by Janet J. Seahorn, Ph.D
Religion does not heal. People heal people. They do it through love, generosity and acceptance. Look. Listen. Heal. Oh so simple yet so difficult to achieve.
For four days we were with a group out of Canton, Ohio who were conducting a conference called the Warrior’s Journey Home. It started with the interesting collaboration of a church pastored by Dr. John Schlup and a Seneca wise woman, Shianne Eagleheart. Through Shianne’s sharing, she taught several members of the congregation the spiritual and physical healing of the Healing Circle. My brother, John, has been a living example of the power of Native American spiritual customs and blessings in Hot Springs, South Dakota.
The purpose of the Healing Circle is to give an individual a safe, nonjudgmental place to be – to listen – to learn and to share his/her trauma experience(s). Sharing is not an expectation like in many traditional therapy groups. It is merely an invitation if one is inclined to disclose his/her words. The sharing is only for those in the circle to hear. Stories must never be disclosed beyond the circle unless given permission by the person speaking.
So here is the really cool part of the sharing, there is a hand carved stick that looks like a walking stick. However, this stick is truly special because the only person who can speak is the person holding the talking stick. There are no time limits a person has to hold the stick and no one can get up and take the stick from that person. When the speaker is through disclosing his story he will place the stick back in its place or hand it to another person.
Oh, and another powerful trait of a Healing Circle is questions are never asked of the speaker. Wow, unlike modern therapy, there is no interrogation, advice, or “extra” comments. One may be given a hug or a small a glass of water by a listening member, but that’s it. By moving through the circle an environment of listening and caring is generated. Perhaps this is why the Healing Circle is such a special experience for veterans.
To make the experience even more powerful a drum and drummers may be present. Shianne’s partner, Bob honored the group with his handmade drum. Healing Circles often begin with native songs and drumming. The beat of the drum mirrors the rhythm of the heart. This mimics the ancient ceremonies meant to simulate a mother’s heartbeat when the warrior was in her womb. It calms the thoughts and anxieties of the attendees, and gives each person a way to begin and end the Circle experience. Like the mystical poet, Rumi, advises, the circle empowers many thoughts:
“What you seek is seeking you.”
“Most people guard against going into the fire, and so end up in it.”
One of my favorite old Chinese proverbs says it all,
“You cannot prevent the birds of sorrow from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from building nests in your hair.”
by Jim Fountaine, Vietnam Veteran
A man of eighteen years, barely dry behind the ears hears Uncle Sam’s call and in eight short weeks the change is as radical as a caterpillar into a Butterfly. Only this change has no beauty to it. A young boy is transformed into a soldier, an instrument of war.
The days of taking his girl to Lover’s Leap, skipping class to go fishing are gone. He is thrust into a world of violence against his fellow man. He begins to see the ravages of war. He learns to kill, not for sport or for food, but for territory, ideals. He does learn these skills with dedication and without question because he is doing what he is ordered to do!
Then, suddenly, he is thrust in a world of pain, death, blood and pure fear. He sees things that no amount of education or training has prepared him for. His friends are now few and close, yet distant because getting too close will cause pain when that friend is no longer there. The cold, damp, heat, loneliness become his constant companion. Sometimes he tries to deaden the pain with booze. He fights himself to bury what he sees. He keeps doing his job without emotion because he feels if he feels he’ll go nuts.
Then suddenly it’s all over and he sheds his uniform and finds himself back on main street U.S.A. When he sees his old school mates he finds he no longer has anything in common with them. He cannot talk about his experiences because they won’t understand. He finds he has had his youth robbed from him. He no longer trusts those around him with the ease he once did.
He has wounds you cannot see; not wounds of the body but wounds of the soul, the mind and the spirit, and no one can see them. No one can see the scars. He drifts back into a time when he felt the pain for real. He seeks out answers he cannot find. At times he feels out of control, so tries to find things he believes that will give him control like booze, drugs or he buries himself in work almost to the point of exhaustion.
He withdraws from relationships for fear of loss. He rejects authority for that authority brought him harm in the past. He feels alone in a vast world that doesn’t seem to care. He hurts, but no one can see the wounds; no one hears his cries for help. He is judged by people by what they see on the surface. They don’t see the Unseen Wounds in him. They don’t hear his silent cries and all he can do is ask, “Why can’t you see what this is doing to me?”
by Janet J. Seahorn, Ph.D
In the space between an end and a new beginning, life unfolds and we are given a greater understanding of the meaning of our journey.
So what is wisdom? How do I get it? How can I recognize it? Some would describe wisdom as insight, a type of intelligence gained from age, good judgment, level headedness, and knowledge. In my many years I have observed children who seem to have an inner knowing and awareness of the world far beyond their years and I have seen adults who have the impulse control and selfishness of a two year old.
For most of us, we may not always recognize wisdom but we pretty much know when someone does not possess it. Many of the wisest individuals that I know did not gain this trait by living an easy life. Indeed, much of their insight came after living and enduring a great many experiences, both good and difficult. My neighbor, Mary, who is now 104 years young, is a true example of a wise person. She grew up raised by a single mother after her father abandoned the family when she was a child. Her first husband died of a heart attack leaving her with four young children. Life was hard, but she kept working to support her children and herself. There was no time for complaining, only time for doing. Another trait Mary holds is a way of looking at the world in a positive manner. This is not to say she didn’t have her difficult moments, but she didn’t allow these times to last long. As she states, “I didn’t have enough energy to waste it on being negative. I had children to raise and work to do”.
So many of our veterans have the “Mary Factor”. War took much of their youth and innocence but it never took their will to go on, to live a productive life, to contribute to their communities and families. Life after combat has not been easy, yet it has given these warriors a sense of personal knowledge, and insight into the world. Many people who have endured far less do not always develop this trait. Veterans have a different kind of wisdom regarding the world and freedom. They understand sacrifice and pain, but most make a conscious choice to focus on more productive things. And they understand the wisdom of this old Rwandan Proverb:
You can outdistance that which is running after you, but not what is running inside you.”
And so, like Mary, most of us struggle to come to terms with the inside running, and such a journey collects its own wisdom.
by Janet J. Seahorn, Ph.D
For several years we have written about the challenges and “crap” of PTSD. Perhaps it is time to dedicate the remainder of the year to things that are more positive, more inspirational. Yes, the thorny stuff will still be there, waiting for another opportunity to remind us that ### happens. Yet, I am reminiscent of some of the powerful stories from men and women who have overcome torture, isolation, and incredible emotional agony.
One such person is Nelson Mandela, the African leader who was imprisoned by the British for many years, and kept in seclusion for much of his stay. When asked how he kept his sanity he quoted from a poem, Invictus by William Henley. Two of my favorite verses from the poem go like this:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul…….
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
Louis Zapparini, a decorated WWII aviator who spent forty-nine days on a raft in the Pacific Ocean only to be captured, thrown in a Japanese prison camp and brutalized by his captures for several years, found hope in forgiveness.
Victor Frankel lost his wife and all of his family members in German concentration camps. In his famous book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he describes the essential nature of being able to survive the unspeakable. It wasn’t the best looking, or the strongest, or smartest that lived through the ordeal.
For many who persisted in the face of enormous adversity it was living for something beyond oneself… having a purpose, an unfulfilled mission to one’s life that must be completed, no matter what the current conditions. This was what kept many going, day by day, and minute by minute.
When things get rough, where do you go to find your Hope? Is it your family or a special loved one? A loyal pet? A walk with nature? A smile from a stranger? Or perhaps an inspirational statement in a favorite book? Hope resides in the both the vast and tiniest of spaces. It can be as massive as a sun filled sky or a small as a butterfly.
It does not define itself in things, but in hearts and minds. It is never an empty box, although there may be times when our spirits feel such a void. Sometimes it is just right in front of us, and other times we must search deep to find and grab Hope’s fingers. It is always there, but our hands must be open to grasp its presence.
Just when the
Her world was over
She became a Butterfly
by Janet & Tony Seahorn
Another Memorial Day. Another opportunity for a barbecue or a day off. Another few hours, perhaps, to sleep in and do absolutely nothing. Not a bad thing at all, yet not quite the purpose of the day.
What then is that purpose of a day to remember? By definition, Memorial means preserving the memory of a person or thing…something designed or adapted to preserve the memory of a person, an event, or anything belonging to past time… a record; (The Living Webster’s Dictionary, p. 595).
Originally it was a day set aside to commemorate and honor those individuals who died serving in war. I wonder, however, how many younger American’s know or understand this special day?
In preserving the reason for Memorial Day, what then should we remember? Perhaps it is not as important to reminisce about all of the bloodshed, awfulness, and destruction of war. More importantly it would serve us well to think of the characteristics of those who fought in any war, past and present. Characteristics such as courage, honor, selflessness. Characteristics such as humility, perseverance, and optimism. Perhaps another lesson of Memorial Day is to keep in mind the huge cost of war in hope those future generations will never have to pay such a price. You see, so many of our past and present military fought for precisely this reason. They went to war to keep not just their future sons and daughters safe, but all of America’s sons and daughter, grandsons, granddaughters…
Therefore, Memorials should not merely be a time for sadness, but also a time for joy and pride in the valor and goodness of spirit of our service men and women.
So this Memorial Day may each of us take time to say a prayer of gratitude to our military young and old and their families, and may each of us say with pride and vigor…
GOD BLESS AMERICA. THE LAND OF THE FREE
by Janet J. Seahorn, Ph.D
For centuries societies have been trying to explain why warriors return from combat “stranger” than before they had left. In our book, Tears of a Warrior, we wrote about how the Roman’s sent their troops who had recently arrived back from battle to a tranquil farm away from the city to recoup from their emotional wounds.
It seems like every war had its own special term for such suffering; words such as combat fatigue, shell shock, warrior’s heart, etc. However, none of these really explained much about why the individual wasn’t able to put the war behind them and get on with their lives.
Joe Novak, another of our readers sent this YouTube video to Tony. For the person who has never experienced combat, this will be an informative eight minute clip which both “shows” and “tells” the effects of battle. For those who have been to hell and back, you may not need to view the film; you have already lived it. If you do, keep the last message in mind as you continue your healing journey back to your new normal.
Blessings and, once again, Thank You for Your Service.
Tony and Jan Seahorn
Both KINDLE & NOOK can be ordered directly from our website.
by Tony Seahorn
by Janet J. Seahorn, Ph.D
Recently, Tony and I visited with a group of veterans from the Military Order of Purple Heart. Attending were vets from WWII, Korea, Vietnam and the current conflicts. While discussing our book, Tears of a Warrior and the issues of PTSD, we got on the topic of how challenging it is for veterans returning from war to find a job. Only in recent times has the issue of work for veterans become clearer.
Many of us thought veterans who came home from serving in WWII were greeted with big parades and wonderful new career opportunities. For years I was under such an assumption. Then I talked with several WWII veterans and what they described was something much simpler. For most, once they returned home they did what historically other veterans had done before them… they went home, tried to find a suitable job and raise a family. Little was written or said about the struggle in finding employment or integrating back into civilian life. For many, there were no parades, no bands welcoming them home, only the test of getting on with life.
Eric Jensen explains in his book about his father, Forever and a Day: The World War II Odyssey of an American Family, how hard it was to find work after the war. As he wrote, many of the jobs were already filled by civilians who had those positions during the war. When the veterans returned there were not as many opportunities for employment as we first believed. Jensen wrote how frustrating it was for his father to have spent so many years away from his family only to return to another struggle – finding a job that would pay enough to support his young family.
Today, too many employers believe erroneously that vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan may be suffering from PTSD or TBI and are reluctant to hire someone who may be emotionally compromised. We have written on several occasions how this is simply not the case for the majority of combat personnel. Military personnel have proven over and over again that they are bright, committed and competent employees. Given a task, they will make sure it gets completed in a satisfactory manner. They will show up daily, even when they are tired or under the weather. Veterans are some of the most proficient and capable members of an organization.
Part of the healing process of our soldiers, both young and old is to value their sacrifice for our country by honoring them with suitable jobs. One struggle we can help them avoid is a struggle to find work. As a country and as a community perhaps offering employment can be a step of vast significance.
In addition to mending them, “If we send them, let’s then employ them” when they return.
by Janet J. Seahorn, Ph.D
This is the title of a book sent to us by Marie Leduc, the wife of a Vietnam Veteran who co-wrote it with retired naval aviator, Art Schmitt, Ph.D. Later Art got his degree in psychology. The Man I Didn’t Know: The Stories of Wives and Families of Vietnam Veterans who suffer from “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder”, is a collection of stories and poems written from the perspective of those most directly impacted by combat.
The articles are heartrending and the poetry will literally place you in the hearts and souls of the writers. While reading through the many tales I found several statements pretty sobering and thought provoking. Some statements gave me an unusual viewpoint of war, especially the last few wars we have fought and left without a clear victory. I have included several small snippets of some of these in this blog.
- “The United States did not lose the war in Vietnam, the South Vietnamese did. The last American troops left Vietnam on March 29, 1973, (however, the last flight out wasn’t until 1975). We did not lose the war… we stopped fighting” (p. 16). Recently, December 15, 2011 we raised the last American flag as we leftIraq. I wondered if years down the road we will describe this last conflict in a similar manner.
- “There are two kinds of PTSD… acute, which is treatable, and Chronic, which is manageable”. More Vietnam veterans, per capita, suffer from chronic PTSD than from any other war. The reasons for this is unknown, but it may be that it was an unpopular war and the veterans were not welcomed home” (p. 16).
- In another article, To Answer Your Question, by Ed Ruminski, the veteran is trying to explain to his son what combat was like, how time stopped and actions were both quick and in slow motion. How he had to be “constantly watching, listening to my senses”. In the end he merely states, “They call it war, and to answer your question son, yes, I have killed somebody. What I was unaware of was how by that process I just described, I was also killing myself” (p.19). Sadly, many of our Iraq and Afghanistan troops are returning with parallel sentiments.These are just a few statements from the book. The various writings describe the wounds of the minds, how scary it can be for a family to negotiate the many behaviors and emotional ups and downs of their beloved warrior, how a mother must learn to cope with the death of her son while visiting the Vietnam Wall to stay connected, and how PTSD affects children when their under developed minds and bodies leave them vulnerable to actions which they may never fully understand. In the end, this last quote by Jacqueline McVicar (p. 85) really says it all.
“His fight was in Vietnam,
Ours is the Vietnam in him.”
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by Janet J. Seahorn, Ph.D
Holy Smokes! My brain is reeling like an out of control roller coaster. You know the experience, the climbing to the top of the coaster mountain knowing it is going to plummet to the bottom once there. At times it feels stimulating, and then there’s the “I think I am going to lose my stomach” sensation. Well, this scenario somewhat describes how I left after listening for two hours to a presentation on VA benefits. I went with Tony to learn more about how best to negotiate the system and the process. Honestly, it was quite interesting, although, I must admit, I didn’t understand everything the speaker was telling the audience, nor could I keep up with all the “do this not that”, “go here, not there”, “know this exception or else”. Yikes, no wonder many of our veterans and their families get confused. It truly takes an expert in the organization to help lead you successfully through the government maze of regulations.
Following are a few items I gleaned from the session that perhaps some of our readers will find helpful. Keep in mind that the VA is concerned with treating the whole person where other government organizations are mainly focused on the medical issues.
- 1. First, whether you like it or not you will need to have and be somewhat comfortable using a computer since all forms and many interactions are now on-line. If you are one of those who are somewhat computer illiterate, grab a friend or family member to help with the process. A few websites that can be very useful: www.Ebenefits.va.gov (this site gives you access to your vet information) www.Healthmil/PDBR (this is the site for getting the process underway to leave the military).
- 2. Something many veterans do not know is that they are eligible for problems that occur as a result of their major injury or condition. These are called “Secondary Problems“.
- 3. For new vets leaving the military, some States have places were individuals can go and get all of their needs, benefits, sign-up forms, and medical tests done in one setting. Not only does this speed up the process, it cuts down on the frustration of visiting several places over a span of several weeks.
- 4. As you put in for your benefits, understand that it takes a minimum of ten days to be processed before the information shows up on the Ebenifits website, and this only occurs if the VA has all of the needed medical records.
- 5. Now this leads us to getting those medical records…Go and Get Them YOURSELF. If you rely on your doctor’s office sending this information to the VA once it is requested, you may be waiting as long as six months before they get around to sending it. This is not the VA’s fault. Since doctors offices do not get reimbursed for doing this task, some are not very eager to move it forward in a timely manner.
- 6. Understand that once your benefits begin, the government will send your funds to your bank using Direct Deposit. If you don’t have a bank, they will send you a debit card. There will no longer be any CHECKS written to an individual. Understand it is YOUR responsibility to give the VA the correct bank routing number or account number, or address. If you move and forget to send them you new address, you will probably have trouble getting your funds. If your benefits begin on Feb. 1st, your first funds will come through until March 1st. Many organizations work on this type of a timeline.
- 7. If you were a Marine stationed at Camp Lejeune (www.lejeune.usmc.mil) before 1986, immediately go to their website to obtain information on filing a claim regarding medical conditions stemming from a toxic waste situation in the area. This also applies to our current vets who served in Balaud, Iraq where it was common practice to burn their waste, including plastic water bottles. The results of being exposed to the toxic smoke can cause colon cancer, lymphoma, respiratory problems… Down the road similar consequences may come from exposure to the sands in Iraq and Afghanistan.
- 8. Also, did you know that many of our veterans are eligible for a VA home loan that may be far better than those offered by the FHA. This was an AHA for us. Check out www.homeloans.va.gov or www.hopenow.comwebsites or call the Homeownership Preservation Foundation at 1-888-995-HOPE (4673).
- 9. And last, it is very important that every veteran is aware of the processes for filing a claim, receiving benefits, etc. Be sure to read EVERY piece of information or mail that comes to you. Don’t put it aside and think you will get back to it later. Read it immediately. Answer any and all phone calls from your VA centers as soon as possible. And be persistent as long as you take responsibility for what you need to do to help process your claims and benefits.
After listening to so much information and needing a Tylenol or Latte badly, I came to the following conclusions:
One – every vet needs to take the appropriate responsibility for getting his needs met. Blaming won’t get the job done; being proactive has a better chance of success.
Two – and please don’t scoff at this because I am sometimes tempted to do so, try to believe in the VA’s motto, “Grant if you can, only deny if you have to”. If you feel the person you are working with isn’t doing enough, ask for someone else to assist you. Often times getting a fresh pair of eyes and ears can make a huge difference. What I saw and heard today confirmed that there are many individuals in the VA organization who are incredibly dedicated to making a difference to our country’s veterans. We know of many and are grateful for their efforts.
Good Luck and take your patience pills – dealing with any huge organization, especially the government will require an abundance of endurance.