“Trauma creates change you don’t choose. Healing is about creating change you do choose.” –Michelle Rosenthal

For a long time, I have been working with a young, retired US Army enlisted man.   My client served in Iraq, and his experiences overseas continue to linger in his memory and haunt him.  He is currently on a partial disability and continues to cope with the PTSD that followed him home.

During our regular session today, he recounted some of the horrific images from his service in the Middle East.  For him, certain dates and times of the year generate painful images.  Much of our work has been focused on finding ways to manage those images and cope with his past experiences.  At one point in our session, he shared, “People tell me to try to not think about those events and block out those pictures.  I can’t seem to ever do that.”

My challenge is to try to figure how to help this honorable man.  He is married and has two children.  Clearly, the well-meaning advice from his friends and family to erase those upsetting images isn’t working What will?

My attempt today was to share with my very intelligent client a concept that may be useful to him.  It’s referred to as “re-framing.”  Recognizing that major incidents and events cannot be simply eliminated or forgotten; re-framing invites us to see a given event from a different angle or viewed via a different lens.

Like many vets from servicing in Iraq and Afghanistan, their recollections are varied.  My client will certainly reflect upon his past friendships and valued memories during his time over there.  My client also is proud of his service and has no regrets as to how he performed on tour in his SUV. 

Essentially, my retired serviceman has two sets of thoughts when he reflects upon his military service.  One involves terrible images and occurrences that cannot be obliterated by a simple act of the will.  The other memories involve friendships, the induction oath, and his faithfully fulfilled role.  Both sets of recollections are true.  They are accurate and offer a choice as to which of the two sets of ideas that absorb his focus.

I sometimes feel that too many Americans (including myself) take the sacrifices of citizen soldiers for granted.  While we get to live the privileged life that our blessed country affords us, young men and women carry 100-pound packs on their backs in places that the cruise ships never visit.  While we get to debate, over coffee, the decisions that our politicians make, young soldiers carry water for all of us. We all stand on the shoulders of these heroic soldiers!

So what small service can I provide for my former serviceman?  I can try to help him “reframe” his painful recollections.  I can assist him in focusing on the positive elements of his proud service rather than on the other upsetting memories.

Having said all that what can we do for ourselves?  The same thing.  We can underscore the favorable elements of ourselves and work to improve upon the rest.  If I can help my courageous Army vet move in that positive direction, it will blur those painful recollections.  There is no eraser for my bet’s past trauma, but there is a tool for writing a more positive and fulfilling future. 

“One day you will tell your story of how you overcame what you went through and it will be someone else’s survival guide.” – Unknown