23 August 2010

PTSD and the Church

As a sufferer of PTSD I have a unique outlook to see a problem coming before the Church. PTSD is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In the past is was called combat fatigue, shell shock, and many other things; even being mislabeled as readjustment disorder in recent years. In layman’s terms, it is a natural reaction to extreme stress events which cause a physiological shift in how the brain functions. There is much more to it than this, but for this purpose, my definition will suffice.

First I’m going to give a little background about me and my PTSD to give a little understanding to you. I’m a 30 year old Christian man who, despite being raised in the church, came to Christ at the age of 23, about 5 months before deploying to Iraq in February of 2003. After returning in February of 2004, I had a series of bad events that left me back in my parents’ home at the age of 26, broke, and feeling helpless. I had turned away from God, as I could not understand how he allowed friends to die in Iraq, or put me in a position to fire my weapon and another man. How could he let me feel the guilt and pain that riddled me daily?

My parents took me to church with them and took me to the VA. The VA helped me by getting me into counseling for PTSD and getting me on some meds to regulate the chemicals that had gotten out of whack. But Christ gave me so much more. Reading the word again and spending time in prayer showed me that the bad thing I had experienced were not caused by his lack of love, but because he loves us so much that he will not take away our free will. This includes allowing bad things to happen while Satan has dominion of the Earth. In October of 2006 I met an amazing woman. She was attending seminary and opened my eyes up even further. She helped me understand things I had not before, and she gave me love freely, with no expectations. Laura and I were married a year later in November of 2007.

“What does this have to do with the Church?” you ask. Simple, Thousands upon thousands of soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen battle these same issues every day. These are the young, the old, and the in between. From Vietnam to Panama, from Afghanistan to Iraq, these brave men and women have risked their lives for the country we believe in. We are not loved by our country though. In many cases we are hated. The Westboro Baptist Church drives servicemen away from God with every sign held high in protest. Every time a uniform is defaced in protest of the war or a soldier sees his flag burned, he loses a little of his love for the people who would disrespect his sacrifice. We as the Church, the body of Christ, need to change this.

Another thing we (PTSD sufferers) face is a feeling of despair brought on by the chemical imbalances. This becomes more manageable with treatment, but it still comes at times. While not as severe as back in the early days after returning from the war, I still have periods where I want nothing to do with anyone or anything, not even God. I have Laura to help me, but many soldiers don’t have anyone. The leading preventable cause of death in the military today is suicide. One major cause of this is the feeling of immense despair I am talking about. Think about this in a different way, if you are sure that you are worthless and a failure, that God doesn’t love you or doesn’t exist, and that all the world has to offer you is suffering; what reason do you have to continue living? I am definitely not trying to justify these thoughts, only trying to help you understand, and I can only do that because I have not felt these feelings in many years. With treatment, these feelings do go away, and with support they can be completely avoided. That’s where the Church comes in.

The Church is Christ’s tool on Earth. It is his hands and arms. By welcoming one in, we help that body to grow and we help one more to know His love. Sound good so far? But what does it take to do this? Investment. You have to go forth and invest your life in those around you. I can almost guarantee that everyone reading this knows at least one soldier, though you may not know much about him or her. Try starting with a dinner, servicemen love to eat, trust me on that one, and once you get food in us we talk more (might not be good to feed me much, since I already talk too much, but most others you’re safe on). Pay attention to what they are talking about. Above all, do not bring up the war. If we want to talk about it, we do. If we don’t, we still respect you enough to answer questions (it’s in our training). So leave that off for now. (By the way , a huge number of soldiers do not have PTSD to any degree, and even fewer have truly debilitating PTSD, but even so, bringing one more into the Church is a good thing, right?) Learn about us and then build on what we say with stories of your own. Share pieces of Jesus’ teaching when you can, but don’t preach. Basically, be our friends. It does not matter if you served. It does not matter what you think of the war (though if you are against it, you still need to show us that you are thankful for our willingness to die for you if we are called to). It doesn’t even matter if we’re the same age or demographic. Some of the people I am closest to are people I have met since returning from Iraq, and they simply stepped up and showed me His love. I have friends twice my age because of this, and I have many differences with them, but they showed me his love and that earned them a spot in my heart forever.

The other thing we have to do is accept. PTSD can lead to short tempers, to apathy, to depression, and to emotional outbursts with mood swings. We have to expect and accept these. They are part of the person now.With treatment, the sufferer will learn to control these things, but it's going to take time. Remember, they are having to relearn things since their brain works a little differently now.

Oh, and PTSD is not limited to combat veterans. Often, we see PTSD symptoms in rape, assault, and sexual abuse patients. Any psychologically traumatic event can cause PTSD.

19 August 2010

Why is Story important?

I was recently challenged with writing a little bit about why story is so important. This is what I came up with.

Story is passion. Ever since man has walked the earth, we have told stories. Even God shares stories with us. We start to form stories before we learn words as children, and then later, on telling them, we sometimes realize how much influence society has had in our own creative minds. The limits put on us by society are the imaginary walls which story can climb over, break down, or even simply cease to believe and walk right through.

As a kid I remember playing army with friends or putting on all black and running around as a ninja. The stories that my friends and I told were impossible, but we had fun. We spent our days thinking of new and fantastic tales. To adults our bikes were just that, bikes. But to us, a bicycle was a fighter jet, a tank, or even a motorbike loaded with machine guns and rocket launchers. The stories of the battles we fought were… amazing!

So why is story so important? Moses told the Israelites and us stories about creation, about the great flood, even about God’s glory, but that doesn’t really tell us why story is important. It just tells us that Moses’ story (actually God’s story) is important. Story is the act of relating events, true or imagined, in written or oral communication. Only through story can we learn about our history as people, God’s message, and the fascinating workings of individual creations. I’ve read more books than I can even begin to name, and the common thread for me has always been learning. Robert Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers” taught me more about basic training and the rigors on the mind than any non-fiction book or experiences shared with me, and when I got to Ft. Benning, I learned that it was true.

“We Were Soldiers Once… and Young”, taught the reader about the hell that is war, but also about the brotherhood shared by soldiers in shared plight. The books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John teach us about Jesus’ ministry on Earth. Stories teach and entertain, they make us feel emotion and they share events that may have happened, but may have also been made up. The greatest stories are retold by millions of people in a million ways. Shakespeare knew this in taking common themes to write many of his plays. From “The Taming of the Shrew” to “Romeo and Juliet”, his stories have been retold in countless ways by countless people, and in many cases his stories were simply retelling of stories he’d been told.

The importance of story is that it allows for communication of emotion and passion. It allows an intimate look into a person’s thought and creative mind. It gives man a chance to release stress or tension or create a smile on another’s face. It also allows us to teach the horrors that have been experienced as a way to help future generations avoid the same. Spinning yarns and relating events gives us connection. From one generation to the next, only through story can we connect to those who we are never able to meet.

Thanks Shakespeare, for allowing me to meet my ancestor MacDuff, through your story of MacBeth.