Sunday, November 13, 2011
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO HELL
Hell. It is in many of the faces of our combat warriors returning with PTSD and TBI ~ a result of the experiences endured during combat! But an antidote for this horrible and debilitating anxiety is often found when a PFHF therapy dog walks into Laurel Ridge Military Resiliency Unit in San Antonio, Texas!
I wrote about it last week and didn't think there was anyway it could be topped this week. But it just keeps getting better. As we entered the unit with Kelsie and Colonel, it was as if Santa had just arrived with the gift that they had been asking for all year. Faces stoic and solemn, quite suddenly are brighted with smiles and glistening eyes. The whole demeanor and attitude in the room changes. Movement begins to take place. The television, card games and dominoes are abandoned, as these dogs are solely responsible for taking control of the room.
You would think the warriors would rush to them, but they are so overwhelmingly respectful of their battle buddies that they wait patiently for their turn to spend just a few moments with either or both or these therapists in fur. If one feels he has been there too long, he will tell a buddy he is sorry and gets up for the next to have their turn.
I laid a soft blanket on the sofa for Kelsie to lay on while the guys/gals came one at a time and sat next to her. She would roll over on her back, snuggle up close, or gently lay her head in their laps. They would pet her back, under her therapy vest, rub softly between her eyes, or fondle her ears and talk softly to her. For many of them, they had waited for this the entire week! At least that is what more than one warrior told me. "I hoped and I prayed you'd be here today. It helped me get through the week."
For these men and women, who have endured hell, these dogs are a journey into their hearts. A letting go, a freeing of their souls from the torment they continue to endure on the battlefields they return home to ~ a battlefield in their minds. There is an inability to forget what they saw, witnessed, felt, and smelled, that at least for now is trapped inside of them. But for a few moments they become boys again, human again, alive again. They become aware that there is something outside of themselves and their medical team that is able to erase some of the hell. First they learn to crawl and then slowly they begin to trust again. To trust and undo the feeling that the enemy is around every corner and disguised in a myriad of ways. As they pet the dogs for a moment, hell is released and they catch a glimpse of warmth, honesty, and compassion and more importantly unconditional and nonjudgemental love and best of all how to trust again.
As for the dogs and their benefits, there is no real scientific evidence, nor data. We only know it works! These guys learn to connect more closely with each other, with themselves with the magic and the mystery of it all. How something so simple can obliterate something so horrible and devastating to a human has yet to be determined. Perhaps there is no need to know. But for 30 warriors in lockdown for PTSD, we will be there. We will not let them down. We will not let them become a statistic. A sad statistic that 18 warriors kill themselves each and every day. That is more than have died in combat.
So we embrace the power of our therapy dogs and open our hearts to these young men and women who are on a very rough journey to return to a semblance of the life they had before war. With these dogs they are able to surrender to the fact that they do have feelings and that there just might be power in powerlessness. And they might just become aware of the fact to pass through the feelings of what they have endured, rather than avoiding them, just might be an answer. And if it takes a dog to guide them, then so be it.
Therapy and service dogs for our warriors with PTSD/TBI/MST just might become a mantra that will heal their hearts and their minds and align them with peace. These dogs will give them all the attention, devotion, guidance, and grace they might need, to find the only way out is through.
It might sound odd and Pollyanna to some. But some doctors are now writing prescriptions for service dogs for our warriors. God bless them. They understand. They understand that our emotions and past experiences often can keep us away from the present moment. But with a dog, something happens. With a dog the warriors begin to focus again, to hear a heart beat next to them that is consistent and unflaling and that becomes hidden in their soul and stored in their body when they need it the most. With their canine battle buddy by their side to help them get back on track, whether in a day, a week, or months, they will have advanced on their paths. And a new cycle and life will have begun. And hell just might be a very long way away, as they learn to connect back to a place of peace.
As for next Saturday, we will celebrate Kelsie's sixth birthday with the warriors. They have requested hot wings, and a cake! Can't get much simpler than that can it?
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