A couple of years ago I took a Positive Psychology class at PSU. This class was a game changer for me, it shifted paradigms. I did very well in the class, enough to make an A+, only I ended up with a C+. I did well on all my assignments and tests, save for the end. I was supposed to do a paper with 5 articles on using positive psychology in some manner of our lives. At this time I was in the middle of therapy and my own reintegration work and I chose veterans. So I started reading up on veterans, PTSD, reintegration, and such. I think at one count I had over 50 journals alone. Instead of writing out the paper, I was reading and doing a lit review.
Hours before the paper was due, I forced myself to write it out and print. It was ghastly. It was beyond rough. It was not edited. My printer had a malfunction and it took me 30 minutes to troubleshoot it, which pushed me into the deadline hour for turning it in (and I still had to drive to the campus and do so).
Finally, after printing it out, I glanced over it and couldn’t do it. It was horrible. It was a rambling, filled with errors, had no central thesis, and was something you might hear me say were I to drink some whisky and strike up a conversation about the material. I had a small window of time left in order to turn in the paper, and I couldn’t bring myself to do it because the paper was absolute crap. So I didn’t drive to campus and I didn’t turn it in. And so I went from an A+ to a C+ in the class. A year later, talking with the professor for the class, he was surprised that I wasn’t an A student and he chastised me for not turning in the paper.
For the past four years I’ve done my own therapy, read more books and studies, worked in group work with other veterans for domestic violence and PTSD, was employed as part of the Reintegration Team that helps veterans in the state, went to the Army’s Master Resilience Trainer school, given close to a hundred Crisis Intervention Training with various police departments, attended Suicide Intervention training and handled suicidal calls, became the program manager for the State’s resiliency program, and have given several weeks of training in resilience skills. I conducted 3 days of training last week and the comments on the class afterward were very positive. I add so much to the training, citing studies, stories, examples, and more. When it comes to working in that nebulous field between masculinity, military culture, combat training and experience, domestic violence, anger, control, resilience, and psychology… I think and feel that I have become that SME, subject matter expert.
I kept that printout and filed it away but last night I dug it out and tried to read it. It was painful to read. So many thoughts were colliding on the page at right angles to each other, sometimes in mid sentence. But I do see the tentative first steps in major themes that I would investigate over the next few years. And I have so much more to learn, the questions are still out there, finding that spot that Archimedes referred to as the fulcrum in order to move the world. And always more questions.
For example, it is said that the presence of guns in the household increases the chance of suicide up to five times. The age group with the highest rate of suicide in the military is the younger ones, 18-25 year olds. When I was at that age in the Marines, most of us were single and lived in the barracks on base. I’m sure some had weapons, but most were told to keep them in the base armory. If it is the case (and I am unsure of this now) that most young military live on base do not have immediate access to their weapons, is there a difference in rate of suicide between those that live on base and those that live in housing or off base (and presumably have access to their own weapons)? I do not doubt the efficacy of limiting weapon access for suicidal patients, but I am not willing to bet the farm on it. This is not the fulcrum point. At least that is what my gut is telling me. Looking at suicide statistics of veterans in Oregon, veterans are almost twice as likely as non veterans to commit suicide but if we removed that younger group it is close to the same with veterans slightly higher. Is it merely war, as so many non military like to point out? Is it merely military culture that makes us insensitive, as some have said? Is it that younger soldiers are more sensitive to the exposure to war? Is it that the younger soldiers are more susceptible to picking up the military culture and the combat useful traits of ferocity and fearlessness? Reading Thomas Joiner’s book, I see how younger soldiers could especially fit into his model.
I don’t know the answers, but the problem, though getting better (the rates have dropped in Oregon) it still needs some work. Looking at my rough draft of the paper I did not turn in, I wrote “my question at the end was a very real question, what can I give to the soldier that agrees to meet me at a bar late at night because his life is going to hell? What positive difference can I make, other than the proper use of tactics and weapons, that I can give to soldiers before they deploy next year?”. I still have some answers to those questions, some things that I can offer, but I still have a lot to learn.