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Joe Martin Cantrell

Lesson 4: The Warrior—Overcoming the Enemy Within

Goal

Understand that stress is a normal response for someone who has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event, but that prolonged and severe stress reactions require therapeutic intervention.

Activity

Learn to recognize the symptoms of post-traumatic stress and proactively address ways to relieve these symptoms.

The Warrior

During the course of the hero’s journey, you may find it necessary to declare war on those things that stand in the way of heading where you want to go, and becoming what you want to be.  The “enemy” may take the shape of your old lifestyle, may be an event, or be individuals or groups standing in the way of your transformation.

The “Symptoms” of War

“The people who love them [veterans] can’t understand why the person who went off to war has changed……they lash out or they kill their feelings with drugs or alcohol or any number of destructive ways.”                                                Joe Cantrell

Anyone can experience stress or depression as a result of some sort of personal calamity or the unrelenting pressures of juggling family and work.  Such stress falls within the normal limits.  Eventually the pressure eases.

Stresses which go beyond what people experience in daily life may be responses to events like combat, personal assault, and natural disaster.  In these instances, both mental and physical reactions can be more severe and last longer.  If, over time, the stress levels don’t subside, if the depression doesn’t lift, a person may be suffering the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

As a combatant in a war or “police action,” no one escapes being wounded in some way.  The symptoms we now associate with post-traumatic stress we used to call shell shock or battle fatigue, especially in reference to soldiers serving in World Wars I and II.   People who suffered from it were expected to “grin and bear it.”  Seeking help, it was feared, would stigmatize them as “weak” or would damage their career aspirations or job security.    This view has changed in the intervening years.  Now soldiers leaving the field of combat are encouraged to seek help to improve their chances of a more successful and speedier recovery.  While there is still reluctance on the part of some to get help with their symptoms, the wisdom of seeking treatment early is gaining momentum.

PTSD is not just a consequence of combat exposure.  Victims of sexual assault and people who witness catastrophe can exhibit the same symptoms as the combat soldier.   Even people who deal with victims of accidents or treat the wounded are not immune.  Nurses, emergency workers, and law enforcement personnel—the people who deal with the aftermath—can develop symptoms just as severe as those who actually lived through the trauma.

PTSD can encompass a wide variety of symptoms.  Joe describes a feeling of hyper vigilance, or hyper arousal, and recalls an instance where he had to leave a job because of the physical arrangement of his work station……“They gave me a cubicle where people were on all four sides of me….I couldn’t work there.”

Mental or emotional reactions most commonly associated with PTSD include:

  • Nightmares and flashbacks
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Low energy
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Irritability or angry outbursts
  • Feeling antsy or trouble concentrating
  • Depression and lack of enjoyment for living
  • Feeling wary or constantly “on guard”

Finding the Tools to Deal with Stress

“Most of us now have overcome a lot of symptoms, but we have panic attacks.”

Joe Cantrell

“There are some wonderful individual psychologists in town who specifically deal with vets….there is a number who work with domestic violence issues, and drug and alcohol issues.  It’s up to us as warriors.”                                    Joe Cantrell

The Department of Veteran Affairs provides a national center for research, education and training on post-traumatic stress disorder.  It has been reported that as many as one in five vets returning from Middle East battlefields experience symptoms of PTSD.  This center has marshaled resources to develop and disseminate best practices for treating PTSD through the VA system.

Individual therapy, group therapy and alternative medicine, such as acupuncture, have all played a role in the treatment process.  Popular treatments with veterans include:

  • Cognitive, or talking,  therapy
  • Exposure therapy
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)

Descriptions of these therapies can be found online and from printed materials available from the VA.

Ways to Help Yourself

“People say ‘just stuff it’ and that is what a lot of people did.  They just stuffed it.  They say ‘I don’t have it.’  And then they lash out, they beat their wives, they beat their kids….”

If you are experiencing symptoms of PTSD, don’t hesitate to take action.  You don’t have to live with your demons and you don’t need to “go it alone.”  Be proactive—face your challenges and take steps to rebalance your life!   Actions to consider are……

  • Get the whole family involved in the recovery process
  • Learn all you can about treatment options and be willing to try new methods.
  • Talk about your trauma without fear or guilt
  • Ask others who have been through the healing process for their advice or counsel—ask for their help
  • Join a support group, especially one offering comfort and healing based on traditional ways.

Ways to Extend Your Help To Others

Helping others deal with difficult and at times painful struggles with PTSD is an important contribution.  Veterans who have been able to cope with these issues themselves become role models for others.  Native American support groups, where a positive valuing of traditional culture is a backdrop to therapy, also aid in the healing process.  Be ready to……

  • Offer to accompany a person to appointments, help with errands, make yourself available.
  • Be open to listening about the events that trigger symptoms, as many times as it takes.
  • Plan activities that keep the person engaged in “living.”  Go to lunch, see a movie, visit a museum, attend a ballgame—whatever has appeal.
  • Encourage physical activity.  Suggest a walk, a hike—anything that “blows off steam.”
  • Encourage contact with family, close friends, and others who form a consistent and caring support group.

Links to web sites that provide extensive information regarding PTSD

Veterans Administration                                    www.ptsd.va.gov

National Institute of Mental Health                        www.nimh.nih

PubMed Health                                                www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

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