Dealing with any form of trauma or PTSD is like a dance. Three steps forward and one step backwards is the constant cycle. Some cycles we seem to just be spinning in circles. However, I know that Jason is genuine in his pursuit to be better because the motion is always forward. In order to stay in constant forward motion, we battle PTSD from many angles. It is a multi-faceted injury and must be approached as such.
It isn’t like one day we figured out he had PTSD and he just got better. It is still an uphill climb to overcome the injury. We don’t view PTSD as an illness to cover and conceal. We see it as an injury that needs to be healed. There is no one special key that unlocked to door for his healing process. It has been many consecutive steps forward over the course of three years to get to the place where we are today. Mind you, today is not a day where he is 100% healed. Today is a day that we are aware of his triggers, the causes, and the elements that aid in healing and relief. Today is a day that requires a lot of work. Every. Day.
Just like the old saying goes, the first step is admitting there is a problem. In our case, this meant that I had to admit it as well. Once I recognized that the person I kissed goodbye was not the same as the one I welcomed home, we could become a team to conquer it together. In my previous post (http://www.themotorhomemomma.com/index.php/2017/01/04/the-red-curtain-pt2/) I address how our first and most productive step was dealing with his physical health through herbal medicine. Once his physical health was not as significant of a trigger, we could start checking items off the list.
The second component to healing Jason physically was exercise and eating right. If you are going to flush toxins out of your system by taking expensive herbal supplements, you bet I am going to shove as much organic and healthy food down your throat as possible. Those herbs had a purpose and flushing out build-up from chemical ridden fruits and veggies wasn’t it! For a long time he found stress reliever in the form of running. Let me tell you, that man can run. He once described it as punishing himself. It bothered me at first to hear him say that, but then I really began to understand how the feeling of physical suffering through exercise helped him give a physical form to the mental hurdles he was trying to overcome. If he lashed out in anger, going on a 7 mile run was a way to work through the emotions of doing so and process it. He also began riding a road bike. Most every weekend he would go on a 20-30 mile bike ride around town. We are not perfect in our exercise goals, so there were also cycles to this. Holidays and vacations would start a lapse of exercise and we could both feel the effects. After about 2 years of trying to stay physically fit, the best stress relief outlet came into our lives- Muay Thai.
Martial arts has been a huge contributor to PTSD success rates in so many cases for Veterans. Brazilian Jiu-Jitzu, Muay Thai, Krav Maga… they are all excellent form of stress relief. Maybe it is the aspect of combat or pain, but it really seemed to click with Jason. It also fuels Jason’s need to be prepared for, “the fight that never comes.” If you have ever been with someone who deals with PTSD or any type of hyper-vigilance, you know what I mean. It is the type of person who chooses a seat in a restaurant or venue with their back to the wall and a full view of the entire building. Who contemplates in their mind where they might go if an attack occurred where they were. Most people don’t think this way because it is easier to not accept that this is in fact the world we live in. However, these people have seen it first hand and know the possibility of it happening is real. Training in a martial art gives this type of person the needed skill set to defend themselves and their family should the worst occur. He is always motivated to go to gym because it serves another purpose than just physical exercise. It fills a need and a void. Now, don’t misunderstand, he isn’t going into a gym and sparring and fighting everyday. It’s training. It’s technique. It’s strategy. Martial arts is just as big of a mental fight as it is physical.
I think one reason he has found success in Muay Thai is greatly due to our instructor, Kru Pong. He holds you accountable and if you show promise and a good work ethic, he will train you up to completely fill your potential. When you miss a class, you feel like you are letting him down. If you eat unhealthy and stray from a healthy lifestyle, he will not only recognize it in a heartbeat, but he will call you out on it just as quickly. He cares about his students and bends over backwards to help them succeed. I have heard countless testimonials of his former and current students and how his attitude and vigilance literally saved their life from physical and mental ailments alike.
We have been in a pretty good place combining physical stress relief through exercise, a healthy lifestyle and diet, and herbal supplements to cleanse his system of the previous toxins. However, there was one key element that put all these pieces together to function properly. That last missing piece to the puzzle was God.
(I know, some of you are rolling your eyes and ready to close out this page with no desire to read further, but give me a chance. This isn’t a preaching session. I will not be chasing you down with holy water and beat you with the cross. If my religion isn’t for you, I respect that. However, if you’ve ever wondered how God can transform your life, we are a great example.)
I grew up Christian and attended a Lutheran Church through most of my childhood. Jason had less of a background in religion as a child. He talked to me previously about the few times he prayed while he was deployed and when he felt he experienced divine intervention. However, he had no desire to actively seek God until he found himself working for a new company that was very religiously based. It sparked many conversations between us. About what religion should be, and also what religion should not be. How God’s presence was already enriching our family and children. How everything seemed to becoming clear. How 2 years of hurt and struggle were starting to make sense. We were able to start seeking God together. We agreed that Church did not define our relationship with God, but was a great place to deepen our faith. After a few months of strengthening our relationship with God on our own, we began attending a church locally.
Through this church, we were given so many additional tools to strengthen our fight against Jason’s anger and hurdles. He began attending weekly meetings at another church called “The Gaurdians.” This group was made of law enforcement, fire fighters, and military members both retired and active who got together for camaraderie, company, and to pray for one another. This group was so instrumental in Jason realizing that others fought the same battles.
Numerous classes and workshops are always offered to help better understand some of life’s trials and the issues we may experience. These classes give us the tools we need to not only process our circumstances, but how to come out of them stronger.
Our last motorcycle riding trip of the season was planned last minute and a bit spontaneous. Of course, it’s always those last minute trips that always seem to go awry. Driving up a pretty big incline on the 14 freeway, a car drives by honking at us and alerts us that there is water leaking from the back of the motorhome. We say thanks and keep driving. Are we dumb? No. Our water tank is located at the rear of the motorhome and when completely full for a big trip, it leaks. Especially when driving uphill. So, we weren’t concerned at all and thought we’d double check when it was safe to do so. However, before we could reach a safe spot, there came a large explosion and black smoke came pouring through the vents and the engine compartment. We both jumped up and ran back to our girls. Our smarty pants kids were already getting unbuckled and staying pretty collected for thinking their motorhome may be on fire. Just as we rushed to the door, Jason smelt radiator fluid and we realized we weren’t on fire. Which was pretty good news in itself. The next 6 hours consisted of sitting on the side of a few roads, Jason fixing the issue (which ended up being minor and under $100 to fix), and walking to get the girls some ice cream as a treat while everything cooled off. Now, if this scary experience had occurred 2 years ago, it would have gone down quite differently. Jason would have been mad. Not inconvenienced and frustrated, I mean angry. The kind of angry where all of a sudden I, as a wife, can do nothing right. Where the kids becoming bored and impatient isn’t understandable but down right intolerable. The girls and I would have been the scapegoats for a circumstance beyond anyone’s control. However, that is not the man Jason was that day. He didn’t show anger or even frustration. He didn’t yell. He didn’t curse. He even mentioned being thankful that it wasn’t worse. And then, when everything was fixed, before we drove off, he asked if we could all hold hands and pray. Pray to say thanks for protecting us from the many harms that could have been. From preventing the damage from being worse. And to ask to continue to be with us as we finished the drive. In this moment I knew that God was working in our life to help Jason in ways that nothing else could.
Our relationship with God also gives us a place to go for answers when the cycle of fighting PTSD takes a step backwards. On the hard days, we both pray like crazy and use the tools we’ve been given to communicate with each other. Making him aware of situations in which he is allowing his anger to take control is a huge step in communication and working on the problem. Before, if I should mention that he was over reacting or not expressing himself appropriately, I put a big huge target on my head. The same went for anyone else who was offended or disagreed with his actions. While he may not like hearing it in the moment, he can now appreciate my honesty and see it as an attempt to help, not picking a fight.
Of course, there will be some that say the same results can be achieved through therapy and intense work. And that may very well be true. However, that isn’t our journey. Just as PTSD effects every person differently, the solution will also be different for each person. Jason and I continue to use God’s word and messages to push forward. He is there when we feel weak and faulted. We find strength in following his guidance together.