Discussions with Dr. Cantrell

Dr. Bridget CantrellDr. Cantrell is the author of numerous books on post-traumatic stress, warrior reintegration, and how to provide support to those navigating the reintegration process. These books have been well-received by family members, fellow mental health experts, and, most importantly, the warriors themselves.

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The Battle at Home

The following article was originally written in July of 2008:

Deployed Marines are being subjected to the daily rigors of being in a combat zone, where emotionally, physically and spiritually they are being stretched beyond what they perhaps thought was humanly possible. Due to the multiple deployments and the daily exposure to events that are potentially very traumatizing we are seeing more disruption in their sleep cycles, poor anger management, escalation in domestic violence and alcohol consumption when they return to home life. They are literally on sometimes 18-20 hours a day, or even longer depending on the mission and what is required to accomplish the mission.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Combat Operational Stress (COS) is a situation that evolves out of the dangerous duties involved with being a warrior. It is something that our minds, body and spirit experiences as a means of attempting to cope with the situation at hand. Many people who are exposed to life threatening events can develop PTSD. Consequently we will see a withdrawal from those around them with a numbing out of emotions. They become somewhat detached from their peers and/or family members as it is very difficult for them to relate to them emotionally and socially. They may also avoid locations or events that may bring back memories, and some may even avoid seeking help for fear of having to talk or recall some of the trauma. They may be more hyper-aroused making it more difficult to concentrate. Irritability, startle responses, or even sleeplessness may all become issues. Of course this is certainly not an exhaustive list of possibilities.

The degree to which someone is affected depends on many factors such as the proximity of the event, the intensity, the duration, how much one felt in control of the outcome, and if there was a supportive environment from which to process the situation. In other words, was there an opportunity to debrief? For the most part, there are chaplains and combat stress teams available to help with interventions, but of course this depends on the availability of these resources.

An important aspect to remember is that it is not only our warriors who are being touched by the effects of their duty, but it is also beloved family members and friends. So it is also just as important for you to arm yourselves with information in order to build more compassion and understanding. In addition, you must also build up your internal resources...and at the top of that list is the power of resiliency.

Research also shows a great deal of evidence that resiliency is a strong contributor to the positive outcome of trauma reactions. Here are a number of things that can enhance the quality of life, not only for the warrior, but for family and friends alike. One can work on developing sound resiliency by maintaining supportive relationships, and staying calm by not creating or accepting the disruption of chaos into one's life and environment. Accept the idea that change is part of life, and it is an opportunity for growth. Be diligent about setting goals, and dream of tomorrow. Take a proactive stance in life, do not wait for something to happen--make it happen! Find ways to accept who you are, or have become, and now look at the positive parts of new yourself, acknowledge theses changes as growth in oneself. Set your eyes beyond the hurt of the moment and keep your sights on the bigger picture. Trust that tomorrow will be a new day and that it will bring a new opportunity to tackle what is bothering you today--hopefully to give you a view from a different perspective. Take the time to nourish yourself in whatever way is fitting and comfortable: such as exercise, a new hobby, family time, a new friend, time with a beloved animal friend, your spiritual development through prayer or meditation. It is time to take the next step to nourish, to restore yourself and find ways to give back to others. This is one of the first steps towards healing and creating meaning and purpose for a new life. Yesterday is no more...and tomorrow is not yet here...what you currently possess is now.

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