Pain and damage from the Wild Ride (or, Dinosaur Dump) of combat PTSD can be averted. Responses of our primitive brain to some triggers of stimuli can be stopped. The physiological, psychological, and behavioral changes caused by adrenalin can be mitigated. If action is taken in the first twenty seconds, there is no response. If action is effective in the first twenty minutes, the prolonged pain of 3-4 days can be avoided. All you have to do is breathe.
Caution: I invented this acronym as a way of remembering some of the necessary tools. You will probably need more research and some guidance to learn these techniques well.
Breathing – Take a deep breath, inhaling slowly through your nose and exhaling even more slowly through your mouth. Repeat once or twice. The process helps you to relax and remember your other tools. Oxygen also helps your smart brain to process information rather than surrendering to the primitive brain.
Relaxation – With cleansing breaths bringing oxygen to you brain and muscles, you can begin to relax. Concentrate on the positions of your body parts and think about relaxing each one of them. Visualize your position and environment.
EMDR – This stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, and much has been written about it. I simply concentrate on peripheral vision and notice (with eyes straight ahead) movement to my right and left. If there is none, I extend my hands to my sides and wiggle my fingers. One theory is that this requires both sides of our smart brains because the right hand vision is processed only in the left hemisphere and vice versa. It seems to help the language hemisphere and the emotion hemisphere to communicate with each other.
Awareness – Expand your awareness from your breathing to your body position, your peripheral vision, and your surroundings. Accept awareness of this moment—that in this moment, there is no threat like those you faced in the past or fear in the future. See and feel that you are safe.
Thought stopping – Left brain, talk to right brain. Sometimes, a simple command can help your emotional hemisphere to believe that the threat is not real. The poor right hemisphere (in most people) seems to have difficulty recognizing time—even past, present, and future. Talking to yourself, telling yourself that all is well, can help.
Hope – The feeling of dread triggered by all sorts of stimuli (including dreams or intrusive thoughts) is depressing. Remembering that Dinosaur Dumps can be prevented is important. The more it works for you, the more hope you have for next time; but, it does take practice remembering to breathe.
Escape – When all else fails, get the hell out of there—if only in your mind. Go to your clear space. That is, find some place inside your mind where you can go in meditation, a place where you are powerful and free, where you feel like god (with a little “g”). I am very fortunate to have found mine many years ago with the help of Tom Brown, Jr. and The Tracker School.
There you have it. These simple techniques can prevent three or four days of pain. More than that, they can prevent trouble and tragedy. One question a psychologist asked me in an interview was, “Have you assaulted anyone in the past year?” Wild Rides are always uncomfortable, but sometimes they cost jobs, marriages, friendships, or lives. It is not necessary if you remember to breathe.
Feel better? Welcome to Recovery.
Next week we will take a deeper look at thoughts and awareness.