Thursday, December 18, 2008

Soul-making and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Soul-making and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post = prefix meaning "after"

Traumatic = to rub away, grind away, crush

Stress = force, pressure, oppression

Disorder = to destroy the order or regular arrangement of

PTSD is the name of a condition in which the regular order of life is destroyed as the result of being ground away under relentless pressure.

PTSD is another name for soul-making. While the modern medical model would put it under the study of ‘Abnormal Psychology’, there is nothing abnormal about it.

This is not meant to minimize the condition or symptoms, nor dismiss the medical guidelines for treatment. My aim is to help us see that there is more to the condition than just the medical metaphor.

There is often a lot of grief, depression, anxiety and anger in the person who has been ground down under some sort of very intense pressure, resulting in what has been labled PTSD. But the difference between seeing it as ‘abnormal’ psychology and an advanced course in soul-making is the difference between seeing it as purposeful and unique, compared to seeing it as some sort of mental illness or aberrant human condition that has no place in life. It is possible to feel like everything in your world is wrong compared to what you want it to feel like, and yet not have anything cosmically or ultimately Wrong. If you are suffering what has been called PTSD, there is nothing weird, odd or strange about you.

It is critical to seek treatment in order to move through it, but don’t add to the situation by thinking your condition means you are sick and abnormal. The word trauma comes from an Indo-European root that means to grind or whittle down. PTSD is a clinical name for a crash course in the destruction or grinding away of the old self you were before the traumatic events came upon you. It is a technical name for what we are on this earth do - namely, grow a self, shed it and grow another as we evolve toward our full Humanity.

The Apostle Peter went through an ordeal of seeing Christ arrested, whipped and killed, and living under the stress of being arrested and crucified himself. He was a fugitive and lived in perpetual terror. Jesus had earlier said, “Peter, the Shatan has asked permission to sift you like wheat (perfect illustration of trauma) in order that you might strengthen the brothers.” Jesus was referring to an experience that we might today call PTSD. The fact is that life on this planet is filled with the PTSD experiences. However, there is a difference between seeing the events as experiences to grind away a former layer of the self in order that a new self may emerge, and seeing the events as ruining your life and chances for happiness. The worm that finds itself pressed tightly into a cocoon is a PTSD candidate. Yet the aim is not to get therapy in order to return to the old worm self, but to move into the new butterfly self.

The Psyche sees what we call PTSD as a way to grow a soul – a very distressing and troubling course. The goal is to release the old self that you remember before the trauma, then experience the trauma within a caring community, consistently praying for God’s will to result from the morphing into a new person. Most PTSD ‘victims’ tend to blame the people who did it to them rather than see the doing as part of their soul-making journey.

As babies, we all enter this world through PTSD – a little fetus floating in a nice sack of water, being fed through the umbilical cord, soothed by the beating heart and swaying walk of the mother – and then after 9 months, contractions press the child down a narrow canal, through a tiny opening and into the cold, bright, noisy world called human life. This is trauma – the grinding down of the old womb-self in order to become the post-womb self. The aim is to move through the trauma and become the next self, the post-fetal self. This birthing process occurs many times throughout one’s life, and very likely after this life.

In the movie, The War at Home, Emilio Estevez plays a Viet Nam war vet who returns home very troubled. He has seen death and mutilation; he was forced to execute a Viet Cong soldier. He is a mess of a human being around his family and friends. At one point his sister asks her distressed brother to explain what happened to him ‘over there.’ He says very succinctly, “I died over there.” That is exactly what happened. The young man that went to Viet Nam may have never been shot or physically wounded, but that person no longer exists, and never will.

I remember the night I heard that my 25 year old son had been killed in Afghanistan. The grief was inexplicable. I do not remember the next five minutes as I sort of went into a Zombie trance, screaming over and over, “No! No! No!” I remember coming to, standing outside in the dark of night, looking into the sky at a bright yellow moon, suddenly aware that I was outside screaming at the sky. The nightmare bgan. After a sleepless night, I remember the thought coming with the morning light, “Michael, you will never be the man you were yesterday; you have changed forever.” This initially terrified me, but I knew that I could either try to return to the old self which existed prior to the traumatic crushing and grinding down, or grieve the loss of my son and my old life, and patiently (pathos – suffer) await the new self that would emerge. Depending on the trauma, that new self could take years to emerge. But having a perspective that sees the event as part of the soul-making experience minimizes the need to try and return to the old self, or blame myself and others in a state of eternal resentment. I am now the father of a dead son; no longer the father of a living son and all that implied for the future.

In the movie, The War at Home, the traumatized young Viet Nam vet sits down to play a classical tune on the piano. His relieved family, thinking he is becoming his old self, smiles as they watch and listen to him play so beautifully. As he completes the last line of the music, he stops and never plays the last note. As I watched the movie, I felt the frustration of him not finishing the song. His family looked troubled and puzzled as the vet rose from the piano bench and walked past them, silently. The point was stunning - life has no end…the last note is never played. The guy that played that song years ago, always finishing it, exists no longer. We are forever morphing from one self into the next.The soul-song is never complete...get used to it.

Experiencing joy in life, and recovery (perhaps discovery is a better word) from PTSD are directly proportional to ones ability to move through the creative emotional upheaval, stand in the chaos, excavate the darkness roiling below the psyche in the unconscious realms, and observe the new dwelling that is being built from the crushed rubble. Within each of us is ever-blossoming soul material, emerging from the dirt and fertilizer of the old self. This is the archetypal myth of Phoenix rising, the reparation of Osiris and Dionysus after their violent dismemberments, and the resurrection of the traumatized and crushed Christ. That is one reason so many vets and trauma victims find succor in religions with a myth of reconstruction after dismantlement.

PTSD may use the medical metaphor, but I think we must be careful. We are not sick, rather we are deconstructed. There is nothing wrong at the cosmic level, though from our social perspectives everything is severely wrong. Pharmaceuticals will not solve the problem in the long run, though they may provide some temporary relief. Alcohol, sex, drugs and a host of other consciousness altering substances or events won’t last long term. Seeing a therpist or counselor and blaming our parents, the government, et al will do little to promote the emergence of the new soul.

Why do these traumatic events happen? Who knows? I don’t. But that they do occur, and occur frequently on this planet requires us to take them as part of the normal phenomena of existence. From there, we will either see them as abnormal psychology, or normal events that come to move us into deeper and deeper experiences of soul.

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