by John Adams
A LONG WAY BACK
by Janet J. Seahorn, Ph.D.
Not 100% sure why my husband wanted to go back to Vietnam to the very battle sites that caused such immense pain and trauma. Many years ago we took a cruise to Vietnam and he expressed a desire to return, especially to Nui Ba Den, The Black Virgin Mountain. This was a combat zone where many people were killed and injured and he was a part of one of the worst battles on May 13, 1968.
Several months ago he had an opportunity to sign up for a trip that would arrange for him to visit some of the combat zones in which he fought. The journey would only include a driver, an interpreter, and my husband. It wasn’t something I was terribly comfortable with at the time. Even our sons were concerned and wanted me to go with him to make sure he would be able to handle the emotional strain of the tour. However, this wasn’t an option for the group who was arranging the excursions. Many friends and fellow vets questioned why he would ever want to return to a place that caused such extreme trauma. It is not a trip for everyone, but he felt the need to return as part of his healing process. Somewhat like carrying a huge boil inside your mind and heart. Some doctors say the boil will eventually dissolve. Some days it was smaller, but others times it grew out of control. The fastest way for many to rid themselves of a boil is to lance it…. relieve the puss and infection and allow it to heal from the inside out. I think that is what Tony is trying to do. Taking the risky step to “lance” his boil and release some of the ghostly infection that has impacted his heart, mind, and soul for most of his life.
Needless to say as the time grew closer so did both of our anxieties. When President Trump announced his immigration ban it caused an incredible pandemonium across the world, including Visas for Vietnam. Fortunately, Tony was able to obtain his Visa before this ensued. One of our biggest fears was that he might get over there and not be able to get back home due to unstable world conditions within and between our governments. Every day we waited to see if the trip would be canceled which made the entire visit even more stressful.
Finally the day arrived. I was nervous. He was nervous. And his service dog, Bailey, was a mess. Poor Bailey could tell something was going on and it wasn’t a happy event. The day Tony left, Bailey sat at the front door and cried, then wandered the house as if I hid Tony somewhere. It was going to be a very long ten days.
I won’t go into much detail but after a 36 hour grueling flight he arrived, extremely tired yet ready to begin his quest of finding peace and solace from the demons that have haunted him for almost fifty years. The last few days have been episodes of ups and downs. Times when I’m sure he questioned what in the heck he was doing so far from home without his immediate support systems. All of us here were equally apprehensive. I will let Tony relate his story once he is ready. For me and our sons, we will be relieved once he is back home, safe and sound.
As for Bailey, I can’t imagine how ecstatic he will be when he finally can stop sitting at the front door or checking the house for Tony’s presence. For me, I may miss the numerous extra walks we do daily to keep him occupied – I’m losing pounds but my legs are aching. Maybe I’m not losing that much weight – after some of our outings I stop and treat myself to a large Chai Ice Cream Chiller (better than Prozac) … then take several doggie treats to reward this faithful, but wearisome pooch.
These last ten days have been emotionally charged and physically exhausting for everyone. Making such a life passage really is a long way back but necessary in order to make a restored long trip home.
by Tony Seahorn
We often talk and write about spending time in nature as an important element of the healing process.
For those with Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD or more accurately PTS), finding solace in natural places helps us realize and appreciate the marvelous wonders of the world.
Following is a link to an article that appeared this weekend in Parade Magazine worth reading.
Living in awe…
By Janet J. Seahorn, Ph.D.
(Photos and pilgrimage credit: Diggs Brown)
How many of you know about the Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage? It is a five hundred mile walk from Southern France to Spain, but it can take many different routes. “The Way of St. James” was one of the most important Christian pilgrimages during the Middle Ages, together with those to Rome and Jerusalem, and a pilgrimage route on which a plenary indulgence could be earned;other major pilgrimage routes include the Via Francigena to Rome and the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
The Way can take dozens of pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela. Traditionally, as with most pilgrimages, the Way of Saint James began at one’s home and ended at the pilgrimage site. However, a few of the routes are considered main ones. During the Middle Ages, the route was highly travelled. However, the Black Death, the Protestant Reformation, and political unrest in 16th century Europe led to its decline. By the 1980s, only a few pilgrims per year arrived in Santiago. Later, the route attracted a growing number of modern-day pilgrims from around the globe. In October 1987, the route was declared the first European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe; it was also named one of UNESCO‘s World Heritage Sites. ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camino_de_Santiago)”
One of our friends, a veteran who served in Iraq, is currently on the arduous Camino journey. He began in France and is expected to take at least a month to complete the mission. On the first day of his walk, seventeen miles, resulted in some pretty ghastly blisters on his heels. Not a good way to start such a lengthy trek. Yet, in spite of the pain, foot sores, and body aches he continued his travel. The reason for taking such a quest is a personal objective of which the pilgrim only knows. He may or may not have a specific reason for going through this venture. It may be finding some external spiritual enlightenment. It may be finding answers to questions regarding life that he is still forming.
For him the reason isn’t as important as the path he is traveling, He is finding his own Way as he walks each step. Some days he says he’s content to be able to empty his mind and observe the scenery, the quiet, the road only as it appears. Perhaps by doing so, he is able to release some of the anxiety, demons, we all seem to collect throughout our life; for him especially his time in Iraq. What is crucial to this endeavor is principally the act of the doing. He is open to find whatever he finds.
Perhaps this is the essence of any real journey/challenge… the willingness to not fully know or even expect a certain outcome, but the ability to merely accept whatever may come forth and acquire gratitude for whatever may ensue.
I’m not sure I would be able, brave enough or even want to engage in such a venture. It would take a tremendous amount of stamina and trust to do so. Our friend in one of his comments talked about an 84 year old man who is on his fifth Camino. Amazing, humbling, and truly commendable. Today he is more than half way through his quest. We are eager to hear more about his amazing experience and we say a prayer every day for his safety and well-being.
Thank you Diggs, for sharing your remarkable travels with us. We hope this trip brings you everything you may or may not have imagined. Be well. Be at peace. And return home soon with Arthur where you both are missed.
by Janet J. Seahorn, Ph.D
The big movie (at least for many women) seems to be Fifty Shades of Grey. Not having read the three book series or gone to the show (as of yetJ) I decided to check with my sister who has read all three. As she described the main character, a Mr. Grey, I asked her to tell me about the number “Fifty”. What the “Fifty” supposedly refers to is what I expected…. Fifty shades of one’s personality, including some erotic sexual preferences. Now I probably have some of your attention…
Yet, it is what she explained after my title question that was most intriguing. You see, Mr. Grey, being a brilliant, wealthy, handsome billionaire had a pretty troubling childhood. That early experience made him more than a little narcissistic and unable to have true, intimate relationships and feelings for others. What Mr. Grey displayed in his life and personality is what we all fall into, albeit, in different scenarios and reasons. So here is where we all can relate to the Fifty Shades of Me or Fifty Shades of Post-Traumatic Stress.
Each shade of ourselves is colored by the time, place, situation, and prior experiences of our lives. When we are calm and things in our daily lives are going well we are in that green, blue, maybe even lovely lavender zone. If the triggers are under control and the demons are taking a short nap, we are content, happy, and can go about our world looking fairly normal.
It is when all the crap hits the internal emotional “fan” that the colors of ourselves can change – pretty drastically and swiftly. When our triggers are on edge from prior traumatic experiences, our emotive colors display very bright shades of crimson, reds, oranges, yellow… The many hues of these shades have a huge impact on how we internalize the external world and all of its inhabitants and barriers.
In Post-Traumatic Stress, the weaver and tapestry are even more complex. There is no one way, right way, or best way to experience trauma and its aftermath. There is no singular impact that is 100% the same for each person’s prior experiences. Individual experience will shape the impact and actions of the trauma.
The only thing that remains similar for most individuals is the anguish and uncertainty of how long the emotional pain will last.
Remember the adage, “What one resists, persists”. Dealing with intense emotions that have shaken one’s very core takes time to heal.
Our personalities contain many different colors and various shades of each. Like Joseph’s Amazing Colored Coat, we too wear an array of colors depending on what is transpiring in our lives both past and present. Our coat of many colors, our Fifty Shades of who we are came from each experience of life. The colors represent the tapestry of our history, our individuality, our temperament.
A multicolored life is far more interesting than a bland, one color existence. However, to display these beautiful, brilliant colors, we have to be unafraid to live each day with the courage to recognize we are clothed based on our experience.
Therefore, celebrate your fifty shades of who you are…. You earned each and every one of them.
by Tony & Janet Seahorn
The story of Gail Halvorsen, a young pilot in the US Army Air Corps who was assigned as a cargo pilot to the Berlin Airlift, in which US forces flew much-needed supplies into a Soviet-blockaded Berlin.
On his missions, he dropped candy to children and became known as the Candy Bomber.
by Tony Seahorn
Reading and reflecting on Jan’s recent blog made me realize – one more time — that life is truly fragile.
The Vietnam War was a life changing event for the countless veterans and families who were directly impacted, including me.
For those of us who were fortunate to return from the field of battle, the everyday living of life will continue to be defined by what we experienced then.
Fast forward to the present day – 2014.
In May, following recovery from knee surgery at the Cheyenne, WY VA Hospital, I had my annual physical – including EGK and Treadmill Test. Other than the fact that the cardiologist reminded me I’m no longer 21, the physical and other tests all looked good.
Periodically I have chest pain as a result of remaining shrapnel and scar tissue from combat wounds; cardiovascular tests have always been negative for heart problems.
During our annual Wounded Warrior Event in late June, I was guiding a wounded veteran during high-water run-off on the Upper North Platte River. Unfortunately a raft from a separate river party encountered a dangerous log strainer in the main river current and capsized their raft. Three of the rafters made it to shore while a fourth person was submerged and pinned beneath the raft under the huge log jam.
I was able to secure my drift boat and veteran in a small backwater and spent the next hour in vain trying to rescue the rafting victim. The water was freezing and after an exhausting attempt, I was unable to save the trapped person. The time spent in the water subjected me to hyperthermia, but I eventually recovered sufficiently to continue the river float as the day warmed.
In late July, I spent a week with our two sons in Montana on a fly fishing adventure. Toward the end of the week, we were climbing out of the Yellowstone River Canyon when I began to experience mild chest pain. By walking slowly and resting I was able to resume our hike and had no problem for the remainder of the trip.
In September, my VA doctor wanted to perform a follow-up exam on intermittent pain I was having in my right shoulder and chest from what we thought was caused by shrapnel. During the tests, an abnormality was found on the EKG and Treadmill that did not exist during my physical in May.
An electrocardiogram located a blockage in my main exterior frontal lobe artery. A heart procedure was performed via my femoral artery and a stint placed in mid-October. The team of Cardiologists concluded that I must have experienced a minor heart attack during the river rescue recovery in June. The cold water and lower body temperature prevented any pain or other potential damage.
As fate would have it, a week following the heart procedure, I was rushed to the local ER for severe stomach bleeding. Prescribed Plavix blood thinner combined with high doses of pain medication is not a good combination. Three emergency surgeries later and 8 units of whole blood finally stopped the bleeding. My hospital stay: 4 days ICU and 3 days recovery and monitoring.
Now 15 pounds lighter, I’m still weak and lack energy, but hopefully on the high road to recovery.
Life is full of challenges as well as an abundance of blessings! Today my black lab, Hunter Bailey and I are going pheasant hunting.
Life is good.
by Janet J. Seahorn, Ph.D
It was a bright, warm, late June morning. Platte Valley Trout Unlimited and Project Healing Waters were collectivelyhosting their annual Wounded Warrior Event float trip. The two groups embarked on different sections of the river that Thursday. One group of veterans and their guides launched at Bennett Peak while a second group consisting of veterans from the Cheyenne VA Hospital departed from Treasure Island.
The beauty of the river, the challenge and fun trying to land a big trout, and observing the many creatures such as mink, deer, antelope and eagles made the morning special. Roughly an hour and a half into the float from Treasure Islandtragedy struck. A raft with two couples, who were floating on their own, hit a log jam broadside on a hazardous island point in the middle of the river. As their big raft flipped in the treacherous water, all four individuals went into the swift, cold water…only three were thrown clear of the massive log jam.The fourth rafter did not survive the river’s current even though great effort was made to rescue him from the tremendous force of the water.
Yet, throughout this tragedy there were many angels on the river. Angels that surrounded the rescuers, angels that surrounded the survivors to let them know they were not alone, angels that shuttled the traumatized rafters across the river to waiting medical personnel, angels that kept every veteran and their guides safe. Angels in the form of Army National Guard that found the body downstream and encompassed him in their arms letting the person’s spirit know that he was surrounded with love, respect, and comfort.
Yes, there were numerous angels on the river that morning. Angels, that in spite of the tragedy and sadness, provided many blessings. For you see, in the darkness there was still light, in moments of massive despair, hope arose, and in feelings of being alone there were wings surrounding all who needed strength and comfort.
by Janet J. Seahorn, Ph.D
So you think you want to bring home a new puppy. You know, one of those wiggly, darling, sweet looking bundles of joy. They appear amazing innocent in the entire plethora of internet pictures, advertisements, and billboards. Yep, you definitely believe one of these adorable, four-legged, loveable, furry cherubs known as “man’s best friend” will enhance your life and look great on your next Christmas card. And, you aren’t totally oblivious of what it might take to raise one of these creatures. You’ve had puppies before, of course. You may have been much younger and more patient at the time.
You understand that this energetic whippersnapper will take a pretty good amount of time to potty train, learn new commands, and not bolt at the first slight opening of every door in your home. Hiding any and every item that might go into the puppy’s mouth including expensive eye glasses could end in an inflated doggy hospital visit – sure to cost you an arm and a leg. This will be essential to your pocket book and your endearing, four-legged child’s health. Oh, and did I mention how much puppies love the leather seats of your new truck’s interior.
If your adorable, small creature is going to grow into a huge, muscle bound tank, like my brother’s black lab, Mato, life becomes even more fun to control. Things like not allowing this boiler of energy to greet others, especially children and the elderly, by approaching them like a freight train and jumping full force onto their chests. This will be crucial to avoid unpleasant verbal encounters or even law suits. Of course that once tiny bundle of fur has no clue that he has grown into a ninety pound bruiser of a beast.
Oh, and don’t forget that if you have other household pets, bringing a new four-legged nipper into the pack will require an immense amount of patience, both for you and your other domestic companion. My brother, John, wanted to have another pal for his aging lab, Wyatt. We did something similar with our beloved older lab, Chase, when we brought Hunter Bailey into our abode, and told John, how Bailey helped bring new life back to Chase’s daily routines. It actually, we believed, gave Chase a new lease on life and kept him agile and healthy for several more years. To be honest, Chase did not fully support this perspective. Bailey, however, kept Chase’s competitive spirit active. Chase would not allow his new “buddy” to ever get an edge on any ball, bird, or swimming event.
However, in our limited experience we forgot one significant point. Just like kids, all dogs are not alike, and Mato (Lakota for Bear) was absolutely not like Bailey. Bailey, as the younger dog, was quiet, subservient, and a fairly mild lab compared to when we raised Chase. Chase was more like Mato, impulsive exhaustingly active, and stubborn as hell. My brother’s older dog, Wyatt, has always been a gentle people pleaser, more like Bailey. Poor, innocent Wyatt had no clue what a new puppy would bring to his world.
Today, Wyatt has extreme doggie PTSD from his adopted brother, Mato. Having a huge puppy leaping on him throughout the day, pulling on his ears and legs to induce play, or taking more than one dog’s share of food would be traumatic for any aging canine.
So, what does this story have to do with Post Traumatic Stress of an aging military veteran, one might ask? Bringing a new puppy into your quiet, tranquil home may generate more stress and anxiety than you ever imagined. Just ask my brother, John. He now refers to his beloved puppy, Mato, as a Weapon of Mass Destruction. Need I say more…