Tag Archives: acceptance

Perfect World

We live in prisons of our own creation, trapped between two contrasting worlds of our imagination. The first is our utopia, the way we come to believe the world should be. The second is our dystopia, the way we come to believe the world might be. Both are false.

NOTE: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD and other past trauma. May aspires to Hope.

We spend our days and nights drowning in the cold dark sea of reality, desperately trying to climb the icebergs of our imagination, alternately trying to climb the iceberg of our fantasies where everything works out just right for us and trying to climb back on that iceberg of our past trauma just to, you know, fix things and make them right.

Like the icebergs, these worlds lie mostly below the surface of our awareness, in our subconscious. The rules we choose to govern our lives are those we accept without judgment, for judgment requires acknowledgement of their existence. We pretend these worlds are reality. We deny that they are our own creations.

We hold the visions in our heads, the dreams of our perfect world and the nightmare of our fears and traumas. We do not rule them for they rule us.

Now, that is depressing.

In a perfect world, our childish fantasies are cherished memories replaced in governance by the beautiful schema of reality. We come to know the way the world really works. We learn to negotiate reality, to manage our lives, to accept the way things are.

Many of us do not live in a perfect world. We fail to accept the rules of the universe, clinging to our fantasies. Things never seem to work out the way we believe they should. We live with high expectations and dashed hopes simply because we cling to the iceberg we created rather than to swim the reality we come to know through experience. We live in denial.

Some of us live in the darkness of dread, fears of terrible nightmares and repeated trauma. Our experiences have been too terrible to reconcile with our world views, especially if our world views are dream world fantasies.

Maybe I should get to the Hope, already.

The world is not falling apart. The world works perfectly according to immutable laws, principles we can discern with careful observation and honest reflection. Well, WE can as a community. Any one of us is unlikely to figure out very much on our own, but together we can understand reality. We can explain and predict, we can negotiate and manage, and we can appreciate and accept.

I am in da Nort’ Woods this day. My body is sharing time and space with my heart, that is, my passion.

I cannot cheat the woods. There are mosquitoes and ticks and bears here, and poison ivy, too. I cannot deny that, and I cannot change that. I wouldn’t if I could.

Who am I to disapprove of the woods? The woods does not disapprove of me. I am accepted here the same as the mosquitoes and ticks and bears. Nobody gets special treatment of favor or discrimination. There is a blessed egality in the woods, in all of Nature. I appreciate that. I accept that.

I cannot find egality at the mall, on cable news, or anywhere in manmade worlds. Here, in Nature, I cannot escape it.

So, why am I alone, here? No, I am not lonely. I just marvel that most people spend so little time in Nature. I surmise that most of us prefer to keep climbing the icebergs of our childhood fantasies or our traumas.

Do you want freedom from dread and depression? Do you want Hope?

Well, you are going to have to melt those icebergs, and that begins with acceptance. In my case, time in Nature always helps me to accept the way things are in reality, and that allows me to perceive and accept my imaginary worlds as that, imaginary. That helps me to see my dream as childish folly and my trauma as a reason to need Nature even more.

Yes, there is Hope if you will have it, and all you really have to do is put your childhood fantasies in the toy box, turn the light on the closet of your fears, and accept the world the way it is.

This is a Perfect World. Go wonder in Nature.

Happy Tracking!

Let It Rain

Acceptance is the key that unlocks Faith.

Note: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD (and other past stress) which has become part of our ethos or basic belief system. April aspires to Faith.

Recovery is a grieving process, for we have lost something of ourselves in the traumas of our experiences. We have left something of our youthful exuberance, even innocence, and joy for living. The person we were no longer exists. The world we knew before our trauma no longer exists, and that is the hard truth of it.

The wife I lost because of that truth told me she always thought I had lost my soul in Vietnam. There is an irritating grain of truth in that observation.

It was not my soul that was lost in combat. It was Faith. I no longer had the faith that the world works the way I had thought, the way I had believed it should.

The subconscious response to that faith-shattering conclusion is to fix it. Change it. Change the world.

So, we go through some stages of grief. We continue to negotiate the past in the sub consciousness of our nightmares, in our feelings, in the part of our minds (yes, brains, too) that process information irrationally.

This time it will turn out different. This time they won’t die. This time I will see it coming. This time, this time, this time….

I am a problem solver. It is what I do. Drives my wife crazy. Whenever she tells me about something she finds unacceptable, I fix it—or, I try. No, that is not a consequence of combat trauma, but it is an exaggerated development of a pre-trauma tendency. I had studied science because it is a problem solving enterprise.

I cannot fix Vietnam. I cannot save the two million Cambodians lost in the “Killing Fields.” And, I cannot regain my zeal for Cytogenetics that I had in 1968. Not ever.

But, I can accept it.

Yes, I know that feels, somehow, as abandoning those who were lost. Yes, I know that sounds like surrender. I know. I know.

When I feel myself sinking into despair deep in the chasm between the grief stages of anger and acceptance, when I forget acceptance is on the other side of that rift of depression, I find myself wandering to the arms of Nature. There I find acceptance, and Faith begins to grow, again.
During my first Vision Quest on our land in northern Wisconsin, it rained. It rained all night (8 inches), washing out roads, flooding my stream valley, sinking boats. It was wonderful.

“For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is let it rain.” (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)

Some of my thinking will never change. That is real as rain. My thinker is broken. Now, what?

The moment I accept the reality of my condition, it ceases to be an active addiction. I can learn ways of compensating. I can learn new ways of thinking. I can remember that Faith is free, over there on the other side of depression, holding hands with Acceptance.

From Vision Quests I have learned that I can gain acceptance in four days.

Of course, I can lose it in four seconds. My answer is to make life one Great Vision Quest.

Recovery is a quest for Vision. It is a process of seeing the tracks of our pre-trauma selves, deep down inside, in places we have thought dead.

Happy Tracking!

V Is for Vulnerability

Wait, what? I thought “V” was for Valor?

There is no valor without vulnerability. True, vulnerability does not produce valor, but it is a prerequisite condition for the expression of it. Valor is a courageous behavioral response to trauma. Vulnerability is the escape from denial of trauma.

Note: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD (and other past stress) which has become part of our ethos or basic belief system. April aspires to Faith.

Many months ago, I hit a pickup truck with my motorcycle. I was riding along a two-lane street at 40 mph on a December Sunday morning in Yuma, just living life, and I saw this older pickup begin to pull out from a stop sign on my right. I saw the front wheels turning and a young woman behind the wheel.

I recall hearing myself think, “She’s not going to pull out in front of me.” Yes, she was.

I braked and swerved to the right to go behind her. I thought I was going to make it all the way up to the time I was bouncing off her truck and muttering something profane, probably quite aloud.

The next thing I knew I was up walking around and a jogger I had just passed was asking me if I was alright. He looked at my chin and said that I might need stitches.

“Am I bleeding?” I asked.

“My hand hurts,” I said, and pulled off my left glove to find a laceration, actually a tear, on the inside of my ring finger, right where a ring might have been.

Another motorist stopped and used my phone to call the police while the jogger checked on the young lady. She was unhurt but shaken and sitting in a bunch of broken glass. I deduced that I had smacked her mirror, on that foldable aluminum frame pickups used to have, through her door window.

I had some bruises on my left hand, a couple of raspberries on my chin, and that little tear in my finger. That was all. My bike took the worst of it, but it is all better now, too.

I have pieced together what happened. There is a lot of traffic on 40th Street in the Yuma Foothills, particularly because I had just passed two large churches and was approaching two more small ones. The young lady, who did not have a license, was looking for a break in the traffic to her right and pulled out, but when she saw me, she stopped—otherwise I could have gotten around her. I still might have made it had I not hit her mirror with the shoulder armor in my jacket. That jerked me left into the side of her truck.

Of course I knew that riding motorcycle is a vulnerable act. It is a risk element activity. Combat veterans like that. But, until that day, I had only known it in my head, logically. Now I know it in my bones, emotionally.

I feel the vulnerability every time I ride. I watch all movements, especially front wheels. I am always expecting people to pull out in front of me or, worse, turn left across my lane.

There is one particularly bad road right by my house on the way home from work. I have to make a left turn onto four lanes at a light. So far, so good. There is an immediate Walmart entrance and exit on my right. I have to change into the right lane (and lots of people here turn left directly into that lane, as behind me). One block ahead is another Walmart street entrance and exit where vehicles pull out in front of me from the right. Other oncoming traffic turns left across in front of me.

That is more vulnerability than I am willing to endure, especially during winter when I come home in the dark. I seldom ride my bike to work anymore during the Snowbird season, November to March, and, yes, it makes me feel rather cowardly.

It is a terrible thing for a man who has faced the fire with diligence and something approaching valor to have to face his own vulnerability, but it happens to all of us. We get old, our eyesight fades, our reactions slow, and we get a lot smarter, smart enough to recognize the dangers.

We generally have two ways to face those realities:
1. We get depressed; or,
2. We get angry.

Sometimes we vacillate between the two.

Perhaps you can find tracks of vulnerability in your heart, but don’t dwell on them long.

We will soon address the cure: Acceptance.

Resolution

“How few there are who have courage enough to own their faults, or resolution enough to mend them.” (Benjamin Franklin)

Resolution 1: the act or process of resolving: as
a: the act of analyzing a complex notion into simpler ones
b: the act of answering : solving
c: the act of determining

My resolution for 2013 is the commitment to finding simple solutions to the complex problems of Combat PTSD. This blog series is titled Beyond Eros because I have already learned that one important component of the solution is an unconditional form of love for our Veterans from families and communities, a form of love far beyond the physical and romantic. My intent is to explore the nature of such love in its various forms and effects.

The first lesson in this kind of courage comes from Maj. Gen. John Cantwell of Australia. His story is neither unique nor special, but it does illuminate a concept for me. It helps me begin to understand the nature of moral trauma.

We do not all react to the horrors of war in the same way; however, many of us share some tendencies, and the collection of these tendencies is called a disorder or mental illness.

It is not.

It is the equivalent of a moral fever.

A fever is a desperate attempt to right a wrong, to attack an intruder, to restore health. It is the body’s way of protecting itself from something dangerous.

A fever is not a disease. It is a symptom of physical disequilibrium and an attempt to re-establish that equilibrium, a process referred to as homeostasis. The disease is some bacteria, virus, fungus, or substance such as a protein interpreted as threatening.

Post Traumatic Stress is not a disease. It is a symptom of moral disequilibrium and an attempt to re-establish that equilibrium.

War is the disease.

My psychologist (Ashley B. Hart II, PhD) tells us, “Only good people feel guilty.” PTS, the term now preferred by the U.S. Army, is a condition shared by good people.

General Cantwell is a good man. I know this because he feels guilty. His moral equilibrium has been disrupted by the atrocities of war, images and events that cannot make sense within his personal moral code.

We can treat a physical fever with anti-inflammatory drugs, but health is not established until the invader is repelled. We treat both symptoms and causes.

PTSD (I use the D to refer to Dilemma as in the unresolved moral disequilibrium) is not a disease. It is a desperate attempt to resolve a moral dilemma. It is the courage to own our faults (as participants in morally unacceptable events). It happens only to brave, good people, people who struggle to accept the reality of an unacceptable reality.

Physical fever can lead to delirium.

Moral fever can lead to a kind of moral delirium. We become, on occasion, what we despise. We get lost.

Instead of hating the delirium, can you love us back home?

Soul Shift

Along the thread of time we call life, we experience certain moments which expand in slow motion before us, and we know deep down inside that something is going to change that will affect everything yet to come. Still, we have a choice, usually as plain as Yes or No.

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.

Combat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder affects our brains, minds, feelings, and emotions. I say it affects our souls, that which is at the core of our individual being and meaning. The symptoms persist and often get worse over time. Recovery is a process of awareness, acceptance, and adaptation. This blog is mostly about awareness as I share experiences, news, and thoughts so that America, not just Veterans, may begin to understand.

Understanding is insufficient.

As an educator, I still cringe at the recipe objectives often offered for lesson plans and other curriculum documents. I recoil at terms such as, “The student will know…” or, “The student will understand…” because that means nothing unless the student does something.

Even the observable objectives that include student behaviors of explain, diagram, solve, state, etc. became pretty meaningless in the big picture. Students can understand and explain that making a new Aluminum can requires ten to twenty times as much energy as recycling an old one and never recycle a single can. A sad fact for educators is that knowing solves nothing. It may be necessary, but it is wholly insufficient.

Ya gotta believe!

A few years ago when my friend asked me to get evaluated for PTSD, my first response was that I didn’t have it because my combat experiences had been limited and relatively mild. He suggested I get past the denial. I know something about denial.

I know something about a lot of things. But, I didn’t know much about PTSD. Actually, my first year in treatment was of the education sort. I did what I always do—I tried to figure it out. I still do. That is why I work on this blog. It’s my self-assigned homework.

Somewhere along the line, I came to believe. I believe that I do have combat PTSD and that my symptoms are inversely related to the effort I put into my own recovery. So, I work at it.

Deep down inside me there is some kind of mother board of control panel with switches. When the PTSD switch was thrown to “Yes”, I started to get better. I think that happened about the time I became able to answer the question, “What is your book about?” I had written a novel without understanding that it was really about recovery from combat PTSD. I was just writing ideas and feelings.

Feelings. People with symptoms of PTSD are not so good at recognizing, processing, and coping with feelings. That is precisely what makes it such a difficult disorder to treat.

“When one truly accepts cognitively and emotionally that they are a combat PTSD victim and that this is OK, it is then possible to make true progress.” (Hart, 2000, p. 61).

Combat PTSD is difficult to treat because progress in recovery depends upon some degree of understanding AND an emotional change, a change in belief not only that I have symptoms, but that it is okay to have them. It is okay to believe that I have an emotional and behavioral disorder.

Deep down inside me, in a place I call my soul, one little switch has been thrown to, “Yes.” The question is, “Do I have combat PTSD?” I continue to work on understanding so that I continue to believe because, well, I never want that switch to get thrown back to, “No.”

The reason is that PTSD hurts. It hurts me and those who love me. If the way to stop the hurting is to admit and accept, then that is exactly what I can do.

Can you?