PTSD is a broken circle. You haven't completed the journey yet. You were abandoned in hell. We must find ways for you to complete the journey and the circle. One of the most essential and effective ways to help a warrior return is the application of empathy and love. This is a universal prescription for the return journey.
I am going to describe to you an example of an ideal model which comes from the Papago people of Arizona. The first prescription of a returning warrior was to put them in isolation because they were tainted. This wasn't done as a punishment; it was done for purification. There was no sex; no food served by the families; no going straight home; both visible and invisible wounds were tended to. The warrior was surrounded by medicine people (our modern day psychologists, healers, life coaches, doctors, therapists, shamans, etc.) and elder warriors who would come to feed them. In this space, they were allowed to have an acute time to feel and heal - cry, rage, express the pain - and he was surrounded by all those who understood and who'd been there. Who 'got it'. Who were able to listen to their stories. Then, when the tending was done, they would ask the warrior, "Did you not wish to be a warrior? Can you not accept the hardships of the journey?" If the emotions were unbalanced, he was not ready to go. He was not ready to come out. But when he got to the point where he was calm and affirming, he would make an affirmation of his warrior destiny - "I affirm my warrior's destiny." He could then move onto the next stage of purification.
During this stage, in the American Indian tradition, sweat lodges were used. I've had the great fortune and honor of being able to attend a lodge out here in Los Angeles on my healing journey. It is incredibly powerful. Fire is transformative. In this sacred space you "burn off" all that is impure within you. You come out different. Something profound occurs in these rituals and ceremonies.
There are many different types of purification rituals for this stage, not just the lodge, and it can be created to fit your needs and beliefs. It must be public. All religions have purification rituals written in them for returning warriors. It's a universal necessity. The deeper in the zone you've been, the deeper the wound called PTSD you've suffered - the trauma, the horrors you've seen - the longer, generally, for the purification.
Many of us are walking around feeling polluted, feeling unworthy. Think how differently our society would be if we followed these simple steps and took the time to heal our wounds before going back into our communities? What a different world we would have.
After the purification stage is storytelling. This stimulates healing for the veteran as he re-contextualizes the experience and purges himself of the pain. Those who listen to the stories serve as a sacred witness to it. First the stories are told to just one person - your life coach, therapist, trusted friend, or fellow warrior. You have to empty your story. Eventually your story gets shared with the community. The whole community needs to participate. This is an essential component for re-integration. Why? Because you must empty your story so you will be free of the toxic and polluted emotions from the experience. By sharing your story with others, it becomes a part of them. They carry it with you.
There are many ways to tell your story, especially using the arts. You can write about it, dance, sing, paint, perform a work of theater - anything that is creative. You want to balance the destructive arts with the creative arts. These are tools of the soul. And tools of the soul are the most essential tools to provide.
Once you've completed this stage of the return, what follows is restitution into the community. The community takes these stories, accepts these stories, and carries them as their own. You no longer have to carry the burden by yourself; we are going to carry it together. What this does is the community transfers responsibility from the warriors to the whole community. What you are saying as the community is "I am responsible for having put you there. Regardless of what my political stance might be, I put you there. You are part of this community and I am responsible for that. You did this for me." Then, the burden is no longer on one person's shoulders; it is shared. When we share our burdens, we make better choices. When we see what happens when we put people in harms way, we'll make better decisions next time war becomes an option and the reasons why we are going to war, so that we don't do this to our men and women when motivated by corporate or self-interest.
Then, there are atonement practices, which help the warrior to be restored to the community. If you have destroyed, as an antidote, you want to create. How can you do this? Donate your time, effort, and money to a worthy cause; help re-build schools; get involved in groups that help disadvantaged youths; restore water supplies in war-torn countries; get actively engaged in community restoration activities - whatever it is, this activity must enable you to connect back to the warrior ethos of being a provider, protector, and a restorer of the natural order.
Last part of the initiation is the initiation of yourself as a warrior. You carry both the light and the darkness. When both are finally brought together, assimilated and integrated, you carry a new identity. You continue to give service without any sense of traumatic breakdown. Your identity gets bigger and bigger while the traumas get smaller and smaller until finally they disappear. You carry this new identity with honor, dignity, respect, and wisdom.
In order to get to that point, you have to go through a catharsis. You have to go through a moment where you are allowed to purge all those feelings that have been welling up, that you have been keeping contained and locked up inside of you. The program that I have created and established which incorporates and includes all of Dr. Tick's decades of dedicated, selfless work for the healing of our veterans, and is the very program that I healed myself from the crushing, devastating effects of PTSD, does this. It creates the conditions for you to do this in a safe and sacred environment. Catharsis is the goal. It is critical for the liberation of the pain and suffering you endure.
The culture of Guatemala has a description for this which I think is very appropriate. It's called 'dasaigo' - which means 'un-drowning'. You are 'un-drowning' yourself from the toxic emotions that pull you down. Catharsis achieves what most therapies fail to achieve - liberation of the soul. This ultimately leads to forgiveness, not only of yourself, but of others. Forgiveness is the key to happiness. What follows is complete restitution and re-integration. Finally coming back home.
One more story from the retreat I want to share with you. A Vietnam vet came up to me on the last night, looked at me in the eyes for a long while, and gave me a gift. He gave me a Soldier's Cross. He put it around my neck and said, "You now bear the Soldier's Cross. It's a heavy burden to bear, but you are the right man to bear it." I am honored to carry it.
As I've stated many times in these blog posts, to successfully heal and recover from this disorder you must learn to master yourself. You have got to learn the tools and the process of return which enable you to become your own master. I have brought only the best into my work. It is my goal to give you the most comprehensive and complete programs for truly healing and recovering from PTSD, and reclaiming the life you were meant to live. I am so grateful for the many blessings Dr. Tick has given me. All of us who serve the veteran population and their families are indebted to him for providing the pathway of return for all of our warriors across all the generations so that no one is left behind. Thank you Dr. Tick.
Let's transform your wounds into gifts. I want to remind all of you who read this blog that no matter how you got PTSD - whether in war, rape, abuse, disaster, or some other way - you will continue to re-live your traumas over and over again until you transform them. Transforming the part of your old self into the new self that wants to emerge is critical and essential to your full recovery. There is a way of doing it without medications, that helps make meaning of the experiences. Through spirituality, we are restored to our true selves. And when you learn from those experiences the values and gifts they gave you, unique to you, you will be able to contribute more to your families, communities, and to the world.
Please visit Soldier's Heart's website at www.soldiersheart.net to learn more about the work being done to restoring our warriors and communities. If you are inspired, please donate!
Charlie Pacello, an Air Force veteran, is a Life Coach and Healing Expert for PTSD, Depression, Addiction, and Trauma. He is a facilitator with the Mindful Warrior Project, an author, inspirational speaker, and a candidate for a Masters in Psychology and Theater at Burlington College. Charlie also works as a trainer with the Soldier's Heart program and with Drs. Ed Tick and Sarah Larsen in trauma release and healing. He is also the creator of the program, 'Lt. Pacello's Life Training Program' based on his work in healing his own PTSD, depression, addiction, and trauma. Charlie graduated from the United States Air Force Academy in 1996 and was commissioned an officer. He comes from a family of veterans: his grandfather fought in WWII, his father fought in Vietnam, and he was on the front lines of nuclear warfare. All suffered from PTSD. Charlie struggled to make that return journey home and is now committed to helping others succeed as he has. He can be reached by visiting his website at www.charliepacello.com