How to watch the Lone Survivor with Combat PTSD

lone-survivor-posterDisclaimer up front, I am attempting to watch the Lone Survivor movie after consulting with many family, friends and confidants.  I am not acting on a psychologists advice, or warning, but instead dusting off my skills developed from Prolonged Exposure Therapy and Cognitive Processing Therapy.  The idea is to engage in comprehensive preparation for watching movies with stressors and triggers.   I expect the result that I am better prepared to watch Lone Survivor, and subsequently better prepared to handle life. I do not recommend this approach without the guidance of a therapist the first time.  Let me say that again, go get a therapist for PET or CPT.  (here are some great therapy services). Do not try and read a book or blog and do it yourself.

I am attempting this because I feel that, like many skills in life, the ones PET and CPT taught are perishable.  I completed both courses and have used their techniques and coaching effectively for some time.  Still, tools need maintenance.  I do not doubt this will be an unpleasant experience.  My first past through Prolonged Exposure Therapy brought me up close to “Restrepo”.  It was a very emotional experience.  Both Prolonged Expose and Cognitive Processing therapy force you to stare down and confront the worst days.   And while each day is getting better, part of gaining control over this is not avoiding everything with trigger potential like it is the plague.

A Quick Review of Prolonged Exposure Therapy

The flavor of Prolonged Exposure Therapy I undertook used the Subjective Unit of Distress level or SUDs to measure progress.  From the start, even though it was a subjective feeling, it was quantified and tracked. Over the course of many weeks, after I established my SUDs scale, my therapist and I would systematically tackle and monitor my distress level for my “homework”.

We started at the bottom of the scale and worked our way up.  The objective of each session was to address and unwind the spike in feelings and raw emotional memories that uncomfortable situations brought out.  After enough exposure with positive outcomes, we were able to lower the barrier to gain a level of comfort.

For example,  for a long while I would avoid at all cost a crowded place, especially the subway.  Being around that many people made me extremely uncomfortable and put me on high alert.  There were more than a few days in Iraq where a crowded market or labor line brought a bomb and chaos. We were trained to be on the lookout for anyone suspicious and disperse crowds.  Well, Manhattan doesn’t care about my view of crowds or suspicious people.  If I was forced to ride, I would come home exhausted for days.

So, as part of my homework, I had to ride the subway.  For an hour.  During the peak.  No, this was not an intentional sadistic exercise. I went in with a plan and had a release valve to pull.  The point of the exercise was to gain comfort with the SUDs level.  The emotions behind my extreme discomfort were just that: emotions.  Logic tells me that there is not reason I should not be able to ride a subway.  I will admit, it was almost unbearable.  But, after a few trips, I realized I could gain my composure quicker and that the danger was in my mind.

My SUDs for the subway halved by the end of my therapy sessions.  That was only part of the homework, but overall, as a follow on to CPT, Prolonged Exposure was the most challenging and rewarding therapy.  The initial gains were exponential, though those skills are now a little creaky.  It is time to stare them down.  As one of my favorite Crossfit terms says “Get comfortable being uncomfortable.”

Bring on the War Movies

OK, here is the hits list of what I watched and am watching:


Restrepo_posterAct of Valor:  A Navy SEAL recruiting video. Fiction and SEAL chest thumping, so a good safe start.

Blackhawk Down:  Here is the start of the true to life stories.  The sucky thing about all these movies is that we know how they end going in.  I still have never watched “Titanic” with one excuse (aside from Leonardo DiCaprio) that I know how it ends.

Zero Dark Thirty: There are intense scenes and it is, again, based on actual events.  I think that notion makes these types harder for me to watch.  The end definitely reminds me of a few raids where we walked or flew into the objective, though I am nowhere near the skill level of a Navy SEAL.

Saving Private Ryan:  This movie always gets me. The beginning and end is gut wrenching.

Restrepo:  This is the hardest for me to watch.  As part of my original homework, it took me days to watch this movie.  The sounds, sights and action are raw.  If Long Survivor plays this way, I am in for a rough go.

Wish me luck and thanks for following along.




5 thoughts on “How to watch the Lone Survivor with Combat PTSD

  1. Bryan

    I hope it goes well. The movie does have a message that maybe is different than all those others you listed. I’m just not sure I needed to see the other stuff to get that message. Like you, I saw the movie to kind of test myself. Unlike you, I don’t exactly have formal methods I employ to deal with things; I kind of just brute force wing it. If you need a battle to go with you for before during after, whatever, let me know. Stay warm!

  2. Ryan Dietz

    Mike, should you have time, try and watch Max Manus: Man of War (a norwegian film of WWII Nazi occupied Norway) Not many movies can bring me to tears, but the end got me to think of how many good men and women are lost in the struggle to overcome evil and oppression.

  3. Pingback: The Lone Survivor and Combat PTSD: What you can expect | ptsdsurvivordaily

  4. mikeypiro

    Thanks Ryan! I will hunt it down. After watching Lone Survivor I am emboldened to watch more. I came out of it in good shape. I will reach out!

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