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Saturday, May 5, 2007

One cure for reexperiencing (intrusive thoughts, nightmares, flashbacks)

I just got a copy of "Toward the Flame," by Hervey Allen, a memoir of WWI. I mostly read memoirs because I don't care what the historians say. I want to hear what happened to the people, the soldiers...
Being the good girl that I am, I started with the preface to the original edition (1925) and the preface to this edition (an illustrated 1933 edition which came out after he wrote a bestseller, Anthony Adverse). This is what he wrote:
"After returning home in 1919, I found myself much troubled at night by memories of the war and often unable to sleep. It occurred to me then that I might rid myself of my subjective war by trying to make it objective in writing. Taking in hand the material mentioned above [letters from the front and the hospital], and adding to it what I still so vividly remembered, I whipped the whole into shape without any thought at the time of publishing it. The medicine worked, although perhaps the style of the utterance suffered." Toward the Flame, Hervey Allen, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 2003, xxiv.
This is what happened to Bob also, When he wrote and rewrote Chickenhawk. He didn't realize it had happened until a couple of years ago when he was giving a workshop on writing about war and one of the participants shared this story. When this guy got back from Vietnam, he started going to community college. For his English class, he had to write a personal journal. He got an F on the first one because it wasn't personal enough (Numb??) so he thought, "Fuck her.(Irritability and outbursts of anger??) I'll make it personal. I'll write one of my nightmares (re-experiencing)." So he did. The teacher, bless her, simply corrected it and handed it back to be re-written. This happened several times until she was satisfied and then he rewrote it a couple of more times to make it completely accurate just for his own satisfaction. And then he noticed he was not having the nightmare any more.
When he heard this story, Bob realized that after he finished Chickenhawk, his nightmares also stopped, and he stopped thinking about the war everyday...
There is actually a scientific explanation for this. Much of the information about the traumatic events in your war is stored in the reptile part of your brain (hippocampus, amagdayla, other funny names) in the form of fragments of non verbal memory (sounds, scenes, smells, words, emotions, etc). They often trigger flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, nightmares and hyperaroused bodily states. People are designed to form narrative memories. It is what the whole front part of the brain does, and through the process of verbalizing those fragmented incidents, you can move them out of the part of the brain that causes reexperiencing up into a normal narrative memory, which might be painful, but won't entail involuntary re-experiencing. Therapy, if you get to talk about what happened, can do this too. That is why they want you to talk. But sometimes therapists don't want to hear, or don't want you to feel bad, so they cut short parts of the story. It can also be very hard to remember some parts of it if you feel ashamed of something you did–or didn't–do. So if writing it out doesn't seem to do the job, look deeper.
An example of this: a woman who was raped who was so afraid the guy would kill her and so desperate to get it over with that she moved her body as if it was good for her. In therapy, she didn't even remember this, it was so shameful in her eyes, but when she read my prayer for trauma survivors, which says "Help me to love myself no matter what happened to me or what I did to survive," she remebered, and after that, no more intrusive memories!
Here are the affirmation, prayer and expanded serenity prayer I wrote for veterans:

Affirmation for Veterans with PTSD
I’m _____________ and I’m ____ years old.
I am home from the war. I can feel safe here.
I live in ____________________.
I live with _____________________________, and _________cares about me.
I can feel sadness and despair and fear and anger and guilt.
I can cry and those who love me will still care for me.
I need to have these feelings so I can let them go.
Each time they come up, I can use them as evidence that I need to do whatever it takes to take care of myself.
I can ask for and recieve help.

Prayer for Veterans with PTSD
Higher Power,
I know that it’s not within the harmony of the universe that I be healed from the trauma of my experiences in the war without pain.
Help me through the pain. Surround me with the golden light of healing, fill me with the white light of peace and love. Help me to bear the pain as I go through these memories. Help me to cry. Help me to remember. Help me to love myself no matter what happened to me or what I did to survive. Amen.

Serenity Prayer:Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change: the war, what heppened to me and what I did or didn't do, and that what happened was traumatic no matter how effectively I have stuffed it.
Courage to change the things I can: my attitude towards my symptoms—help me to accept them as a normal response to war and evidence that I need to take care of myself by talking about what happened to me with a safe person and getting whatever help I need; my actions—I no longer have to blow up, drug, deny or repress my symptoms. I can accept them as evidence of how much I have been through; my reactions—instead of freaking out, blowing up, or trying to repress what I feel, I can focus on the symptom, whether it is numbness, anger, a painful emotion or memory, dream or flashback, or a physical reaction, feel what I feel, go through and have the pain and learn whatever it is that my Higher Power wants me to learn. Then I can share about the effects of trauma on people. Finally I can change how I see these symptoms—as normal responses to trauma which helped me survive and will help me recover even if they are painful.
And the wisdom to know the difference: help me to be willing to accept that I survived something terrible, and that I can learn from it and heal if I look outside my own head for help, and that I deserve to heal.

Please feel free to change the wording in whatever way works for you. I suggest keeping copies of this with you for those moments when you feel overwhelmed with feelings that you don’t want to have.
REMEMBER: It is okay to feel bad. You can’t heal what you don’t feel.
Patience Press PO Box 1517, High Springs Fl, 32655


  1. Patience,

    I too have found memoirs to be much more effective than just history books, especially in trying to understand what my husband has been through. I would like to thank you for blogging and to encourage you to keep it up...I am going to pass this post onto my husband, anything could help at this time. Thanks!

  2. I would advise care with this technique: recalling a traumatic event or series of events, for some--like myself--is problematic. Instead of alleviating the problem, it only serves to reinforce it. On the several times I have tried it, I spent months afterward in a heightened sense of panic: acutely attuned to all stimuli that triggered recollections of the original events. My life wore down to a bunker-like setting until I could slowly re-emerge into a semi-normal existence. Each of these attempts by well-meaning therapists only left me wounded more by the experience.

  3. Dear Don,
    That is why I titled it as ONE cure. Nothing works for everyone. But something else might work for you, and, unfortunately the way things are now, you are the one who has to find it.
    Thanks and welcome home.

  4. I thank you so much but what if you are suffering for yrs from domestic abuse and are punished because of it? No one wants to hear it, let you talk it out, cry etc. You know how you can heal but no one will listen for years and so many phone calls, prayers, reaching out, you are still with the abuser and continually being degraded for getting PTSD and being ill from his abuse. Everyone else left because you were considered worthless and ugly? God Bless you and I continue to search & research, pray etc w/very little left. I pray constantly and cry to God for years for all of those suffering and that they will not suffer alone like I have as everyone left. Besides the abuser, I have been beat down by just about everyone else for years and still am. Thank you for your help and everyone else that is praying, posting, researching and trying to help those who suffer who want to remember what it like to just even sleep without the flashbacks. It's getting harder and harder to even remember what it was like and to be considered human but we are still and want to heal so we can help others. God Bless you, your family and everyone. HUGS(I don't even get that except thru type)

  5. Thank you so much for this article. I have been looking for answers to relieve my flashbacks and recurring nightmares for a very long time.
    I was meant to read this today.
    You helped me and changed my life.
    take care of you and I will do the same.

    im having a hard time with getting my VA bennes.

  7. Patience, I really have to thank you for the work you've done with PTSD. This post in particular has given me some powerful insight, and perhaps a method to cope. I am not a war vet. I am the survivor of a rape that occurred more than twenty years ago. Five years after the rape occurred, my wonderful hubby - then boyfriend - convinced me to try to get help for what I was going through. Unfortunately, the therapist I went to handled things in probably the worst possible way. In the very first session I was told I had PTSD with very little explaination of what it was (so I concluded that I was a nutjob). I was told point blank in that first session that I would have to discuss the details of the rape with him in order to get better. Still in the first session, I resisted this idea, and was told he'd schedule me for an appointment next week. If I wanted to ever get better, I'd be there. The second and third sessions entailed exactly what he said they would - focus on reliving the event. No repoir had been established; no sense of trust. He was pushy and intrusive to get to "the core" of what was bothering me. I went into a tailspin almost as if I'd been raped a second time. After the third session, I never went back. Since then, I've dealt with this garbage in my own way. I'm fortunate to have the help of a wonderful loving hubby who has patiently helped me through. Until recently, I'd gone for years with very limited symptoms (which, for me include nightmares and flashbacks, among others). Unfortunately, I recently had something occur that has triggered these symptoms again. Though they're nowhere near the severity that they once were, I went for such a long time with NO symptoms, that I'm finding these very frustrating. I've debated counseling again, but realistically, just can't bring myself to do it, so I'm looking for other ways to cope. Your artical might be just what I need. I'm looking for other resources as well, particularly online, and would welcome any suggestions or insight that you might have. Thank you for the work you do, Patience. ~Clair

  8. For Clair: is a woman owned foundation which keeps a list of therapists who would not be like that jerk.
    You might also try the local crisis center/victim services. In Gainesville Florida they have groups for sexual assault survivors which are open to people no matter how long ago it happened.
    The man you went to was an IDIOT, and not typical of counselors. I recommend interviewing several counselors and asking what experience they have had with rape survivors and how they proceed in therapy. Someone who is nasty and bossy, you just say no thanks. When you find someone you fit with, then you proceed. It will hurt, but you survived the rape and you can survive therapy.
    Two relatively quick and non-intrusive therapies are EMDR and TIR (traumatic incident reduction) which you can google to find practitioners.
    Please also go to and read the free handouts. I know I reviewed at least on book called Recovering from Rape in either the first or second issue of the PT Gazettte.
    I will post my article from the Post-Traumatic Gazette on sexuality.

    Hope this helps. I will also post this on the Blog as an answer to your comment. Thank you for the kind words.

  9. difficult to get treatment of PTSD when u have absolutely no memory of "the" event and triggers are all drs, hospitals,lawyers,courthouses, even the written word causes violent reactions.