warriorhood, PTSD, myth, masculinity, treatment, character, strength, resiliency, and more

There may be a solely physical reason for PTSD.  Perhaps I should back up, for the physicalists would claim that ‘thoughts’, seemingly immaterial ‘things’ are, when it is all said and done, the effects of physical actions.  That is, atoms and molecules and neurons and neurotransmitters and so forth.  I am inclined to agree with the notion that Descartes was wrong in splitting the mind and body up into two. 

Back to my point.  If one were to take a purely physical stance on PTSD, there is an exposure to events and/or conditions that build up changes in neuropathways.  Triggers are built to ramp up the fight/flight system at a moment’s notice.  Associations are learned and encoded in the brain.  And, as one speaker at a lecture today on allopathic approaches to PTSD commented (It was in the CBT section) there are stuck points where cogntive self appraisals are unable to move past. 

If this is the case, then the therapies to approach this would naturally want to include methods that address the paths of thouht within the brain and the handling of the flight or flight response when it occurs (coping mechanisms).  That is, creating better diet and input of nutrients (lessening of caffeine and smoking) to help create a better mental soup to start with, addressing triggers and possibly forms of coping (meditation, visualization, story telling…), working on the precognitive thoughts that might be tuning mole hills into mountains or ignoring real problems (ignoring a mental loop where one might be saying my family would be better off without me).  And then the addition of social networking with others (alike and non alike, who share in the experiences and who don’t). We are, after all, social animals and we bounce ideas off each other all the time in many ways of affirming or denying concepts, attitudes, beliefs, rules of behavior, and so forth. 

On this last note, I can’t help but laugh… for I was at the university campus late last night and had locked my computer down at the cofffe shop so that I could run up stairs to the latrine.  Being late at night the campus is deserted save for those hardy souls who take night classes.  I fell in behind one of them as we walked up the stairs and I laughed, out loud and without thought, at the kid in front of me.  He was a young 19 year old kid with unkempt hair and clothes as is usual for many his age, yet he was sporting the style that has never ceased to cause me to laugh.  His pants were below his buttocks and pulled tight across his upper thigh, showing his boxers.  As I laughed out loud at first glance, he must have known the reason for my laughter for he self consciously pulled his pants up a little.  Watching him I was aware of all the frailties of his lack of identity.  He was a kid who did not know himself and was constantly projecting back onto the mirrors of those around him.  Who did he know?  What did they do?  What values did they impart among each other.  I do not, in any way, want to seem as though I am imparting that we ‘older’ folks have values and the youth do not adn I certainly do not want to be accused of sounding like an old stuffy person (kids these days have no values…).  No, I mean values not in the tradtional or conservative sense, but in the literal psychological sense.  Literally, what were the values that this kid and his social connections imparted among each other?  And what reinforcements did they recieve from those from outside their group? 

This little example shows, among other things, two points.  One, creation of identies (and the trap thereof… for what if this kid is seen as nothing more than a hooligan and likewise believes himself nothing more than a hooligan) and two, the importance of diversity, both laterally and horizontally, in our social networks.  We need people of different types in our network (this kid’s social group ought to include teachers, guitarists, store managers, etc…) as well as the very young and the very old.  When we watch movies or read stories that are very great, we see stories that transcend a time, a place, and and age group.  Likewise, when our circle has diverse elements within it, the bouncing of ideas, of values and life meanings pick up more truth. 

And yet there is something else…

I shot off an email to a professor and classmate for a class that I had to skip today (juggling a lot of stuff).  In so doing I reflected on some of the new things that I’ve learned lately in philosophy.  There was a time when I have taken some new theory, or outlook, and thought that it was the tool by which I could solve all questions.  While this may again be the case in the future, I see each new tool as another tool in a growing toolbox.  If a philosophy class, or a poetry class, or a particular psychology book, or such, were enough to pave the path to enlightenment, then we’d notice a change in upper classmen as compared to incoming freshmen.  Instead, we see the idealism of the young give way to the an acceptance of the old(er).  What if both could be like the other at the same time?  What if the dreams of the young fueled the pragmatic nature of the experienced? 

But I get off track.  I am thinking, here, of other things… mythic themes, stories, meaning.  We want, we need, we crave meaning.  How does meaning work, exactly?  Can one write the importance of meaning in one’s life as simply as heuristics and patterns within the frontal lobes by which one looks at stimuli and experiences?  Doesn’t sound very sexy, does it?  Can there be something said of myth making in a world of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)?  And if so… why?  If not… why?

For the physicalist the question I have is, is there a spirit/soul?  Is this different than mind?  Is it a qualititative state of the mind?  If the answer to the first question is yes or no, the third question is still important.  Is the spirit/soul a qualititative state of the mind?  I might note, here, that I believe a large part of the fear and anger toward atheists by the common masses is that they are afraid of the mortality of their selves, that the notion of no afterlife is so hurtful to think of in light of a life ill spent without endeavor or meaning that they cling all the more the notion of a heavenly afterlife.  We attack with greatest hatred that which we are most fearful of within ourselves.  Whether or not the soul/spirit is immaterial or if it is a qualititative state of the mind (I mean state differently than a mood or emotion… perhaps aspect is better suited), whether mortal or, as Socrates had said, immortal, it seems that this is an important aspect of healing the person.  It is said by some that a complete healing in a medical setting take into account the psychological needs of the patient (and doctors are supposed to have a good bedside manner).  And I would say, also, that a more complete psychology would be more than simple positive affirmations and declarations of I see and respect you as a person and other kitchy phrases passed around in seminaars and team building exercises and so forth. 

Again, we crave meaning. 

In reading The Knight: A Jungian Healing Journey by Marvin Spiegelmann, Ph.D., I wonder as to some near connections that I’ve made in the past.  Through my readings and beings and dealings with others and so on… the notion that magic and ritual are (though similar,some would not claim any difference, others such as myself would) are forms of some sort of personal therapy and in the meeting and partnering with the entities within the landscape of the soul. 

Revisiting what I wrote in March 2008:
 (Begin March 2008)

Is this, the cognitive and pre-cognitive processes that Beck writes of, the point of therapy?  There is, here, in my infantile understanding of such, a dichotomous pathway to choose from.  On the one hand there is the surrendering of the self as ‘broken’ and to go into therapy.  This goes against our culture as soldiers on many levels as well as that addressed above.  We are told and strive to be, responsible men/women in charge of all that is around us.  We choose our reactions, we choose to attack/defend/flank/withdraw and so on.  It is a big step for such a soldier, particularly higher in rank (responsibility) to admit that he is not in control.  Yet this is the language given to us.  We are encouraged, via the stoicism that appeals to so many in the military and the culture itself, that we are indeed  within control.  To challenge this is to challenge our core ideals about ourselves.  It is much easier to say that it is not a failing of my own (why I have nightmares, why I am so angry all the time) but that it is some mysterious brain chemical that can be fixed by a pill.  I do not know the numbers, but dealing with my own buddies there are far more on psychological medications than those that go to therapy.  We do not admit publicly (I, personally, do) that we go to therapy, yet many will readily tell the pills that they are currently on.

Another path is one of strengths based counseling.  That is, recognize that you are watchful of people and instead of this vigilance being symptomatic of your inability to ‘turn it off’ (hard to do for you will turn it back on during your weekend training and other times of training).  Instead, view it as a strength.  What are the strengths of the warrior? Bring these out.  Recognize that your emotions are automatic response generators and that this is a GOOD thing for you.  Think of it as if you have gone through Ninja training.  Now it seems cool.  While others around you are oblivious to what is going on, you have noticed the drunk driver ahead of you and avoided it, have noticed the gang of thugs at the bus stop and have stayed to the side, have heard the alarm two buildings over of the fire that others seem to not notice, pay attention to the noise in the hallway and are ready to react if it is another campus shooter, have smelled that odd scent in the air (was it smoke) and are ready to call for evacuation.  You are, it seems, a guardian of your society and always ready to help, aid, protect, defend, and attack.  Whether it is aliens, terrorists, depressed teenagers, chemical spills, or whatnot, you are that selfless defender.  You are a hero in waiting.   The precognitive processes that send in signals are now addressed in this light.  Is it now easier to assess the five Arabic men in the student rec center as hopeful students and then ‘let it go’ as compared to noticing the emotional state that is now in conflict and noting it as paranoia and holding onto this as a sign?  Thoughts here are of ‘don’t think of the white elephant’ phenomena, also the meditation practice of letting thoughts go instead of holding onto them, and the notion of hypochondriacs who notice a spot and then obsess about it.  Have we, in looking at PTSD in the first vein, created a condition whereas we are somewhat forced to become obsessive about it? 

And what of our warrior training?  Is it enough to train how to kill?  Some thinking is that only those in charge must know the whys of killing (the officers) and that those who are the foot soldiers must only satisfy themselves with doing so and not to question why.  A common saying in the Marines is “ours is not to question why, ours is but to do or die”.  This works if only the soldier is able to stick to it.  Yet come back home and surround yourself with a people who all want to know your opinion of if we should be in Iraq or not (and don’t say you have no opinion, for then you are just a mindless, brainwashed robot, which we are certainly not), and t.v. and movies, and there are so many opinions about the war.  Personally I had no ill effects from Desert Storm until I saw the movie “Three Kings” in 98 (or thereabout) and different whys of the war hit me like a brick and I went to a bar and had some stiff drinks after the movie.  Killing others for oil?  It hurt me deeply that I had been a part of such.  And yet you cannot have a fighting platoon where every man makes up his mind whether or not to fight a fight.  You need obedience, swift and sure, to orders on the battlefield.

Our warrior training ought to also include virtues of the warrior as protector and so on.  We might still have to go into a village and react to contact and so on, and civilians are killed.  This is a different issue than straight PTSD from stressful situation alone, in that I am given different ways of grieving for those I’ve personally killed.  There is literature on anxiety, PTSD, and such on such choices that I am still reading and have to incorporate here.

(end of March 2008)

I cannot help, as always, to make connections. Everything is connected.  Yet as I read about the neoplatonism of Plotinus and a brief introduction on his concept of evil (earlier entry) I see the story… or at least the roots of the story.  It is pretty closely aligned to negative feelings about mental disorder in the military and I must be sure to illustrate the right points in the proper proportion.  There are a few schemas that do not match well:

The manly man schema
I am a man who, acting like a man in that I am strong and able and not shirking from a fight, have joined the military.  There are different degrees of manliness, and those of us who perform certain tasks are much more aligned with what we are and what we are supposed to do than others.  I am much higher on the manliness scale than, say, a male nurse.  In such learned skills, such as how to shoot a rifle and how to move tactically, yet underneath it all I am still a man.  Because I am a man I am able to perform the demands of what the military asks of me; road marches, exposure to the elements, violence and war.  I am not frail, either mentally, emotionally, or physically, for the arguments against women in the military is that they are too weak to carry the physical load and are not emotionally tough enough (i.e., unimotional) to perform war.  As a man I do all that is required without a hitch.  If I hurt something, it is through grit and determination that I persevere, carry on, even though I have a sprained ankle, a hurt leg, a gunshot wound, a missing limb, or other physical wounds.  Such perseverence is spoken of with respect and admiration among us.  We are physical beings and prone to weakness and my willpower will push me on.  My soul, living inside this imperfect body, is essentially the same, though I’ve not got a good reason what went on during childhood (that was just a phase between the heaven before life and my adulthood existence).  The real me is the adult me.  The mind that psychologists talk about is really the ‘soul’ acting through the brain.  There is no such thing as someone on trial for insanity, or unfit for trial.  We are all responsible.  Period.  If I break down or start to show emotions at my actions of being in a war, I am not exercising my will.  I am not ‘enough of a man’.  The essential ‘me’ is not worthy, for life is the testing ground of our worthiness of character, and by breaking down, I show my true colors.  Denial is a form of ‘reigning in’ those lose elements.  Tighten it up.  Keep it together.  Don’t give in.  Never give up.  If it is one against many. I’ll fight that fight.  If it is one against wrong with surety of death.  I’ll go.  If a sacrifice must be made, better me than those I protect.  I do.  I do not try. I either succeed or ‘die trying’. 

This is highly problematic.  It impedes all manner of things from occuring.  There are values to be had in ‘the manly man’.  For there are times when great sacrifice and courage and a ‘never give up’ attitude is needed.  However, these traits are not the sole domain of ‘the man’.  Our thinking has become that to think of a man is to think of these traits and vice versus.  We ignore the fact that there are single mothers that sacrifice greatly all the time, or teachers that work in a distressing environment to perform a needed task, or a student that works three jobs while trying to pay for school to achieve a dream.   

Our individual humanity is a collective, shared, humanity.  Within each of us is a divine spark.  Within each other is the very same.  I wonder what our thoughts on the current military actions in Gaza would be if we struck from every single newscast, newspaper, radio program, flier, book, and so on, the words ‘Israeli’ and ‘Palestinian’ and used instead ‘people’ and ‘people’.  I know, I’m a peacnik hippy now.  Spare me.  Peaceniks have gotten on my nerves as much (if not more) than others in the past.  I could go on here, but I wont lest I get off track, only to say that the quickness of some to jump to the side of Israel in this (and other to that of Palestinians) is bothersome.  Angelizing one side and demonizing the other is to lose one’s perspective and thought. 

Back to the point.  An example of evil as not existing as a thing (that is there is no pure essence of evil) is like the physicalism example of the non-reality of the holes in swiss cheese.  One can have nothing but cheese on a plate (filling in the holes, in layman’s terms) but one cannot have nothing but holes on the plate… it would instead be an absence of cheese.

I’ve called the narcotic methamphetamine an evil.  The thing in itself is not evil.  Sitting on a shelf it is not evil.  Shot off into space it is not evil.  So my language is flawed… methamphetamine is not evil.  Yet the manner that use of meth has negative impacts on every facet of a human being’s existence is an evil in the Plotinus’ sense of the word.  And this brings me to Positive Psychology and the focus on flourishing.  The case is made, and evidence backs this up, that we are happiest when we flourish.  To flourish is to be authentically human and to experience happiness and emotional depth as well as to live one’s life within the context of some meaning

The approach that occurs to me is one of meaning and one of character.  That is, you are an essential person that moves into a role.  We might take on giant roles that are bigger than we are, or our breadth of self might transform the role.  Those who are great at something are likely to be the latter.  Note, this is similar to the above notion about the soldier being a man underneath.  The point here is that underneath the role of the man is the greater truth of the human.  This is terribly scary stuff.  What does this mean to be human? Does this make me not American?  Does it turn me into a wimpy pushover?  Aren’t there such things as gender differences?  If there is a deeper self than our gender roles, then this means (gasp) that same-sex marriage and relationships and (double gasp) realize that same -sex sex doesn’t really matter. 

On a side note… in reading a book and their reports of responses to same sex fantasies and the great emotional answers that men gave in denying such (affirming again that we are most angry/violent against what we most secretly harbor.  Therefore, the minister at Westboro Baptist Church, that den of hate, is likely very very very gay and in deep denial, so much so that it is causing hate and venom to spew forth onto the outer world… the same that he would spew at his latent sexuality were he to manifest it).  A study had men watch gay porn.  They checked attitudes toward gays beforehand and rated them on how anti-gay they were.  There was a positive correlation between those who were loudest in attacking gays and those who were aroused at the sight of gay porn.  Basically, the louder one shouted against gays, the more aroused you got during viewing.  Listening to men talk over the years, and judging reactions and so forth, I wonder if I were to compare ratings among ‘manly men’ across all walks of life and to see who they expressed more distaste toward… John the gay man, or Bob the guy who had sex with a sheep secretly.  Sounds absurd, but is it?  There is a t.v. show that plays surveilance tapes from around the world.  One that I remember was a man having sex with a sheep in Mexico City.  Guys that I know that have seen it all laughed at it but thought nothing much of it.  Not the same reaction given whenever the famous scene from ‘The Crying Game’ is played. 

This is but one aspect. There is another, the social aspect and shared identity.  It seems that we have, and this is not an attempt at a pun or a joke, but we have a crusader mythology going on in our time.  We men, we soldiers, we crusaders, carry forth the fight forward into distant lands.  While we might have started wars under the banner of ‘you hit me first, I’m gonna hit you back’, we’ve definitely started wars under the guise of ‘our ideas are great and you need them’.  When the WMD, of which I too was convinced with all the rhetoric that the existed, were shown to be a lot of fabrications and half-truths (why is it a half truth and not a half lie?) our rationale for going into war in Iraq was shifted to ‘ridding the world of a dictator’.  This is a tricky one.  The world is better off without Saddam.  I believe that.  But so too would it be better without the dictator in Zimbabwe.  Why are we not there ridding the world of him as well?  Lack of oil? 

Because we crusaders go forth and carry the battle away from home, we do not bring it back with us.  Our homes, families, towns, are insulated from it. They do not share in it.  They are then not connected with us in a very meaningful part of our experience and identity. 

Side note.  We have a core self but that core Self is not bloomed at the beginning.  It learns through childhood (which is formative and not just a chapter between eternity and eternity).  The most beautiful of souls are those are express most fully those qualities and traits that we hold in high esteem, especially if done under circumstances that were difficult.  (note, there are connections here for the existence of evil in the world from the Western Christian metaphysics but these question lack completely to account for such in light of an omnipotent omnipresent God).  It is our reaching our potential, our flourishing, that we are beautiful and it is our not doing so that is ugly.  We are touched on a deep emotional side when we encounter a story of someone who, against the odds, gave of themselves to another, or accomplished a meaningful goal.  In the presence of such we are elevated in our own emotions. 

Here is, then, a paradox.  For we veterans have gone into a war and have done things we are most ashamed of.  I do not think we are every really seperated from what it is to be ‘human’ (that is, identifying only with the ‘manly man’ or other roles).  How, we ask ourselves, is firing at an enemy who is in the midst of civilians, aligned with our core humanity?  We cannot identify it with such, only in terms of our roles as soldiers.  And so we might do, as I’ve talked with many, many soldiers who do this very thing, the worst thing for our own healing… that is to build a wall betwen our roles as manly men and soldiers and that of our deeper humanity.  We cut off all emotions and concerns for others.  At least we believe we do.  We don’t really. We suppress it.  Freud, I believe, had a lot to say on the repression of things and so forth.  These things, in a Jungian sense, attach themselves onto our Shadow.  And do we ever see the Shadow out there among others!  The world is a dangerous place where people kill indiscriminately and without reason… exactly the sort of things we harbor in accusation toward our selves. 

Yet the others side of the paradox is that this tragedy of war is one of the greatest (in magnitude and scope) of stages within which we bloom.  What courage, what sacrifice, what love and comraderie, what heroism are given chance to be exhibited here!  What nobleness of self!  As dark and terrible as one side of the coin is, so bright and shining the other side.  They are forever connected.  We get angry at peaceniks that attack us as vile and evil people, and we are uncomfortable with the hero worship given by others (who’ve never been in a war) toward us.  We know we are vile and beautiful at the same time.  Yet in this positive aspect of who we our, our expiences, those back home have not shared in this.  Their hero worship is not born from shared experience.  They haven’t seen our blooms in the rocky patch of dirt we lived in for a year.  That connection is not there.  And in this I am reminded of a Finnish study on PTSD prevalence among veterans of WWII.  It was quite low.  It was commented in the study that perhaps this was because the general populace went to war, suffered, labored, along in the invasion by the Russians as well.  Not only the soldiers along the front but the entire country who sacrificed and labored.  This shared suffering allowed the spreading of experience and the mutual recognition of each other’s blooming in such trying times. 

Here is a strength of Mosaic’s welcome home ceremonies (www.mosaic.com) where veterans tell their stories and poems to a listening community audience.  It is natural for us to feel the joy or pain in another’s words and in such an intimate environment we feel what the veterans are telling us on the stage.  We share, we witness their blooming as something more than soldiers and men (for there are women veterans also!) but as human beings

And in this I have a notion.  What of a similar thing for troops after a deployment.  Take some soldiers away for a weekend and let them talk among each other and tell their stories on a stage before an audience.  Just like what Mosaic has done.  Now also, do the same for the families and spouses of the vets.   I am thinking that one ought to do it on different days, say one on Friday and another on Saturday, with those of one in the audience of the other (as well as general members of the population).  For both ‘sides’ have sacrificed during the deployment.  The connecting of the two sides will show, I believe, that there isn’t any ‘sides’ at all… but different experiences (for ‘side’ usually means a side of an argument or logically opposed position)

There is more… much more… that I could write on.  More details, more thoughts, and so on.  But this is at five thousand words already and it is getting late at night.  I must go to bed and sleep and get ready for school tomorrow.  I’ve got some books to finish reviewing for a project I am on, homework for class, a letter to write to HR on poor management behaviors, another powerpoint presentation to start on, contacts to make about possible training in the Army Battlemind program (cross my fingers), and more.  Not enough time in the day. 

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