Whether they’ve returned from OIF, OEF, OND… or from wars fought long ago, many men and women struggling with PTSD forget they can STILL be the leaders they were trained to me. To be a leader doesn’t require a squad, a batallion or a brigade. It doesn’t require that you be marching on a parade ground, or trying to make it to the end of the toughest ruck walk in basic training. In truth,to be a leader requires no one but yourself.
You, yourself, are the most important person you will ever lead. Nothing, in my opinion, exhibits more bravery than the lone walks, made one person at a time, by those with PTSD who finally decide to make the most important decision of their lives… to lead themselves toward recovery… and walk out of the land of denial. In my book, every person who makes that walk is a hero.
Let’s face it. We all know about denial (and I’m NOT talking about “the river in Egypt…) OK, I admit it… there are occasionally those times in life when denial doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. Like the fact that our family’s 14 foot Christmas tree, devoid of decorations, is STILL standing in my dining room, when it’s almost July and 110 degrees in Texas. Too pressed for time to deal with the mammoth job of moving it, I have simply stopped acknowledging it. Every day is an exercise of my power to DENY its evergreen, and everlasting presence. This year, we will set a new record in our family quest to see just how long the thing stays put. We have become habituated to that darn tree, so that that with “eyes wide shut” we finally fail to see it, and simply succumb to its presence, like it or not.
PTSD’s alot like that… catch my drift? How many warriors, vets and families live with “eyes wide shut” becoming so habituated to their suffering, that they deny it even exists? The difference? The tree isn’t dangerous. But PTSD, if denied, can rob you of your family, your job, your quality of life, or even life itself.
Now, when it comes to making excuses for my denial, I can at least say that the Christmas tree is serving some higher purpose, by becoming a giant chew toy for our 2 puppies, who are conveniently cutting their teeth on my tree lights. And let’s face it… at least once a year, the situation WILL automatically improve when, at long last, the calendar will turn another page, December appears, and… VOILA ! … the Christmas tree will once again add beauty, peace and joy to our home ! But REALLY, now: Can you think of even ONE instance where you could say the same for PTSD?
Look, folks, the worst that a Christmas tree bolted to the floor in midsummer will do is cause me minor inconvenience. It isn’t causing me nightmares, or flashbacks, or acute sleep deprivation, or explosive behavior, or (just as bad) emotional and relational withdrawal from my family, loss of my interests or detachment from the world around me. It’s not intensifying those hard wired neurological and hormonal patterns that become more damaging as time goes on. The tree is an inconvenience, and inconveniences can be denied. But PTSD is NOT an inconvenience. It is a serious medical illness that cannot be denied without intensifying your suffering and that of others.
SO: if you are living in that land of denial, it’s time to face certain critical facts about PTSD that will bite you in your so-called “Fourth Point of Contact” if you ignore them. Here are some brief and convenient reminders. Your assignment, if you are a loved one or family caregiver, is to PRINT THIS OUT AND STICK IT ON YOUR FRIG. Hopefully, you will walk into your frig and see it as often as I trip over my Christmas tree, but with better results !
FACT 1: PTSD IS NOT LIKE AGED CHEESE… IT DOES NOT GET BETTER IF IGNORED OVER TIME… IT JUST GETS STINKIER. Hear ye, all of you out there who have taken our SFI training at a live conference in Iraq or in the rear: What do we tell you, until the cows come home ? (Remember: I live on a ranch where the cows really DO come home, so listen carefully, ‘cuz I mean what I say). PTSD IS A PSYCHO-NEURO-ENDOCRINE DISORDER THAT INTENSIFIES OVER TIME UNLESS TREATED… IT DOES NOT GO AWAY OR GET BETTER BECAUSE YOU DENY IT.
FACT 2: PTSD IS ALOT LIKE YOUR LEAST FAVORITE MUSIC… IT “DOWNLOADS” TO YOUR KIDS. So…start thinking TODAY about the day ten years from now when your children will be demanding an explanation. If you remain in denial, you’re going to need just about that long to think up enough excuses to dish up to the little children, who by then may have become incredibly angry, rageful, or developmentally impacted young adults, affected by PTSD of their own, when they confront you and ask: “Why didn’t you care enough about ME to get treatment for YOURSELF, when it it would have made a real difference in my life?” What will your answer to them be?
FACT 3: PTSD IS LIKE THE NEIGHBOR’S YARD WITH THE KNEE-DEEP GRASS AND THE CAR ON BLOCKS. You may think you can ignore it. You may think you can walk past it. But truth is, you will get more and more rageful with every passing day because someone in your family simply won’t DEAL with it. But if you will start by reading “I Always Sit With My Back To The Wall”, as well as the materials in this Web Portal, you will be AMAZED at the number of things you can do to effectively DEAL WITH IT.
REMEMBER: WHEN YOU LEAD YOURSELF, YOU AUTOMATICALLY LEAD OTHERS, BY THE POWER OF YOUR POSITIVE EXAMPLE. THIS IS THE DEFINING ESSENCE OF LEADERSHIP.
IF YOU LEAD YOURSELF OUT OF DENIAL AND INTO RECOVERY, OTHERS ARE WATCHING. YOU MAY THINK YOU’VE SAVED ONLY YOURSELF, BUT THE CHANCES ARE YOU WILL SAVE OTHERS ALONG THE WAY.
SO… TAKE THE FIRST STEP. WALK OUT OF DENIAL AND BE THE LEADER YOU WERE BORN AND TRAINED TO BE.
© 2013 Rev. Dr. Chrys Parker, Co-Director, Spiritual Fitness Initiative