There are a lot of flags flying today, and occasions of what I have come to think of as “solemnity porn,” involving moments of silence and the placing of floral tributes and a soulful rendition of Taps, meant to make tears well in your eyes and confer an uplifted feeling. You know the kind of thing.
There was an interesting piece in the Daily Beast a couple of days back about an overmedicated, desperate veteran who discovered — I don’t know why it surprises anyone — that marijuana relieved his post-traumatic stress when fourteen pharmacy drugs did nothing for him. He’s an activist now, staging demonstrations at Veterans’ Day parades, reminding people that “honoring the sacrifice” means nothing if you look away from the people who are still suffering, to include an appalling rate of suicides. The Department of Veterans’ Affairs apparently wants nothing to do with him and his weed, though there is a growing — pardon the expression — body of research suggesting it might be a targeted therapy.
Post-traumatic stress disorder — I prefer to call it post-traumatic stress injury, because it’s damage inflicted on a person, not something intrinsically wrong with someone’s organism — isn’t limited to people who’ve been in combat; it’s just that combat is a pretty sure-fire way to incur it. But growing up around, oh say, gang shootings, or in a household with a baby-raper, or just with a parent who brutalizes you mentally if not physically, will all do it; car crashes will do it, or the frank medical mayhem that occurs way too often in the guise of “care.” There is a lot of it out there, and it is not just an effect of war and violence but a cause of war and violence, so every single person on earth has to give a damn about it. It is a problem that exists in the body and has to be resolved in the body, and if I had my career in bodywork to start over again I might just be going to school to the people who are working with brain wave modulation and the tremor reflex and resolution of “tape-recorded” procedural memory — Peter Levine, Bessel van der Kolk, David Berceli. What does seem apparent is that the people who treat veterans or rape survivors with talking (which often just means reliving the trauma and inscribing it more deeply) and drugs (which make you numb, which PTSD does anyway) are getting it all wrong.
Then there are artificial, political conflicts that gum things up. Stress-afflicted veterans, trained fighters wired to overreact, act out and frighten their families at a disturbing rate; they end up in the legal system when what they need is informed care, connection, a way out of it. Some veterans’ and “mens’ rights” advocates appear stuck in the viewpoint that “feminists” are villains in this context for criminalizing domestic violence triggered by combat stress. I am as impatient with them — a woman has a right to protection from a violent man even if he is also a victim — as I am with the feminists who do seem convinced that only bad bad men are ever violent. (They need to meet the twelve- or even thirty-year-old me.)
Old literature majors never die, so I am glad to mention the Philoctetes Project, which gets it right.
So does Patrick Stewart. Yes, that Patrick Stewart.
Maybe we need fewer psychologists and more theater people on this problem. Or dogs.
This Veterans’ Day, I invite everyone to skip the paper poppy and instead learn enough about trauma so that the next time your vote, your advocacy or your donation can make a difference, you will know how to make it count.