Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
from the book's preface, by Marc Bonagura

 

PTSD is a term coined after the Vietnam War. Earlier and similar forms were "shell shock" in World War I and "combat fatigue" in World War II. Yet only in the last twenty years or so have doctors really been able to understand this condition; even so, its impact on peoples’ lives is still largely a mysterious phenomenon.

In times of extreme stress the body switches into a state of hyper-awareness, a survival mode, altering every physiological and psychological response with only one objective — to endure the trauma. But this survival comes with a terrible price, and the longer the time period the person is subjected to the trauma, the more severe the damage. In such extreme circumstances, the rational mind shuts down, and the wisdom of the body reverts back to some long lost primal awareness.

Survivors of sexual abuse, rape victims, those who lived through a concentration camp, people imprisoned and tortured, and some combat veterans — specifically those select few who served on the front lines — all these people have one thing in common. Their flesh stores a record of these experiences, and for the rest of their lives they must cope with permanent changes to their psyche and their physiology. In time the mind can forget, but the body always remembers. The resonance of the war, the energetic vibration of those battles never left these men, rather it became a part of them. Malnutrition, anorexia, malaria, dysentery, jungle rot, the sight and stench of horribly mangled bodies, the stench of the living, the methodical, skillful, efficient killing machines that these human beings became — these occurrences became locked forever into every organ system and muscle fiber of their bodies. The men were never told this would happen and they were never given instruction as to how to cope with these permanent changes.

The mystery is in the way the effects continue long after the trauma recedes, constantly bringing the survivor back to that state of hyper-consciousness necessary to endure the original conflict, and, unfortunately, reviving again the cellular memory of these events in a vicious cycle as if they were happening all over again. It is important to remember that this is not merely a psychological or mental state. It is a series of energetic memories that are as real as the day they occurred. An energetic memory is the resonance of an event — in one sense there is no past, present or future — all these events are constantly and simultaneously recurring for the PTSD survivor. These survivors become trapped in this cyclic realm and will go to great lengths to quiet this process. Especially useful are drugs and alcohol, but the relative calm only lasts as long as the numbing effects of the high. As I’ve implied, even if you could wipe out the memories in someone’s brain, the memories in the body would live on. Adrenaline is a powerful hormone, also capable of temporarily quieting such memories, and Bob Worthington lived on that hormone for most of his life, constantly creating and seeking out stressful, dangerous situations from which he had to extricate himself.

The more common coping skills for these survivors are silence, an intensely personal, private suffering, depression, nightmares, and chronic physical illness — sometimes masked for many years behind productive, seemingly contented lives. But spouses, children, and close friends know what lies beneath; they often live day by day in an energetic battlefield only somewhat less literal than the ones these soldiers walked away from in the first place.

On a physical level, the stress hormones released constantly during the original event or series of events and afterwards, whenever the trauma is relived again and again, in memories or dreams, or when any stressful situation brings them back into that original state, combine to create a downward spiral. Many combat veterans repeat this cycle for years and years until they reach their fifties and sixties when their lives start to unravel. During these stressful episodes, whether real or imagined, the body releases adrenaline, just as it did when the original event was taking place, and instead of quieting the memories, they are revived again and again, producing the need for more and more adrenaline, yet stress hormones when released over long periods of time do an amazing amount of damage to critical bodily systems, especially the cardiovascular and digestive systems in men, and the reproductive system in women. In Bob Worthington’s case, one can trace the patterns and symptoms of his fatal heart disease to the same eighteen-year-old Marine, just days out of combat, lying in a bed in a Naval hospital in Vallejo, California. The disease process fully manifests decades later — exactly as it had begun all those years before. Most of the poison went right to the center of the chest.

I have come to my own understanding regarding the breakdown of the bodily systems and the chronic complaints these people suffer. As the soul expresses its desire to free itself from the body that has internalized these experiences, a gradual or sometimes a rapid disintegration of that body and its systems takes place. Most physicians and health care providers have never been completely able to understand this relationship.

Perhaps, the only way to understand the meaning of Bob’s experience is to examine what happened to him when he came back — to trace the ripples of energetic vibrations moving ever outwardly and forever altering the lives of everyone around him. In fact, Bob’s eventual struggle for healing and search for closure took a lot of hard work. The process began only when he started to speak his truths. For the greater healing to begin, we must first respectfully ask all these warriors to break their silence — to share their stories — and we must be prepared to listen without judgement. In this work I have attempted to do just that — to move into the psyche of one such remarkable warrior, Bob Worthington, to explore his visions, to explain them, and to help heal the broken parts.

 

Click here for a message from Dr. Carnahan regarding the WWII Marine.

 

   
 

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