Tag Archives: hope

Questing

What boundary separates Hope from Love?

This is a transition week, a break between four May posts on Hope and four June posts on Love. So, I have been pondering this question.

But, as a teacher, I know that while my pondering is very powerful for my learning, it does little for the student. Learning is completely dependent upon what the learner does.

Are you pondering? Are you seeking?

Hope is a necessary, but insufficient, emotional attribute of healing and growth including recovery from trauma, stress, and post traumatic stress. Love is another. We will begin our discussion of four kinds of love next week with the familiar eros.

When you think of love, do you think of a noun, a verb, or maybe an adjective?

Do you think of yourself, other people, or something else?

All learning depends upon what we think we already know. Do you know enough about love to empower your learning? Do you know enough about love to impede your learning…because what we already know can do either.

If you know enough about love, you must be living it all the time. Right?

If not, why not?

Post traumatic stress challenges our ability to love and be loved. We often feel less than lovely and loveable.

Some experiences lead us to believe that some people need killing. We believe they are dangerous. That is why we killed them–or tried to.

The blood won’t come off our hands.

The hate won’t leave our hearts.

Will it?

A Quest is a form of inquiry to some power or wisdom beyond our own mind driven by an emotional need to know something.

What do you need to know about Love? Not what do you want to know. Need!

I do not have your answers. I have mine, the answers I discovered by Questing.

Since all learning depends upon what the learner does, and what the learner does depends upon the learner’s motivation, what is the role of the teacher?

I love teaching.

The root of “learn” is a Latin word that means furrow or track.

Happy Tracking!

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!

Low D

On a topographic map, there is a symbol marked by a closed loop representing a contour of equal elevation with hash marks inside. This is a depression, an area of land lower than all the land surrounding it.

One in ten older American Veterans suffers from depression (VA)http://www.va.gov/health/NewsFeatures/20110624a.asp

Last week at Dr. Hart’s Combat Veteran Aftercare Group, I heard him tell a brother that most Veterans with PTSD also have another condition and that his was depression.

Depression is like being lost in a cedar swamp on a moonless night in the fog. Pitfalls surround you between the roots of tall trees that shade you even from starlight. One wrong step could drop you into a hole in the bog, into cold, dark water. You know there is higher ground somewhere, but even your imagination has lost sight of it. There is no light, not even in your mind. Darkness enveopes you; purpose escapes you; hope echoes like a cruel joke.

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

Eleven (11) percent of our older Veterans suffer from depression. The number seems low to me, but I expect that is because a lot of Veterans do not live to be old. On an average day, twenty two (22) American Veterans commit suicide.

Depression kills.

It lies there, waiting, between the anger and acceptance of a grieving process.

But, there is Hope.

“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things…” (Shawshank Redemption)

A line from a movie, yes, a story written by an author of horror. I find that amusing in a way.

If you are a Veteran, or if you love a Veteran, please recognize anger as an alternative to depression. Anger is a lifeline to higher ground, to life, to rescue from depression.

Yes, acceptance is a goal, the state of conclusion of grief. Yes, acceptance is possible and desireable. But, it is over there, on the other side of that chasm or swamp of depression. Will we survive the journey?

Some of us will. Many, too many, of us will not. Like combat, itself, even the survival of PTSD carries a sense of survivor’s guilt. Now, ain’t that depressing?

Anger management in the customary sense is dangerous for combat Veterans because it makes us vulnerable to depression. It strips us of our lifeline. It casts us into the swamp of despair.

So, where is the Hope, already?

Here it is: Brotherhood. Nothing helps a Veteran like another Veteran. We don’t need to sit around and talk about our PTSD. We do need to sit around and talk. We need each other. I don’t know why, the psychology of it, but I know it works. And at some point one brother shares with another an experience of Hope, an improvement in conditions through application of strategies, a psychologist that can be trusted. Trusted, yeah, that’s it.

And service. There is a blessing to feeling useful in service to your brothers. You feel a purpose, again, to share your experience with the Veteran in pain. I have witnessed it, experienced it.

If there are tracks of depression in your heart, get help. Reach out to a brother and ask him how he does it. You will find them at Veteran’s organizations, VA hospital or clinic waiting rooms, or VA Centers dedicated to serving combat Veterans and their families.

May your tracks follow you to help.

The Dread

Expectations of a mind with PTSD lead to dread. Hope hides behind it.

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. May dares to Hope.

“Nothing is more frightening than a fear you cannot name.” (Cornelia Funke, Inkheart)

I would change that a bit. “There is nothing more dreadful than a fear you dare not admit.”

Dr. Hart relates a story of a Vietnam Veteran who came to his office appointment in an unusually good mood one morning. It was unusual because, like many combat Veterans, he faced dread most mornings, expecting something bad to happen.

When things are good, we expect them to turn bad. When things are quiet, we expect them to get loud. So, why was this guy happy this morning? Because he had a flat tire on the way into town.

He was driving along the straight highway through the agricultural fields in the Colorado River Valley. Some farm laborers were working in the fields by hand—hoeing or laying irrigation, maybe.

A tire on his truck blew. Boom!

Now, here was a combat Veteran already in his usual state of morning dread, and his tire blows, sounding a little like an incoming mortar or artillery round exploding. Suddenly, the field hands looked Vietnamese and the fields like rice paddies. He was instantly back in the war.

All the same stuff happened. His tongue went to the roof of his mouth and he stopped breathing. His brain told his body to dump a load of adrenalin, his heartbeat doubled in rate and volume, and he went into survival mode until he got out of his truck, took a few breaths, and regained his time/space bearings.

So, he fixed his tire, got dirty and sweaty, and went to see Dr. Hart with a smile.

Why the smile? Because his dread was gone.

Sometimes we get the notion that our dread is a form of premonition telling us to look out, that something bad is coming. Really, we do. And to be honest, our dread makes us expect some bad things so that we are ready for them. Sometimes we even prevent them by being careful, so dread does have survival value.

For this Veteran on this day, his tire blew. That was a bad thing, right? Then he went into a bit of a flashback and started to get sick. That was another bad thing, right?

Well, that was over with, now. The bad stuff had already happened and he was not only alive, but well.

This was going to be a good day. The dread had worked and was now gone. He could feel the hope.

The dread is real. The cause is real. It just isn’t here and now.

Waking with dread is nothing more than a reminder that I have PTSD, a reminder to breathe, kiss my wife, meditate, and do something useful with this day. A few hours of that and I find hope. Sometimes it only takes a few minutes. Sometimes I wake with no dread at all.

You don’t need to look for the dread, but deep down inside, behind that dread, can you find signs of hope?

Happy Tracking!

Mayday!

—an international radio-telephone signal word used as a distress call

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. May dares to Hope.

A Mayday call is hope for help. Sometimes we call for help, sometimes we don’t. Why?

There are several prerequisites to asking for help:
1. We believe we are in trouble;
2. We believe we cannot get ourselves out of trouble;
3. We believe someone else can and will come to our aid;
4. We believe we deserve help.

The first two are particularly difficult for combat veterans. We have learned to rely upon our perceptions of the world around us—and that of those who serve with us. But, those around us have the same perceptions we do. We have had the same experiences and we now have the same consequences. So, we cannot see anything wrong with us, but we can see a lot wrong with the rest of the world.

Sooner or later we go home. There, we no longer have those we trust around us. The people at home have not shared our experiences and do not share our perceptions of the world. Who do we trust?

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” (Desmond Tutu)

When it does begin to sink in that we are in trouble, that we are no longer navigating hazards of the world to our satisfaction, we still have the problem of No. 2. Who are we going to trust to help us? Reaching out for help is not only risky; it feels too much like surrender. In my case, it took a trusted friend who is also a Vietnam Veteran to get me to seek help, and all he had to do was ask me to get a PTSD evaluation.

The VA came to my aid. The Arizona Veterans Services came to my aid. Dr. Hart came to my aid. His aftercare group came to my aid. I slowly came to believe No. 3. I gained hope as other Veterans reported ways they had been helped.

Only the VA asked for my qualification, how I deserved help. Other Veterans didn’t ask my specifics. I told everybody that my combat had been limited and mild by my standards. Still, they all helped me. True, my VA compensation is minimal, but I see that as appropriate. The help I received was not and is not minimal.

Expectations are extremely powerful. In education, we know that parent and teacher expectations can fuel student achievement.

A mature college student and Army Veteran, told me yesterday that he is anxious about the Semester Exam. He doesn’t test well, he said. A big part of my job is raising expectations or, mostly, reducing obstacles to hope.

On the other hand, expectations can disappoint us, especially when we expect something like an exam to be easy, when we expect results without working for them.

This is not really a paradox. It is simple disagreement between different meanings for “expectation”.

“My expectations were reduced to zero when I was 21. Everything since then has been a bonus.” (Stephen Hawking)

Perhaps what we need is hope and hard work beyond expectations.

Sometimes things get worse before they get better. Next week we will address the sense of dread many survivors of trauma experience.

And when you look within, please hope, for if you find dread, know that we have ways of dealing with that, also. The dread is real, but we do not have to make it our expectation.

Happy Tracking!

Hope and Heartbreak

“Losin’ wouldn’t be so bad at all,
But I’m always on a mountain when I fall.”             Merle Haggard

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.

As I approach the end of my work on Dr. Hart’s book, I ponder where to go next for the blog. I open his book to a section on the problem with hope. That is next, probably beginning after Christmas.

“In the end we always learn something about ourselves when we conquer a mountain. When we conquer life’s difficulties we end up learning something about ourselves as well.” (Hart, 2000, p. 117)

I have climbed a couple of small mountains including Cowle’s Mountain, the highest peak in San Diego. There is a sense of awe and power in reaching the top—or, reaching any goal. More importantly, there can be a flood of gratitude.

Combat PTSD is a mountain and we may never completely conquer it, but there will be days when we can see the sea. There will be times above the clouds. And, there will be moments of exhilaration along the path of our journey.

Hope propels us. We begin with an expectation of success; however, hope carries with it the specter of failure. Else, the success would not exhilarate.

Please recall that one characteristic symptom of combat PTSD is an expectation for things to go wrong. We often wake with a sense of dread, and we often expect to stumble.

Sometimes we avoid hope because it is to blame for propelling us up those mountains. Then we fall, and falling is so much more tragic when we are so far from the ground, when we are so close to our goal. That’s how we see the world.

I have a trick. I take the winding path up Cowle’s Mountain and I rest frequently. But I don’t just rest, I look back. I take stock in how far I have come.

There are always people earlier and faster than me. That is not the point. Progress is.

It was a deep and dark valley I traversed many years back, a time when I listened to a lot of Merle Haggard. I understood.

I lost a wrestling state championship. By one point. Twice (once in high school, once in college).

I once had a psychiatrist counsel me that the mountain I was trying to climb might be Mt. Everest. My answer was that it had been done. I was younger, then.

My favorite inscription to offer in novels I sell, especially in person, is “Celebrate the Journey”. It is good advice for me. With the help of family and friends, I look back, not in regret, but in celebration of the progress I have made.

Today I awoke with a familiar sense of dread. There is and was no reason except that I have combat PTSD. But, today I talked about it and accepted it as I accept the limitations of my knees and back. The dread receded.

I have come far.

It doesn’t matter if I am first or if I get to the top at all. The view from the mountainside is wonderful, and I am exhilarated by my progress. So, that is my project for next year, reflecting on that progress.

But here is one caution for today. The fear of a hard fall off the mountain is not the only hazard of hope. It is not just the heartbreak of falling short that trips us up. It is the fear of success.

I do not understand this fear, yet, but it is real. I have watched many people struggle and climb out of their misery, take a look at how far they had come, and stumble. Sometimes they fell all the way back to the bottom. So, it is with caution that I advise reflecting on progress and hoping for success.

Personally, I don’t think one should attempt to climb any mountain unless something up there calls them. I hope it calls you. And I hope you get help for your climb.