Who are you? And what have you done with my mother??

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I often reminisce about the times when my mother was at the beginning stages of her battle with PTSD. The doctors had her on a cocktail of sedative medications used for mental disorders, including Geodon, Klonopin, and Prazosin, to name a few. If you mix that with a self-medicating attachment to evening alcohol binges, then you can imagine what type of person my mother became in the eyes of those around her. Even though she was not drinking during the day, the medications certainly made her, for lack of a a better term, like a zombie. All the beautiful life I had once known in her was gone. It was as if she walked the world without any direction; lost inside the traumas of war that now haunted her. She was numbed out all the time, which completely changed her. She no longer wanted to get out and have our Thursday mother-daughter date nights or attend the bowling league we once loved. And to be completely honest, neither did I. It wasn’t because I didn’t love her anymore. It was because she was suddenly this dark, numb zombie-like woman who bared no resemblance to the mother who was my best friend. I think about those times often because I pray everyday that I never see that hollow version of her again. We have moved on from those darker days, and although the battle never ends, I see now that that was not the best form of treatment for her. And knowing that and seeing the way she was, I always knew that her intial treatment was not the right way to go about healing her wounds.

As with all things in the medical profession, methods for treating any illness, disease, or condition are constantly subjective. There are those who believe that you can be healed holistically and those who believe that you can be healed only through a drug regime. Either way, I have seen what has and hasn’t worked for my mother, and dealt with the ups and downs of small successes and big failures in regards to getting her symptoms under control, so I wish to explore here a couple of methods for holistic treatment. Doping a veteran up to numb out the issues is not a way to truly heal the darkness that clouds their soul. In the following paragraphs, I would like to illustrate some ways in which others who feel the same way as me about medicinal treatment are going about treating PTSD amongst our returning war verterans.

Soldier’s Heart

Edward Tick describes PTSD in part as being a “soul wound”, in which “all functions of soul are in shock, frozen, and numbed.”() When I read this statement, it immediately made me think of how I used to see my mother when she returned from Iraq. And the statement is so true of how soldiers are upon their return from the war zone. Their souls appear empty and lost and full of all kinds of vivd experiences and fears that they are rarely given the opportunity to work through before being thrust back into the throws of life in the civilian world. So why on Earth would you want to completely numb that person even further with various tranquilizing medicines, as was the case with my mother in the beginning of her treatment?

Edward Tick and his wife, Kate Dahlstedt, founded an organization called Soldier’s Heart, in which they bring about a different approach to healing veterans who come home with PTSD. Their method leans on the holistic side of treatment. The goal of their organization and the method behind their way is through the Soldier’s Heart Model, in which “our warriors” are brought through a series of steps aimed at helping them work through what they have been through in order to foster a better integration back into civilian life after war and ultimately avoid letting their demons destroy them.

Tick and Dahlstedt use a Soldier’s Heart Model, which illustrates the stages in which the soldier goes through, from leaving their community and entering the military, to entering a war zone, to the return home and the journey of that return. The rebuilding process that is used is described as “veteran restoration based on love, compassion, empathy, restoration, spirituality, archetypal wisdom, and community involvement”. The steps of the process include (1) isolation and tending, (2) acceptance of warrior destiny, (3) purification and cleansing, (4) storytelling and confession, (5) restitution in the community, and (6) initiation (Tick).

Isolation and tending refers to a simple period of time spent upon returning from war in which the soldier is given time to rest, decompress from the war zone, and get over the initial “withdrawal” of war. Acceptance of warrior destiny is just that…accepting the path that they took in becoming a soldier and choosing to prescribe to that affirmation and move forward in life with that as part of their story. Purification and cleansing is about “letting go” of the demons that threaten to haunt them, which Tick does through burning mementoes at a retreat fire ceremony (Tick). Storytelling and confession is about sharing experiences with others who have been through the same experiences and also to open up and build trust with the community around them and speaking freely about where one has been, what one has done, and what they have seen. Restitution in the community is about sharing the burden of the acts of war between the survivors who fought and the community they fought for. And finally, initiation is about the completion of the cycle as a whole, in which one is recognized for their service and is reinstated as a member of the community, recognized with honor and accepted for everything they have done.

Compass Reset Program

Dr. Frank Lawlis developed the Compass Reset Program, which steers away from the traditional methods of treatment for PTSD: psychotherapy and medicine. Lawlis instead aimed his focus on resetting the brain and restoring proper function through various steps in order to help sufferers of PTSD overcome their obstacles. RESET stands for Rebooting though Expansion of Strategic and Empowering Therapeutics. Lawlis explains that through his research he has been discovered that the frontal lobes and the temporal lobes of the brains of those with PTSD have essentially shut down. These areas of the brain are responsible for planning and organizing, and memory and emotion. This information can easily go shift back the how Edward Tick describes the numbing of soldiers on upon their return from war, as stated previously.

Lawlis’ RESET program follows six steps, including, (1) nurturing and healing the brain, (2) cleansing the brain of toxins and poisons, (3) making reconnections and taking control of the disoriented brain, (4) relinquishing fear and rage, (5) creating a new beginning, and (6) reestablishing your inner compass (Lawlis). In step one, sufferers are taught how to manage better sleep patterns, potentially seek hyperbaric chamber treatment, and also placed on a regime for vitamins and minerals in order to encourage fast and effective healing of brain damage. In step two, Lawlis examines how the brain gets contaminated from the elements around us and how it is important to cleanse the body, and thus the brain, of these toxins, through things such as hot saunas, massages, herbal supplements, and diet and exercise. Step three focuses on cleanse the body of self-deprecating thoughts and “emotional baggage” through exercises that build self-confidence and rid the mind of “stress storms” that often plague PTSD sufferers. Step four is concentrates on different ways to overcome fear, and the rage that complements that ongoing sense of fear in PTSD patients. A variety of methods are suggested, such as biofeedback, journaling, emWave therapy, and cognitive-behavioral therapy. The fifth stage highlights the importance of redefining your purpose and establishing a desire to move forward in a way that is accepting of feelings and love and purpose. The final step is all about making a new entrance back into the community and getting outside the confinement of PTSD by going on a “Vision Quest” in search of a deeper self, and also finding joy in life again.

Service Animals

A veteran with his pup. Image Source.

Another holistic therapy that has become quite popular amongst veterans with PTSD are service animals and emotional support dogs. My mother has her two dogs registered as emotional support dogs so she can take them with her everywhere. I see how they bring about a sense of joy in her life and they make her feel more at ease when she is stressed out. They provide a sense of love and acceptance that is unconditional and is outside the normal.

According to a Psych Central article, veterans who have service dogs have a lower incident rate for substance abuse and see improved relationships in their daily life. The article highlights the findings of a Kaiser Permanente study in which the found that veterans with service dogs have been able to stop their medications, have experienced fewer nightmares, have reduced stress and panic attacks, and had an overall better sense of security and self since receiving their dog (PsychCentral).

I came across many organizations dedicated to helping provide veterans with therapy dogs. Some of these include the PAWS project, Paws and Stripes, Canines for Hope, Paws for Veterans, and numerous others. I have included here a video that gives a glimpse into how veterans are helped through having service animals. The video is heart wrenching and it pulls at the heartstrings. This holistic approach to PTSD treatment is a way of the future and hopefully will expand to help the thousands and thousands of veterans who struggle with their demons everyday.

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It is important to recognize the ways in which our veterans truly find healing. PTSD is a battle that has to be worked through and it is a process. These methods here are a great indicator that there are solutions that are better fit for dealing with these emotional struggles rather than just being pumped full of prescription drugs. When our troops are greeted only with a cocktail full of sedatives upon their return from a war torn environment, how does that benefit them? The efforts need to be focused on making a better transition into civilian life and we need to come together as a community and support these troops.

Works Cited

Tick, Edward, PhD. Warrior’s Return: Restoring the Soul after War. Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2014. Print.

Lawlis, Frank, Ph.D. The PTSD Breakthrough: The Revolutionary, Science-based Compass Reset Program. Naperville, IL: Source, 2010. Print.

Pedersen, Traci. “Service Dogs Can Reduce PTSD Symptoms in Veterans.” Psych Central.com. N.p., 2014. Web. 27 Mar. 2015.

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