So you went through a PTS cohort, now what?

The  6-day PTS program is exhilarating and exhausting. You most likely have never gone through anything like it before.  You quite possilbly came face to face with some raw emotion. Some of your previously troubling and confusing experiences, memories and feelings had their chance to escape. The cohort provided the safe container where you could finally put down your load. You were surprised by some of the things you were packing. They slipped out of your subconscious into your awareness like the genie let out of the lamp after many years. Your story mingled with the stories of all your comrades in the cohort. It was like everyone’s  baggage got  piled up on the runway before it got loaded onto the plane that was taking you all to new vistas. But then you realized you didn’t want to bring it with you.

Possibly just when you thought you had processed some things, another wave crashed over you and there were more memories presented to you.

You had the chance to listen to other people’s stories. It was made very clear to you that this was not a contest, but some of the other stories were even more astounding than yours. Suddenly you knew that you were no longer alone. There were other travelers on this road of human hardship. You had friends you could trust because they too knew. It felt good.

You learned to get back in touch with some old parts of you. You found out some new things about you. Some parts you like. Some parts you don’t. You learned that some parts of you were just doing what they needed to protect you. You were shown that deep down, your pilot light was still on. You still had that desire to serve. For 6 days, you started to fan it. There were stirrings of what was left of some old embers. Some new, tentative small flames started. You were surprised that you could fan the flames of your fellow travelers just a bit. That too felt good.

You were told that the PTS cohort was just the beginning. While you were going through the week, all your problems were back home getting stronger. Waiting to challenge you in a new way when you got home, as if to say “so you think you’ve got it all figured out now, right ?” You were told that your life would not be better when you get home, the re-entry; it would be harder. During the cohort you may at times feel you were squeezed through a keyhole, like you went through a portal into a new world. The new world had enticing new sounds, sights and smells. It promised new adventures. But you soon found out that as enchanting as this new world was, you had no map. You really had no clue where you were. It can be scary. Your travelling buddies are now far away. You can connect, long distance, but because they are not right there to check out the landscape with you, they can’t help as much. In this new world, you meet the same old people in your life, but everything is a little different. You have a new lens. You look at them a little differently. They look at you differently now too because you travelled away. There was this pattern disruption. But are you really different? How does the 6 days change you? How does it change your life?

You weren’t given the exact map of your new world, but you were given the cartographer’s tools. You were given a compass. More accurately, you were shown your own compass. The true north of your soul.

Now it is up to you and your soul to forge ahead. Carry on with the healing journey. So what are you supposed to do?

Oh yeah, Meditation. You were introduced to that. You might remember thinking “OK now this is lame” at the beginning. You had heard about it before. It’s the weird thing that some people do. You did not think you could get into it. But maybe you decided that you would play the silly game and participate in the meditation. It seemed sort of okay because everyone else was doing it, and some of those others were way tougher than you.

Suddenly, you were surprised. You were unprepared for the release. There was suddenly a little unfamiliar feeling of peace. And hope. But it was elusive. Like a chest of riches in a dream, but when you woke up it was gone.

You are back home. You have your mementos. But you have so much more.

You did the beginner’s course in meditation. Now keep going. Meditation leads you to your soul. The true nature of your soul is to be at peace.

So fear not, friend. You are more than enough. You have everything you need to find your way. Lean in, do the work. Explore the new world view with the new lens. Construct your own map of this new world, together with your inner healer.

The true gift of following your dreams is who you become in the process. As Joseph Campbell says in “The Art of Living” the privilege of a lifetime is being who you are”.

Peter’s thoughts on light love pain and suffering

I am reminded in this time of suffering of the two paths we can all choose. Retreat into a solitary safety or walk into the darkness knowing and trusting you are able to call upon light and love any time you want. Suffering as Buddha has taught is the nature of life but what is important to remember is he also told us the nature of that suffering comes from within each us, that our desire to want things to be different than they are, is the source of our experience of suffering.
I work and collaborate within this community of individuals (that’s you guys, my friends) who all suffer in such extremes that many people will never experience, so much so that suicide is a constant with notices delivered on a weekly basis and sometimes daily. But it is also with this group that inner strength from learning to embrace pain is discovered.
Lesson number one, what exactly is pain? I can tell you it is not what most people think. It is not the instinct to pull away from a hot stove, a sharp knife, a gun pointed at you or a clenched fist. No. Pain is a reminder, an indicator, that something is off balance and needs your attention. Pain is nothing more than a sensation of extreme discomfort meant to alert you to the need for attention, it is not meant to make you hide or withdraw. It’s purpose is to focus your attention.
In the end of course this is a choice. This is in fact the choice that Joseph Campbell means in the Hero’s Journey. This is the point where you are standing on the edge of a threshold and have to choose to accept the “Call to Action or Adventure” or return to your “normal” life.
Thich Nhat Hanh discusses this extensively. He tells us that pain is a reminder of a deep wound within that requires healing. Indeed this wound could be from another life and it could be shared family pain. Whatever the source it requires acknowledgement and it needs to be able to express itself. He tells us it needs to be allowed to emotionally surface in a safe manner and embraced with love until you can no longer bear it and then it can be returned within. This needs to be done as long as it takes so that you can bring that experience to the surface so that you no longer suffer at its recall.
Today so many people are suffering and we can all feel it. It is tempting to not only self-distance but to even isolate. Many people are using all to common avoidance techniques to hide from the pain such as entertainment, alcohol, anger, violence, etc. We on the other hand have been trained and given tools many people don’t have. We are very well positioned to embrace the suffering and to help it heal and not let it’s pain consume us. We do this by keeping active, eating healthy, meditating, doing something creative and keeping in contact with those people who are important in our lives. Some people may have nobody else, but as a minimum we all have the Project Trauma Support tribe. We are in a position to walk in the dark suffering that others are feeling and to bring in the light and love that they cannot see for themselves. We cannot and should not be cutting the cords of the collective just to protect ourselves – we are better than that.

Peter’s thoughts on light love pain and suffering, part II making it personal

I thought I would take that earlier post one step further by making it personal. How have I made my way through this journey of pain and suffering to discover the light and love inside myself? What is the source of my own pain and how do I find the light?
When I first sought help for PTSD in 2011 I was convinced it was all about my work and the deployments. I was angry, fuck I was pissed! A lot shit had happened on my watch, I was frustrated but didn’t know how to express it then because I didn’t truly understand where my anger came from. I knew what PTSD was but I didn’t know what moral injury was.
It took me many years of slow work talking to therapists, trying out different medications before I found what worked best for me. The turning point was Project Trauma Support. Part that was the timing in my life but the bigger part was the approach that Dr’s Joannou and Besemann had toward our injury. It was here as well, starting with that very first day where we had to present a childhood photo that it really clicked that the injury and pain I was dealing with was far deeper and older than what happened in the Army.
I still struggle with this but I do accept it as true. That is the feeling of pure anger I felt when I was cornered into advising a commanding General against an air assault on a target based on faulty information that he wanted me to support with my own sources thereby validating the target. The attack went through, they missed the target and killed a lot of civilians. It is very hard for me to get that the anger I felt at not being heard was the very same anger from when I was seven years old and was blamed for not protecting my mother when we were mugged in the street at knife point. The same anger I felt when a girlfriend ignored my concerns and told me to suck it up, and later when an intimate partner told me to take it like a man and my wife told me I was to sensitive. These were the same as when I was ordered to lead a night patrol into Serbian territory where the roads were known to be mined, I was ignored when advised not to give life saving information to a friendly patrol in Afghanistan that got hit. Or the time I objected to a hostage extraction plan that was to use the same extraction route as the ingress.
What do all these have in common for me. I was not heard. I had a voice, I had offered alternate choices and was ignored. The source of my pain and injury was not being heard. It still is. This is the source of my challenging relationship with women and with authority, which of course only got worse since I didn’t understand this and went through one bad relationship after another and also became an officer, an authority figure.
After PTS in 2017 my last marriage fell apart, thankfully, I stopped drinking, I quit my job for mental health reasons and pursued art as my outlet. I then somehow met the most amazing woman in my life and am so lucky to be with her still. This has changed me dramatically. I have found helpful healing words in the writing of Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, Herman Hesse, John O’Donohue and Brene Brown.
Now in a better place I dig into the pain of the hurt I feel and it gets easier each time and it makes it easier to talk about. Being heard and feeling understood for me was the key to opening my heart and letting the anger go. Getting to that point happened in large part because of PTS, though it also took a lot of hard work on my part and it still takes work every day. Many days that work is simply being gentle with myself, giving myself permission to go easy if I’m feeling down. It takes discipline each day to continue the healing journey. This means for me, getting outside for exercise, eating well, meditating, practicing art and extending that gentleness to my partner. I know it is helping and I know it’s worth it. I know there is a light inside me that is beginning to shine through.
I also know that each one of you also has that light within. Your journey is your own, but you aren’t alone. Your experience is unique to you but the answers are the same for all of us.