BURYING THE WARRIOR


When I was introduced to therapy for PTSD in the early 80's therapists focused largely on helping us understand and cope with "survivor guilt," and a strategy they called "burying the warrior." Survior guilt is an easily understood term, if not easily dealt with, but burying the warrior is a more complicated concept. The idea was that those of us who were traumatized by our combat experiences had fully completed our service as warriors, and yet, because of PTSD, the warrior in us was still active, managing our lives in ways no longer appropriate--warrior ways don't fit snugly into any modern society not at war.

The warrior's nightmares, intrusive thoughts about combat
, emotional numbing, anxiety and panic attacks and anger management problems, hyperalertness and hyperarousal, and unconscious triggered responses to certain stimuli reminiscent of combat were treated as "warriors ways" (coping strategies) which we needed to "bury."

Much time was spent attempting, through discussion and practical interactive exercises, to honor the warrior in each of us with respect and gratitude, and then give him a decent burial, in our hearts, so we might no longer be trapped living as warriors in a non-warring society. This was designed to be the exit debriefing we never got, sorta. It was a functional metaphorical model of recovery which worked for most of us, to some degree.

We were encouraged, once the warrior was decently buried, to drop all the military jargon from our operant vocabularies, fold away the cammies and shine up the combat boots and put them away somewhere in a special place of honor. At the same time, we were to take whatever medals, citations, badges, rank and branch insignia, etc., we had, and display them prominently somewhere in our homes--to honor that buried warrior.

I did all that like a good lieutenant-and-a-half, and it worked, like I said, to some degree. But you gotta understand that any improvement, at that time, was like a giant leap out of some desert . . . into Eden.

Well, fact is, every coping strategy gets old and becomes rote and eventually unservicable. We PTSD people need to be on the lookout for new ways of organizing our attempts at recovery. There are many ways that do work to lessen anxiety and intrusiveness and all the symptoms of PTSD. We need to not forget that in our worst times.

I don't think we need to lose our identities by attempting to completely bury the warrior, that young part of us that did all the dirtywork to bring us through alive. I think we need to make him our friend and companion, treat him always with honor and respect, and he'll adapt, with us, to life at peace, if we give him the chance. I think part of the bury the warrior strategy was the result of post-war American society's guilt about us, and an attempt to make us more like them, perhaps. Fact is, we combat vets really aren't like "them" anymore, and can never be--for long anyway. And we needn't be.

We just need to be ourselves, and let them make some adjustments, too. Hell, most of us did it all for "them" in the first place, under orders.






MailToWilliam