January 23, 2009

We Cannot Make it Through the Confines of Our Minds Without the Help of Others

I am a Gulf War I vet, I felt the same as you when I returned home from combat. For me it was the total sense of feeling alive and being apart of my squad that I missed, although I did not figure this out until after 15 years of insanity.

In the mix, blood pounds through the veins and I received a powerful sense of completeness that I still chase today. The intensiveness of combat will never be matched in the civilian world, all the mundane things we did before seem totally a way to piss us off today. When faced with survival we let all the silly shit slough off of us and become one with the universe.

Our field of vision opens completely to encompass all within our sight, the tiny reflection in the corner of the eye becomes a sharp focus without having to direct attention its way. Time becomes suspended and we know and feel what omnipresence really means. How can anything else ever compare to this experiential endeavor?

I finally received help after 15 years, I could not drink enough alcohol, smoke enough weed, or seek out enough violence to get past the feelings of emptiness. I felt such an utter and complete loss of self and sense of identity. We were trained to feel invincible, and it may even have seemed that way at times, but we did not get through combat without the help from the soldier next to us. We cannot make it through the confines of our minds without the help of others.

We could not do it alone in combat, what makes you think that you can make it alone today?

Follow the links in the sidebar and see how I came through to the other side (under the heading "A Suggested Guide to PTSD Management).


  1. Scott, this is a remarkable piece.

    You're on the leading edge of something magnificent, using new media to add your insightful observations to the mix. To me, that is the power of the era we are living in today. The immediacy of the exchange of these thoughts and observations is going far to change the way we view these grand issues we all grapple with, veterans and civilians alike.

    So, I do believe that your work here (and at facebook) to help raise awareness and advance a higher consciousness forged out of your experiences is a great gift to the rest of society -- and humanity as well. It is one of the positive aspects of the dichotomy of war, that its participants often struggle yet often rise out of those struggles to become even better leaders and providers of truth and knowledge. Thank you for your continued service to us.

    Wanted to let you know that I'm going to include some of your words and insights here in my Honors Capstone paper (which I hope to present at Purdue University and get published in a peer-reviewed journal afterward). They are directly on target for what I'm researching and will help to move my thesis forward.

    Thank you for what you're doing!


    P.S. I have talked about this facet of feeling so 'alive' combat that you point to here. I have a certain theory on this, culled from a lot of reading and researching the issue of consciousness and presence, etc. over the past years.

    One of the reasons why I believe you feel so 'alive' at those moments is not merely because you're faced with your own mortality. But rather, imho, it's because your situation demands that your mind be fully present in the moment. Your mind knows that the only way it can survive is if your physical body survives, and so it shuts itself down for a change and becomes clear and present in the moment.

    The mind tamps down all of its usual destructive 'mind chatter' (that most people usually have going on in their heads all the time) in those times of danger. It pushes out the usual stuff that takes us away from being in the moment every moment: those endless loops of thoughts on resentments or hang-ups over past situations (like how your parents or friend or girlfriend did this or that to you last week or last year or last decade and you can't forgive them or you are damaged because of them, etc.).

    And your mind in those 'alive' moments also for a change gives up its power and control over your peace of mind, allowing streams of anxiety or worry over the future dissipate.

    In those moments, where your mind melts away and you become alert and present to where you are at that very moment, you have clarity and an awesome and powerful feeling and knowledge of your aliveness because you're present in the moment liked you've never been before. When I mentioned this recently to an Iraq veteran who I am friendly with, he looked at me with a kind of 'ah-ah' look on his face and said that definitely makes a lot of sense.

    Now, the reason why I think this is important to consider if you're a former combat veteran grieving a bit over the 'loss' of that feeling of aliveness, is that knowing why you felt alive actually opens up a pathway to returning to that state -- but without having to have fear or having to be in mortal danger be the fuel for it.

    There are a lot of ways to presence.

    While today's moments may not 'live up' to the exciting moments of your days in combat, they are the only moments you really have. The past is gone (and it's not coming back), and the future is never guaranteed. All we as humans should focus on is bringing our full attention and energy into experiencing the present moments that we live in.

    Our minds play funny tricks on us, have you noticed? Our mind devalues the present. It actively places a higher value on the past (that's why memories are usually more rose-colored than not), and it also places a higher value on the future (life will be better when I get to x,y,z...).

    But 'aliveness' is not experienced in the past or the future -- no matter how much the mind would like you to think that it does. The present is the only vehicle to feeling alive, because it's the only time we really are. I know this is long and maybe a bit difficult to get a handle on (I'm still working on understanding it all as well), but your incredible post here drove me to wish to share these musings with you.

    Again, keep up the great work, (((((Scott))))).

    You are an important element in the progress we see today in our treatment and understanding of the issues that surround war and the search for meaning and peace with ourselves and the environment that envelops us.

  2. Ilona, I am honored to have you quote me in a paper or anywhere else you see fit to advance our cause. I would like to read a copy of it when you have finished it. Thank you for your encouragement and support.

    I was recently reading your testimony in congress, I think it was you that said you were shaking and the congressman said everyone on the board does to, I thought that was a cool thing he did for you. Your testimony was spot on, you and Penny did a great job representing our veterans. Thank you for your service to us.

    Your theory that the mind shuts down all else in response to situations of extreme stress, has a similar line of thought in what I call Combat Values Theory. This was also the intuitive thinking when I wrote "That part of us summoned by the heat of anger and the fire of rage and shuts down all thinking and rationalizing to do the deed, the dance of death."

  3. Thanks, Scott...

    LOL, I just cross-posted on your post over at my post at the place where I post besides when I post over at Facebook.

    Got that? :o)

    Thanks for these other links and suggestions; I really appreciate it. There is so much good writing going on coming out of you guys -- and gals -- from all gens of war, that it takes me a while to get around to them all.

    I'm glad I spotted (and not surprised that my twin sis, Lily, was there before I was, too, praising you all the way...much-deserved) your post at facebook today.

    Thanks for you comments, and for all you're doing. It may seem at times that no one is listening, since blogging can be a strange type of communication; posts can often go without comment, but that doesn't mean that their thoughts and words don't eventually filter out into the ether and reach those who need to hear it the most. No matter what, you just keep on sharing what you know and have learned. It is doing a world of good to boost us up to a higher plane or two.

    There will always be some we have to drag along with us, kicking and screaming, but we will elevate! :o)

    I better get to sleep, now!

  4. Hey, Scott, this is great stuff, as you already know I believe, but I think it would help to also delineate, what do you feel like has been helping you? When you say that after 15 years you are starting to get a grip on this -- fantastic! -- maybe let us know, what you have tried that you think has been useful and why.

    As you know, a big part of what I'm trying to do on my blog, www.HealingCombatTrauma.com, is take a look at any reasonable therapeutic remedy that has ANY potential value for treating combat trauma. Of course, no two people are alike, but someone as thoughtful and introspective as you are about what you've done and why it might work, should definitely be throwing in your two cents about what and why and even "when," since this sometimes comes into play as well. Cool! Thanks...

  5. After watching my father, a 16 yr. Army WWII veteran, my uncle, a WWI Navy veteran, my husband, Marine Corps '68 in country, cousins, brothers-in-law, and friends, then reading correspondence from my great-grandfather after the Civil War, I have been left with an understanding of that life-altering change that you speak of that leaves ordinary life and its mundane, trivial worries a shadowy caricature of what you feel life is supposed to be.

    Perhaps it is a chemical alteration the body undergoes, the pharmaceutical companies will be happy to help, but perhaps it is a more profound change, spiritual if you will. If you can find a way to channel that omniscient feeling into making our society function optimally, there would be a chance for us.

    Idealism aside, how do we teach our public, the individuals and institutions, you know the ones you risked your life for, to set aside their petty bickering, greed, indifference, dissolution, and other assorted trivialities? How do we, the people, understand that is up to us to understand you, the veteran, as part of our duty to honor you? The veil has been stripped away for you, as for any survivor of extremely traumatic events, allowing you to cherish the miracle that is life in its simplest form, something most people, in this country, will never know. Breathe, waking up in the morning, walking, seeing the birds and stars above..."In Flanders Field" captures the sentiment nicely and has stood the test of time.

    I used to think it was possible to get people to see, now I am not so sure. I am the widow of a Marine who suicided after a trigger event that I only fully comprehended 20 years after the fact. As a second wife, and a younger one at that, what we had in common besides the religion and education we were raised in, was that for us, our lives changed forever due to a serious, life-altering event, allowing us to penetrate the veil and a shared understanding that escaped most of our circle of family and acquaintances.

    My father chose to continue on with his thrill seeking by his choice of occupations, a friend and contemporary of his, a German POW for over 8 years, drank early and often for the rest of his life, isolating himself from his family, another ran his car into a tree. The three above were EXTREMELY successful individuals by society's standards. I know many other of their stories.

    I like to call it the Icarus syndrome. No, you haven't seen it in print anywhere, I coined it, call Stephen Colbert. I have been reading about shell shock, combat fatigue, PTSD, and every other related syndrome for over 30 years, pre-dating my marriage ( I am okay at math ). We all love glory, the feel of its warm glow, but the veteran's need for an adrenaline rush is coupled with the very real element of death and survival and it is a heady mix.

    I say the glory is all theirs, not those who write of it or examine it, they are just wannabes and if they truly want to help, then they must insist that the ordinary citizens take heed and do their part by ensuring a just society and the limited necessity of war.

    Deborah from Louisiana

  6. I'm proud of you. Great work!

  7. Scott's recent re-posting of Deborah's response to Scott's profound article of Jan. '09, complete with Ilona Meagher's response and astounding PS, brought this to my attention. It got me wondering - this in-the-moment intensity by which lives are saved and lives are taken that is often referred to as: "I never felt so alive." Isn't that what love makes one feel? Intensely in-the-moment? Everything else melts away, and the focus [on the other, rather on self, mental chatter, past/future concerns, etc.] is focused solely on the moment? Here's what I wonder: Can it be that this in-the-moment intensity that intimacy entails may trigger past moments of similar intensity for the combat veteran - warzone moments? Scott - since early July you have "come out" about the guilt that you theorize underlies much of your "negative" behavior. You have even confessed publicly what that is about. Something you deeply regret that happened in the intense heat of that "presentness" - the combat mindfulness that destroyed. Here is my question: Can it be that this feeling of being fully alive, in the moment - a combat experience deeply tainted with guilt and shame - is triggered by feelings of similarly intense presentness/awareness/aliveness - by feelings of love? If so, it that one possible reason why those suffering - not only from PTSD but from the warzone guilt and shame that accompany it and underlie it - are often triggered into isolation and relapse and the negative spiral? Because it brings the combat veteran back to when their whole being was similarly present, and led to the warzone acts of destruction that they so long to "unhappen," to forget. It would help explain so much of the self-sabotaging I witness in the face of the "threat" of intimacy.

    Your thoughts are coveted. I can only theorize. I wasn't there. But I care deeply, as we need your voice fully alive and well back home.

    Soul Whisperer

  8. You have hit it out of the park! Exactly as you say it, it is so, for me anyway. In a threat environment emotions are easier to discern, or so our training tells us, and when we come home we bring these types of thinking patterns with us.

    Most of time these actions in combat are correct and even when they are spot on, if the wounds from the Combat Schemata is left untreated it could fester into a chronic mental, physical and spiritual wounds.

    I am isolating right now because I just want to hurt someone, no apparent reason or rhyme. So, I sit alone...

  9. "A felt requirement to recover from, or become immune to, the circling back to emotional trauma can be a source of intense shame and self-loathing when, as is inevitably the case, it cannot be achieved.": http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/feeling-relating-existing/201303/integrating-emotional-trauma


Please share your comments, stories and information. Thank you. ~ Scott Lee