Tag Archives: guilt

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!

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.

Power of Piddling

“As a combat veteran, perhaps the healthiest psychological defense is sublimation.” (Hart, 2000, p. 127) Sublimation in psychological terms refers to turning my psychological energy to some useful (or, not destructive) activity. I remember it from UW Psych 201 as the most socially acceptable of Sigmund Freud’s ego defense mechanisms.

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.

One of the VA’s psychologists told me that intelligence is a defense against PTSD. Yes and no. I believe she was half right—potentially. Intelligence applied to a problem can help to solve it. Turned inward, intelligence fuels dysfunction. Dang, another dilemma.

To piddle is to do something trivial or insignificant. Dr. Hart says that is good for us. In his experience, investing our time and energy in doing relatively unimportant things somehow helps us to channel our angst, dread, fear, and rage. Yeah, that sounds pretty good.

You sense a but, don’t you?

I have problems piddling, and no, it is not an Agent Orange symptom—at least, not as I mean it here. Maybe it is about survivor guilt; my time is too important to piddle. After all, I was one of the lucky ones. Don’t I owe it to my less lucky brothers to do something meaningful with my life? My life is made of time. Piddling just seems like a waste of life.

Then there is the other problem. I never learned how to piddle very well. I have a 1982 Honda CX 500 Custom motorcycle in my garage. My intention was to restore it to youth. Not happening. I’m not much of a fixer-upper guy.

Gardening is something I know how to do, and I can get into it. There have been many seasons where I managed a tidy and productive garden in Wisconsin. Things are different in the desert and I haven’t learned how, yet. I also have some back problems that make gardening a bit less fun. Poor me.

I think. Somewhere along the way I determined that thinking is something I am pretty good at doing. So, I do it almost all the time. Mm, mm, mm. Not good.

Dr. Hart simply says, “…too much introspection or rather self examination is not healthy.” (p. 127). Mulling over problems leads to stinkin’ thinkin’.

The question I must answer for myself is, “How do I use my aptitudes and attitudes to solve my problems rather than exacerbate them?” Okay, I think I am pretty smart and I have spent a lifetime studying all sorts of stuff. How can I use that for piddling?

Please, do not throw something at me. I like story problems. I love to solve problems (and I know some of my former students will not be surprised). Actually, I love to apply my talents to solving your problems.

That’s it. Helping others. That’s what I need to do.

Some years ago I completed a talent survey at church. Found out I’m a pastor more than a teacher. Yeah, it’s that missionary kind of attitude I have of trying to fix your problems. I call it coaching.

People scare me and I am shy, but teaching provides a way for me to help. I am a very lucky boy. I still have opportunities to teach, both professionally and socially.

If you know me, you may not be surprised by my next statement. More than caring for people through teaching and coaching, I love to care for land. In Wisconsin, I have twenty-seven acres to tend. That’s just about the right amount, but I still find ways to point out some things to my neighbors about their rocks, trees, flowers, and animals.

In Arizona, I own a city lot; however, I still have a volunteer affiliation with Yuma Conservation Garden where my efforts are appreciated. Yes, I can piddle at the Garden as much as I want. I just have to get over the notion that everything I do is of great importance.

I take myself too seriously. That is an obstacle to piddling. Yes. I believe I am getting it. I’m glad we had this little chat. Thanks for listening.

Oh, how can you help? Simple. Tolerate and encourage piddling.

Miracle of Gratitude

Late in the year of 2008, I accepted two related ideas: 1) I was not as happy as I wanted to be; and, 2) I was not as grateful as I needed to be. With the counsel of happier and more grateful friends, I began 2009 with the commitment to write one small gratitude statement in a daily meditation book—a different gratitude each day. Perhaps I missed three days that year, but I made up all my late work.

2009 was a very good year. Something wonderful happened along the way. I found humility (I hadn’t even noticed it was lost). And, there, behind humility, gratitude was waiting for me.

For those of you familiar with the works of one Nazarene, I have a word: Beatitudes.

Misery is a blessing. Power is in paradox, although I do not believe it is at all paradoxical except at a superficial level. Misery is a condition from which we learn. It is humbling. What we learn from such experiences is the blessing. We learn gratitude—if, and only if, we are willing.

Gratitude feels good. It is practically impossible to do evil when grateful. In gratitude, we act from love—and love comes back to us. That is not a paradox. It is the way our universe works.

Okay. I am going way out on a limb here. We have the experiences we request. Prayers are answered. I’ll try to explain.

I watch a movie, To Hell and Back, and wonder, “Would I be brave?” I really want to know. It occupies my mind for years. Then, I get the answer.

Nobody tells me, “Erv, you are brave.” I’m a skeptic. I wouldn’t believe a statement like that. The answer comes in an opportunity to be brave. The opportunity is peril of war.

In 1968, under imminent threat of military draft, I signed a guaranteed enlistment contract with the U.S. Army to train and employ as a Chemical Staff Specialist. It was my attempt to control my own destiny. Within a few days of swearing in, however, I surrendered that guarantee for the opportunity to attend Infantry Officer Candidate School with only one guarantee: I would go to Vietnam.

To this day, November 21st, 2011, I have been confused about why I did that. Why did this peacenik agriculture student volunteer to do such a thing? My friend used my words this morning to answer my question: Go before show.

Permit me an aside. I have disliked yellow ribbons on cars because I felt it was all show and no go. I never wore one. Now that I have an opportunity to advocate for Veterans with combat PTSD through Beyond the Blood Chit (www.ErvBarnes.com) and related personal appearances, I feel entitled to wear a yellow ribbon because I am, indeed, supporting our troops through my actions.

I never had to prove my courage in the way of Audey Murphy, but I did do my duty under fire. Today, I am grateful to know that about myself. Even though many comrades came home dead and wounded while I was unscratched, I have become grateful for my safe return and for the experience which now allows me to reach out to support our troops. Survivor’s guilt has evaporated. Anger over perceived injustices has dissipated. Gratitude remains.

Many days I still find myself wallowing in the muck and mire of self pity. I stare at the fears of the future and regrets of the past rather than the blessings of my present moment. Certainly, I need to focus on these blessings more than once a year or even once a day, but Thanksgiving is a season of gratitude. I celebrate it. Happy Thanksgiving to you all.