Case Example 2: Life Grinds Along
PTSDebriefing.org -:- Case Narrative: Life Grinds Along; Subtle PTSD
Copyright © 2013 ASC/ Articulate Management, ntc.
Narrative by Allen Hacker
In the mid-sixties, a young man from the Phillipines joined the U.S. Navy to pay for his education and confirm his U.S. citizenship. Thirty years later, after a successful naval career and then a decade of building a thriving business, everything seemed wrong with his perfect life.
He was always frustrated, but could never settle on why. Though he never openly expressed his misery, everyone around him knew something was wrong. He couldn.t compliment people when they deserved praise or recognition without struggling to get past the negativity he felt. As he described it, it was a vague pervasive sense of nothing-right.
In looking for a pattern to his complaints, I found that most of them clustered around appearances. Not the appearances of people, but of objects. Specifically, his two remaining service stations.
He had come out of the Navy as one of maybe six co-owners of more than two dozen automobile service stations in the San Francisco Bay Area. As the former comrades in arms gradually went their separate ways, they had carved up the business, each taking either a buyout or a number of the stations. Our client separated from the group with maybe five stations, and after selling some, still had the two best money makers. Both were sources of unending dissatisfaction.
One was in an industrial district, across the street from a concrete manufacturing plant. It was a nicely-designed and perfectly maintained location with a very nice island flower garden out at the corner by the sidewalk. But he could never win the district beauty contest with it because the concrete cloud from across the street would dust his pumps within minutes of the most rigorous cleaning, and that would cause him to fail the white-glove inspection.
The other was the long-time flagship of his business. Not merely a service station, it included one of the original drive-through car washes in Northern California. It had a southwestern beam-construction style, large observation windows, and a hedge garden the length of it. Very nice. Yet no matter how hard he tried, how many lectures he gave his people, or how many employees were eventually sacrificed to it, he could never get it to be all he knew it could and should be. Thus it was that this location too, along with everyone who worked there, could not win the ultimate prize: his approval.
When I suggested to him that we consider the common complaint, that beauty seemed elusive, he was instantly interested. Over the next few hours an unexpected story emerged. However mundane it may appear to be, it explained everything.
As noted, the client had joined the Navy to get an education. He had grown up a poor boy in a poor neighborhood with no chance for school beyond the eighth grade. Yet he was an intelligent, sensitive and artistic boy who found wonder and fascination in plants. He wanted to become a horticulturist. His educational plan was to join the service and get the G.I. Bill to pay for college.
Of course the chances of the Navy needing a horticulturist are worse than slim to none, but he hadn't thought about that. He had agreed with the recruiter that the Navy was his only escape from poverty, and he took it.
Then life took over, and the Navy with it. There was a war in Southeast Asia, whose demands combined with his other aptitudes to decide what he would train to be as a sailor. Then there was the series of re-enlistments as he invested with his friends to make the money he'd need to go to college. And finally, the love and family that closed the door on taking full-time for anything but the Navy and family first and then the business later.
Along the way, somewhere unnoticed, the horticulturist he wanted had to be slipped away. Not with a bang, nor with even a whimper of sorrow. It just went invisible and stayed that way, nagging at his life from the shadows but never recognized until that day in my office.
One of the points illustrated by this case is the importance of reconstruction in achieving Resolution. We spent almost as much time recovering the dreamer of the dream as we had in identifying the lost dream itself. The client went away lighter and looking happier than I or anyone he now knew had ever seen him. And promptly forgot to come back.
Several weeks later I stopped by the car wash. The hedge garden was beautiful, but he was nowhere to be found. Very unusual: he had always been there, micromanaging everything, pushing employees back, taking over every chore himself. And now he wasn't even there. I asked his manager if he was at the other station. No, she said, he had sold it abruptly at a very reduced price to one of the old crew who had always wanted it. She said he told her the money it made was not worth the aggravation that came with it. He didn't need it anyway.
So where was he? She wasn't sure because it had been over a week since she had seen him. He had left work the day of my last session with him, telling her that everyone's job was on the line if the place didn't start looking like a photo spread out of Sunset Magazine, but also that raises would be quick to come for those who got their areas right. He'd been in once since then to inspect the results and approve the raises. And though he had threatened to drop by randomly and make sure nothing slid backwards, he had only done so one more time.
So where did she think he was? Probably, she told me, in his back yard. It was fairly large, and he'd torn up most of the lawn to lay out a natural rock and flower garden. When I got there, he was the happiest and proudest horticultural tour guide I've ever met.
Keep the remainder of the retainer, he told me. It was worth it.
At first glance this example might not seem to be a valid case of PTSD because it does not fit the accepted model. There is no moment of physical or emotional impact, no identifiable event against which to lay blame for a significant or destructive change in the client's life. Yet the cause is there. It is something even deeper and more invisible - a spiritual loss: a self slowly left unrealized and a cherished plan never quite lived.
Not all traumas occur in an instant. Sometimes there is an accumulating series of incidents within a episode, as when a prisoner is abused over many hours, days, weeks or longer. Sometimes there is no discernable incident at all, just an interminal episode, as with a lifetime of increasingly desperate poverty, or a soldier on an 87-day jungle patrol, without incident but also without sleep and drenched with fear. And sometimes, situations which are thought of as perfectly normal in everyday life can have the most destructive influences. The so-called Terrible Twos, for example, can be extremely destructive to the dreams and expectations of both the child and the parents; it's almost always a war without a winners, where the losers are seldom identified.
Too often, we dismiss these things saying, "That's life!" But that isn't life at all. It is, as Henry David Thoreau said, Quiet Desperation.
It doesn't have to be that way.
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What is PTSD?
PTSD means Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. We have discovered...
Can PTSD be cured?
Cures are for physical diseases. PTSD is not a disease, it is a spiritual affliction.
PTSD is not something that happened, or is happening, to you, it
is you still living your reaction to what happened. We help you terminate that.
What is a Stress Affect?
An affect is a taken-on or adopted behavior or personality trait.
A Stress Affect is an automatic behavior or personality trait that is adopted during an emotionally or physically intense event and
which then remains in place, driven by residual force from the event.
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"SAR" is a precisely-designed question-guided introspection that systematically dissolves PTSD
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How was this discovered?
It began with an accident.
In 1968 the eventual developer of SAR had a very surprising detailed conversation with a soldier
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Yes: Read on!
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