Five Vietnam and one Iraq veteran with PTSD faced their deepest fears and inspired each other to open their hearts, conquer their fears and find themselves in the process: Allen L Roland
The first meeting of the Healing The Wounded Heart Veterans Workshop #5 was held on January 21, 2011 at 11 AM in Alamo, California at the private residence of one of the participants ~ because the VA will still not officially sanction a heart centered approach to working with veterans with PTSD. As such, various veterans’ organizations, foundations and American Legion posts are funding this incredibly important work.
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 licensed psychotherapist but also a former active duty Naval aviator ~ and that made a big difference in trusting me as their coach for this journey to open their closed hearts and finally come home from Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.
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 ~ quite often because of deep unworthiness issues that originally started in childhood and were reinforced through their military experience. Some of their other symptoms were Trouble falling or staying asleep, nightmares and disturbing dreams, avoidance, emotionally numb, feeling irritable or angry outbursts, intrusive thoughts and memories, being super alert watchful or on guard, fear of intimacy and almost constant emotional pain even to the point of suicide.
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 and reconnecting to loved ones and thus enabling them to deal with their issues from a place of acceptance and gratitude ~ which obviously 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 they now want to heal. Band of Brothers #5 generally was no different in that they all wanted to finally come home from Vietnam and Iraq.
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 started to briefly share 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 begin to see their war experience as part of that journey.
The Life chart is a wonderful vehicle to self acceptance and compassion for themselves ~ for in the process of 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 which is precisely what happened in Band of brothers #5.
Chuck wrote in his post workshop evaluation that it was the most enjoyable aspect of the sessions ~ “ Life chart was number #1 ~ the group sharing their life experiences and coach Allen doing a great job of keeping us ‘ on-the-field’ and ‘off-the-sidelines’. His book RADICAL THERAPY is an integral part of the solution and was an important tool for all of us. I am grateful for receiving all the insights and benefits and life experiences of all the participants of this workshop.”
Chuck was the first to share his life chart with the group and then 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.
After sharing their individual life charts, they did the Victim /Accountability exercise in session three ~ where they all had the chance to feel the lightness and joy of being accountable versus the heaviness and sadness 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.
It was during this exercise that Abraham became the poster boy for Band of Brothers #5 by completely surrendering to his deep seeded anger, rage and body shaking hatred towards his past girlfriend, who left him while he was in Iraq, and then, with my coaching, took total accountability for his deep pain, realizing she could not have been any different than the way she was and that she was gift in his life ~ and immediately burst through his dark tunnel of resentment and anger and then exploded into almost uncontrollable laughter and began weeping in joy. That was it ~ he had emerged from his self imposed cocoon of fear and soon shared with us how everything looked different and that he couldn’t stop smiling which remained the case for the remainder of the sessions. Abraham wrote in his evaluation that this was the major fear he overcame in this workshop ~ “ My being in a cocoon of fear, anger and resentment and finally bursting out of it ~ I’m a different person now, I smile a lot more and everybody has noticed the change.”
Abraham’s obvious joy inspired the whole group to take this all important step in finding their authentic and joyful self. Most of them had resentment issues with parents or ex-loves or wives and their homework was to take them all off the hook and see them instead as gifts on the path of their heart. Once that happened they were ready to finally meet the emotionally lost child within themselves ~ which is precisely what happened in session four.
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 in their lives now. Their faces literally changed and became younger as they made that inner connection ~ they were 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?
Surrender to yourself
Believe in me
Is there joy beneath my pain?
Yes! ( that was the answer for all of them )
What’s my next step?
Surrender, go with the flow
Let go, surrender
Surrender, let’s visit
Get out of your cocoon
Open your heart
What’s the most important advice you can give me?
Let down your guard
Own your joy
Stay with me
Meeting the child within was a game changing event for all of them especially Adrian who wrote in his post workshop evaluation ~ “The most meaningful aspect of the workshop was meeting the inner child and surrendering to love ~ which were two things that I thought might be an illusion ~ silly me! “
Gary also thought it was the most meaningful ~ “ Discovering that each of us possesses a rare and genuine inner self and that negative and anti-social behavior ( that once troubled and frustrated myself ) is actually the end result of a lifetime of ego protection in reaction to the outside influences of others ~ my fear of opening up to strangers is now gone “
The 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.
This exercise really touched Roger who leaped on the homework to fully open his heart and emerge from his cocoon of fear and is still thanking people who have touched him in his life ~ “I learned that my fear has held me in a holding pattern most of my life but I’ve now learned to listen to myself inside ~ that little guy with the happy face.”
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 and they were seeing through different eyes ~ which Abraham and Chuck merrily confirmed each remaining session.
Soon they were at session eight and celebrating the completion of a successful mission to open their hearts and find themselves in the process. The ultimate fire fight as Adrian confirmed is the battle with fear on the inner journey to open the heart and the last step is always the same ~ surrender and let go to the joyful magnificence of yourself and all of them had succeeded.
Doug, the gentle giant, closed our last celebration session ~ with many of the past Band of Brothers attending, but his comments on his post workshop evaluation probably summed up the feelings of band of brothers #5 ~ regarding Did the workshop meet your expectations ?
Doug answered ~ “ Yes, it more than met my expectations ~ it changed my expectations. “
What personal changes have you overcome from this workshop?
Doug answered ~ “My compassion for others is overcoming my fear and mistrust. I have opened my heart and gained an appreciation for myself at the same time ~ I have progressed further in this eight week workshop than I have in 25 years of on and off again private therapy.”
Doug has finally come home from Vietnam and the miracle of heart centered self healing became obvious again for there can be no true healing without the heart ~ which is precisely what happened with Band of Brothers #5. The gift I gave them was myself ~ not being afraid of their pain or anger and totally owning the joy of who I am and what I know and caring enough to not let them settle for less than all of themselves.
Roger thought it was what he enjoyed most about the workshop ~ “ The gift was you, Allen ~ you are so full of life, love and truth. It helped push me to surrender and break down the walls inside of me and find the joyful little boy. “
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 Almon Bundy, Band of brothers #1, for coordinating post workshop support groups as well as workshop funding.
I can’t wait for Band of Brothers #6
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