Tag Archives: rage

V is for Valor

“Valor is a gift. Those having it never know for sure whether they have it till the test comes. And those having it in one test never know for sure if they will have it when the next test comes.” (Carl Sandburg)

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.

Every defect of my character that I have had the courage to face has had the stench of fear. Every moral indecision, every ethical dilemma, every regretted omission or transgression, has always been traceable back to a hidden fear, a fear I had kept even from myself.

Every shadow of resentment, every rick of rage, every shock of angst or anger, has always left tracks back to some fear.

Fear is not the culprit; my choice in each and every case, that is the culprit. Fear is not the cause, but it is the impetus. To yield to fear is the coward’s surrender.

“Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.” (Kahil Gibran)

The pain of doubt is the great fear of the human heart. We ignore it, poison it, deny it, hide it and from it, but we seldom face it. For the sincere heart, this is a great dilemma: Shall I admit the frailties of my doubt and concede cowardice, or shall I deny my pain and concede conceit of the false hero?

No. Dichotomies are the false reasoning of a fearful heart. There is another way. What is it?

Perhaps valor is a gift I do not deserve.

No. Life is not a contest we win or lose. Competitive culture is the false affect of a fearful heart. There are enough gifts for all of us and deserving is not a factor. Willingness is.

Am I willing to accept valor? Am I willing to accept the consequences of valor?

I wonder this: Where shall I carry this gift called valor if my satchel is full of the treasures of my fears and resentments? How shall I accept a gift of valor if my hands are full of the denials of my doubts?

Would you like freedom from doubt?

“Out of the Indian approach to life there came a great freedom, an intense and absorbing respect for life, enriching faith in a Supreme Power, and principles of truth, honesty, generosity, equity, and brotherhood as a guide to mundane relations.” (Luther Standing Bear Oglala Sioux)

It is a culmination of my observations of humanity past and present that all human demise, including the collapse of great cultures before history, has always been a direct result of man relying on the magic of man, the technologies of the times and the illusions of power in those technologies.

Life is no illusion. The Native American way of life, like so many aboriginal peoples’, remains faithful to the laws governing water and air, light and darkness, bear and cricket, and the Faith and fear of human existence. I find comfort in these laws for no person or group has the power to change them. The laws of Nature are immutable and unavoidable. All else is illusion.

Inside you, deep down at the bottom of your satchel of treasures, beneath your collection of fears and resentments, do you find tracks of valor rooted in Faith?

Happy Tracking!

Repelling Love

To this day, Nancy still claims 1999 as the year she received her best Christmas present, ever—so good, in fact, it is unimaginable to replace her. She is Goldberry’s Serenity Dreamer, a registered yellow Labrador Retriever. The only registered dog either of us ever had, she is the most wonderful pet and friend.

But, she is old and her health is failing. Her eyesight has dimmed, her hearing is almost gone, and many parts of her body are susceptible to infection and other inflammation. She can no longer keep up with this old man in field, forest, or desert, but we are committed to keeping her as comfortable as possible as long as she still finds enjoyment in life, which she does.

Replacing her is not really conceivable. It took us about ten years after Cheese, our English Setter mix, died before we bought Serenity. We cannot imagine going through this process, again.

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 may be wondering what this has to do with Combat PTSD. The answer in “Funny” New Guys..

Audey Murphy became the most decorated American in WWII when he was still a teenager. He also had a baby face, so he could play his younger self in the movie of his life story, TO HELL AND BACK. In that story, two new replacements arrive while the platoon is engaged with the German enemy. They are immediately shunned.

The point is emphasized when one brings in a backpack stove he found. One of the veterans grabs it away, takes it outside the farm house, and buries it. It had belonged to his friend who had been killed that morning.

Audey shuns them, too, telling one who volunteers for a patrol, “We don’t need you.”

In Vietnam, we called them FNGs (“Funny” New Guys). Yes, they were shunned partly because unseasoned warriors do stupid things. But the emotional reason is simpler. Nobody wants new friends because nobody wants to see one more friend die.

It is a simple, subconscious decision about love that goes something like this: You get to love people. People die. It hurts more when the people who die are people you love. Solution? Don’t love anymore people.

Loving anyone or anything makes one vulnerable, and to feel vulnerable is dangerous to anyone with Post Traumatic Stress symptoms. Our brains don’t like vulnerability. If we fight it, some kind of rage ensues. If we succumb to it, we sink into depression. So, we avoid love and other vulnerable activities.

It takes a lot of resilience to love a dog.

It takes more to love a person because people are more likely to bite.

We are unnaturally loyal to our friends, but we shun most new people. It’s an old habit. For self protection, we repel love—in part because we know it hurts to lose it.

Recovery requires a partner. Care to dance?

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.

The Problem Problem

“The trick is to turn the difficulty into a plan and not turn that difficulty into a problem.” (Hart, 2000, p. 119)

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.

I had a problem at work, yesterday. Yes, I haven’t officially worked more than two weeks, and I found a problem. Fortunately, I love working problems. Seriously. I do story problems for fun. Interestingly, I have one daughter with a similar disposition.

Teaching problem solving was one of my greatest passions—and still is, I suppose. For years I told a story about facing a bear in the woods as exemplary of the definition of a problem: someplace else to go with no known way to get there.  Another way of saying it is that a problem is a goal plus obstacles.

My problem at work, yesterday, was to develop a program of study, a four year plan, for a bachelor’s degree in education for Biology teaching. To me, this is fun. I gathered all kinds of information about University requirements, similar degrees, course descriptions and prerequisites, etc. About 3 p.m. I discovered an obstacle. I couldn’t get all the science and all the education courses I wanted into the first two years.

There are two types of problems: real and imaginary. I love imaginary problems. Real problems hurt. They hurt because they challenge hope and raise the fear of failure.

My problems are real. Yours are imaginary. I can process your problems effectively because I can do it without affect. I remain objective. Sometimes.

Another reality of my Combat PTSD is that I am often stuck at the level of responsibility I experienced in combat. I was a Lieutenant and a CAPO or Civil Action/Psychological Operations Officer. Part of my job was to help families, including children, to survive the rigors of living on a Special Forces border camp isolated from civilization. I take care of people, especially people who depend upon me. (See why I couldn’t help becoming a teacher?)

Friday afternoon I came home from work after my first advising session with a practice teacher to find my wife crying. Now, that is a problem, a very real and personal problem. Someone in power had made a decision to withhold payment of a retirement benefit of several thousand dollars. The person also told her it was “her fault” for her decision about the timing of her retirement. Of course, she felt violated.

You know how I felt. I went from tired but happy to rage in less time than it takes a tear to roll down a cheek. That is understandable. My problem, the PTSD problem Dr. Hart is addressing above, is the shot of adrenaline that can turn me from the caring teacher and mentor into a fierce warrior in twenty minutes—if I do not stop it.

The problem Dr. Hart is talking about is what results from a fit of rage, a full-blown dinosaur dump—you know, broken things, injury, jail. That did not happen. Nancy and I didn’t even have a fight. Thanks to Dr. Hart and friends, I managed a difficult situation.

Dr. Hart goes on to say, “When looking at a difficulty, the important thing is to first remain external rather than internal in viewing the situation.” So, I comforted my wife and went to work. I researched options of grievance, clarified the situation with Nancy, and fought with my pen. We made it through a holiday weekend with only appropriate disappointment, without rage. I wrote, and we signed, letters to possible advocates, accepted the loss of money, and enjoyed our time together.

Tuesday, Nancy received another call announcing that she would, in spite of her so-called error, receive the benefit. She was on her way into the post office to mail those letters. She turned around and called me.

The other problem at work appears to be solved, also. I asked a question of one of our student advisors. It seems we have just enough flexibility to solve my problem.

Several problems seemed to have been solved, but the most important is my problem with rage. Recovery from Combat PTSD is possible. For all of those still struggling with personal problems, I say keep on keeping on. Work on your recovery, and do not quit before the miracle happens.

Fear and Fury

“Many combat veterans have learned that they are more afraid of themselves and their own actions rather than the actions of others.” (Hart, 2000, p. 106)

Reminder: For the next few weeks, 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.

The problem: People are desperately trying to kill me in violence that defies description. A problem can be defined simply as someplace else to go with no known way to get there. Combat is a problem.

The natural reaction to sudden violence of an ambush sprung upon you is to run. Don’t do it. Any ambush is an anticipation of that reaction with a plan to kill you in your flight. To run away is to die.

Another natural reaction is to hide, hunker down, freeze. Don’t do it. When our young soldiers did that in our Area of Operations, they took direct hits from rocket propelled grenades (3 dead and 11 wounded as best I can recall).

Survival depends upon immediate reaction to do the unthinkable. We turn into the teeth of the enemy. We face the fire and run over the ambush. It is definitely not natural, but it can save lives. It breaks the ambush and seizes the momentum.

We train and learn to survive violence by reacting with greater violence. All the emotion we can muster is necessary to run into those bullets and rockets trying to blow us to pieces. We learn to do the unnatural, and to do it with all the violence we can generate, in order to survive.

See the problem? When we feel ambushed, we react by our learned, conditioned behavior to face the attack and violently run over our attacker.

We react in fury. People around us don’t like that. It scares them. We appear as unnatural as zombies—and equally frightening. It scares us, too.

It doesn’t even have to be a real attack on us. It only has to be a perceived attack, and maybe not even one that is happening, but one we anticipate. The second sentence of Dr. Hart’s quote from above says, “But intrusive thoughts, thoughts of violent acts to deal with life’s frustrations can plague veterans.”

We are afraid of our own thoughts, afraid of the actions that may follow our thoughts.

We are trapped between our fear and our fury.

The fury allowed us to turn our rage from vulnerability to survival. It allowed us to use violence to destroy others so that we might live. It allowed us to return home.

We know what our fury can do.

Now we are afraid of what it might do because we know our trained reactions are so fast that the fury may be unleashed before we can stop it. So, we are afraid of ourselves.

Dr. Hart likes to tell us, “Only good people feel guilty.” We feel guilty for things we have done. There are ways to resolve that guilt. In my case, The Wall (Vietnam Memorial in D.C.) helped.

We also feel guilty for things we think and feel. But, we are afraid of these thoughts and feelings. We are afraid of the actions that might be triggered. We know the violence we are capable of perpetrating. We feel guilty for things we might do. These are more difficult to resolve.

Back to the Edge, that low-grade rage we hold onto instead of allowing ourselves to feel vulnerable. Why? Because, if we feel vulnerable, fury is unleashed faster that our minds can think. So, we attempt to avoid our thoughts and feelings.

We fail.

Maintaining the Edge protects us from those feelings of vulnerability, but recovery requires resolution of our guilt and fears. That increases the risk of unleashed fury.

How do you climb out of a hole? First, stop digging.

Now, ask for help.

Clinging to the Edge

Feeling trapped between a sea of vulnerability and a mountain of rage?

Trauma exaggerates feelings of vulnerability. Skills of coping with our world are overwhelmed. We are in danger, in peril of losing something precious to us (including life) and feeling helpless to prevent it. How do we react to helplessness?

One common reaction is learned helplessness. We stop trying. We stop fighting. We become victims.

Another reaction is resolve. We commit to fighting back. We tilt at windmills, blame others, and pledge that nobody will do that to us, again. We will die, first.

Sometimes we find a moderate path, and sometimes we vacillate between the two.

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.

I wear a mustache. In younger years, it was some expression of style, masculinity, or self-image. Now, it is a mask. Periodically, I shave it off to see how I look.

I look angry. I have no upper lip—just a thin line. Trying to make it reappear with an Angelina Jolie expression fails. The strange thing is I still recall thinking, when I returned home from Vietnam, that I wasn’t going to talk about it. I would be tight lipped. Odd.

In Dr. Hart’s groups, we refer to this as The Edge, a chronic anger (hopefully, low-grade). It is an adaptive technique, a useful coping mechanism. While not wonderful, it is better than the alternatives unless and until more cognitive coping skills are learned.

The sea of vulnerability means depression, despair, learned helplessness, and possibly suicide.

The mountain of rage means conflict, loss of family, employment, and freedom, possibly through homicide.

The edge is a crutch, a way a wounded warrior copes with feelings of vulnerability and rage. It is not pleasant, but it is healthier and preferable to the alternatives. It is also not a life sentence.

It is possible to let go of the edge, to grow out of this trap. We cannot climb the mountain of rage and we cannot swim the sea of vulnerability—without help.

The rage is what we refer to as a dinosaur dump, that wild ride of adrenalin-induced emotion that lasts for three or four days of pain and anguish and leaves us weak and more wounded. Bad things happen on these wild rides—irreversible things—that destroy lives. I know of no safe way over that mountain.

Vulnerability is equally debilitating. Trying to swim across the ocean is not possible. There comes a point of no return, where it is impossible even to get back to the shore. We drown in our own misery of vulnerability. I do know of a way to cross the ocean. But, why?

Happiness. The blessings of life are on the other side; however, Maslow’s being needs cannot be satisfied until more basic needs of survival and safety are met.

Do you want to help a Vet? Be happy. Give us your hope, a vision of the other side, a reason to cross that ocean. Oh, and give us a boat.

No, check that. Don’t give us a boat. Teach us how to build one. Then, teach us how to sail it, how to navigate, and how to survive the journey.

That’s the purpose of this blog. I’m trying to give you the plans to build your boat or to help a loved one build his or hers.

By relabeling triggers (of arousal) and becoming comfortable with our surroundings, we can begin the process. We learn to use some thought-stopping techniques (e.g. Einstein, talk to Harpo), breathing and relaxation, EMDR, and other cognitive restructuring processes. We build our boat and learn to sail it.

Then we practice. We try it, letting go of our edge. We experience vulnerability for short periods of time. We train with increasing lengths of exposure. We learn.

Note: I’m going to add a personal thought not found directly in Dr. Hart’s book. One solution to feelings of vulnerability that seems to work for many people is some Spiritual power, some God, Creator, Supreme Being upon which one can rely.


Joy, Sex, and Rage

Science of Joy II: Mind Wind

One story lead this week claims that brain chemistry during meditation is similar to brain chemistry during sex.

Note to self: Meditate more often.

Perhaps schools should be teaching meditation rather than abstinence.

Nah. This requires discipline because we lack a meditation drive. A quarter century of teaching teenagers has taught me a couple of things: 1) Many lack discipline (much like the rest of us); 2) Many are creative enough to try both at the same time (along with other joy-simulating stuff).

A quick look at the history of sex reveals that many cultures consider it a spiritual activity. Furthermore, a recent news story covered a therapy program teaching people how to avoid STDs and the complications of dating by using visualization (meditation) as an alternative. But, this post is not really about sex. It is about joy.

Science can and does study joy. We observe physical (electrical) and chemical (e.g. neurotransmitter) changes associated with feelings or states of joy. These can be identified, qualified, and even quantified in some cases.

The winds of my mind tell me we spend a great deal of our lives seeking joy through chocolate or cognac, success or fame, love or security, status or stuff. We are often deceived. Like the habitual body gyrations of a batter at the plate, we go through a dance of drink and song, food and fashion, job and hobby, all to recreate a feeling we had—that’s the key—had, in the past.

Perhaps we could apply some principles of science to establish causal relationships between our activities and our feelings. We can study them. Others have. We can learn from their joy and pain.

Follow your bliss. Find it. Seek it. It may be on the other side of effort or even pain. Do the work. There are no short-cuts.

Note to self: Hard physical work often is followed by a feeling of joy.

I cannot end this post without mentioning PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder. Stress can change our physical brain structures and our brain chemistry. Production of joy-stimulating chemicals is diminished so that a nagging feeling of dread is common. Furthermore, it becomes more challenging to find activities that produce the chemicals of joy.

Another complication is adrenalin. The ability to catabolize stress-response chemicals out of our system is also diminished. This leaves us with a prolonged stress response in the form of rage that can last acutely for days. It also persists in chronic low grade. Rage is not only a substitute for the high of battle, but it masks our feelings of vulnerability.

Rage becomes our substitute for joy.

Recovery from combat PTSD (www.ErvBarnes.com), and probably other forms, can be as simple as a journey of learning how to enjoy life, again. It becomes imperative that we learn how to follow our bliss. Science is beginning to help. Hurray for science.

Enjoy the journey.