I attended a conference this week where we were led through a guided meditation to help us learn to cope with PTSD. While we did some basic yoga breathing exercises with the meditation, the guide told us to allow ourselves to go to that place where we felt safe, secure and happy in the past and then to stay there a while, in that memory. I found myself traveling back 40 years to when I owned my first horse, Koko. She was a huge bay mare, 16 hands high, with golden dapples on her sides. She was, I believe, part Tennessee Walker and part draft horse. She was gentle, fun to ride, and she was my best friend. I was surprised at the warmth of the memory I found from that long ago.
As the meditation ended, I found myself quite surprised that this was the memory I most associated with safety and happiness. I would have thought that a more current memory would have come to mind, but as I sat and thought more about it, I realized that this was the first time in my life I had felt safe. When I was riding Koko, no harm could come to me, or at least that’s how I felt.
Those years are long gone now, but it was so pleasurable returning to that memory that I’m sure I’ll be revisiting it soon. With PTSD, we don’t often allow ourselves to let down our guard long enough to revive old, happy memories like that. I want to do it more often. I don’t want to lose the memory of that joy and contentment. It made a believer out of me as far as meditation goes. I hope you’ll find a similar memory to revisit soon.
I’ve noticed that sometimes those of us with PTSD tend to take on the title of victim as a defining term for who we are. We wear our pain like a badge of courage, and use our experiences as an excuse for not having a more fulfilling life. For example, I was brought up in a very violent family. My siblings grew up in the same environment, and there is a great difference in how we internalized similar experiences.
One of my siblings used drugs as a way of easing the pain. Another fell back on her past as an excuse every time she failed. I looked at it as the perfect bad example! It was a way of life I would never inflict on anyone else. I believe two of my siblings learned to depend on pity and sympathy related to how we were raised as a way of explaining or excusing their failures. The problem is, once we are adults, it’s really no longer a valid excuse.
I’m a firm believer that if you don’t like who you are today, you can start changing yourself with your next breath. I choose to not play the role of victim. I choose instead to say, Yes, I have PTSD, but it’s not going to be the entire definition of who I am throughout my life. I may have had a poor childhood, but that’s no excuse for who I am today. I’ve had plenty of time to learn who I want to be and to work towards that.
As a child, I lived in a war zone. I was subjected to brutal force, and I have PTSD as a result. If I choose those experiences as defining who I am, I may never realize my full potential as an adult. I choose not to be a victim any longer. I still have PTSD, but I won’t willingly carry the pain, the warped self-image, and the excuse of what happened to me into my future. It is my future and my abuser has no claim on who I am now. I don’t diminish my experiences or the damage inflicted on me. I simply acknowledge that although that happened in my past, I won’t give it any additional power. I won’t be a victim forever. I choose to leave the past in the past. I’m happy with that decision…I can live with it.
The Veterans History Project (VHP) of the Library of Congress American Folklife Center is an oral history program that collects and preserves the first-hand interviews of America’s wartime veterans. VHP relies on volunteers, both individuals and organizations, throughout the nation to contribute veterans’ stories to VHP. In addition to audio- and video-recorded interviews, VHP accepts memoirs, collections of original photographs and letters, diaries, maps, and other historical documents from World War I through current conflicts.
The VHP collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war.
The Project collects first-hand accounts of U.S. Veterans from the following wars:
• World War I (1914-1920)
• World War II (1939-1946)
• Korean War (1950-1955)
• Vietnam War (1961-1975)
• Persian Gulf War (1990-1995)
• Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts (2001-present)
In addition, those U.S. citizen civilians who were actively involved in supporting war efforts (such as war industry workers, USO workers, flight instructors, medical volunteers, etc.) are also invited to share their valuable stories.
View and print the The Field Kit (for interviews) and Memoir Guidelines at: http://www.loc.gov/vets. You may also order a printed version by sending an email to email@example.com or by calling 888-371-5848 (please allow 2 to 4 weeks for delivery).