Meditation and PTSD

A little bit about myself before I get started on meditation and how it can help.

I served in the US Air Force as a maintainer for the West Virginia National Guard. I never served in combat, however I was a victim of the mentality that when someone is drunk they can consent. My superiors were also of that mentality, so nothing was done because listening meant they would have to do something. This same attitude caused an airman that I served with to take his own life, because no one was listening when he would tell someone that there was something wrong. My partner during this time frame served on active duty, and knew three airmen who took their lives. Everything he saw during his service has left him with scars, and I’ve had to help him through periods when he’s been lost in the past.

Another partner of mine served 18 months in a combat zone. When he got home – because he has very good mental control – he was told he didn’t have PTSD, even though he could no longer stand being around fireworks or being in crowds. Almost ten years later he’s still not able to have his back to open areas without being extremely uncomfortable. Our brother didn’t serve, but was involved in street warfare. The little bit he’s been able to tell me explains that haunted look in his eyes when the memories overtake him.

Something we all have in common are very strong minds and triggers that make us all feel like we’re falling apart at the seams. The way we all got to where we are, where we’re able to hold ourselves together is through meditation and through having strong ties to each other.  I was originally planning on just talking about meditation, but somewhere along the line my topic shifted to meditation and having a support group. That’s something that’s helped everyone I know, meditating which helps you stay focused in the here and now, it helps you pull that part of you that’s still in the past back to the present, and for those times when it doesn’t work the pull is to strong, having even just one person who’s willing to just listen without judgement can help pull you back. I’m not saying this is a perfect fix and that the scars won’t be there, they will be, you’ll always have the memories but the methods I’m going to outline below can help you deal with the memories and in time make them just memories.

Photo by: Jordan SanchezEnough about me. On to meditation.

The meditation technique I’m going to talk about is mindfulness meditation. The idea with this style of meditation is to just focus on the present, whatever is going on right at that point in time. Someone who is very good at mindfulness meditation can stay in a constant state of being in the present and focused on what he or she is doing at that point in time. Starting off just being able to sit and focus on your breathing or a song that’s playing for five to ten minutes is a good start, even though this seems like a very short time, that time of meditation is already calming your nervous system and reducing the stress that you’re under.  Over time you’re able to keep your mind focused on the present for longer periods of time.

Something that everyone I know who uses mindfulness meditation and who has PTSD does, is when we start feeling ourselves going into flashbacks, we will force ourselves to practice mindfulness. This isn’t a perfect fix because if you don’t catch it soon enough you’ll still go into flashbacks, but if you catch it soon enough you can prevent the flashbacks. This method keeps with the proven fact that having something around during flashbacks that wasn’t there during the original trauma helps pull you out. For most of us there’s nothing in the civilized world that’s there during the original trauma so when you focus on the present your mind can’t find anything to force you into flashbacks. I started off with mindfulness focusing on two songs in a play list, at first I couldn’t stay focused on the first song the whole time. Over time I could stay focused on both songs, then I moved to three songs. Eventually I got to where I could stay focused on my breath with the whole house in turmoil for 30 minutes. If your mind won’t let you stay focused on something for longer than thirty seconds at a time, that’s fine. Our minds don’t like to be disciplined, and will fight to
not stay focused on something even when we tell it too. My partner took over six months before he could stay focused on a playlist for ten minutes and he still can’t focus on his breathing for ten minutes, however he’s still getting the benefits, and he’s able to pull his mind into the present when he triggers.

Support Group

supportgroupSomething that sounds like common sense, but it’s something that we all too often over look, is the benefit of having a support group. This doesn’t need to be a formal support group. It can just be a bunch of fellow vets who understand, and are willing to listen without judgement. There have been times when my partners and I have just listened while one of us has been stuck in the past. Even with most of our minds in the past, part of us still knows someone who understands is there, and doing all they can to help pull us back into the present. It helps us know we’re not alone, even when our minds are trying to tell us we are.

One last thing…

Please keep in mind, especially when you’re being hard on yourself because you feel weak having the problems you’re having: PTSD is a normal reaction to abnormal stress. What you’re experiencing is a normal reaction to what you went through previously, so please be gentle on yourself.

If you’re interested in talking more, or reading some of the books I’ve put together. Please go to my personal website, there’s a recommended reading list and a contact form if you want to get in contact with me.