Posts Tagged ‘PTSD’

Dealing with Trauma

Posted: September 28, 2017 in Uncategorized
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The upcoming edition of COMO Living includes a feature article on dealing with trauma. I am included as one who helps people address it. You might want to take a look at Rethinking PTSD.


Sebastian Junger opens his taunt and muscular book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging with a story about an unemployed coal miner who gave him a sandwich while he was hitch-hiking. He gave him the sandwich for no other reason than the young man by the side of the road was a stranger who looked like he needed help. Much of Junger’s life has been spent asking why that man did that. This book goes a good distance in answering that question.

Junger is a journalist who has been in the thick of covering war zones. He has been embedded with troops in the nastiest of conflicts and survived and witnessed the horrible. This manifested itself in his own eruption of post traumatic stress after he returned home from one assignment. So his book is gritty and personal and experiential because of it.

The book, though, is not just a memoir of his experiences of war. It is a distillation of the problems facing returning American warriors placed alongside those of other cultures. The conclusions, it seems to me, are as troubling as they are water tight: Modern American culture fosters alienation and a lack of the kind of community that heals the soul of the warrior. We all suffer from this reality. It’s just that warriors are like the canary in the mine; they show us to ourselves.

As a part of this process Junger casts a light on false assumptions about what causes enduring duress following trauma. In short, human beings, tribal as we are, often function better in the face of catastrophe than we do at ease. We do remarkably well with trauma as long as we are surrounded by resilient community. Our recovery from trauma is often fairly quick and lasting, depending on the person we were before the trauma and the kind of support that surrounds us after.

This is a must read for any person who wants to dip beneath the assumed answers given to a baffling challenge.

As the alarming statistics went public, the number of veteran suicides, many of us rose to a difficult occasion: We recognized how the society that sends veterans to places and situations where they are killed, wounded, or left with invisible wounds of the soul has little ability to welcome them all the way home. Our military does an admirable job of preparing a volunteer military to achieve their goals. But we, the ones who ultimately send, do not receive or receive well. We lack the ways and mechanisms to foster healing, reintegration and finding a new purpose after military service. It is a community challenge for which we are all responsible.

To this end we have created a network of care that we call All the Way Home. Our mission is to reach out with an equipped group of mentors, the availability of healing circles, and education for the community at large.

I encourage you to stroll through our website and also pass on to veterans, family members of veterans, those who work with veterans, and to interested people in general.

Not all wounds are visible. Thanks be to God that healing is available.

I just had lunch with three veterans – two from Vietnam era service and one from two deployments in Iraq – and their stories were oh so familiar: They all know veteran friends who have taken their own lives after returning to civilian life. This epidemic rolls on without much awareness on the part of the general public. The fact that known suicides keep coming at an average of 23 each day is shocking. We have lost more combat vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan to suicide than on the battlefield.

The issue includes what has come to be defined as PTSD, but it is much more than that. It also includes moral injury, the violation of one’s internal moral code. It also has something to do with the radical disconnect between the soldiers we send into battle and mainstream culture. They represent a very slender proportion of the population, these vets do. Their service – often far away and remote in public consciousness – is a very abstract thing. And we – all those who by extension sent them to where they were wounded in body and soul and took the lives of others – have done little to welcome them all the way home. We have not provided a place of cleansing, purification, acceptance, adjustment and belonging.

This issue is so very important on many different levels. And it doesn’t matter where you fall on the political spectrum or how you happen to assess whether any particular war is just. As long as we send men and women to war we are responsible for their eventual healing. Efforts are now afoot in Columbia, Missouri to do just that. We are organizing networks of vets, their families and those who work with them to find a better solution.

Our plans include hosting seminars to present the primary issues at stake such as moral injury, establishing healing circles in which wounded warriors may find healing on the other side of their deployment, and retreats for veterans to address their inner wounds and seek the transformation that may come through community and spirit.

This is no small thing. It will require efforts from the faith community and others to address it. In the end this crisis itself may make us more circumspect about the ways in which we send young men and women into harm’s way. And those who have been there and know what it really means will raise the most serious and relevant questions.

Edward Tick, Ph.D., has contributed, researched, helped and written in the area of veterans and their inner wounds as perhaps no other. Two of his books – War and the Soul (2005) and Warrior’s Return (2014) are required reading for anyone who wants to understand or work with our wounded warriors. He has established a healing center and program called Soldier’s Heart ( As a clinical psychotherapist Tick has worked with countless vets and their families. Let me share why his work is so important.

Tick has mined the deep history of war, warriors and their wounding across cultures and time. He writes of the archetypes of the warrior and the cultures that depend on them and provide for them.

His work has courageously exposed the dark underbelly of war – American wars – and what they have done and do to those we send to fight them. The proportion of returning veterans who have been emotionally and spiritually wounded to the point of total dysfunction is staggering with more persons lost to the effects of war than actually on the battlefield.

He has named a most difficult beast in this whole arena – the failure of society, the VA and clinical approaches to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). For one, Tick identifies the way many cultures and societies have already named PTSD in the past, this being the latest iteration. But most importantly, he describes how making a condition of the broken soul into a sterile clinical definition has harmed more than hurt. The words themselves – stress, disorder – actually conceal the real need for inner healing and transformation. Current practices – primarily in the VA – intentionally avoid dealing with the trauma and instead medicate the symptoms. They attempt to keep the wounded vet from committing suicide or homicide, to function in a rudimentary way, but do not address the real root of suffering.

To put it plainly we ask our warriors to protect the tribe or the interests of the tribe. We ask them to kill and risk being killed. But we do not provide for the wounding of the soul that occurs as a result. When a war is particularly unpopular, the warrior, the one who has been sent, often returns to the chorus of “it was an unrighteous war in which you fought.” That simply deepens the wound. If the warrior participated in atrocities, and many do participate in actions that violate their own moral code, their hearts are shattered even more.

I’ll leave you with a tiny tip of the iceberg from Warrior’s Return:

During the Vietnam War, casualties and damage were astronomically higher for the Vietnamese than for Americans. For example, the Vietnamese lost about three million people killed, two-thirds of whom were civilians, and over four million wounded, compared with America’s loss of 58,000-plus GIs killed and 300,000 wounded … Ironically the number of PTSD cases among the Viet Nam People’s Army is very small though severe traumatic breakdown among American veterans was enormous. How can this be? The Vietnamese were invaded and experienced themselves as defenders, not aggressors. A Viet Cong veteran said, “We were only defending our families and homes, so we have no psychological wounds.” (132-33)

We have not begun to scratch the surface of this nasty inner wound carried by those who have not been cared for after returning from the wars we sent them to fight. We conceal the physical and emotional damage from the public at large. We medicate symptoms rather than engaging in healing. All this takes place under the auspicious of  government institutions that were created to help in the first place. They might expertly tend to physical wounds. But the real wounds that end up killing them are far from the battle field – invisible, insidious and pervasive.

They deserve more. And we should offer more than another fine Veteran’s Day speech.