Monthly Archives: June 2011

The one I feed the most

I read a short quip pinned to the wall in the PTSD center at the Northport VA facility. It read this:

A Native American elder once described his own inner struggles in this manner: “inside of me there are two dogs. One of the dogs is evil and mean. The other dog is good. The mean dog fights the good dog all the time.” When asked which dog wins, he reflected for a moment and replied, “The one I feed the most.”

I took a picture of it and I look at the picture/ story often. I feel it relates to one of the first lessons/ worksheets from Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPt): stuck points and absolutes.

A stuck point is really just what it sounds like, a point or thought in your brain that is immovable and ingrained… Stuck. Lots of people in this world have thick heads and are convinced of this or that, but for a Veteran with PTSD these thoughts are burned very deeply into our thought process and linked to primal survival, and it very much feels that way.

CPt starts with identifying and challenging those beliefs. In a war zone it is tough to trust anyone, especially those who are in the least bit different. Traumatic experiences seemingly affirm in extreme ways these habits of survival. Unfortunately, habits start to defy sound logic and over time feel reasonable and essential to survive.

For example, I had a few IEDs hit my vehicles in Iraq. I also saw the devastation created by suicide bombers. When I came home, driving on roads and traveling by car without a weapon to defend myself sent me to super anxious level. When I reflect about my experiences, the reaction sounds like typical and logical responses to the threats we faced in Iraq daily. The real problems came when I could not convince myself otherwise when I was home.

The stuck point I told myself was I am Never Safe when driving. Two things to examine here: one, I tied a mundane common act to my personal safety, two I used the extreme absolute of never. Because I was dealing in absolutes, my emotions and feelings were on hair triggers. Cut me off, I cut you off. Look at me wrong, I try to start a fight with you. Zero to pissed off in the blink of an eye.

These types of statements and emotions feed the evil dog. I cannot trust anyone. I am never safe driving. If I relax I will get killed. If someone dies or is hurt and I am not totally prepared, it is my fault. All of them at one point were in my rule book and I believed in them wholeheartedly. To a certain degree, all of them still are.

What I worked on with CPt was how to take those rules and make them more specific and less absolute. Some would argue I made them softer, but I don’t buy that. I can still get to angry in a heartbeat, it is now more on my terms.

Driving can sometimes be dangerous. It is not always dangerous. Now, with some quick mental preparation before I travel, it can even be a non-issue. Someday, I hope it is fun again, maybe after I starve that damn evil dog…

This is a simple example, there are many more feelings and more complicated cases dealing with relationships or trust to name a few; and, this took me a very long time to get a grip on. I still have to remind myself to live in a world with a spectrum and not absolutes. With the more complex issues, I am still working them out.

Want to read more about CPt? Visit the VA Website

or the Wikipedia Page for Cognitive Processing Therapy

The First Post…

What is this blog going to be about?

For starters, I would like to get a dialog going more than me spewing crap at the screen.  I will most likely approach my struggles with PTSD from a chronological perspective to start (I think it will  help the longer this blog runs).  I will field questions and tell stories or both war, and therapy.  I have been going to therapy steady for 6 years now and things that only sort of worked in the beginning, are now sharpened and refined.  I want to share what works and what doesn’t, as well as inform people (probably my family and friends to start) what the struggles were and are with PTSD.

Now for some disclosure.

I am going to be as brutally honest as I can be.  I am not a Saint, and I do not plan on applying for the holy order anytime soon, so please do not get on me for mistakes that I share. There are many. I am sharing them because the are mistakes and I would like others to know they are not alone and learn from them.  But, if someone does ask for advice or guidance, my honest opinion is what they are going to get, not sugar coated, but as straight as I can be with them. I may use examples of people I met, or talk with, but their names will be changed for privacy purposes unless otherwise stated.

My goal for this site is simple: to educate and support the Veterans and their families who are dealing with PTSD.

Why do I feel I am qualified (and how)? 

I feel there are a lot of similarities between coping with PTSD and twelve step programs.  Through this blog, I am putting myself out there as a sponsor for whomever wants to be sponsored.  I am not a health professional, but I have been in our boots.   In our Veteran community, experience and trust are major issues at the starting blocks.  If I can write and help someone out of the gate, I am more than happy to do it.  In fact, I feel at this point, it is my responsibility.

A little more about me…

As I stated earlier I have been dealing with PTSD in therapy for 6 years.  I probably had PTSD after my first Iraq tour from 2004.  I went back from 05 to 06 and finally reached a point where I was pretty much so burnt out that a change of profession was a must.  As this journey of healing progressed I have been on many different drugs, stopped drinking entirely (though I did have a shot of Jack for OBLs death) and have successfully completed both Cognitive Processing and Prolonged Exposure Therapy.  Each of these major milestones, along with many other family and professional challenges along the way give me a unique perspective on dealing with PTSD.  Also, I am married, have two kid and have had to refine a lot of my tricks to cope with sleepless nights compounded by babies and new anxiety.

For all new readers I will part here with these words as  my first “lesson” I had to learn the hard way:  There is no magic pill or Super Therapist.  Time will help, but it moves so slow it will feel like no change.  The only way things will get better is if you work at collecting and sharpening the mental tools necessary to survive and eventually flourish. It requires hard work and discipline.