“I wish you could just cry,” my wife said. Many, many times.
I can sometimes cry, but not often, and not at times when it would be healthy and appropriate.
“For combat veterans only anger as a feeling or an emotion is easily expressed.” (Hart, 2000, p. 82)
Reminder: For the next few months, this blog is dedicated to my reflections on a book by Ashley B. Hart II, PhD, called An Operators Manual for Combat PTSD: Essays for Coping.
Human brains are complex in both structure and function; we live interesting lives through complicated minds.
The mind of a combat Veteran with PTSD is divided against itself. Recovery is a process of learning to reunite these parts of ourselves.
Dr. Hart says, “Many times we have difficulty integrating our thoughts and feelings.” (p. 83)
We think and we feel. It seems the feelings exist or occur through primitive brain structures while more the complex and advanced cerebral hemispheres accomplish thoughts. While it may become necessary to distinguish thoughts from feelings, for today I will only say that thoughts can be manipulated and built while feelings simply exist.
And, then there are emotions. When feelings, perhaps through the power of thought, generate physiological responses (increased respiration, sweating, heart rate and blood pressure changes, nausea…), they become emotions.
We all have feelings. We cannot help that. That is the way things are.
But, feelings hurt. We feel vulnerable and guilty, and we don’t like it. So, we try not to feel. We ventilate; however, we do not share our vulnerability and grief because, well, we believe that that would make us feel more vulnerable.
Then there is the whole cultural miseducation of human males. We are trained to carry a stiff upper lip, particularly in cowboyAmerica. We learn to suppress feelings and deny emotions, but our thoughts won’t let us. The consequence is that we act out. Boys will be boys.
Peace is the way of a unified mind, a confluence of thoughts and feelings, an elusive state difficult for a combat Veteran with any symptoms of PTSD. It is elusive but not impossible to attain.
How does a person who has been trained to suppress and deny feelings, whose feelings tend toward guilt and vulnerability, and whose thoughts obsess on changing the past, find the peace of confluence?
My answer is science and art.
Science is the design of cognitive or conceptual meaning, the study for understanding of feelings, thoughts, and emotions and the processes of learning at behavioral, cognitive, and affective levels. It is working the problem in logical and empirical pathways of recovery, pathways that may include therapy, medication, and renewed coping skills. I write this blog.
Art is expression. I wrote a lot of poetry during times of intense vulnerability, and occasionally still do. More recently, I have been writing fiction. Sometimes I walk in the woods, listen to music, or play with my grandchildren. I feel that through art I am free to express feelings and emotions with less awareness of vulnerability. And, when I look at my art, when I share it with others, I learn about myself. I am able to experience my own feelings with less vulnerability and guilt.
That is a very good thing.
Yes, you can help. No, I’m not going to suggest ways you can encourage your Veterans to pursue science and art in their recovery. I’m going to suggest you pursue your own.
If you love a Veteran with PTSD, you probably have secondary PTSD.
Experience science and art in quest of your own confluence, your own peace, your own recovery. If you want to help your Veteran, be, yourself, of one mind.