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Recovering from PTSD. Sebastian Junger’s new book Tribe

Sebastian Junger. Twitter
A reader thoughtfully responds to my blog post about Sebastian Junger’s new book Tribe, which is about how soldiers with PTSD do better when they have a tribe to return to, and how our society is so fractured and at war with itself now it’s increasingly hard to find such tribes. The reader, who helps people recover from PTSD, doesn’t disagree with that, but says it may be more than that.

I think in some cultures the tribe is already there. A Hawaiian musician, whose name I currently can’t remember, says he was raised in an extended family, didn’t know who his birth parents were until he was 18, and it didn’t make any difference. If he came back from the military with PTSD, his tribe would be there for him.

Maybe that’s Junger’s real point, most of us no longer have tribes. And our culture and society is at war with itself.

Reader RequestingQuiet says:

First, disclosure, I have not read the book. I coach/help as I can with people who are surviving PTSD. My definition of a “survivor” is someone who is still alive. Generally speaking I strongly disagree with the premise that our overly-self absorbed society is whats “wrong” with the survivors of PTSD returning to society in the USA. I don’t disagree with the idea that a well connected family/village would decrease the time required to heal/recovery/integrate for the survivor. I will attempt to simplify my proofs the best I can.

PTSD is a shortcut of learned behavior to avoid death. When any semi-sentient being is in a context through time where they have to consider if their context will kill them today, after lunch, in a minute, etc an emergency response builds up in that sentient or semi-sentient being to remove as much cognizant processing as possible so the body can act-now, think later.

An easy way to appreciate this is with the idea of pressure. If everyday you have to put on a kevlar vest, a helmet and strap on your gas mask before rolling off your sleeping bag – that is a pressure that the average non-survivor in The West doesn’t experience. If you must repeat those behaviors enough, that “pressure” becomes normal. Your internal pushback to that pressure has adapted to that level of pressure. Your coping responses will reflect that pressure with your peers. You “play rough” and “talk tough” as a way to decompress just like all the other survivors you are surviving with.

THEN

You return home (to the US or some part of Western Society). My guesstimate is that for every second you spend in a context of fearing-for-my-life – you require 10-20 minutes of decompression. Normal people who have a traumatic fright – might take anywhere from 5-30 minutes to calm down, so my 10-20 minutes per second spent in “the shit” is based on measurable responses.

The premise about a well connecting/connected family/group isn’t false, but the amount of safe-persons and PTSD-aware non-traumatized sentient and semi-sentient beings (service dogs and other animals that help)required to accelerate the overall decompression of the survivor would probably be at least twice as large as the “Tribe” the survivor survived with. Lets start with a number like 40 – that is 4 squads of 10 in-harms-way. So we double that number because you have to compensate for all the PC and I’m-a-victim-because-I’m-bored non-traumatized participants of society. There is the initial Tribe so you know you are safe then there is the new Tribe to help you adapt. So lets say 80 people.

Who is going to find that 80 people for a human being that is so wound up that he’s looking for booby traps in the men’s room of a fast food joint? Here is the bottomline. The government is responsible for a great deal more than just the “heroes” PTSD and if they are not careful every person who REALLY has PTSD from surviving the 20th century where beating your kids and wife was a SOP and then all the millennials who’ve survived the pre-internet parents who achieved complete disassociation by the age of 30 – a larger number than would be convenient would all need about 80 people at least for a few years to begin to achieve functionality to a degree of personal self-awareness and appropriate responses to being triggered.

Even if we just focus on the “heroes” PTSD – the reality check is that the politicians and desk-commanders that sent those human beings into harms way ALREADY KNEW how many of them would come back like recovering (but not really) meth burnouts looking for jobs with tools they could beat someone to death with.

Last thought for now. If the chain-of-command leads all the way back to a Secretary of some-armed-forces-branch and even the President, then when even 1% of the PTSD survivors harm people/things after returning as a direct response to surviving death in a death zone – who is really responsible for those human beings achieving that state and helping them heal from that state. If you have to acquire a license to drive a car, shouldn’t you have to demonstrate social functionality before you can come back and get married and have kids and get a job and join clubs…I have no disrespect for the men and women who choose that life, but I don’t believe there is any real profit for the people sending them “over there” to fix them or help them before they bring them back “here”.

When I work with someone surviving PTSD I start with acceptance. Acceptance is a powerful path to peace. I don’t mean acquiescence when I use the word acceptance, I mean seeing a situation, a person or anything else FOR WHAT IT REALLY IS instead of projecting your desperate needs and unrealistic hopes onto the disassociated world around you.

Last last thought (sorry) the only victims are dead people, everyone else survives to adapt and carry on. This limited view of “victims” doesn’t mean I or the idea lacks empathy or sympathy, but the question begs – how long will you identify with being a victim before you start doing something about your condition – whatever that maybe. The challenge with the victim mindset for PTSD survivors is if they cling to each other – they may not get better, they may only reinforce (trigger) each other into frenzied states.

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