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PTSD Recovery: Intrusive Thoughts

Intrusive thoughts are the high energy stress bubbles that blow up in the faces of combat survivors. They slam us into the multidimensional horror and anguish of our inescapable memories. Some flashbacks happen without a trigger.

I’ve learned that, when I pay attention to my flashback, something has happened around me that triggered it. The basic flashback triggers are sensory. This means that our senses feel, taste, smell, see or hear something we associate with combat and triggers the intrusive thought.

Here’s one that took me a couple of years to figure out. We have a high-quality public radio station in Anchorage. This station plays classical music most of the day. I listened to the station in my office during the workday. Sometimes, while working on a project, suddenly I’m standing at attention. I hear the names of our most recent KIAs being read. I smell red dust, feel sweat running down my face, my fists tighten and my teeth clench. My rage rises, wanting more than anything to get some payback. I’m there, at a 25th Infantry battalion base camp along Highway 1 in central I Corps.

“…his unswerving commitment to his duty and his unselfish sacrifice are a credit

to himself, his unit and the United States Army.”

The words came forth with no conscious effort. How many times have I heard the words? How many wives and parents and children heard the words? The starched neatly folded American flag presented to them formally. The three volleys of seven shots fired and echoing in the distance. The loss, the hurt, the desperation, the disbelief set to music and a long bugler plays Taps. And the feeling described so well in a song from long ago settles on me, “Is that all there is?” Even now, the feelings come without the words to express them.

Just as quickly, I would be back in my office, soaked in sweat, heart pounding – overrun by unspeakable sadness. It took about eight months for me to make the connection that the trigger for that flashback was a piece of soft background classical music. That piece had also been used in the movie Platoon. Making this connection was the key to learning how to moderate the unexpected eruption of memories and feelings.

From then on, when that piece of music plays, I use those moments to remember and honor my brothers. It’s the same me in the same place with the same trigger for a flashback as before. The difference now is that I choose to connect my reaction to this specific music and make a different choice about how to respond to it. I learned this technique from my brother, Ned Neathery, during a combat debriefing group session.

Instead of being overcome by the rage and guilt and anguish that kept me separated from my people, now I picture each of them in my mind and heart so I can say what I really feel: “I love you, brothers.” What Ned and I and the other warriors in our combat debriefing group learned was that there is always more love than pain.

Feeling that we are not in control of our reactions means that something or someone else is responsible for how we feel and our behavior. Not true. Of all people, who knows better than a warrior that we are responsible for our actions, our behaviors and our choices? This part of recovery is difficult and often it’s not fast. Naming our anguish, our rage and our fears we learn the relationship between ourselves and our most intimate losses. With that understanding and acceptance, we begin our journey home.
Ken Jones. PhD ©

 

Ken Jones is a Vietnam combat veteran (11th Cavalry 67-68), a speaker, an advocate, and a writer. His focus is recovery from combat induced PTSD. Supporting our troops, veterans, and their families as they work their way through recovery from PTSD drives Ken to be actively engaged on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media venues. Although he served eight years as a volunteer and staff counselor at the Anchorage Vet Center, he is not a clinician. His comments and observations are based on his own experience of living with combat induced PTSD for the past 40+ years.

PTSD After Combat and Holiday Gatherings

A warrior in a family social environment is usually quiet. Quiet does not mean that they aren’t listening. If you want to include them in a conversation use, a question unrelated to the military or locations. Be prepared for a short answer, usually as close to one word as possible. Move on. Maybe try again in twenty or thirty minutes. Then let it go.

If your family members are huggers, keep in mind that the safe space for a warrior is about two arm lengths out. Someone coming inside that two arm’s length perimeter may trigger an automatic threat reaction from a warrior especially if the move is quick or unexpected. Asking for a hug is a good idea.

For family dinners, consider a warrior with PTSD in your seating chart. Seat him or her with their back to a wall and the rest of the room and the door in view if possible.

I still recall, usually without a panic attack now, my first Thanksgiving with my fiancé’s family. It was a close and happy family. My fiancé was the second youngest of eleven children in her family. So, it’s dinner for twenty-six and their children. This was a significant learning experience for me.

Everything about the time together and the dinner was wonderful if you were one of the family. The brothers teased their sisters. Dads and kids played football some outside, some in the house. This family was happy and loud. They were just being who they were. My problem was that my anxiety level had maxed out five minutes inside the door.

Looking back forty-plus years, it was a classic combat PTSD reaction. I declined dessert and was out of there as quickly as I could be. It was November, and I drove all the way back to Post with the windows rolled down shouting and screaming to release the stress and burn off the adrenalin.

If you are having a guest that has spent time in combat, gentle and easy are good. Moderating noise levels is good. Combat survivors don’t require much social care and feeding. A safe space and the opportunity to listen may be just fine.
Ken Jones, PhD©

 

Ken Jones is a Vietnam combat veteran (11th Cavalry 67-68), a speaker, an advocate, and a writer. His focus is recovery from combat induced PTSD. Supporting our troops, veterans, and their families as they work their way through recovery from PTSD drives Ken to be actively engaged on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media venues. Although he served eight years as a volunteer and staff counselor at the Anchorage Vet Center, he is not a clinician. His comments and observations are based on his own experience of living with combat induced PTSD for the past 40+ years.

Veterans Day: Remembrance and Gratitude

Veterans Day is upon us once again. It’s time for us – as a nation and as individuals – to take a few moments out of our lives to remember those who have served in our Armed Forces.

As I recently heard someone say, “When people join the military, they give up life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness [on their own timeline]”. I think that is reason enough to thank and remember them.

I was first introduced to the military by my father, an Air Force veteran. He showed me the many customs, norms and values upheld by the military. He was proud to have served his country and proud to still be associated with the military during his civilian career.

Generation upon generation of veterans have made many sacrifices for this country and its people. Missing holidays and birthdays with their families, putting personal goals aside as they put service to others ahead of themselves, remaining steadfast in the face of the enemy. Their courage is remarkable.

In my long affiliation with the military, I have met some great service members. The U. S. Army 5th Finance Group soldiers, my teammates on the Robinson Barracks soccer team, my veteran co-workers at the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Centerstone, and my current co-workers who are part of our Military Services team. I am so thankful for their service to this country and I am blessed to be able to give back, through our work, to veterans and their families who have all sacrificed something for me.

Happy Veterans Day to all who served.

 

Jodie Robison, PhD, LPC-MHSP, NCC is the Executive Director of Centerstone’s Military Services. With more than 18 years of behavioral health and management experience, Robison oversees Centerstone’s military-related services, programming, operations, business development and fundraising activities. She is a military spouse, a military parent and has collaborated with numerous military related organizations throughout her professional career.

Checklist for Military Members Seeking Therapy

The fundamental principle to put others before ourselves is within the fabric of every military community. However, the same selfless traits admired about our service members and veterans can contribute to the challenges that make it difficult for them to ask for help when they need it.

According to research published by RAND Corporation, service members who deploy to combat areas have a greater risk of mental health issues with 44 percent having difficulty adjusting to civilian life and nearly half experiencing strains in family life. Additionally, the families, especially caregivers, of service members and veterans, may face mental health risks of their own.

Addressing mental healthcare should always be a priority and never treated in the same regard as most military members treat minor physical wounds by ignoring or pushing it aside to deal with later. Help is available now. Seeking help does not make you weak.

The first step to healing is making the decision to seek help. Here are three practical ways military members and their loved ones can find the right therapy and maximize their mental health treatment.

 

Find Someone Who Fits You

Find a professional who has formal training in the area you are seeking help. From my perspective as a mental health provider, I have seen how it can be helpful for many military members to have a provider who comes from a military background.

Here are some questions to reflect on when choosing a mental health professional:

  • Do you prefer someone who is more active and verbally engaging, or would you like someone who is more reserved?
  • Does the provider have training in treating couples, families and/or children?
  • Do you want someone from your culture?
  • Does the provider have training in practices that research has demonstrated to be effective?

 

Ask Questions

Always remember it is your therapy, and you have the right to ask questions. The questions do not have to be excessive, but asking questions about the types of treatment or assessments you receive is important because they give the provider an opportunity to provide further clarification on a topic and provide direct feedback.

Mental health treatment works better when you take an active, informed role in the process. Be your own advocate and ask questions.

 

Be Patient

Lastly, but most importantly, remember that just because you go to therapy, huge changes rarely happen overnight. Healing can take time, but every baby step toward success is still progress. Work with your provider to develop a plan of action, and be sure to address any issues that may come up along the way.

When wrestling with issues from addiction to depression to PTSD and beyond, people tend to think that taking care of yourself “from the neck up” is purely prescriptive: medication, talk therapy and so on. However, staying proactive throughout the entire process is the key to experiencing real progress and healing. As one of our Centerstone’s Military Services clients put it, “Who you are can change! You can be the person you want to be.”

 

Jodie Robison, PhD, LPC-MHSP, NCC is the Executive Director of Centerstone’s Military Services. With more than 18 years of behavioral health and management experience, Robison oversees Centerstone’s military-related services, programming, operations, business development and fundraising activities. She is a military spouse, a military parent and has collaborated with numerous military related organizations throughout her professional career.

Welcome to Our Network

On behalf of Centerstone’s Military Services, I would like to take this opportunity to welcome you to our network. It’s our mission to provide top notch-mental health therapy services to our clients, including active duty military, National Guard and Reserve troops, veterans and their family members. In order to achieve this, our network recruits fully licensed, highly qualified mental health providers in the social work, counseling, marriage and family and psychology fields. In addition, our providers have training in evidence-based practices and knowledge of the military culture.

The many changes in the healthcare industry over the past eight years have left many consumers with increased health care costs such as increased deductibles, medical bills and co-pays. It’s our mission to be able to offset those costs by providing free, short-term mental health therapy services to eligible consumers.

In order to continue to provide these services we need your continued support in our efforts to maintain the high standards we set for network providers. We would not have a network without you and we appreciate your participation.

Thank you again for participating in our network!

 

Jodie Robison, PhD, LPC-MHSP, NCC is the Executive Director of Centerstone’s Military Services. With more than 18 years of behavioral health and management experience, Robison oversees Centerstone’s military-related services, programming, operations, business development and fundraising activities. She is a military spouse, a military parent and has collaborated with numerous military related organizations throughout her professional career.