I had the pleasure of spending this past weekend in Burton, Texas at a place called “Camp For All”. “Camp For All” is a gigantic facility remotely located in the country and designed for profoundly handicapped children and adults. Apparently, the founder developed this concept after his own handicapped child was refused admission at a summer camp. This place must be run by organizational and grant-writing geniuses because the camp is first-rate and there are large plaques of support from many prestigious non-profit organizations. “Camp For All” is impressive.
I attended a weekend retreat called “Expedition Balance”. My virtual best buddy, Kanani, had hooked me up with Carl Salazar, the founder. Carl is a Naval Academy graduate, former Surface Warfare Officer (ship driver), and an advocate for those who suffer from PTSD. Carl’s approach to handling PTSD symptoms in the short-term mirrors the advice I received from my new therapist at the VA: relaxation achieved through yoga and meditation.
The timing of this course, from my perspective, was perfect. I am willing to try anything. Ever since my second meeting with the Exorcist, I’ve felt right as rain. The Exorcist seemed more to me like a very talented, extremely intense, psychiatrist than a Human Shepard. He would look at me and say, “There’s another hook still in you, so we have to go back to “X” and talk it through again…” I did what he suggested and the hook actually did come out. I have to write a post about my time with him but its really hard to describe; so far I’m not coming up with much that is useful. Plus I’m working on book writing and don’t want to slow down while the creative fires are burning so hot.
My VA therapist, who would have also made an excellent Chaplin, has done an outstanding job of outlining the most progressive options on treating PTSD to me. He also explained why he is unable to provide any of these cutting-edge therapies to his patients, for all he has at his disposal are prescription drugs. If I chose to go that route, I would have to wait until January 2013 for the next available psychiatrist appointment. There are talented medical professionals working inside the VA system but that system is proving inadequate to meet the needs of today’s military veteran. The VA therapists know what will help their young patients but can’t provide that help because they are inside the system. It has to be frustrating for them and, no doubt, one of the reasons people like Carl are stepping up to fill a clear gap in the treatment of traumatized young people.
I don’t want or need the pills, but I was certainly game to try yoga and meditation. I spent the afternoon cruising down the back roads of Texas listening to Eckhart Tolle’s book, “A New Earth”, on tape. My new plan is: learn yoga, become enlightened by December 2012, and finish writing a book in time for the summer market. If I achieve these goals, I won’t obsess if my book sells or not since I’ll be enlightened by that time, so in the grand scheme of things, it won’t matter that much. But, having written the book while in a state of enlightenment, it will be a huge international best seller and I’ll be in exactly the right state to handle all the attention because I’ll be enlightened and my ego stashed away for good. What could possibly go wrong with such a genius plan?
Learning yoga went smoothly, as did everything else at “Camp For All”. I slept soundly for the first time in months. Four vets, evenly divided by gender, attended the weekend with me. In fact, one of the women, a vet from Iraq, was married to one of the male vets. Another TBI/PTSD participant, who had been the victim of an attempted murder, joined us on Saturday. Carl introduced us to four volunteers (from the Houston yoga and meditation community) and they each taught a yoga session or led an after-dinner life skills class such as nutrition or goal setting.
“Camp For All” has a rigid schedule, and because we were sharing the facilities with two other groups, tardiness at the archery course, paint ball range, and rope course was forbidden. If we were scheduled for archery at 2:00 pm, you could bet money that at 2:00 pm there were two college students standing alert at the range to supervise the groups for the next hour. The day goes by quickly when you’re so busy and, if the goal of the weekend was to facilitate a few days of refuge from the daily problems that afflict so many veterans, Expedition Balance certainly accomplished the mission.
None of the veteran participants discussed anything specific about their time at war, or about their struggles at home. I believe the main problem most are facing now is unemployment or under-employment. One of the two men in the group clearly spent significant time in battle. I could see it on his face, and, he was also a Corpsman, he probably had to repeatedly expose himself to rescue wounded Marines. Learning how to use yoga and meditation to relax would be a very useful skill for this young man, who is obviously carrying a heavy burden, while he searches for stable employment on his way to resuming a productive life.
Expedition Balance is one of a growing number of organizations that offer holistic PTSD treatment. These organizations provide both structure and training, enabling the big first step to recovery for both veterans and non-veterans who suffer from TBI or PTSD. I think these organizations are going to be in great demand, for they fill a huge gap in treatment choices. You may not be interested in Jihad but Jihad is interested in you. We are going to be seeing a steady flow of combat-traumatized veterans for years to come. The vacant gaze that came into that young corpsman eyes when he was not concentrating on something else was haunting. I have seen it so often before, the look of fear that slips into the quiet places to remind you of what you had to do and witness while overseas.
Our campaign in Afghanistan is a disaster, the Taliban is now stronger in both Pakistan and Afghanistan and their military capability has expanded far past their anemic capacity in 2001 . Al Qaeda is now stronger and, having taken advantage of a man-caused disaster called “Obama’s foreign policy”; has entrenched itself in Northern Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. The number of young men and woman returning from these places after intense periods of combat is going to increase over the years to come. I hope I am wrong about that but doubt it, there is going to be a lot more citizens who are going to have to deal with the ghosts that rob them of serenity, ambition, and the simple joys that are found in each day.
Such programs that will be needed should emphasize physical fitness, healthy diet, and positive outlets for stress like yoga and meditation, and, I would add, the power of prayer (I’m biased because it works well for me.) These are the only effective alternatives to the pill or the bottle.
So now I’m integrating yoga to my daily routine and, because Carl generously gave us a bunch of goodies including a high-speed yoga mat, I can now do my yoga outdoors in the bayside fair weather writer’s loft/pelican observation post.
This is living.