(JCR - This post is again graciously provided by one of my favorite wisemen, doubtingthomas. See his previous post, "The Sky is Falling, the Sky is Falling." This gentleman is eminently qualified to discuss the topic of this current post ... I specifically asked him if he would provide his perspective on getting oneself mentally and emotionally prepared for war, disaster, or other trauma and/or how to get through such an ordeal. Read on for an insightful view through the eyes of someone who knows of what he speaks.)
How do you prepare yourself spiritually and emotionally for war?
Some would say that it is impossible. In some ways that is true, but not wholly accurate. War is not the only producer of trauma. It can be sexual trauma, getting mugged, living in a high crime area, being in a severe accident where people are killed and/or injured. In wartime, the frequency and severity of these types of events multiplies.
In general it is said that whatever living skills you take into trauma, will affect your ability to deal with it. One thing you can count on, you WILL be impacted by events out of the range of "normal" everyday living (trauma). How much you are affected depends on your ability to deal with it from that point forward.
If you take a quick look at http://www.ncptsd.va.gov/facts/treatment/fs_coping.html, and view their listed coping skills, you can see that you don’t have to wait until it happens to you to prepare. These skills and suggestions are helpful to anyone, but critical to those experiencing trauma.
You might also notice an emphasis on spiritual growth and development. This can take the form you are most comfortable with. The key is to instill in yourself the notion that most of the world is not within your control. Acceptance is the key to this process.
What You CAN Control
Your reactions to events, to a great extent, ARE within your control. However, to get to a place where your reactions are not destructive to yourself or others, you need to be able to process what has happened. This is done by talking about it.
When we experience trauma, the lower part of our brain, close to the instinctual and physical reaction part of our brain, records the sights, sounds, smells, feelings of the events. If we do not find a way to move these out of the lower parts of our brain, the "triggers" of the events (what we saw, heard, smelled, felt) remain locked there. Over time, these triggers throw our brain chemistry out of whack.
We experience anxiety, depression, night sweats, nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks, fear of groups of people, memory loss. The effects on our personal lives can be tragic. Lost jobs, marriages, homes, family, etc.
We end up with a neurological disorder that can be treated, but not cured. Once we get to that point, you end up like me … I need to take a cocktail of psychotropic meds everyday just to function enough to keep a job. In addition, we tend to get a boatload of stress related illnesses (heart problems, stomach problems, allergy problems, etc).
Most of the above can be avoided. Talking about these events moves them out of our lower brain to our higher functioning brain where we can process what has happened. We come to accept that our reaction to abnormal events was quite normal. If someone claims that the trauma has not affected them, they are still in denial, or worse, severely mentally disabled.
Studies are showing that young adults (17-22), surprisingly, are the most affected by trauma--especially war trauma. At a time when young adults are trying things out, experimenting, figuring out who they are and how to deal with the world, trauma, especially prolonged trauma, disrupts that process. At this point in your life, trauma may leave you developmentally paralyzed in that you have a greater risk of never getting beyond the trauma.
The skills you learn to survive war, at that age, are not very productive in a peaceful, civilian life. If you are stuck in that survival mode, your quality and quantity of life are severely reduced. You are not enjoying life, you are just surviving.
So, as trauma victims, are we doomed? No, definitely not.
We prepare our living skills to be able to deal with whatever may come our way. We accept that if nothing else, we are not God, and most of life is beyond our control. We will be able to see the best as well as the worst of mankind during disasters. We will accept our responsibilities to ourselves and families. We will move on, armed with a set of tools to still see the beauty in this life God has given us.
One of my favorite prayers is:
“God, thank you for all you have given me;
All you haven taken away from me;
And all that you have left me.”
To say those words and mean them, means you have reached a level of acceptance necessary to not just survive trauma, but to really live beyond it.