How does one regain peace of mind and joy for living when Post Traumatic Stress and Moral Injury have set in?
We cannot go back in time and rewrite our histories. We cannot wipe out the fact that we have seen horrific things and witnessed the unfolding of events that are just plain wrong. We cannot pretend that we didn’t do things that continue to give us a jolt of shame and guilt whenever the memory sneaks in.
The only way to return to a path of equanimity and hope is to reprocess the way we have judged ourselves, others and the world that has allowed atrocities to occur. We must find an attitude about our experiences, our observations, and our choices that we can live with, in peace.
This may sound simple, but it is far from being easy. This is generally not work we can do on our own.
When our most predominant emotions are fear, shame and disillusionment, our tendency is to isolate. But we need the companionship, support and love of our family and our comrades to restore order in our world. We also need to feel that we can reciprocate and show up and be useful in the lives of those we love.
When we are yearning for forgiveness, we need atonement.
We can try to convince ourselves that we can be absolved of guilt but the arguments ring hollow without the acknowledgement and support of others whose opinions we value.
We may be battle-scarred and battle-scared, but our new assignment is to gain wisdom from our experiences that can be shared with others. We are also called to find new meaning in our life stories, that can energize and direct us to more purposeful lives.
We can be the change we wish to see in the world.
We can direct or energies to making our world a safer place in both physical and emotional terms for those we love, and even perfect strangers.
The symptoms of PTSD are often devastating and crippling. We most likely need professional help to overcome them.
If we could gain command over intrusive, painful thoughts, the other symptoms would dissipate. We could calm our hyper-vigilance. We could sleep without our psyche being hijacked by senseless terrors. We could boldly step out of our homes to run errands or socialize. We would have lots of patience to be supportive of our friends and families. We could happily dream and plan for our futures and look forward to a fulfilling life of work and leisure.
How do we gain command of our thoughts? The evolving field of metacognition, or noticing what you’re noticing, guides us on this path. To gain mastery over our minds, we must become aware of the specific sorts of thoughts and thought patterns that tend to take up residence in our brains. Very often, they are strong enough to dictate how we live our very lives.
It can be useful to take a step back and become a witness to our exact thoughts, as a passive observer. With a detached curiosity, we can inspect what notions our troubled psyches are thrusting in the forefront of our awareness, without attaching any emotion or reacting to them. This is the practice of mindfulness and it does take practice.
When we recognize intrusive thought patterns, we can start to challenge them by replacing them with new attitudes we have decided to adopt through our reprocessing of our experiences. We can displace fears and limiting beliefs by taking on new challenges that are driven by the resolve that comes from new meaning we attach to our histories.
Sitting at the unintended crossroad imposed by PTSD, we have a choice.
We can become victims of our traumas and our automatic thoughts that come from them, or we can realize we did not go through all this for nothing and do the work to push through to new vistas of post traumatic growth.
The other dragons to slay on the path to recovery may include depression, loneliness and relationship issues, health considerations, financial and insurance concerns and general life challenges.
All of these can and should be addressed by a professional team along with peer support guides. As Joseph Campbell stated, there is a psychic unity of mankind. We heal from our traumas that are part of our human condition by tapping into this human connection.