Yes, gatherings and remembering our troops and Veterans on special days helps; however, there are some precautions.
“One of the biggest sources of arousal or a trigger for combat veterans is a steady diet or exposure to the news.” (Hart, 2000, p. 68)
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.
One of the first things I did this morning, even as I prepared to travel half way across the country, was to bring in the daily newspaper. Yes, my eyes went immediately to the front page headlines: killing of a local police chief, arrest of a businessman for fraud—I stopped. Fortunately, the lead story was our high school graduation celebrations.
We are compelled to watch the news. In my limited view, it is a part of the compulsion to save the world, even while I am obsessed with freedom from such responsibilities. It is common for combat veterans to fixate on news stories (especially cable TV), to obsess on the stories, and to talk about them. They bother us.
It’s almost like a food allergy. As soon as we are exposed to any amount of certain kinds of news, we develop a craving. We can’t stop watching.
When the U.S. began Operation Desert Storm right after my birthday in 1991, I could not stop watching. Even then, I recognized that I had an unnatural fixation, but I was compelled. It seemed I thought if I didn’t stay with it, something bad might happen.
“No, I wanna go, sir. In case something bad happens, I wanna be there.” (Private Witt near the end in The Thin Red Line)
But, the reality is, we can’t do anything. Bad stuff happens, and we are helpless.
That’s the trigger, the feeling of vulnerability. We go into full survival mode of noradrenergic dysregulation, a wild ride or dinosaur dump of primitive brain (limbic system or the reptilian brain) control. Adrenalin changes our physiology and psychology, and it feels very uncomfortable for days.
The process is adrenalin leading to dysfunctional self statements (stinkin’ thinkin’ or wearisome worrying, as Dr. Hart says). He goes on to caution us, “Remember, hearing, reading, or watching the news will give you the blues.”
You can help. As you honor our troops and Veterans on Memorial Day or any other day, stay positive. Avoid talking about war, politics, wildfires, hurricanes, or dastardly deeds. Take a break from doomsday prophecies and character assassinations, even if the Veterans initiate it. Focus on something positive—say, graduation, a new baby, somebody coming home, an upcoming wedding, or the simple beauty around you, because it is there.