What do I know about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? Quite a lot, but not from the perspective of a sufferer, though PTSD is a subtle beast and how do I know that it is not a root cause of some of my more irritating behaviors? I don’t know, and what’s more, it doesn’t matter. I can, and so can you, modify my behavior by training; we all believe in the power of training our body to do things that previously we could not. In like manner we can train our mind. Lest you are tempted to think, “you aren’t suffering, how can you be so cavalier about training my mind not to suffer?” More to the point, I counter with, “who best to teach another fat person to be slim, the person who remains fat, or the former fat person who is now slim?”
I was an infantry soldier in Vietnam, and was transferred to the medical corps when it was discovered that my college degree was psychology (pretty much worthless, but only I knew that). For 10 months I suffered with, counseled and evaluated the mental fitness (for combat) of the most extreme cases of “combat fatigue”, what we call today ptsd. That term was unknown back in 1969. They were still calling it “shell shock.” My predecessor in this job, more educated in psychology than I was, became drug addicted and shell shocked himself over the stress, and not just of who he was dealing with. I quickly discovered that there were some among my patients who had a very direct way of making their displeasure known, if they didn’t agree with my certifying their mental fitness for return to their units (everyone who I saw wanted out of combat, understandably so). At night, sometimes even in daylight, they would come hunting, with the express purpose of shooting me. Given that everyone was armed, even the quasi medical personnel like me–where we were attacks were frequent–“blowing me away” would not have been difficult. Other than changing my sleeping quarters randomly, posting lookouts and being very alert, there wasn’t much I could do.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was training my mind to accept the realities of my situation and let go of worrying about the “what-ifs”, controlling what I could and deciding to endure what I had to. Deciding was the important point. Perhaps that cast of mind was responsible for my lack of ptsd. I don’t know. But if you are willing to believe you can train your mind, please read on.
This Charles Spurgeon meditation is the best idea I have ever seen for curing post traumatic stress disorder, which is really reliving an unpleasant memory over and over. As Spurgeon says, such memories “may be trained.”
“This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope.” Lamentations 3:21
Memory is frequently the bond slave of despondency. Despairing minds call to remembrance every dark foreboding in the past, and dilate upon every gloomy feature in the present; thus memory, clothed in sackcloth, presents to the mind a cup of mingled gall and wormwood. There is, however, no necessity for this. Wisdom can readily transform memory into an angel of comfort. That same recollection which in its left hand brings so many gloomy omens, may be trained to bear in its right a wealth of hopeful signs. She need not wear a crown of iron, she may encircle her brow with a fillet of gold, all spangled with stars. Thus it was in Jeremiah’s experience: in the previous verse memory had brought him to deep humiliation of soul: “My soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me;” and now this same memory restored him to life and comfort. “This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope.” Like a two-edged sword, his memory first killed his pride with one edge, and then slew his despair with the other. As a general principle, if we would exercise our memories more wisely, we might, in our very darkest distress, strike a match which would instantaneously kindle the lamp of comfort. There is no need for God to create a new thing upon the earth in order to restore believers to joy; if they would prayerfully rake the ashes of the past, they would find light for the present; and if they would turn to the book of truth and the throne of grace, their candle would soon shine as aforetime. Be it ours to remember the lovingkindness of the Lord, and to rehearse his deeds of grace. Let us open the volume of recollection which is so richly illuminated with memorials of mercy, and we shall soon be happy. Thus memory may be, as Coleridge calls it, “the bosom-spring of joy,” and when the Divine Comforter bends it to his service, it may be chief among earthly comforters.
The greatest enemy of peace of mind is resistance to believing it is possible for you.