Four more Vietnam and Iraq veterans, all with PTSD, faced their inner fears and not only opened their hearts but found and began to heal themselves in only eight weeks : Allen L Roland
The first meeting of the Healing The Wounded Heart Veterans Workshop #4 was held on January 3, 2011 at 11 AM in Yountville, California . They had never met me but they had been told about me, by their adjustment counselor Sal, and were prepared for an eight week commitment to face their fears and open their hearts in the process. They knew I was a former active duty Naval aviator and that made a big difference.
All of them had many symptoms of PTSD and even TBI but all had the common symptom of a closed heart and the inability to love and receive love ~ mainly because of deep unworthiness issues that originally started in childhood and were reinforced through their military experience.
A typical Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan Veteran with PTSD had an innocent childhood and somewhat troubled adolescence before they were either drafted or joined the military ~ quite often as their only choice. In the service they either saw or participated in events that reinforced their unworthiness issues and hardened their hearts to the extent that they lost their innocence. When they return home they have difficulty in maintaining loving relationships because of these unworthiness issues and retreat into themselves ~ quite often escaping their aloneness through alcohol, drugs or anti-social behavior. A heart centered approach connects them to their core innocence by opening their hearts thus enabling them to deal with their issues from a place of acceptance and gratitude ~ which starts with themselves. Once they know that love and joy is deepest within them ~ they can better deal with their emotional as well as physical wounds including PTSD because now they want to heal. Band of Brothers #4 generally was no different.
I told them that this was an action based workshop and if they did their homework they would reach a place of not only another choice but would open their closed hearts in the process. They would also begin to see through different eyes ~ eyes unclouded by fear, resentment and unworthiness. I also explained through my Cycle Of Life chart how psychic pain will override Joy to the extent that most people have no idea that beneath their deepest pain and aloneness is love, joy and connectedness ~ the Unified field .
After each session ~ part of their homework was to read each session in my book RADICAL THERAPY / SURRENDER TO LOVE AND HEAL YOURSELF IN SEVEN SESSIONS ( NOT SEVEN YEARS ) which reinforced the previous session with additional exercises and a pertinent story. In essence, I build a safe haven for them to become completely vulnerable and explore and connect with their deepest feelings. My role is that of their coach, versus therapist, who is guiding them to the real coach ~ themselves!
Of course, in that first session I shared my own heart’s journey or quest to find a lost and alone little boy within myself who not only wanted to fly, and became a Navy Fighter pilot, but also to love as deeply as I loved my beloved grandfather before I was torn away from him at six years old ~ emotionally shutting down my deepest feelings and became something other than myself in order to survive. We briefly talked about the war and all of them briefly shared their heart’s journey and by the end of two hours ~ they began to feel a sense of commonality and purpose. Their homework was to produce a life chart of the path of their individual heart’s journey ~ which they would share with the group over the next two sessions. The purpose of the life chart is to see their life as a quest versus a struggle to find their authentic loving self ~ and their war experience as part of that journey.
The second session, over the next two weeks, was where they all began to share a childhood picture of themselves as well as share their life charts with the group describing their individual journeys to find love and acceptance as well as themselves. We briefly discussed their war experience but they quickly realized their deeper commonality ~ in that their lives had all been a quest to find meaning and that all of their love relationships had significant meaning regardless of how they turned out. I also helped each one of them find that checkout point in their childhood where they closed their hearts and decided to withhold love from those closest to them. The Life chart is a wonderful vehicle to self acceptance and compassion for themselves ~ for in sharing their life chart with the group and others they are taking a major step of letting people into their self imposed cocoon of aloneness and realizing, perhaps for the first time, that they are capable of being loved and understood. They also inspire each other to take greater risks in revealing themselves.
After sharing their individual life charts, they did the Victim /Accountability exercise in session three ~ where they had the chance to feel the lightness of being accountable versus the heaviness of being a victim. Their homework was to take the people they had resentment towards off the hook and to realize that many of them they had deeply loved and were really gifts in their lives. This is when Barton had a powerful dream where he heard a voice telling him to Forgive himself and that he is ready to claim himself. Clifford also felt the inner lightness of accountability versus the heaviness of being a victim and wrote in his evaluation ~ “ I felt like a ton of bricks has been taken off my shoulders ~ mentally I can now think of the future and more important things in my life instead of dwelling in the past.”
Most of them had resentment issues with parents or ex-loves or wives and their homework was to take them off the hook and see them instead as gifts on the path of their heart. Once that has happened they are ready to finally meet the emotionally lost child within themselves.
The fourth session they met the child within by means of a powerful guided image visualization. Every one of them saw that long lost innocent child who told them what they needed to do to fully embrace him/her in their lives now. Their faces literally changed and became younger as they made that inner connection ~ it was like long dormant flowers suddenly blooming. I was moved almost to tears to see these Veterans suddenly claim their joy and innocence after years of self doubt and despair. Here’s some of the comments they heard from that child with the question being ~ What do I need to do to fully embrace you in my life? Be honest with yourself Be yourself Forget the past and surrender to me Open your heart and surrender Another question to the child was ~ What’s the most important advice you can give me now? Enjoy your life ~ it’s your turn! Be yourself at all risks Walk your walk and talk your talk Accept yourself and be honest.
Clifford was very moved by this exercise ~ “I feel the love and joy of that little boy. I can now face my fears and be my true self. I will never be alone again. I will never say no to life again.” Jesus said almost the same thing in his evaluation “ I felt the negativity and alienation I felt my whole life being swept away for the first time in my life” and Barton wrote “ I really liked meeting the little boy “ T
he Fifth session, one week later, was all about gratefulness and thanking the people who have been there for them their whole life ~ with the help of a guided visualization. Many of them had virtually not thanked anyone and certainly not themselves. That was their homework. As they did that their hearts began to fully open because gratefulness is the lifeblood of soul consciousness and is the only antidote for unworthiness.
By now the Band of Brothers were inspiring each other on their common journey through fear ~ they were beyond the point of no return. Their homework was to thank at least 25 people who had touched them before the next session. We still hadn’t dwelled on the war for there was no need to. Their war experience was now a stepping stone versus an obstacle on their path to self healing. They were already healing themselves by taking responsibility for love and sharing their gratefulness with others ~ their hearts had opened.
The sixth session, one week later, was the Death Exercise where the group, through a visualization, was guided in a profound death exercise which helped them to experience the degree to which the people closest to them really knew them. The exercise actually simulates your death and the resultant shock of knowing that you did not truly share yourself with the people closest to you or that very few people really knew you. Obviously, it is a strong inner stimulus to open your heart with the people closest to you ~ and that was their homework to accomplish with the five people closest to them before the next session.
The seventh session, one week later, reinforced that we are continually being called from within to the path of the heart, but few listen and fewer still respond. It is in this session that they understand that they have all been called to the inner journey of the soul (through Love) versus the outer journey of the ego ( through Fear ). This session ended with a visualization exercise in which they realize that the most precious gift they have always wanted is themselves ~ free from being controlled by fear. This is precisely what Barton related to in his answer to this question in the final evaluation ~ Did you 0vercome any fears in this workshop? To which Barton answered ~ “Yes I did, because my fears are just illusions and that when faced, they disappear.” Clifford replied ~ “ Yes, I learned to face my deepest fears by finding my authentic self and surrendering to love” David answered ~ “ My biggest fear has been failure and now I feel I can overcome that fear” and finally Jesus who wrote ~ “ Yes, as long as I embrace the true nature of myself I will live the remainder of my life without any fear.”
The Homework as well as ongoing homework was to share the gift of themselves with others but in the spirit of celebration ~ not deprivation. It was in that same spirit of celebration that we had our Eighth and final session where everyone acknowledged each others common journey through fear to the joy, love and light beneath. The resultant change in their demeanors was breathtaking for I literally saw a light go on within each one of them when they took responsibility for love instead of running away from it or pushing it away ~ and in the process began to heal themselves from inside out.
I was also humbled by this experience and validation of my empowering work as well as the receptivity of these veterans who obviously longed to be seen from the heart and not through eyes of fear. And we never concentrated on the war for the real war had been waged within themselves ~ and they were now victorious
Did the workshop meet their expectations? David wrote ~ “Yes, I did not know what to expect for I had never been part of a group before. It’s opened my eyes to the benefit of groups. “ Barton wrote ~“Yes, it really forced me to confront myself, my fears and the reasons for my actions. It has changed my outlook completely and I no longer live in fear and anger.” Jesus wrote “ Yes, it more than exceeded my expectations” and Clifford wrote ~ “ Yes, At first I was very apprehensive and now I’m so very grateful because without a doubt it was a life changing experience.”
The beat goes on, the Band of Brothers continues to grow ~ and I, in turn, continue to be deeply moved by the most spiritually satisfying work of my life. I’m also grateful to Sal Udea, LSW with the Concord Vets Center for not only setting up these groups but preparing these wounded warriors for this life changing heart centered work. And also Almond Bundy, Band of brothers #1, for coordinating post workshop support groups as well as workshop funding.
About the Author: Allen L Roland is a Freelance Alternative Press Online columnist and psychotherapist. Allen L Roland is also available for comments, interviews, speaking engagements and private consultations. Allen L Roland is a practicing psychotherapist, author and lecturer who also shares a daily political and social commentary on his weblog and website www.allenroland.com He also guest hosts a monthly national radio show TRUTHTALK on www.conscioustalk.net