Tag Archives: wound

Holy Duty

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. December investigates charity.

We cannot experience charity by sharing ourselves with others unless we can accept ourselves, even our egos. Yes, the goal of many spiritual growth paradigms is to abandon ego; however, in my lay opinion, abandoning ego completely may lead to spiritual enlightenment and physical death. I aim to abandon the ego as the center of my existence.

And, that brings us to duty.

“Holiness is not the luxury of the few. It is a simple duty for you and for me.” (Mother Teresa)

I have made a leap from lay psychology to spirituality of the masses (pun intended). Come on, you knew it was coming. I have given you enough Jungian kind of psychology to expect some commitment to the unconscious.

This has been a challenging week for the entire concept of duty—with the release of the torture report. Last week I had searched for duty quotes and found many that are negative or inappropriate for this blog. I think the explanation is fairly simple: Egocentric duty is damned dangerous.

I recall a story about young Mother Teresa, but I could not find it. It claimed she was so moved by the hunger of the people she cared for that she gave away her own meager lunch. Day after day. And, being of youthful metabolism, she soon began to weaken until a superior noticed her failing stature and inquired. Young Mother Teresa was admonished to eat her lunch.

The point of the story? Unless we keep ourselves alive and reasonably healthy, we will have no strength, even no life, perhaps, to share with others.

I do not know if the story is true about Mother Teresa, but I know it is true about me.

It is the oxygen mask rule. In the case of a sudden loss of cabin pressure in the airplane, your oxygen mask will drop from the overhead panel. Put it on as demonstrated. If you are traveling with a dependent, put your mask on first so that you will be able to help your child or mother traveling with you.

That is why I say we must not abandon our ego—only put it in its proper place.

Proper place?

Yes, in service to others.

I am not Mother Teresa. Neither are you, I’ll bet, or you would not be reading my blog. We are people wounded by life, sure, but more than that, we are people with different duties, different callings.

Duty to whom?

Oh, no. You are not going to trick me into giving you my meager lunch. I have a deep conviction about my calling, my mission in life, and I am trying to live that. My gratitude is that I have been blessed with opportunities to serve others in that calling and that I continue to be so blessed.

For each of you, I pray such a blessing.

But, I am not a missionary to the poor. I am a teacher and occasional minister to the poor in spirit.

Who are you?

Whom do you serve?

There are very old ways of answering those most personal questions, ways that have much in common across indigenous cultures, ways that do not fail when the ego has been relegated to service, for then we become blessed with the joy of charity, of giving of ourselves, of doing our personal duty.

“Is it I, Lord?” (Daniel O’Donnell)

The answers are inside you, deep down beyond your ego, and they are Holy.

Happy Tracking!

Indignant Invalid

“Be as one with all creation,                                                                                             in beauty, in harmony, and in peace,                                                                         and may you walk your own road with a cool body.”                                               R. Carlos Nakai in Hart, 2000, p. 151  

The title and this quote are separated by two great rivers: my Post Traumatic Stress and the misunderstanding of an unhealthy culture. Recovery is the only bridge. Shall we walk it?

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.

This leg of my journey ends today, for I have closed Dr. Hart’s little book. I shall continue blogging on other topics of PTSD Recovery, but first, one last post on this one.

I am an invalid. I feel it. I know it. And, you tell me so.

We didn’t win in Vietnam. I didn’t die there. I didn’t even bleed. But I hurt, and the pain I feel is not validated, and that compounds the hurt to indignation.

Dr. Hart says on p. 149, “Vietnam veterans often feel this lack of validation and wounding for being part of a war which was not won.”

There is more. Dr. Hart also refers to ‘Secondary Wounding’ as the pain we feel when our wartime experience is not validated by those around us. We instinctively turn to silence rather than to face the invalidation of blank stares or worse, a form of dismissal or disgust.

I will go further. When people around us ignore our feelings, ignore our triggers, we feel not only invalidated; we feel unsafe.

Where can I go during this election season without hearing people complaining about politics? Most any kind of conflict or complaining can trigger me, but certain kinds, including war stories, religion, or politics, are especially dangerous. I feel unsafe—as though at any moment I may fly into a full-blown dinosaur dump of rage beyond my control. So, I stay home, indignant.

I wonder, do people not know what it feels like to be triggered? To endure days of anxiety and rage that aches in the middle of your chest? That leaves you drained as from a fever for a few days more? Do people really not know? Or, do they not care?

Now, in this time when I need the support of others, I cannot trust them to validate my feelings, to respect my need for harmony and ease in all things. I cannot trust my friends, so I isolate. I bunker down.

There are medical professionals who discount the validity of PTSD and there are multitudes who simply ignore it. They tsk, tsk, and shake their heads at suicides and homicides, but do they ever pick up a book and read. Do you?

So, here I am spilling my guts to you because I can. I have a very mild case, and I have the faculties and opportunities of expression. It reminds me of a story about a boy walking along a beach strewn with stranded starfish. As he picked one up and threw it back into the sea, an elder counseled him on the futility of his actions, telling him that with all these starfish, the boy couldn’t make a difference. The boy responded that he thought it might make a difference to that one (starfish).

One problem with emotional disorders is that they self-perpetuate by causing trauma in others. So, families of people with symptoms get wounded, themselves. They wound back and it escalates. PTSD is hard on families. Can you make a difference for just one?

We each live in two worlds, one internal and one external. I may not find peace in this external world of dangerous humans, but I know of two safe places. I know how to find that clear space Dr. Hart talks about, that inner peace, and I know an external world that never invalidates me. Nature. Next week I will pause to refresh with Nature. I may even share it with you.

Weakened Warrior

Conflict begets conflict. War wounds us all. It changes our minds.

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.

Human beings are social animals. We have evolved to be dependent upon each other for our survival simply because alone, we cannot outfight, outrun, outhunt, out-procreate, or otherwise dominate our animal world.

War has taught us that human beings are not to be trusted—that they are more dangerous than lions, tigers and bears. They kill us for cryptic reasons.

We are forever mired within an unsolvable problem: Alone, we are not likely to survive; but, people are likely to kill us. What to do? There is a solution, although not to the problem as defined.

The conflict lies within our complex brain. The awareness of self that defines each individual human resides in the frontal cortex of our smart brain, our cerebrum. The activation system that filters stimuli, that selects what may be received and perceived by different parts of the brain, lies in our dinosaur brain, the primitive structures. Combat has changed both brains.

Cerebral learning that defines the self consists of memories stored as chemical changes (related to RNA). The man or woman returning from combat is not the same person who left for war. His or her image of self has changed. Self image and internal dialogue has turned the Veteran into a different person, sometimes not recognizable to family and friends.

The experiences of combat vulnerabilities and choices has turned a social human being into a warrior capable of killing and surviving in combat; however, it also created a person unable to trust people other than a few members of her/his combat team. Then, we separate the individual from the support system of that team and send him/her back home, where family and community see a stranger—and treat her/him as a stranger. They are not at fault; Veterans look and behave differently, strangely.

The Veteran feels vulnerable, threatened, hopelessly lost and alone.

The primitive brain has learned to process incoming data by sending it to less cognitive processing parts of the brain. The shrunken hippocampus is superseded by an enhanced amygdala, and the Veteran reacts to stimuli exactly as what he or she is, a wounded animal. The primitive brain reacts with fear, flight, fight, freeze, or f—. The Veteran has been trained by combat to survive in this way, especially without the security of the combat team.

It is unlikely that volume and function of the hippocampus, which tends to activate the cerebral cortex, or smart brain, will ever be restored to pre-combat condition. Like limbs lost, it seems to be an irreversible condition. The only solution is to accommodate, and this can be facilitated by family and community as well as with professional help for the Veteran.

What we can change is our higher minds of cerebral cortex. The Veteran can continue to develop his/her self image. Because we can be aware of our cognitions (thoughts), we can take steps to change them. We can dismiss our “stinkin’ thinkin’” and replace it with realistic but positive affirmations. Again, there is a big however. Veterans are not likely to manage this on their own. We need the help of family, community, and health professionals—and, especially, each other.

A problem is unsolvable because it has been over-determined. That means we have placed constraints upon ourselves that make all possible solutions unacceptable. The answer is to define a new problem that can be solved, that has acceptable solutions.

We must accept what cannot be changed, but we also need to commit to changing the things we can.

What we can change is the way we think with our smart brain, and that takes effort by all of us—the Veteran, family, community, and health professionals. That is what I am working on for myself, and this blog is a part of my recovery. My prayer is that it might also help others.

How are we doing?