SOUL WOUND OR MORAL INJURY
Late in my Vietnam Tour I have a clear memory of an event that has been a prominent thought (image) but it took me a long time to recognize the significance in my effort to understand and heal from Post Vietnam Syndrome (now termed PTSD). It was night, odark 30 and the sky was lit with flairs. I was on a large base and had my weapon, and was not called to be on the perimeter. There was incoming and the danger of infiltration so I needed to be alert. I don’t know why, but something clicked. I leaned against the sandbags of a bunker and had a little talk with God to the effect that I felt that Vietnam had taken a big part of my soul and my connection with God had been broken. I remember a strong feeling that God understood and let me know that he would be waiting for me to find him/her. I’ve spent the last 45 years helping myself and combat Vets find their soul. I’ve come to define the soul as life energy that is complete unto itself. Finding one’s soul is partially a cognitive process and more importantly an acceptance of realities that are other than the common reality we all share. As a licensed counselor the tools available to me in one way or another focused on cognitive processes that would involve changing one’s thoughts. Recently, the school of cognitive processing and evidence based approaches to counseling PTSD survivors has dominated the field. At the same time, theories stemming from quantum mechanics, brain study and alternative approaches to emotional healing are gaining prominence. Over time day I’ve discovered that the core issue for embracing the lessons that survival from trauma taught me is that all the cognitive processing available to me would not, could not, help me regain my lost soul.
A few years ago I attended a talk by Ed tick, author of Soldier’s Heart, and it clicked that what was missing was that connection with the source of life energy that I lost in Vietnam. Recently the term moral injury has been gaining attention. It is the consideration that when men and women join the military and are sent where they might experience combat with the possibility of killing someone, of being a part of, witness to or aware of things that occur in all wars, they could be facing a moral dissonance. Shame and guilt along with other very strong emotions and intrusive thoughts and memories of the event(s) may push aside the life energy of the soul. It is important to note that while moral injury and soul loss may appear to be the same, they are not. The distinction is that moral injury refers to beliefs that are provided by a religious belief or social set of rules. Soul loss is spiritual, but may not have a religious attachment. Spiritual understanding is open to the awesome lessons of the universe, that everything that is, was or will be came into creation at the moment of the big bang (at least that’s the accepted belief for now, who knows what tomorrow will bring). With that as a base, infinity or eternity is already here, it’s not something that occurs after we die. Everything in the universe is connected on a cellular level and communication between cells is instantaneous, maybe even faster. Our mind reacts hundreds of times faster that we can think. By the time we’ve realized “it” and defined “it”, it’s already happening.
When we put the happenings of the universe into a limited belief box we are left with a limited view of the world. There is a tendency to find fault with ourselves, shame or guilt, and that’s not helpful. Hypnosis has been helpful in accessing emotional states and suppressed memories by sidestepping the criticisms and judgments of the conscious mind. Among hypnosis’ skill sets is the ability to block physical pain as well as emotional pain to aid healing. Healing from trauma is much like surviving combat. Survival may mean going to the sound of the guns rather than staying put or running in the other direction. In non-combat terms, healing involves (requires or is helped by) embracing the trauma. Accepting the power of the experience, the lessons that can be learned now that weren’t learned at the time. An early term, “embrace the suck” pretty well sums it up.
I admit to being a readers digest therapist – Tell me what I can do in 5 pages with a joke at the end, and I’m off and running. Personally, I can remember 4-5 things to do if they can be explained in language I understand. And, I’m a wheel barrow therapist: wishes and hopes are nice. That and $2.00 will get me a cup of coffee. When a person takes action, that action can be placed in the wheel barrow. You can measure the progress being made. I credit my son who gave me the rule of 3: Do three things a day that will help you move toward your goals (whatever they may be) and by the end of the year you will have taken over 1000 action steps. Pretty amazing. Anthony Robbins, a world class motivational speaker: “Build your day or someone else will build it for you”. (Tony has a lot more concrete tools available for immediate implementation, check him out). Miguel Luis gave us 5 Agreements: Be impeccable with your word, take nothing personally, don’t make assumptions, do the best you can, and trust but verify.
The magic of all of this information is that it’s not new, it’s not foreign, you don’t have to join a club or have a secret handshake. All of this and more has been with us always. From the words of the Master who walked among us: Seek and ye shall find, Knock and the door will be opened to you, Ask and you will receive. Action steps, personal responsibility, refusal to be put in a box.
When PTSD was first introduced I was excited and relieved. For the first time in years I didn’t feel like I was crazy or at fault. I was told that I have a diagnosis that included much of what I was feeling, thinking believing. It explained my trouble sleeping, problem with crowds, loud noises, hyper vigilance, use of alcohol and drugs to feel better and escape from depression and anxiety. Where the hell did all of that come from? It wasn’t there before Vietnam, and no one understood and most didn’t try. But suddenly I could say I have a known issue with a label and now I’m going to be ok. Sgt Brandi: Your Life has Changed Forever. Get on with it and build a new life plan” (A Warriors Guide to Insanity)
PTSD worked for a long while. I could stop blaming myself for my weakness or whatever had caused my new attitude and behavior. I could help other combat vets find a new life and rebuild their relationships, find intimacy that wasn’t about control, address depression, anxiety, and other life limiting emotions. But when it came to guilt or shame, or over-coming their powerful but limited belief systems I knew I needed to find something more. I needed more resources
Resources are abundant. Almost too many helping ways. How does one choose?
I’ve begun to use a simple template called the Swamp to the Meadow to describe where I don’t want to be vs where I do want to be. I’ve admitted to barriers, prejudices, hang-ups but not limitations except those I impose on myself (and I don’t need any help, thank you)