Thursday, 8 October 2009

Who/when will they get help

First published in June 2008, but even more relevant today.

I am doing an increasing amount of work with ex military personnel related to PTSD.
It is proving very difficult for them and for me.

One of the remits of the armed forces is the need to make men into fighting machines. I appreciate that women are also trained but for the sake of convenience 'men' will apply to all generically.

So depending on which branch of the forces is entered depends on the length of time they are trained, an infantry man- 12 weeks, a para-28 weeks and a marine commando 32 weeks. As for the SAS and the SBS they have more on top of the original training.

In those weeks the military needs the person to let go of all their soft and gentle side, to become a mean fighting machine. Someone who when asked will follow orders, be prepared to kill, to work as a team with their comrades.

The upshot of this is that the men become very fit, very hard, and are trained to a high standard to be able to without question do as they are told. The when not working then play hard as anyone who lives in a military town will probably attest to.

In some branches of the forces the training is so tough that the fall out rated is huge, as in the Marines, out of 500 that join less than 50 will actually achieve the coveted Green Beret.

The aim of young people joining up is on the whole to see the world and to see some action.

Perhaps now the getting to see the world is eclipsed by the amount of action that they will see.

I am not here to justify the wars we as a country are involved in, in fact I think they are wrong politically. But I do feel passionate about this country's need to support it's armed forces personnel, particularly on their return.

And therein lies the problem.

There isn't enough help available for the number of soldiers (another cover all term) who will return needing psychological help.

The armed forces have had a view over the years, that to be upset about what you have gone through is just part of the process, which is why it allows the hard bitten behaviour of it's personnel to go on when they are outside of their bases. The heavy drinking, fighting, shagging that goes on with the foot soldier.

However this won't do anymore, as slowly men who are now getting close to their 50's in age are starting not to be able to hold in the trauma that they went through in whatever conflict they were involved in; Ireland, The Falklands, Bosnia etc.

It is starting to affect their lives, in fact it probably always has, but when we are in our 20s and 30s we have more resilience to put away stuff that is too painful. It is only as we reach the lost decade of our 40s that it becomes so difficult to continue to deny pain.

This is not just true of the armed forces, it is no surprise that most people who seek out psychological help are in their late 30s to mid 50s. It is in our 40s when we start to question; is this all there is? that people want to reinvent themselves, to start new relationships, to not feel lost and without hope.

So it is with these men. And what therapy has to do, crudely, is break down all the long held dehumanised views and help the person get back in touch with his emotional side. That is, to smash all the extremely well built up ways of defending themselves from getting in touch with their humanity.

Before every single terrible atrocity done by a soldier in the name of war they are likely to feel utter terror for a moment, before their training kicks in and they do what they have been trained to do.

And it is that moment of fear that the soldier will feel most shame about, as it goes against what he as trained to do. The problem with this is, that before the man became a machine, he was a man.

And men bleed.... emotionally as well as actually.

What I am spending my time doing is getting these so tough men to let go of the training that they have held dear to themselves for however many years and get them not to be angry, which is the easy route for trained men to follow. The ability to fight, drink, carouse etc. What I have to do is get them to cry, and not just a few tears but to sob uncontrollably for as long as it takes for them to allow themselves to forgive themselves for that perceived moment of weakness when they felt fear.

Only when they do this can they start to integrate their whole selves. That is be someone who is at peace with their feeling side and their logical side, and not one in conflict with the other.

Added to this I may have to do some work with their partner to help them understand what process this person has gone through. Because usually prior to therapy the soldier has given their family hell for some time. It may of course be too late in many cases the partner has had enough, but if not then it is possible to get the relationship back on track.

So I'm doing this now.

My youngest son has a mate who has returned a year early from Iraq because he tried to kill himself. He tells my youngest about some of the terrible things he has been through that made him want to end his own life.

He's 23.......


Merry ME said...

You have said quite eloquently what, I think, needs to be said in countries all over the world who send young men into battle. It breaks my heart to think of the lives wrecked by battle, not just in a war zone. How anyone can expect these young ones to go off and fight then come home and live like everything is peachy keen is beyond me.

I wish there was one of you assigned to every soldier. But then like I used to hear when I was married to a Naval officer, who thankfully never saw battle but left his family nonetheless for months at a time and flew into dark and stormy nights ... if they'd wanted him to have a wife they would have issued him one.

My prayer is for a world at peace; for a day when your job will be done once and for all.

lakeviewer said...

You have explained the process that needs to take place for our young people to regain their humanity. It must tough for therapists too. I salute you.

Pam said...

...seeing people sob to the very depths must take it's toll Mandy.I remember seeing crackling film footage of WW1 soldiers with severe shell shock, almost unable to stand, and yet when considered "better" send back to the battlefields again.I cannot, for the life of me, understand war.I have almost given up on the concept of world peace. I don't think it's ever happened. I continue to hope however,for people's striving for inner peace, to reflect and meditate and expand on that concept.The desire not to harm.

nitebyrd said...

I feel grateful that you are there to help the returning soldiers, Byrd. I only wish these wars would end, NOW. Hearing what happened to Viet Nam vets when I was young and now the Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan vets and active duty military is just devastating.

We need more therapists like you and less war.

(You have an award over at my place!)

Lori ann said...

I second what Lakeviewer has said. Mandy you are a true gem.

Angela said...

Mandy, I am glad that these young men can turn to you, and I wish they ALL could come. You are truly a great healer.
And yes, I agree to everyone who says war is the absolute worst solution. We have had it on our grounds (after our government thought it was wise to start it) and even now, 65 years after it ended, the wounds in the souls are not healed, of the ones surviving, and even their innocent children and grandchildren. Let alone all the left-over bombs that are still found every week, having remained as dangerous as 70 years ago. Just imagine a day like September 11th, going on for weeks and months on end... No, war is never a solution!!
Mandy, your posts always lead us into our hidden regions. Thanks for this!

Mel said...

(((((((((( the byrdie ))))))))))

SylphSong said...

This topic kills me, to my very core... the fact that these men and women are trained to turn it on and not to turn it off makes me angry enough to wake up every single day and work HARDER... push HARDER.


Seriously mentally ill.


Post traumatic stress disorder - a serious mental illness.

I THANK GOD or whomever or whatever for YOU. For the fact that YOU are there when the government has failed them so miserably and so irreparably.

Currently, I am working with seniors as I attempt (God help me) to earn my MASW so I can advocate (with paper) for them.

You are an angel.

You are, you are.

Just being a constant in their world... and their being able to turn to you speaks volumes.

tattytiara said...

I was in a two year relationship with a man who was a member of the UN peacekeeping force In Rwanda during the genocide. I think most of his pain stems from feelings of guilt relating to feelings of helplessness.

And dear god, does that sweet man have pain.