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