Tag Archives: fear

Shades of Pride

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. October looks at humility.

“In reality, humility means nothing other than complete honesty about yourself.” (William Countryman)

I began to look at humility years ago as the opposite of pride. That view was, at best, sophomoric. I know a little more, now.

I am proud of my Green Beret, the same one I wore to Vietnam and back that now lives in a zippered plastic hat box with Nancy’s Madison General RN cap. I worked for it and I earned it by doing some difficult things many other men chose not to do. This might be a healthy form of pride, good pride.

I am proud of my Combat Infantry Badge. I faced the enemy fire with some courage—enough so the Sergeant with me recommended me for a Silver Star. I told him not to pursue it because I hadn’t done anything heroic. I picked up a machine gun from a wounded man, but the firefight was already over. It only made sense since I had qualified Expert with the M-60. Besides, in a fight, there was nowhere I would rather be than behind that weapon. I only did my job, but I am proud of that and I believe that is a healthy pride.

For forty years, I was not proud of my Bronze Star awarded not for valor but for service. Then, one day while processing PTSD, I talked with Nancy about our operations, how we walked the jungle with one or two other Americans, two or three Republic of Vietnam Green Berets, and interpreter, and fifty to a hundred Civilian Irregular Defense Group soldiers, some of whom were likely Viet Cong.

She looked at me and said, “That’s nuts.”

I decided right there that I really had served well. Discounting my Bronze Star was a false humility, a form of unhealthy pride, bad pride.

Have you ever had a dream about embarrassment? You know, naked in public or doing something totally inappropriate or unacceptable like singing off key in front of a crowd? See, that is a bad form of pride. Fear of failure, embarrassment, or shame robs me of my power, even the power to serve others. Humiliation does not equal humility. It equals false pride.

I think.

It gets confusing. It seems that searching out and finding my false pride, boastful pride, or bad pride is healthy. But, looking for my humility is like trying to catch a rainbow.

Maybe true humility is the act of looking for tracks of false pride in me while false pride is looking for the tracks of my humility.

Happy tracking.

Spiritual Honesty

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. September looks at honesty.

I love cedar swamps. In them, it is easy to find the god of my understanding. Perhaps because they contain so few human tracks. Perhaps because I find it easy to get lost in them.

There have been times in my life when I felt as though I were lost in a cedar swamp in a fog on a moonless night. I had been walking on a raised logging road but wandered off. Now, I had no idea which way to turn to find that road.

Tall trees covered me in shadows from starlight smothered by fog. No wind. There was absence of reference.

My eyes blinked to no avail. There was nothing to see, nothing to feel.

No, not true. I could feel something deep down inside.

Cedar swamps have pitfalls. There are holes between the tree roots, deep holes filled with water and sometimes covered with floating plants. It is easy to step in one so deep your foot cannot find a bottom. It is an interesting experience in daylight.

How can I find my way out, assuming I want to. I have heard Tom Brown Jr. say that you are only lost if you have someplace to go and some time to get there. He attributed it to his Apache mentor, Stalking Wolf.

Have you ever had no place to go and no time to get there? Funny thing about such a condition. It is conducive to comprehending spirituality.

“Religion is for people who’re afraid of going to hell. Spirituality is for those who’ve already been there.”(Vine Deloria Jr.)

Lost in that cedar swamp in fog on a moonless night is an opportunity to get honest with one’s self. I can feel my way with my feet. I can reach out for the next tree. Or, I can take a deep but gentle breath, exhale, and ask for help. If I want to get out of the swamp, I can ask a simple question. “Which way should I go?”

No answer. Spirituality is not easy like that. It is simpler. For the primitive spirituality of gut feeling, all that is required is a simpler question: “Is this the way?”

I face a direction and ask that simple question and wait for the feeling in my gut. My gut is tight. That translates, “No.”

I turn (clockwise because my question is a prayer and I honor the customs of my Native American grandteacher, Stalking Wolf) and ask the question, again. I do not utter the words, only feel the question in my heart.

I have a friend, a veteran of WWII, who shares a quote from one of his teachers. “Prayer is a sincere desire of the heart.” If my wish to find my way out of this swamp is a sincere desire of the heart, it is prayer.

Honesty is a raindrop. Spiritual honesty is honesty from the heart, such as a teardrop.

I turn and feel the question. I wait for the answer. Any release of that feeling of tension in my gut is, “Yes.” That is the way I step, again and again, until I step upon the road.

The honesty required is, first, to admit I am lost; second, that I no longer want to be lost; third, that on my own, I will stay lost. Then, I have to get viscerally honest. What is the sincere desire of my heart? Finally, I have to be honest enough to accept my gut feeling to sense that release of tension.

I love cedar swamps. I do not mind being lost in them. But, I do not choose to wander into them on foggy, moonless nights.

Sometimes the tracks we need to find are in our own hearts. Happy tracking.

Fruitful Honesty

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. September looks at honesty.

Out of Europe comes a form of honesty that has taken root in fertile soils of North America. It comes in three species of Brassicaceae (mustard family) known as “Honesty Plants”. Like some cousin species such as Pennycress, Honesty plants produce seed pods that resemble coins, but that’s not the honesty part.

These three species of Lunaria are called Honesty plants because their seed pods are transparent. We can look right through the outer layers of the fruit and see the seeds inside. Life on the inside is visible to the outside.

I spent a lot of years preventing that kind of honesty in me. I wore a mask—several of them, actually, and I became emotionally opaque.

But I left tracks.

Some of them on other hearts.

The seeds of feelings I tried to hide deep inside sprouted emotions which took root in behaviors more difficult to deny, but deny, I did.

Behaviors leave tracks that belie the emotions beneath and the feelings that generate them, for awhile. Sooner or later the pattern of behaviors tells a tale, a story of confusion and unhappiness, depression and anger, fear and guilt.

“Only good people feel guilty.” (my friend, Ashley B. Hart II, Ph.D.)

That is our dilemma, or one of them, in Post Traumatic Stress. We are good people who feel bad. We are not born transparent so the world cannot see our feelings—or, so we can see our own feelings. To face the depths of our hearts, we must do three things: get honest, get help, and look inside.

I wish I could tell you that the feelings will go away. Probably not.

I can tell you that honesty, help, and hard work can mean different emotions and behaviors leaving much nicer tracks on other hearts. And, that will help us feel better, or at least, less bad.

And that is good.

It all starts with honesty.

Happy Tracking.

Love Antidote

For all of us who sometimes feel too much love, who find ourselves bursting with gratitude and compassion, who feel nurtured by our natural and social worlds, or who wonder what we ever did to deserve such blessings, calm down. There is an antidote to this thing called love.

Wonder why a blog that is supposed to be about recovery from combat PTSD devotes months to investigating various kinds of love?

Reminder: This blog series is dedicated to love, the various kinds of love beyond the romantic and erotic that support personal growth and healing, especially the healing of invisible wounds from Combat PTSD.

“You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out God hates all the same people you do.” (Anne Lamott)

In the personal experience and education of this old warrior, PTSD includes a tendency to fear and hate people and their institutions. Triggers of major PTSD symptoms seem to have one thing in common: They elicit overwhelming feelings of vulnerability.

And vulnerability initiates a cascade of feelings and physiological manifestations of emotions resulting in reflex fight or flight.

Hate is one way of fighting. We focus out attention on a person or group as the icon of threat, the cause of our anxiety, the reason for our unhappiness. We blame.

Combat Veterans with symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress tend to isolate, to shun people as dangerous and threatening. But, humans are social animals compelled to seek reinforcement of our feelings and emotions. We search for justification of our hate. We find others who share or may be convinced to share our feelings.

We are at war, identifying and targeting our enemies, and are conscripting comrades.

Talking heads justify us and our hate, saying things that sound like and reinforce our emotions. We find others who listen and nod.

Those who disagree are enemies.

We are cured of this great threat, this feeling that overwhelms us, this humbling sense of gratitude called love.

Because love is vulnerability. So, we choose hate, and our lives descend into spiraling darkness and despair that feed our hate until we do something regrettable.

Or, not. There is a choice we may not manage to make alone. Care to help?

Brave Love

“Love is the absence of judgment.” (Dalai Lama)

I am compelled to judge, and therein lies the rub. It is the vulnerability inherent in our human condition. A vulnerability that is exponentially increased by trauma.

Reminder: This blog series is dedicated to love, the various kinds of love beyond the romantic and erotic that support personal growth and healing, especially the healing of invisible wounds from Combat PTSD.

There was one incident in the flat, swampy area of Vietnam, a place unfamiliar to me with people also unfamiliar—and two dead VC. I saw a man, without a shirt, wading the ditch in front of me and I sighted my M-16 on his back. I hesitated. He lived. Another man beside me recognized him as American and intervened.

Power demands judgment. I don’t mean only that power ought to require judgment, but that it necessarily does.

Vulnerability challenges judgment.

Rifle in hand, or the mathematics of an artillery fire direction center (or console of a drone), a person is left with the choice to shoot or not shoot. Always, that choice. A choice made in the split of an instant.

To hesitate may mean to die. To not hesitate oft means to kill. So we judge with the speed and absence of thought of our reptilian brain, perceptions shunted by our amygdala to action without thought. Because, to think is to risk death.

Primitive judgment is required in combat (and other dangerous situations such as a Boston marathon).

Mature judgment is required for the rest of life.

We are all compelled to judge. How, then, do we ever love?

If I could be in Madison, WI, this May, I would listen for clues from the Dalai Lama. I expect he can help us with this conundrum. I expect lots of wise people can.

It is a Post Traumatic Stress Dilemma. I will propose one hypothesis. Judgment has shades. We must judge our vulnerability. We must notice our surrounding, people and behaviors, and report suspicious perceptions. We must intervene, for the corollary is not necessarily true: Judgment is not the absence of love.

But, we need not pre-judge. We need not categorize all Vietnamese (fill in your own ethnic, religious, or political group) as our enemy. That is fear, not love.

We must not blame. We must not judge sick people as bad. Sure, we have the right and the compulsion to do so, but it is unhealthy. That is a form of judgment that excludes love from us.

We do that. Vulnerable people often choose isolation without love as the preferred alternative to vulnerability. Love with vulnerability or judgment without love, another Post Traumatic Stress Dilemma.

I leave you with this question. What is required of us to accept the vulnerability without judgment that allows love to touch us and us to touch love? What?

Hint: My answer is a single syllable.

Fearing Love

“I can tell you what it feels like to slip into the grips of a severe episode of combat PTSD, what we refer to as the wild ride or dinosaur dump.” (Erv Barnes, Loving Light blog)

Reminder: This blog series is dedicated to love, the various kinds of love beyond the romantic and erotic that support personal growth and healing, especially the healing of invisible wounds from Combat PTSD.

Lost in that dark swamp is a feeling opposite of love. It is the epitome of vulnerability.

Vulnerability is a trigger for PTSD symptoms and the wild ride of hormones and emotions that confuse, cloud, and enrage.

Maybe that is how hate gets named as the opposite of love. It is not. It is the consequence of the darkness.

Love is light. Darkness is opposite.

We fear darkness for in it we feel vulnerable, and the vulnerability triggers the fight/flight response.

Rage is our way out of darkness. It is an unholy way, a way we choose. Why?

The counterintuitive reason is this: We fear light more than darkness.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and famous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in all of us. And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” (Marianne Williamson quote used by Nelson Mandela in his 1994 inaugural speech)

The answer lives in the vulnerability of love.

And the vulnerability of power love brings.

And the intimate question, “Who am I?”

Graceful Heart

“The deepest craving of human nature is the need to be appreciated.” (William James)

“Gracias”

“De nada.”

I find it rather sad that in several languages, we often respond to a thank you by claiming that it is nothing. It is definitely not nothing. A gift is surely something, and gratitude is much more.

Gratitude is a condition of mind and heart I know by feel—particularly in contrast to other feelings such as anger and grief. For some of us with symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress, gratitude, and the serenity of wholeness it brings, can be elusive. It is not something we can create or capture. It seems to arrive with the stealth of dawn and slip away with the busy day.

Reminder: This blog series is dedicated to love, the various kinds of love beyond the romantic and erotic that support personal growth and healing, especially the healing of invisible wounds from Combat PTSD.

Our Yuma psychologist, Dr. Hart, frequently reminds us that only good people feel guilty, and feeling guilty is often a dominant symptom of combat PTSD. There are a lot of Vietnam Veterans who have serious difficulties each February—the anniversary of the 1968 Tet Offensive battles.

Survivor guilt robs us of gratitude for the gift of life. Sometimes we feel that we are not worthy of that gift and are reluctant to accept it. Subconsciously, or even consciously, we reject gifts and good fortune that come our way. We remain stuck in the past and in our old ways of thinking. How dare we feel joy, today, when so many of our brothers cannot?

We cling to scarcity in an abundant world. We box with shadows rather than dance in the light. And, we turn our backs on love because we feel unlovable.

Our reality is scarcity, shadows, and loneliness. It is a reality we create in our wounded minds. We are, indeed, living in a shadow—our shadow. That is what we see when we turn our backs to the light.

Then, miracle of miracles, someone comes to offer us love. We say no because it doesn’t feel right. We reject the miracle.

What is wrong with these happy people? Can’t they see the shadows? Why are they so joyous? Don’t they recognize their poverty? How can she love me? Only a sick or crazy person could love a wretch like me.

It isn’t being loved that cures us. It is accepting abundance, light, and love—for it is in the acceptance that gratitude grows.

The next step in our recovery is only a thank you away.

To each of you who have read this, “Thank you.”

Dark Adventure

In America’s pre-dawn darkness on Friday, December 21st, 2012, our sun will reach its extreme southern position on our horizon—and people will die.
They will die because they are afraid.
They will die to avoid adventure.
For those of us living in the northern hemisphere, this is our longest night, our longest wait for the light of our sun. It is a dark season for us. For Christians, it is Advent. We wait.
This year we wait for the unknown. We wait for the change—maybe the end of the world as we know it—and we are afraid.
If the world does not immediately end on that day, we will face the cold. As my dad used to say, “When the days begin to lengthen, the cold begins to strengthen.”
But, the sun is coming back. The days are getting longer. Shouldn’t it be getting warmer?
All seasons lag. There is a delay as the long nights continue to take their toll. Winter follows the solstice,
February was always, ironically, my longest month. Spring still seemed so far away.
But it is coming, which is the meaning of advent, and our time between now and then is always an adventure. Because we do not know what comes, exactly, and we do not know what awaits us between now and then, between pain and salvation, between birth and death.
That is precisely what makes life an adventure.
In many ways, 2012 is no different from any other Advent season. We never know what the season brings or the new year (or, the new century, millennium, or age). Life is always adventure.
Earth will turn on Friday and the sun will rise over America as all other lands. The old adage, “It is always darkest before the dawn,” is figurative only. This year, our moon is in first quarter on Winter Solstice, so it will light our sky before sunrise, reflecting the sun’s light, foretelling its coming.
If we can but read the signs.
Pessimists among us decry change and adventure. They claim the world is ending, and fearing change, take their own lives. Sometimes they take the lives of others. Because they are afraid.
I watched a movie recently in which a young couple was stranded in the Grand Canyon. The husband lost his leg and suffered fever. As he lay near death, wolves approached. To save him from the wolves, his bride took his life—only moments before the sound of the approaching rescue helicopter.
Optimists see a Mayan prophecy of changing worlds, a grand spiritual shift from selfishness to cooperation among people. They see hope in adventure where others see despair.
Who is right?
Both. Seasons always lag. There will be more darkness. But seasons will change, light will return, Spring will come, and humans will evolve.
It will not be easy. It will be adventure.

Rust’n Trust

“I have trusted men in combat I would not trust alone with my wife, daughter, or dog.” (Erv Barnes, 2012)

Abraham Maslow proposed a psychological theory in 1943 based upon a perceived hierarchy of human needs. Breathing takes precedent over morality. War teaches that.

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.

Dr. Hart has simplified this hierarchy to two basic levels for combat Veterans (Hart, 2000, p. 136). The bottom level is the need for survival and the top level is validation.

When bullets fly and grenades explode trees nearby, when noise overwhelms cerebral function, when friends come to you bleeding, validation does not matter. It is too expensive. I cannot afford it.

Breathing matters. Keeping my blood inside matters. Protecting my friends matters. But science, art, philosophy, and morality matter not. Not at the moment.

Combat Veterans often stay stuck in that moment. I look at it this way: Combat makes no sense. There I was, having a cup of hot mocha in the misty jungle morning, and people tried to kill me. I hadn’t done anything to them. Why were they trying to blow me into pieces? Why was I trying to do that to them? Thirty, forty, fifty, or even sixty years later we are still trying to make sense of it. We are trying to resolve the conflict in our minds. We keep reliving the moment in some immature hope that this time it will make sense—or, at least, that nobody will get hurt. And, what we actually relive is fear.

“Fear is the main source of superstition and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.” Bertrand Russell quoted in Hart, 2000, p. 134.

We are stuck in fear.

We live life expecting people to try to blow us into chunks. Fear keeps us stuck in the lowest level of need, a deficiency need for survival at the most basic level—the ability to carry oxygen in our blood from lungs to cells—survival. We wake up afraid of bullets, bombs, and booby traps. We look at strangers with skepticism. We look at friends with doubt. How would he react in combat? Can I trust him with my six (back)?

There is a camaraderie among combat Veterans. Part of it is a feeling of understanding each other more than most people; but, there is also a trust that, if you have experienced combat, you have proved your mettle. We trust that.

Well, I might trust you in a firefight, but I may not trust your political opinion, your honesty in a card game, or your intentions with the ladies of my family. Some of my comrades in arms even ate dogs, given half a chance.

So, trust is relative. I learned that from a friend in a PTSD recovery group. He trusts Dr. Hart for his PTSD, his mechanic for his vehicles, his wife for his checkbook, etc. Trust is partial. It also has to be earned.

FNGs. Cherries. New men in a combat unit were not accepted. Oh, part of that is the fear of making friends just to lose them, but the other part is lack of trust. The ‘funny’ new guy had to prove himself under fire before he could be trusted in combat. You learn to trust him with your life under fire but not with your wallet or girl friend’s picture.

Recovery is about growing beyond that fear that leads to mistrust.

I will never trust a stranger. I always size him or her up and make a judgment. I watch and listen. In time, I may learn to trust her or him for certain things. It is a process.

Recovery is the process of gradually narrowing the scope of fear; of increasing personal awareness of reality that is safer that memory; of learning to trust some family and friends so that I do not feel so alone, so exposed, so vulnerable.

Only then can I move away from unsuccessful coping methods reacting to deficiency needs into the upstairs of the hierarchy of being needs and successful living strategies.

Here is how you can help. Convince us that we can trust you. Show us you have our backs. Actions count much more than words. Be trustworthy.

Size Matters

“The true nature of anything is what it becomes at its highest.”                     (Aristotle in Hart, 2000, p. 132)

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.

We are wounded in heart, mind, and soul. Some of the wounds may heal but others never will. Our lives, as determined by our own behaviors, will depend upon how we defend ourselves against the pain and threats we perceive, the ways we protect ourselves psychologically, the ways we defend our self essence known as ego.

There are big ways, small ways, and some in between. The small ways are easy and automatic. Big ways require efforts of diligence and learning. Medium is another way of saying mediocre.

Your happiness—and that of your family, friends, and neighbors—depends upon the size of your recovery.

Dr. Hart refers to three categories of defense mechanisms as immature, common (neurotic), and mature. I call them small, medium, and large—mostly because I balk at calling aging Veterans immature.

The most primitive defenses are rooted in anger, dread, and expectation of harm. I woke up with a familiar sense of dread again this morning. I face most days with an expectation of harm, and I am quick to anger. Oh, come on, I am almost always a little to a lot angry. Good news? These are not behaviors.

If I stay small in my ego defense, in my response to feelings of personal vulnerability to mortal attack, I will act small. Blaming and tilting at windmills are the results. I may spend my efforts finding faults with others while attacking people, institutions, and principles which bear no real responsibility for my feelings.

We tend to complain, procrastinate, or even bait others with manipulative behavior. In anticipation of rejection or judgment, we pretaliate. Not a word? It should be. We retaliate against what we project a person will do—before s/he has done anything. We treat others as though they have already done to us what we fear they might do. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Yes, nations reflect the fears of people.

A moderately more mature path is response not to vulnerability of death, but to threat for self-worth, safety, and self-esteem. Three common reactions Dr. Hart talks about are Command and Control, Bunker Down, and On the Road Again. I am guilty of all.

Any perceived threat is usually addressed with planning, preparation, and problem solving; however, when the threat presents confrontation, I must choose fight or flight. I do not like to fight (mainly because I have residual distaste for half-measures police action and contemplate all-out war). So, I turn away.

There are two common methods of flight. On the Road Again is obviously running away. It may be changing geography, jobs, marriages, churches…. The reason it doesn’t work for long is because sooner or later I always find myself there.

The other common method of turning away is Bunkering Down. My bunker may be my garage, living room, or land in da Nort’ Woods. I see puttering or piddling as a way of psychologically bunkering down. I hide my mind in a task to prevent thinking about the threat/conflict. Addictions of all kinds frequently begin in this reaction of hiding from perceptions.

The medium size (neurotic) reactions to threats are not wonderful, but they do offer some social acceptability far beyond the small, immature, blaming behaviors driven by anger. Ready to look at the large solution?

When piddling is directed to productive functions, to work, home improvements, education, community projects, it is more mature. It serves a higher purpose beyond protection of self. It allows personal validation on the path of becoming whole.

In my opinion, which seems to be shared by Dr. Hart, there is one pattern of behavior which is the highest form of recovery, the most successful for individuals, families, and communities. Service.

Do you really want to help a recovering Veteran? Do not serve him or her. Offer opportunities for her or him to serve others. We are proud of our service and find our true nature in the highest calling of helping others. We are especially good at helping other Vets. Help us by encouraging us to help others. It’s that simple.