Tag Archives: anger

Bower Power

June is Love month. Our exploration of twelve personal attributes I see contributing to recovery from PTSD and other past stresses continues with consideration of four kinds of love. Let’s begin with Eros.

It is no coincidence that the heart shape of our most common love symbol physically resembles buttocks.

Without the power of physical attraction, we would not…could not…exist. Besides, erotic love is a thrilling natural high. It is a good thing–an excellent thing. Eros is quite literally a portal to greater love.

Trauma sometimes damages this love, even if the trauma is not sexual. I don’t know why, but I know a bit of how.

Mentally wounded people are less attractive, or at least we feel less attractive. We are more guarded, self isolating, distant. Intimacy becomes more challenging.

We may appear to have lost something of our essence, our soul.

Then there is the anger thing–very unattractive, repulsive actually.

There is another issue: Trauma survivors gravitate toward addiction. Perhaps it is attempted relief from pain of mental obsession, but I am not a psychologist. I don’t even play one on TV.

Sex can become that addiction, that avenue of distraction and stress relief. Pornography raises its ugly head, a very real problem for some of our combat Veterans.

A doorway to greater love is closed. That is a great tragedy for all of us.

“Christianity gave Eros poison to drink; he did not die of it, certainly, but degenerated to Vice.” (Frederich Nietzsche)

I don’t know about the Christianity part of the quote, but I am certain this is often true of trauma.

I have spent the past few days hauling rocks to build a new rock garden for Nancy. She likes rock gardens. She likes most gardens, so I work to make them pretty for her. I am a Bowerbird, fixing up a pretty haven for her Bridal Bower in the north woods.

Isn’t that romantic? Our thirty-fifth year of marriage and I am still wooing her. Sure, there are ulterior motives; I want her to be happy in the north woods because I want to be here more, and I want her with me. Sure, I am happier when Nancy is happy.

Maybe recovery is really that simple: doing something for somebody else. Maybe that is the essence of erotic love, the drive to do something to make somebody else happy even if it is for ulterior motive.

I said it was a gateway to greater love, this Eros thing, not the greatest love. We will get to that later.

Erotic love is not a vice, but an addiction is. As with most addictions, recovery from PTSD requires first recovering from any sexual addiction, and the first step to that is admitting it has become a vice.

No, I am not going to ask you to look for tracks of erotic vice in your heart.

Please, look for the tracks of true romance in the young heart of your pre-trauma self. Remember it and cherish it.

Happy Tracking!

Shades of Anger

Sometimes we have to be angry. We HAVE to be angry. Sometimes.

Still, anger is always a painful alternative to 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.

Anger is a feeling, an intense, unpleasant, often painful feeling.

So, why do we have to be angry, sometimes?

Because the alternative to individuals with Post Traumatic Stress symptoms is depression, and depression kills.

Anger swallowed is guilt—which leads to depression.

Anger accepted from others is shame—which leads to depression.

Anger blamed on others is resentment—which is poison to the mind, body, and soul, but it may avoid depression, temporarily.

Anger fueled becomes rage—which leads to loss of control and prison (or worse).

Lest I rouse anger, allow me to remind you that I am neither psychologist nor sociologist. I’m just an old soldier trying to claw his way back to mental and spiritual health who has done a little research.

Okay, now, resentment fueled becomes war—which leads to anger, guilt, shame, resentment, rage, and more war. That is a positive feedback loop that defines disease.

Oh, and anger turned sideways is comedy (of a sort), especially satire and sarcasm.

Getting depressed? Time to bring in the experts, a group of kindergarteners addressing the pain and remedy for anger in a short video called, “Just Breathe.”

Yes, I know, it is not that simple for those who have survived traumatic experiences, but it is good advice on two counts:
1. Anger does hurt; and,
2. Mindful breathing does help.

Here is the problem as I see it. The beast is chasing us toward the cliff and great chasm, a less than gorgeous gorge. If we leap, we will surely die. If we surrender to the beast, we will surely die. If we focus all of our energy by turning and fighting the beast, we just might survive for a little while—maybe.

Ah, but there is a bridge, flimsy ropes with a few rotting boards on the bottom, swinging in the wind; but, it crosses the chasm.

Are you afraid of heights?

Running across that bridge requires an act of faith, faith in the materials, the engineers, yourself, and maybe God Almighty.

And, there is our problem, a lack of Faith. It is hard to have faith in engineers you have never met (or, people at all) and a God that seems to have let you down, you know, back there in that ungodly experience of trauma.

No, I am not suggesting a leap of Faith. Your vulnerability is real and it can kill you. We will discuss that next week before we get to a way of escaping the beast.

In the meantime, you might take a brief look at the tracks of your anger, but be good to yourself.

Happy Tracking!

Back Fire

Tragedy behind bullets shattered many lives on a Texas firing range last week. Tragedy is a teacher of love—if, and only if, we open our minds and hearts to the lessons. Is it worth the pain?

We may never know what really happened on that range or what led up to that irreversible act in time. Just a thought from a natural and life-long skeptic: Maybe it is not for us to know or to pretend we know. Maybe it is the not knowing which allows us to accept the lessons of love. Maybe.

Chris Kyle died that day, a man who survived bullets and other wounds, a man who took many lives in honor of his team and country, a husband and father, a mentor to other warriors with invisible wounds, a friend and neighbor to Chad Littlefield who also died that day. Two lives ended and many were twisted into torment, including brothers in services present and past who identify with Chris and Chad, Combat Veterans who still feel the sting of invisible wounds aggravated by this tragedy, triggered into PTSD symptoms of their own.

Families were shattered that day in ways that can never be repaired.

Let the grieving begin.

But, wait. Eddie Ray Routh met a fate that day, also, the man accused of killing his two mentors on the range. Shall we grieve for him? For his friends and family?

Whom shall we judge worthy of our grief?

And, how will we grieve our loss—the shattering of our fragile feelings of security that temporarily suspend our sense of vulnerability, the peril of all with PTSD?

Is there love in our anger? Am I angry at Eddie Ray for killing an American hero? Am I angry at Chris Kyle for exposing himself to the dangers of firearms in the hands of Veterans suffering the symptoms of combat PTSD? Am I angry at Ron Paul for comments about guns and PTSD treatment?

Perhaps I am angry at those who are angry at Eddie or Chris or Ron. Maybe in my grief for my loss, I am angry at those I see responsible, and in my anger, I may be selfish.

We may never know what happened on that Texas firing range that day or why it happened, but we still feel the loss. And, we are angry. That is not a good thing, the anger, but it may be a necessary thing (temporarily). The anger may be required as a protection from depression; however, we do not need to act on that anger.

Many Combat Veterans find solace in shooting. Perhaps it relieves feelings of vulnerability that trigger PTSD episodes including rants and rages. Perhaps is takes them back to their pre-trauma training and a more innocent time. Maybe it just takes them back to a place where they feel more comfortable, more alive, or more relevant.

That is not for me to judge.

To an outsider, Combat Veterans using the firing range as treatment for PTSD may seem contra-indicated, especially to a health care professional.

That is not for me to judge.

To a wounded trauma survivor, media treatment of this tragedy may seem like a superficial invasion, the ramblings of the ignorant, an exploitation of a tragedy of our brother(s).

That is not for me to judge.

For those who would use this event to promote a political or an ideological position, I can understand disdain, but that is not for me to judge.

Sure, I have the right to judge. We all do. But, today at least, it feels as though the judgment is fueling my anger—even the judgment of the others’ judgment—and fueling my anger is stealing my strength. Judgment feels like it protects me from my vulnerability.

It is an illusion.

Protection from my vulnerability is cradled within love.

That is my judgment.

But, I would really love to read your comments.

Sad Sorry

…A man carries one of these into battle and by the grace of God comes out in one piece; he carries a strange sense of guilt the rest of his life.   (Paraphrase of John Wayne in The Green Berets.)

This is from memory as I couldn’t find the quote, but I have seen the movie several times including 1969 before I had earned my own Green Beret. Perhaps one of you can post a quote and source.

Reminder: For the past few months, this blog has been dedicated to my reflections on a book by Ashley B. Hart II, PhD, called An Operators Manual for Combat PTSD: Essays for Coping.

“Frequently, combat veterans feel guilty about having survived their combat experience, and this affects their sense of self-esteem and self-worth.” (Hart, 2000, p. 141)

The first thing I did when I walked up to “The Wall” (Vietnam Memorial) was to read the first name. The second thing was to wonder where my name should be. The third thing was to find the panels of names of those killed during my tour in 69-70.

This is a healing wall and I felt the acceptance of my life and, unbelievably, of the loss of theirs. It is a spiritual place.

After my experience, I tried to encourage a good friend and fellow Vietnam combat Veteran to go to The Wall. He said he couldn’t do that until he had done something with his life.

We lost something in combat, too. My first wife said she always thought I had lost my soul. When another friend was asked by his psychologist what part of him died in Vietnam, he went after his doctor.

This is another dilemma of Post Traumatic Stress. We feel a sense of loss but deny it because we feel guilty for surviving. We didn’t lose as much as others so we have no right to feel that loss. We never grieved our own loss.

Psychologists describe several stages of grief (usually five or seven depending upon the source). When we refuse to allow ourselves to grieve (because we feel unworthy of the feeling), we get stuck, mired in the past and caught in unresolved grief.

We deny our loss and our right to feel the loss for a generation or two. When denial fails at a subconscious level, we proceed to bargaining. We try to relive the time and experiences, if only in our dreams, desperate to make it come out different, to finish this unfinished business. In our dreams, death is undone—our friends are still alive, a thing we regret did not happen.

More about sleep issues next week.

We spend our lives in denial and bargaining for so long, going back and forth between the two, that we sometimes forget it is not normal. We wonder what is wrong with the rest of the world.

And, the next stage is anger. Yes, this is about as far as most of us ever get. We are angry at ourselves for surviving but we do the sensible thing to protect ourselves. We focus our anger on others. You make the list. We blame. I’ll attempt to move past that stage.

Anger causes all kinds of physical and mental illness, family and social problems, even legal and moral issues. It is a tragedy, a genuine waste of life.

So, why do we not move on, into the light of acceptance? Of resolution? Of healing recovery?

Because there is a hazard between anger and acceptance. (Ooh, that would be a good title, “Between Anger and Acceptance”.)  The hazard is a gulf, a chasm, a gauntlet, and it kills (quickly or slowly) almost as many Veterans as combat. It is much more dangerous than anger.

Depression. We cannot get from anger to acceptance without depression. That is why Dr. Hart counsels us to hold a low level of anger, to hold onto that “Edge” as we walk our recovery into acceptance. Few of us can survive the journey without help. So, we stay angry.

Are you depressed, now? Feeling guilty? “It is important to remember only good people feel guilty.” Thank you, Dr. Hart, for that reminder.


Good Grief

“Any war is testament to the proposition that human life is expendable.” (Barnes, 2011, p. 2 in Beyond the Blood Chit) We each leave a part of us on the battlefield and grief is the consequence. The quality of life after combat depends upon how that grief is resolved.

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.

When my first wife told me she thought I lost my soul in Vietnam, she was not completely wrong, for a part of my self did die in the jungle—not my soul, however, but an important part of me, nevertheless: my innocence. Recovery is a process of healthy grieving.

I expect most of us have some acquaintance with stages of the grieving process, perhaps five or seven steps. This may suggest that recovery is inevitable, that we naturally progress through the steps to a positive outcome. Sadly, no. Many times, we get stuck and may stay stuck. PTSD is like that.

We begin with a stage of denial, a form of disbelief that a loss has even occurred. Even if we know subconsciously that something died, we fail to articulate the loss cognitively. The idea that our experience has changed us or has taken something from us is so shocking that we reject it as not possibly true.

At some point, at least a part of our psyche develops an irritation, often in the form of a focused anger. We blame Nixon, Kissinger, Congress, North Vietnam, Russia, Jane Fonda…. Is it any wonder so many Vietnam Veterans hold anti-government or anti-liberal sentiments? We get stuck in this stage. Why?

We may progress, at least off and on at times, to a bargaining stage, especially subconsciously. We replay (or, relive) events of our past, ever trying to make things come out differently. We trick ourselves into living an illusion in which our comrades, and our own youthful innocence, still live.

Stage four is the reason we get stuck. Depression sucks. As the loss becomes clearer, it gets more difficult to deny the reality of our grief. We sink into a rut of learned helplessness, a feeling of being forever doomed, damned to suffer through eternity. Anger is preferable.

Anger is the alternative to depression, and many Combat Veterans become fixated at this stage of grief. We fail or refuse to struggle through the stage of our depression. My personal opinion is that the helplessness of step four makes us feel vulnerable, and vulnerability is not healthy for us—it threatens our survival. So, we stay angry.

If you learned five stages of grief, you might expect acceptance, now. If you learned seven steps, you might expect an upward turn at this point. That would be a good grief outcome. It’s not that simple.

If there is a key to healthy grief for battlefield losses, and it might be the key to all of Combat PTSD, it is right here. We may make some kind of turn toward reconstruction and acceptance (what I call recovery) or not.

We do get stuck. It is sort of like a broken thermostat, a positive feedback loop in homeostasis terms, or a do loop in computer vernacular. Depression leads not to an upward turn but back to anger—again and again—frequently for forty or fifty years.

The good news is that people do recover. We learn coping skills (BREATHE) that help lower the level of anger to a socially acceptable edge. That potentiates the journey through the depression toward acceptance.

I would like to offer two cautions, here. First, the journey into the stage of depression is dangerous and demands professional help. Certain conditions such as addiction will require resolution, and the issues of combat memories that encourage the journey also trigger major limbic system dysregulation (dinosaur dumps). It is also a lot of hard work for the Veteran. It takes commitment.

Here is where you come in. You can help a Veteran you love, even those you do not know. Validation of our experiences, our losses, and our emotional conditions can provide support for this commitment of hard work. We can all help our Veterans by learning about Combat PTSD, supporting treatment programs and VA services, and caring for the Veterans. It all starts with social awareness.

I do not have the answers. But, I do have some questions. Are you willing to participate with groups in your community to Support Troops After Return? I am willing to speak to community groups on behalf of Combat Veterans. See http://www.ErvBarnes.com for details.

Clinging to the Edge

Feeling trapped between a sea of vulnerability and a mountain of rage?

Trauma exaggerates feelings of vulnerability. Skills of coping with our world are overwhelmed. We are in danger, in peril of losing something precious to us (including life) and feeling helpless to prevent it. How do we react to helplessness?

One common reaction is learned helplessness. We stop trying. We stop fighting. We become victims.

Another reaction is resolve. We commit to fighting back. We tilt at windmills, blame others, and pledge that nobody will do that to us, again. We will die, first.

Sometimes we find a moderate path, and sometimes we vacillate between the two.

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.

I wear a mustache. In younger years, it was some expression of style, masculinity, or self-image. Now, it is a mask. Periodically, I shave it off to see how I look.

I look angry. I have no upper lip—just a thin line. Trying to make it reappear with an Angelina Jolie expression fails. The strange thing is I still recall thinking, when I returned home from Vietnam, that I wasn’t going to talk about it. I would be tight lipped. Odd.

In Dr. Hart’s groups, we refer to this as The Edge, a chronic anger (hopefully, low-grade). It is an adaptive technique, a useful coping mechanism. While not wonderful, it is better than the alternatives unless and until more cognitive coping skills are learned.

The sea of vulnerability means depression, despair, learned helplessness, and possibly suicide.

The mountain of rage means conflict, loss of family, employment, and freedom, possibly through homicide.

The edge is a crutch, a way a wounded warrior copes with feelings of vulnerability and rage. It is not pleasant, but it is healthier and preferable to the alternatives. It is also not a life sentence.

It is possible to let go of the edge, to grow out of this trap. We cannot climb the mountain of rage and we cannot swim the sea of vulnerability—without help.

The rage is what we refer to as a dinosaur dump, that wild ride of adrenalin-induced emotion that lasts for three or four days of pain and anguish and leaves us weak and more wounded. Bad things happen on these wild rides—irreversible things—that destroy lives. I know of no safe way over that mountain.

Vulnerability is equally debilitating. Trying to swim across the ocean is not possible. There comes a point of no return, where it is impossible even to get back to the shore. We drown in our own misery of vulnerability. I do know of a way to cross the ocean. But, why?

Happiness. The blessings of life are on the other side; however, Maslow’s being needs cannot be satisfied until more basic needs of survival and safety are met.

Do you want to help a Vet? Be happy. Give us your hope, a vision of the other side, a reason to cross that ocean. Oh, and give us a boat.

No, check that. Don’t give us a boat. Teach us how to build one. Then, teach us how to sail it, how to navigate, and how to survive the journey.

That’s the purpose of this blog. I’m trying to give you the plans to build your boat or to help a loved one build his or hers.

By relabeling triggers (of arousal) and becoming comfortable with our surroundings, we can begin the process. We learn to use some thought-stopping techniques (e.g. Einstein, talk to Harpo), breathing and relaxation, EMDR, and other cognitive restructuring processes. We build our boat and learn to sail it.

Then we practice. We try it, letting go of our edge. We experience vulnerability for short periods of time. We train with increasing lengths of exposure. We learn.

Note: I’m going to add a personal thought not found directly in Dr. Hart’s book. One solution to feelings of vulnerability that seems to work for many people is some Spiritual power, some God, Creator, Supreme Being upon which one can rely.