Editor's note: We're not giving you medical or psychological advice here; consult with your own health care practitioner for that. What we are doing is sharing a longtime PTSD sufferer's opinion with you about his own situation, on the off-chance that it may instruct or enlighten. We have the feeling, now that he's outed himself, others may quite enjoy learning the distinctions he shares from his own life. And when we say "others," we mean spouses, significant others and family members...
From the subject of "Eyewitness to Combat," a Vietnam vet, Marine, with 40 years of "experience" on the subject:
"Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has many faces and it sometimes masquerades as a behavioral problem; conversely, there are times when behavioral abnormalities masquerade as PTSD. In other words, sometimes PTSD is mistaken for just stubborn Pride; and sometimes stubborn Pride is excused as PTSD. There is also a third face, the one in which we appear completely “Normal.” So the “trick” becomes knowing which one is in control – the PTSD one; the PRIDEFUL one; or the NORMAL one.
One of the most frustrating and difficult problems in sorting this out with traumatized MST or PTSD combat vets is that by their very nature, MST and PTSD sufferers are very complicated individuals, to say the least. It’s almost as if we are different people at different times. And in fact we are. My wife used to say she “never knew which one” of me “was coming home.” In other words: “PTSD really screws us up: mentally, emotionally, socially, personally, professionally and physically”. However on many of the occasions that get blamed on PTSD, it is in fact our own personality “quirks” that have intervened, kidnapped and magnified the suffering from PTSD. And in the healing process, this habitual behavior must be sorted out before any true healing can “stick.” It’s true that we can be healed from our PTSD “disorder” but also allow our pride, habitual bad habits and negative attitude to completely mask any real improvement.
I do know that true healing from the destructiveness of PTSD is possible and real. I know this because I lived with all three faces of it for forty years and I have been healed. Not “cured” but healed to a point that I now have a mostly “normal” a life rather than a mostly PTSD, prideful, bad habit and negative attitude life. From this very long journey to healing I am able to speak from wisdom and experience on behavioral abnormalities disguised as PTSD. I have been there; done that; and, for the most part, “have gotten away clean with it.” Now looking back, I am embarrassed and ashamed of myself for falling into the “pity party” that “works for me” trap. I allowed myself to become “victimized,” believing that I was “entitled” to feel sorry for myself and that everyone else should feel sorry for me as well. My PTSD actually made me feel “special” as everyone was made to “tiptoe” around me like a king walking among his subjects, so as not to “set me off”. Trust me when I say that “this gets very old very quick” to those who love you, care for and about you; and it should be of no surprise when they begin to get a little bitter and non-empathetic toward our behavior. It just gets tiring! Upon entering the 90 day VA in-house PTSD treatment program years ago, I came face-to-face with a sign over the door of our billet, made by one of the previous vet therapists, that said: “How long would YOU put up with YOU?! Well, not very damn long, I can tell you that – and that sign made the point for all of us. So why should we expect others to do so?! And if that’s true, why do we resist healing? Suffering from PTSD for most of my life made me very familiar with all of its symptoms and destructive consequences, along with what it does to our own physical body. I am well aware of how devastating it is upon the family, friends and employers of those suffering from this disorder. Today though, when I’m substantially healed, (see “before and after” story, linked here) I find that I can still act like a full blown PTSD’er. The only difference is that now it’s my choice when to move into that arena, or not. As my youngest grown son would say, “I’m going with NOT!”. So in going there now it’s a premeditated decision to do so, not one dictated by PTSD. It’s premeditated because I first think about it, usually when my feelings get hurt, and then I stop taking my meds, as in “I’ll show them”, followed by then I stop doing what I know to do to keep me grounded and clear of stress such as EFT or Qi Gong. Then I isolate myself in my all-too-familiar bunker, and “Away I go!” But this time it’s stubborn, God-damned pride that is pushing my behavior and keeping it in play, NOT PTSD. It might look like PTSD, sound like PTSD, feel like PTSD – and I am enjoying the effects. My world is now totally miserable, and I am glad – because I am back in control! The poet John Dryden put the sequence this way, “We first make our habits, and then our habits make us”. Relinquishing control to our Prideful self is a habit we simply cannot afford if we suffer from PTSD. It will destroy us and everyone around us. Again, if it is so miserable and so devastating, why stay in it? They “why” is PRIDE: Stubborn God-dammed, destructive PRIDE, a shitty attitude and very bad habits. How does this fit into having PTSD? It doesn’t fit into HAVING PTSD at all, but it DOES fit into KEEPING it! And why would we want to KEEP Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder going, when we have the tools to get rid of it? Because it’s comfortable; it’s normal to us; it gives us control whenever we want; it gives us an excuse for bad behavior; it gives us an identity; it’s amusing to “shock” others; it draws attention to us; we don’t have to follow the rules and get a pass for doing so; it gets us “stuff”; it makes us somebody special and we can even be “paid” to have it. And if you are getting “paid” to have it, it makes you a professional PTSD’er. Sooooo why not act like one and let the spouse go to work; you get paid not to! You can sit on the couch and own the friggin’ remote and when you want to watch something cool you can clear the room and get a beer delivered to you in the process. All the while someone can give you the beer, the TV and the couch. I also know this to be true because I have spent up to a month terrorizing everyone in my life with my fucking PRIDE disguised as PTSD. And I enjoyed the whole experience! But eventually even my pride got to a point that I couldn’t stand it anymore. I allowed myself to be ashamed of this childish behavior and to apologize and ask for forgiveness so that I could come out of the corner. NOW I really am ashamed of myself because I hurt those I loved and they didn’t deserve it at all. But now I know what it is and will not go there again. (Publishing this handy little guide to PTSD vs. PRIDE of course will help!) I’ll use the tools I have been given in healing and use them gladly. I do not want my loved ones to suffer the fool that I could become. Scripture puts it this way in 1 Corinthians 13:11: “When I was a child, I talked like a child; I thought like a child; I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me”. In other words “it’s time we grow up!” Understand I am NOT talking about what “reaction” PTSD compels us to do that is destructive. What I am talking about is what keeps us continuing the destructive behavior AFTER our PTSD moment has PASSED. The fact that we suffer from a trauma-induced survival skill does not make us “crazy” or “insane” or incapable of being aware of our surrounding and how our actions affect others. We still have the ability to know right from wrong and we know when we hurt others and we know when we hurt ourselves. PTSD also doesn’t change our “moral code”. If you were a nice person before; you are generally still a nice person and that becomes your “Normal” face. If you were a courteous person before; you are generally still a courteous person and “Normal”. If you were a grateful person before; you are generally still a “Normally” grateful person. If we are truly remorseful for our actions which harm others, as we should be when we are “Normal”, then the abnormal behavior will stop until triggered again. And in our “Normal” state we are ashamed, embarrassed and truly sorry. If we are not at least remorseful and/or our misbehavior is enjoyable, then we are either a narcissistic “asshole” or we are pretending to continually have PTSD behavior for control and that is our “Prideful” face. If we are ashamed, embarrassed and sorry but continue in bad behavior, then we are stubborn “Prideful” fools using the ole, “That’s my story and I’m stickin to it” crap. It will lead to your destruction and that of your family. And PRIDE becomes the driving force, not PTSD, and the NORMAL face is destroyed. That was PTSD. But then I would get embarrassed and mad when “corrected” and take the Prideful mental position of: “Well I sure fucked that one up; so screw them all” and I would then “dig my heels in” and really make everyone miserable. And I enjoyed it. I was “showing them” for getting justifiably upset at me for my action. That was PRIDE. “They would learn to leave me alone whenever I would go into one of my “Marine Corps Moods”, as my kids would call it. Yep, goddamn Marine Corps PRIDE! (In truth, I have three kinds of pride: Texas pride! Irish pride! And Marine Corps pride! And that is a whole giant bucket of PRIDE…) Understand that I DID have severe PTSD and those triggering events happened a bunch but the moment I realized I had screwed up, PTSD ended and PRIDE took over to magnify the damage. I was too proud to admit that I was wrong and then ask for forgiveness or even to say I was sorry. For a Marine to apologize was a “sign of weakness”. To take this action with those who love you only adds INSULT to INJURY. However for a father, a husband, a son, a partner, to apologize is essential and your “Normal” self and is a great sign of love, appreciation, humility, strength, self-confidence and courage. When scripture states that “the meek shall inherit the earth,” it is not talking about the weak but the gracious, strong, self-confidently humble who attempt to right the wrongs they have done to others. Our families and loved ones know when that moment of awareness happens, and they appreciate it and respond to it, but conversely, with no remorse on our part they start to lose empathy for our plight, and rightfully so. If our prideful attitude and bad behavior keeps up, they become aloof, distant, uncaring and bitter – and here’s the thing, we’ve helped to make them that way through our actions. PTSD is what causes the hyper-vigilance and other survival reactions triggered by events in our lives, but PRIDE is what causes us to stay in the now habitual act of PTSD. True healing can only come when we understand that we will have the tendency to move into survival mode for the rest of our lives and that there are things we can do to effectuate a smooth, peaceful, happy life. AND it is essential that we do those things consistently for the rest of our lives. (Examples would be taking our medication, and using the tools we can do at home for our own self-care, such as meditation, deep breathing, qi gong, EFT, music therapy, aromatherapy, etc. -- and knowing when it's PRIDE that's taken control!) We also must learn to be grateful to those around us who put up with our “moments” and have enough respect for them to swallow our pride and say we are sorry and mean it; then sincerely ask for forgiveness in love. If you are unwilling to do this, then you are not ready to be healed because you are enjoying being miserable and making others miserable too much. And I really feel sorry for you. When we realize we have just had one of those “moments”; STOP, regain your composure, look around at what you have effectuated and apologize and mean it. But if you do nothing else, just STOP and go to your corner. When you have calmed down, then correct it before PRIDE takes control and kills everyone around you or before it forces you back into the “bunker”. Your families know when you are faking PTSD and when it is real; so grow up and get your shit together."Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Proverbs 16:18. Even with PTSD!"
© 2010 by Lily Casura / Healing Combat Trauma. All rights reserved. Use with attribution.