For warriors with combat post traumatic stress words do not come easy.
Creating art, or writing poetry, are good ways to release some of the demons while we are waiting for the words to come. “Waiting for the words to come” isn’t discussed much with PTSD, but it is very important to recovery.
When warriors first return from combat they may relate a combat experience to someone. When warriors describe an event it is done in a sterile, fact-based, monotone voice. There is no emotional connection to the words. This is the style of an after action report; a style warriors adopt to keep the pain away.
Combat survivors may talk about an event once or twice with a civilian in this “after action” manner, but a combat survivor learns quickly that this factual description may actually scare civilians. Even worse is the civilian who finds some vicarious thrill in a description and wants to hear “war stories.”
Combat survivors work very hard to control their feelings. If these feelings ever get loose the warrior knows that the pain and anguish will be too much to bear.
Occasionally combat survivors will talk about their experiences with other survivors. The military uses the phrase “situation awareness.” For a warrior this is short hand for being totally present, aware, reacting, and moving without conscious, linear thought during combat.
An incident and the warrior’s reaction to it all happen “at once.” Every physical sense of a survivor is engaged in the moment. Another combat survivor doesn’t just “hear” the description. S/he knows all the unspoken sensations that go with the words.
One of the most profound changes that occur to a warrior during combat is the brain ripping realization that linear time is too slow for combat. Survival in combat requires the radical transition from the cultural assumption that time is linear, to the “all at once” dimension of nonlinear time. This is a form of “cultural displacement” that we will talk more about later.
Hypervigilance, as part of post traumatic stress, is a manifestation of the nonlinear time that is essential to survive in combat. One reason that combat survivors can share events and incidents with each other is that the other person also “lives” in nonlinear time
During recovery from post traumatic stress living in non-linear time is a key element for combat survivors and their loved ones to understand.
When a survivor initially tries to speak about the trauma of combat the words are linear, one after another. The profound all inclusive “knowing” of combat becomes just words that become just sentences. A few words come out and then the words stop. The words are not the event. The words are sequential, one after another,linear.
At the beginning of recovery we have no way to say, convey, talk, or communicate our experience as warriors. We are creatures of the never-land of non-linear time. In the beginning our words are meaningless, especially to us as combat survivors. We know that lives and lifetimes come and go in the time between spoken words.
The concept of non-linear time is very important for spouses and loved ones to understand. Quite literally you and your combat survivor spouse may no longer speak the same language. The words you speak may be the same. The context of the words is radically different
This difference is not terminal. It is just the way things are at the beginning of recovery combat survivors.
There are forms of non-verbal expression that can be very helpful for combat survivors…art,exercise,poetry,dance,yoga,transcendental meditation…. What these forms of expression have in common is that they are extraordinarily expressive, and require no words.
In the beginning warriors have no context for talking about their experience. For a combat survivor linear sequential words are trivia. This is one of the primary double binds for warriors: Information without context is trivia. Life is not a trivial pursuit.