Blaming The Victim
If you are a veteran with symptoms of PTSD you have to understand two, absolutely true, facts.
You are not to blame.
You are not alone.
Back in March, I did a piece on warfighting and the fact that it can be a dominating condition of everyone who has been in the military, and especially combat vets. These are people who, at a very malleable age, have had their "self" overwritten, over powered, removed, rebuilt and retrained to survive and succeed in the various arts of war craft. One of the most overwhelming of these "arts" is turning this self over to the highly ordered, limited option, controlling system of the military world, the arena of warfighting.
This warfighting training and conditioning hasn't much relevance to the art of living in the world of family and community. And there is little or no effort made by the government, or its military, to provide effective training, assistance or support in the unlearning and learning that is needed to successfully make this transition. In fact, as is common in almost every aspect of our nation's way of dealing with "problem people", the approach taken by the military, the Veterans Administration, the judicial system and police, and the vast array of organizations and individuals "devoted" to "helping our vets" is to blame the victim. "We have created you as the kind of human being you now are. If you can't deal with that, it is your own fault.""Get over it." "We must help you, as you aren't capable of doing it yourself." This is helping in the sense of doing to or for someone, rather than offering as a choice.
Our society also isolates victims, denying them even the empowerment that comes with knowing they are one of thousands also struggling with the warrior's hellish world of constantly revolving physical and psychological torments. Denied the knowledge of our sisters and brothers also suffering and victimized, we feel that we must struggle alone. There is;
? no one who truly understands,
? no one to help understand that it is not our fault,
? no one to help understand that, within us, there is the strength move out of the world of warfighting,
? no one to have our backs, like our comrades did,
? no one who can give us the kind of support we need, support coming from their own pain, based on what helps them.
There is no one else. We are alone.
Is there a difference between where fault lies and whose responsibility it is to meliorate the condition?
When I was working at an inner city alternative school for drop-outs and kick-outs, all of the staff, and many of the kids, knew that their problems were firmly rooted in "where they come from" [their socio/economic/political environment]. When talking with them, some of the sharper kids would say; "It's not my fault." "Look at where/how I have had to grow up." "What can I do when everything is against me?" I quickly learned to ask them who was going to suffer for all this and, therefore, who was going to have to do something about it. Further, we at the school would not, could not, help them do this. We could offer opportunities, give advice, make suggestions, encourage, critique, maybe even nag, but they had to decide to take advantage of what we offered, to take control, to, as one kid put it, "spit in the eye of the beast". Some kids got it, and acted on it right away, some never seemed to, and for some, it took awhile. Years later, I ran into one of the kids on the street and he said, "Man, I never got what you meant, until I held our first baby".
We have to be absolutely clear, that those whose political machinations have led to our PTSD have been striving to avoid accepting any responsibility for resolving it. Therefore, as victims of CRPTSD we must not blame ourselves. However, if we are going to resolve our condition, the responsibility for the trip back, the healing process, falls on us. If someone else creates, and forces us into, situations or conditions which negatively effect us, which victimize us, we are not at fault for behavior and suffering which arise directly from that. However, as we are the ones being affected, the responsibility for bringing our selves out of this condition falls strictly on us. All the wonderful help in the world will be of no avail if we do not take control, take on this responsibility for our own journey back/out. And no one can give you that control, you must seize it yourself.
To those who want to "help". Don't! These vets once were, and still see themselves, as tough, strong, resourceful individuals. Offer opportunities, support them in their efforts to reassume control, give advice, support, make suggestions, support, encourage, support, critique, support, maybe even nag, supportively, but each vet has to decide to take advantage of what is offered, to take control, to "spit in the eye of the beast".
The first thing the veteran must do is take control; begin to move out of the arena which created and fostered the condition, recognize the need for a strong, supportive team, and actively participate in developing and carrying out their own exit plan.
What does Aikido do to offer the victim the opportunity for self- empowerment? The most effective aspect Aikido has to offer someone striving to regain control of their self is to learn and practice the ability to center, to achieve a relaxed, inner strength in the face of the unknown, in negative situations, and in the face of aggression. From this position they are better able to deal with civilian life's vicissitudes. Our method of teaching this state of being centered is through kokyu ryoku [power breath], using this dynamic to release, relax and flow all energy into the hara [lower abdomen]. This is especially important with vets with CRPTSD, as they have enormous amounts of energy trapped as stress and tension, mostly in the upper body. Stress and tension may be used as a source of positive energy as in art, writing and other creative, constructive efforts. But energy that is trapped, as is common for those with CRPTSD, tends to turn in on itself, to become negative.
When we teach kokyu royku [breath power] breathing, we have several objectives:
? to get the most oxygen distributed throughout the body,
? to involve the parasympathetic nervous system [relaxation, decreases anxiety, slows and steadies heart rate, conserves energy],
? to relax negative stress/tension energy and flow it to center [hara],
? to make that energy available to, and usable by, the individual veteran for creative, constructive purposes.
One function of this is to prepare the body to better perform Aikido techniques. Of much more critical importance is that this process is empowering. It kinesthetically retrains the veteran to assume control of their self. It enables the vet to become centered, balanced, grounded, responsive and self- assured. It enhances the capacity to move into the world of family and community, while still retaining whatever positive aspects of military life they deem appropriate.
This centering process is the core of what we offer the vet. All technique is taught primarily as a means of enabling the vet's ability to:
? quickly achieve this state in which their energy is centered and they are balanced relaxed and responsive,
? welcome partner's "attacking" energy,
? blend this energy with their own centered energy,
? move this blended unit to a place where all are safe and secure, but the vet is in control [a standing pin].
Our ultimate objective is for the vet to be able to achieve these four states off the mat, in the world of family and community.
The kinesthetic therapeutic aspects of Aikido are powerful, but very subtle, even covert. It is not necessary to understand, or even realize, the emotional, psychological, spiritual growth that is happening as one focuses on learning, practicing and improving one's Aikido techniques. But this growth most assuredly occurs. The comments vets make after a few classes and the feed back from counselors and therapists, while only anecdotal, make this very clear. To paraphrase William Shakespeare, as the body goes, the mind follows.
(Original blog post may be found here.)
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