Thursday, February 28, 2008

I Feel Sadness

I feel sadness over the fact that many people, mostly young, are entering recruiting stations, committing to military duty, and going to war. There are various reasons for people to enter the military including patriotism, the urge for adventure, unemployment and the lack of job availability, and educational benefits. However, many of those who experience war in Iraq and Afghanistan during and after their wartime experience suffer and will suffer the effects, many debilitating, of war related trauma.

There are many similarity between these present wars and the war in Vietnam. Experiencing that war has had profoundly negative on many of those who fought there. Similarities include the constant threat of mortar and rocket attack, IEDs (command and non-command detonated booby-traps), and outright combat. As in Vietnam, soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are in constant threat of wounding and death. Thus, many soldiers and veterans of these recent wars can expect and are experiencing the same powerful effects of being in a war zone. Many war veterans from former wars such as Korea and WWII presently experience these same effects. Below I will share an excerpt of my graduate thesis to indicate some reasons for my sadness.

Symptoms and Effects
Symptomatology related to trauma and war-related trauma includes a number of conditions. Symptoms brought on by trauma that Ronnie Ianoff-Bulman calls “the shattering of victim’s basic assumptions about themselves and the world” include depression, loss of appetite, insomnia, “nightmares of the traumatic event,” flashbacks “in waking life,” “altered states of consciousness in which the individual believes he or she is again experiencing the traumatic event.” Other symptoms include such things as “efforts to avoid thoughts, feelings, or conversations associated with the trauma,” “feelings of detachment and estrangement from others,” inability to feel love, “hypervigilance,” “exaggerated startle response,” and “irritability or outbursts of anger.” Interpersonal symptoms are attested to in the words of Vietnam combat veteran Michael Norman: “Unsettled and irritable, I behaved badly. I sought solitude, then slandered friends for keeping away. . . . I barked at a son who revered me and bickered with my best ally, my wife.”

Robert J. Lifton also speaks of some of the “profound effects” of PTSD on former soldiers:
"They frequently experience various psychiatric illnesses; they are five times more likely than those without the disorder to be unemployed; seventy percent have been divorced; almost half have been arrested or in jail at least once; and they are six times as likely to abuse drugs and alcohol . . ."

William Mahedy speaks of the most devastating effect of PTSD, suicide. In the mid 1980s he noted that “more Vietnam vets have died by their own hand than were killed in combat.”

Ronnie Ianoff-Bulman, “The Aftermath of Victimization: Rebuilding Shattered
Assumptions.” in Trauma and Its Wake: the Study and Treatment of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. ed. Figley, R., Ph.D. (New York: Brunner/Mazel, 1985): 18

Steven M Sonnenberg, et al eds., The Trauma of the War: Stress and Recovery in
Vietnam Veterans. (Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Press Inc., 1985): 5

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed. “309.81 Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.” .Available from http://www.crip. org/library/psych/ptsd2/ p. 6.

Michael Norman quoted in Judith Lewis Herman, Trauma and Recovery. 63.

Robert Jay Lifton, Home from the War. ix.

William Mahedy: Out of the Night, Produced by Taylor J. Granley, JGT Media
Production, 1992, videocassette. (Mahedy also wrote Out of the Night: The Spiritual Journel of Vietnam Veterans. New York: Ballentine Books.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Helping Veterans

Last night I had a phone conversation with a friend. Rick and I both served in the same company while in Vietnam. Part of the conversation dealt with the men and women who are coming back from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both Rick and I have had to deal with the traumatic psychological and emotional aftermath of war—PTSD. We both shared our concern for these new vets who will suffer the long-term effects of combat related stress, in many cases a disabling condition. Many people in our country have pledged their support for these new veterans. However, many do not realize that support for veterans is a long-term affair. The Veterans Administration offers help; however, we cannot rely on only the VA to assist combat scared veterans. Long-term support must come from community, family, and friends. Moreover, long-term support is difficult and painful. One who befriends a war scared vet must realize that to help a veteran one must, on a significant level, enter the veteran’s traumatic memories and pain. For those who live the Christian journey, this entering into is akin to entering and experiencing Christ’s suffering. We must pray for wisdom and strength to sustain us. And we must, following the Samaritan’s example, step out offering care for our psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually wounded brothers and sisters who directly experienced war.

Another issue that it is imperative for veterans’ friends and family to be aware of is that in the past few years the Veterans Administration has put a restrictive rule in place. This rule states that a veteran must sign up for help with the VA within five years of their seperation from the military. For many veterans of other war it has takes fifteen, twenty, or more years for the traumatic pain related to combat to break through a veteran’s denial. It took Rich eighteen-year and me twenty-two year before we sought help for our post-traumatic stress. Friends and family of veterans who come back from war, thus need to encourage or even plead with these veterans to at least sign up with the VA before this time limit expires. Many vets are reticent to do this because they want to put their psychologically embedded war experience behind them. If veterans do not sign up with the VA within the five-year limit, they will lose their chance to receive government-related help and benefits.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Augustine , Sex. and Pain

Recently, in a class discussion on the Confessions of St. Augustine, part of the discussion touched on aspects of Augustine’s life before his dramatic conversion. One aspect of his life that we dealt with was Augustine’s sexual life. In the discussion, some of us wondered if Augustine might have over-emphasized his former desire for “the bed” as part of his pastoral mission. For instance, he may have used experiences from his pre-Christian life to draw people who had similar experiences to the church.
Obviously, it is difficult to discern his reasons for emphasizing important aspects of his life. Moreover, it is impossible to have a complete understanding of Augustine’s psychological and emotional state throughout his adolescence and early adulthood. However, Augustine did indicate that he was sexually active from his youth to near the time of his conversion. Although he indicated that he was faithful throughout the years with the mother of his son, he said that when she left, a painful permanent separation, he found another sexual companion, an interim mistress, to be with before his proposed marriage. His statement, “God give me chastity and continence, but not yet,” and the above might indicate that his desire for sex had some control in his life. In addition, Augustine confessed that his sexual activity along with other things, pride for instance, had burdened him and brought him pain.
This last thought brings to mind two incidents. One occurred when I worked in jail. An inmate with whom I worked and I conversed about addictions. He admitted to both sexual and heroin addiction. I asked him to compare the two. His response was that sexual addiction was “worse.” It is common knowledge that heroin addiction can be very painful. Thus, his admission that sexual addition was worse than heroin addiction focuses light on the powerful negative effects that sexual relations can have. The second incident occurred a few years later when I was in conversation with a woman with whom I worked, a friend. I told her what the inmate had said and without explanation or hesitation, she affirmed his response by simply saying, “he’s right,” or words to that effect. Her words were so matter-of-fact, yet intense that I assume that she had been painfully sexually addicted.
In sharing these memories, I am not trying to intimate that Augustine was sexually addicted. What I am trying to convey is that at times sexual activity, albeit a part of a passing phase in a person’s life, could be so powerfully painful and even compulsive that one might, as Augustine did spiritually, beg for release.

Monday, February 11, 2008

For my first posting, a poem.

The inspiration for this poem was a line from Billy Collins' poem "Nightclub." In the poem the narrator speaks of sitting in a nightclub listening to jazz singer Johnny Hartman and the music that allows those listening to "slip by degree into a rythmic dream." That line made me think of a time in which I slipped by degree into a flashback. This poem depicts the original experience that was the flashback's sourse.

Nature and the Unnatural

Harsh natural forces: searing heat and humidity, freezing cold and wind; and
forces unnatural: life draining and death dealing
conflict, lead the unprotected
into havoc.

Natural and gentle
breezes, rustling leaves,
chirping birds, the cosmic dance
can induce one into
a rhythmic dream.

A young soldier once stood in nature.
Harsh natural forces and forces unnatural
placed him
in an environment of


Sleep deprived, he’d walked beyond
exhaustion carrying the weight of
a weapon, ammunition, grenades,
numbing fear.

Dazed, he stands in a swamp.
The sun’s mid-day heat ricochets off the
water’s blazing surface

Energy continues to
from him as he waits
for orders to move on and
for the elements of war:


booby-traps and ambushes,

He is little more than a shell,
insides spent,
waiting zombie-like to
continue on