Healing PTSD

Mental Health

Jan 13
Iraq Vets Group Therapy

It’s not easy, but it is impossible if you don’t try.

We’ve written about healing cancer since 1991. We’ve received a lot of letters on the subject of cancer. When we published our article on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder we were inundated with letters. Once a week we get a letter thanking us for our site. Once or twice a month we get a letter with a correction (thank you!) or possible a harsh criticism (oh well), but concerning the PTSD article, during the Gulf War and when we invaded Iraq, we got at least one letter a day, and sometimes more.

One letter, probably the most poignant letter I’ve ever received, was from a fellow Vietnam vet. Since he did not give me permission to republish his letter, and it was awfully personal, I will just paraphrase it here.

He told me he’d been up all night madly surfing the web. He had a pistol sitting next to his mouse. He was looking for a reason not to blow his brains out. He came across a site featuring top Vietnam sites. He clicked, by accident, on our PTSD page. He’d meant to click on the one above ours. Having arrived there, he said he felt that he really didn’t want to read any more clinical crap on this, but from just a short shrift of the article, he’d started to realize that it hadn’t been written by some PhD living on another planet; that it was the personal story by a fellow Nam vet.

He wanted me to know that our page had saved his life. He saw himself in a few of the things I’d been through, and as he continued reading through the list of symptoms, he continually saw himself and his situation. He told me that suddenly he knew he was not alone. He knew that if someone who had been as bad off as he was could heal enough to write this article, he would be okay.

Most of the letters we’ve received have been from women who had been in abusive relationships or had come from abusive homes. That is until we forgot the lessons of Vietnam and invaded the Middle East.

Suddenly our mail box was stuffed with letters from wives, mothers, and soldiers. I gave a few of the soldiers my address on AOL so we could chat thru AIM. One guy I remember well was extremely whacked out (I hope I don’t get too technical for you) and he IMed me every night. He had been put on a list and had to wait two months to see someone. He told me he didn’t think he could make it that long. I told him that he needed to get to the VA and tell them EXACTLY that. I reminded him that if a vet is dangerous to himself or others, the standing rule at the VA was very clear: he gets immediate help. They MUST take him in for observation.

After one month of frustration, his mail stopped, he stopped IMing me. I’m not sure how it ended. His account is closed. His email comes back.

Please note that this page is aimed at soldiers returning from Iraq. If you are not a soldier, much of this can still apply to you; however, I am going to talk directly to our returning troops because they did what every trooper has done since the beginning of our country: They are followed orders to protect our country. They’ve been stretched so far they’re about to crack. PTSD is epidemic among the returning troops. They’ve all got a touch of it and many have it badly. They did not start this war, either.

We had more cases of PTSD from Vietnam than from any other war. Iraq will beat that record. These men and women have been pushed beyond human limits. They are not getting enough rest in between deployments. These young men and women have seen things no one should ever have to witness. I’ve not met one Iraqi War Vet who has not been affected; who is not hurting.

This is dedicated to my little brothers and sisters who have maintained a tradition of service that built this country into a very strong democracy. Yes, the war itself, the extraordinary rendition, the extirpation of human rights and habeas corpus, the bungled planning or lack thereof that has led to a horrendous occupation and puts each and every soldier’s life in jeopardy, and the torture and inhumane treatment of prisoners of war and innocent victims alike have ripped a terrible hole in this country and has made us everything that we have despised in the past. I have not supported this war from the beginning, but our soldiers joined to protect and serve America and are not responsible for starting wars. They should stand proud of their service; it is our leaders who designed this mess who must be held accountable for their actions.

Tomorrow, we will again become a beacon of light to the rest of the world starving for freedom; but for now, let’s help our soldiers heal.

Get it Out

You have to start talking it out. You have to sit down and tell your story. You cannot hold it in because it will only eat at you. You can find a support group at your local VA where you can talk it out. Listening to other vets will also help you because you won’t feel alone, and oftentimes someone else will voice something that you cannot, but that you have felt for a long time. Once it has a voice, once it’s out in the open, then, and only then can you deal with it.

Now some of you have done things that you feel you just cannot tell anyone. You can’t tell your wife, your brother, or even an uncle who was in Vietnam. I know what that is like. However, you can tell a fellow veteran. I don’t care if you violated international law, you still have to get it out. Confession is good for the soul. And the rule at the VA is what is said there, stays there. Your therapist cannot violate patient confidentiality. Only if you are currently a danger to yourself or someone else will your therapist report you. Oh, and one more thing, if you admit to sexually molesting a minor in your family, then your therapist must also file a report.

Having attended support groups I can tell you that I’ve heard it all. No matter what you’ve done, you’re not going shock anyone in the group. No matter what you’ve done, you have to get it out, or it will eat you away, and like myself and other vets who stuffed it all so long ago, one day it will whack you upside the head and you won’t be as messed up as you are now, you will be ten times more messed up with the added complications that you won’t know where it’s coming from. Get to a support group, listen to your fellow vets, and then when it’s your turn, let it all out and don’t hold back a thing.


Without violating anyone’s confidentiality, I can tell you that I’ve heard it all. One very close friend opened up during one meeting that he’d raped a prisoner and then stuck a knife into her heart as he climaxed. Another friend who was a sharpshooter, who had the lead shot in an ambush (meaning he was with a group of sharpshooters and they could fire only after he’d taken the first shot; each one choosing separate targets) waited till just the right moment to take his shot. A group of women and a few young men were moving mortar shells, RPG ammunition, and a variety of weapons along a trail. He waited for just the right moment to fire. One woman who carried two shells in each arm had a baby on her back. She turned her back toward this soldier and he fired, killing her through her baby. He’d stuffed the event away 30 years ago, found himself in jail, drinking, fighting, and not ever knowing why. He’d lost his job and wound up at the VA hospital. And then one day, his repressed memory came back and it tore him to shreds. He said that if he had been at home he would have blown his head off without a thought. Later, he admitted, he felt good getting it out, but, like most of us, he regretted not getting it out sooner.

Get it out. Lay it out there for all to see. No one will judge you. Let the tears flow. Nobody is there to judge you. Let it out and feel it. This is your first step to healing. You’re not going anywhere else till you perform this first step.

PTSD Inpatient Programs

The VA has a great system of inpatient programs that last about six weeks. They are tough and painful, but I’ve never seen one person go completely through one of these who has regretted it. Most feel it was the best thing they’d ever done. There is a long line to all of them, so if you’re interested now, it’s best to sign up now. Here in Minnesota we used to send our vets to Oklahoma, but now we’ve started our own inpatient program in St Cloud, MN.

These programs are intensive, and there have been vets who dropped out after a few days. All of them eventually went back to finish, at least that’s what I’ve heard.


Though your doctors will want to put you on all sorts of antidepressants, antipsychotics and, who knows, even an acid blocker or cholesterol lowering drug, your doctor knows nothing about proper nutrition. At the VA the food just plain sucks. The vegetables have all the nutrients cooked out; you don’t even need teeth to chew them. They serve you margarine instead of butter. I was asked by a therapist one time, “Oh is butter better than margarine?” I replied “Tar is better than margarine.”

There is a cycle of depression that few acknowledge. It goes like this: you feel bad, you don’t take care of yourself, you start to feel worse, you stop taking care of yourself, and you feel even worse. It can only get worse. You won’t pull yourself out.

Drugs are a temporary solution, but again, your doctor doesn’t know that 95% of your serotonin (the happy chemicals that protect us from chronic depression) is created maintained in your gut. In fact, there is a theory that our digestive tract is a part of a “second brain.” Not only do few in modern medicine know of any connection between nutrition and mental health, most call it a myth. Yet 9 out of 10 patients of psychiatrists have some kind of digestive disorder. Coincidence?

The rules can be simple: whole raw foods are best. Get rid of everything white in your home: white bread, white sugar, white salt, white flour. Do not drink pop of any sort. Never use Aspartame®. Keep alcohol to a minimum, since it just depresses you more. A few glasses of wine a week or a couple of beers, till you’re out of the woods, should be your limit. You’ll need B-12, omega-3 essential fatty acids (with DHA and EPA), and Celtic Sea Salt Brand. Instead of going into more depth here, you can read the article I wrote some time ago called Depression and Nutrition.

Speaking of alcohol; if you are drinking too much, get into AA or a dual diagnosis program at the VA. You are committing a slow suicide.

Symptom Management

You can’t care for your dis-ease if you don’t recognize your dis-ease. Symptom Management classes are imperative. They will teach you to see signs of trouble brewing.

It was during a series of Symptom Management classes that I learned what a true Flashback was. I told my therapists that I’d never had a flashback, because I wallowed under the misconception that flashbacks were like the things Hollywood portrayed in movies like The War at Home.

In Hollywood, a flashback occurs when you find yourself suddenly back in the fray of the battle. The VC are armed and all around you, shooting at you. You’re not in your car, but rather a tank and shooting at an onslaught of enemy. You’re back in the battle and the enemy is all around.

This is NOT a flashback. This is an hallucination. If you are having these, you are schizophrenic. Schizophrenia is when you see things that are not really there.

Interestingly enough, one physician, Abram Hoffer, discovered a high amount of schizophrenia in returning POWs after WWII. He assumed that because many had been starved that the schizophrenia was probably the result of nutritional deficiencies. Long story short, patients began recovering from schizophrenia taking three grams of Niacin daily. For more information, you can find the book Common Questions on Schizophrenia- And Their Answers by Hoffer, Abram, MD, PhD or take a look at Foster’s book: What Causes Schizophrenia.

A flashback consists of emotions that hit you from out of nowhere. They are emotions that you do not “own” but which are suddenly heaped on your shoulders. Feelings of guilt, inadequacy, paranoia, and low self esteem hit you from nowhere.

Well, not exactly nowhere. The simplest event can trigger these in a person with PTSD. Everyone is different. A fight with your spouse; your boss tells you you’ve made a mistake; you get a phone call from a pushy salesperson; you drop a pen and step on it and break it; little things like this can trigger flashbacks.

I’ve learned that when this happens, I have to take inventory. I look at the emotions and then try to discern why they are hitting me now. Am I guilty of something? Am I really inadequate? And after a little search, I’ll find the trigger, and they can be as silly as misplacing my car keys, or forgetting something in the car, or even burning a piece of toast.

Each person is as different from another as snowflakes are different from each other. You need to learn your symptoms and the triggers that set them off. Once this happens you can be a little ahead of yourself and you’ll have the tools needed to “right” yourself should you begin to tip.


Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprogramming. This is one of the weirdest therapies to come down the pike in a long time. It was accidentally discovered by a therapist, Francine Shapiro, who had had a traumatic event that she had been thinking about as she walked through a park. Something caught her eyes and she quickly darted her eyes back and forth to looking up and to the side, to see what it was. She suddenly noticed that the trauma no longer had the emotional pain attached to it. It was still in her memory, but she was no longer emotionally connected to it.

Shapiro then conducted a case study and a controlled study to test the effectiveness of EMD. In the controlled study, she randomly assigned 22 individuals with traumatic memories to two conditions: half received EMD, and half received the same therapeutic procedure with imagery and detailed description replacing the eye movements. She reported that EMD resulted in significant decreases in ratings of subjective distress and significant increases in ratings of confidence in a positive belief. Participants in the EMD condition reported significantly larger changes than those in the imagery condition. [http://www.emdr.com/history-of-emdr/

Shapiro has been erroneously quoted as saying that EMDR can cure PTSD (in one session). EMDR cannot cure PTSD, but it can desensitize the patient to anxiety. It can help disassociate the traumatic event from the emotions you suffer.

EMDR has been tested widely in the VA system. I was in the study, but I was one of the control group and I got nothing but a few visits to the VA to fill out a questionnaire.

EMDR has its critics. Many call it pseudo science while others simply claim that the data is being misinterpreted. [http://www.emdr.com/history-of-emdr/]

EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique)

EFT is a very easy, painless, and effective method to conquer fears, and alleviate symptoms of anxiety, depression, and even reduce cravings and compulsions. For those suffering from PTSD, EFT can break the emotional connection between the person with PTSD and the trauma itself.

EFT uses acupressure. One taps specific points while “tuning in” on the problem.

Both EMDR and EFT have been called quackery by modern medicine, however, so were washing ones hands before surgery and antibiotics.

People using EMDR and EFT have reported great successes when there was no hope.

You can learn all about EFT online from a woman who I was privileged to meet and experience her techniques. Although you can do this yourself, after working with Valerie Lis, someone who is enormously intuitive, comparatively, my sessions done alone did not produce the results I got with Valerie Lis.

The web site of their videos is: http://www.coursesforlife.com/Free_EFT_Videos.html

There is an awful lot on EFT at the site. I found it very powerful and rewarding. But you might need a bit of help at times, so locate a practitioner and spend the money. It’s worth it.

The Path

I had written in our original article on PTSD that I don’t hunt. The idea of killing little animals just didn’t jive with my internal dialogue. Even picking up a rifle or a shot gun left me numb for a time with difficulty sleeping.

Today, I hunt with both a bow and with a rifle. It took a long time to get to this point. Today, hunting is therapy for me. I’m out in nature, not in the jungles of Vietnam. I’m not shooting at human beings and they are not shooting back. After I killed my first deer, I took time out to thank the creator, the universe for the hunt. Nothing on that animal went to waste. Even the hide was donated to Hides for Habitat.

PTSD does not heal itself. If you leave it alone, it will not go away, in fact, it will just blow up steadily till it is in your face.

Getting out and helping others is one of the best ways to take the focus off your problems. You cannot be depressed while helping someone else.

Talk the talk and walk the walk. Read, exercise, travel, breathe, meditate, help someone. You have to face your fears, but you don’t have to face them daily, nightly, or every hour on the hour. Stay on your path, know the symptoms of straying from the path, and get back on it as soon as you know you’ve strayed. There is no destination on this journey. So enjoy the journey.

Welcome home, my little brothers and sisters who have served so proudly.

Let us make sure we never again go to war on lies and deception.

Let us always take the moral high ground.

The US should stand as a beacon of light to the rest of the world,

and not the low road dished out by some moron screaming from the bully-pulpit.


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