children and partners who live with domestic violence. And yes, I feel passionately about getting the word out and I hope you will as well.
The field of Expressive Writing has grown exponentially since I began thirty years ago and along the way studies have been done that prove its efficacy – starting with James Pennebaker, PhD who did the earliest studies. I like to remind people that it was poet Ellen Bass who started these groups for women years ago. The group began with a simple premise of just writing about their lives and because Ellen provided a safe, contained, predictable environment, that the stories of sexual abuse just started coming. Anyone who has led a memoir/personal story writing group knows that it is just about guaranteed that at least one person in every group will reveal some event or condition that was seriously traumatizing. Ellen was not trained as a mental health professional but ended by teaching her methods to mental health professionals. Another poet Maxine Hong Kingston led writing groups as a peace activist, still does, for combat vets.
This is for the combat vets suffering from PTSD whom you know and love:A book: My Tour in Hell: a Marine's battle with combat trauma, By David Warren Powell. After 25 years of suffering, he finally found TIR and recovered.