THE KILLING OF BIN LADEN AND THE SEARCH FOR MEANING
"The scenes played out on TV and computer screens all across the nation - people spilling into the streets in jubilation over the news that Osama bin Laden had been captured and killed. Some recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Some sang the national anthem. Some clapped. Some cheered."
"For the majority of us, the impact of Sunday night's events will be positive, bringing relief and a form of closure, experts say. But for some of those who were personally touched by the 9/11 attacks, the news may result in a rekindling of symptoms and traumatic memories." (Linda Carroll: "Bin Laden's death may reignite PTSD for some," www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42867361/ns/health-mental_health/from/toolbar, May 3, 2011.)
Reactions to Bin Laden's death have varied from jubilation to reflection to a sense of justice; for some, it is a reliving of pain and PTSD. Some have commented negatively on the spontaneous outbursts of joy on Sunday evening. Most have experienced at least some, perhaps not visible, relief. The veterans I work with have almost universally expressed a sense of joy and relief. One Vietnam veteran expressed pride in the Navy Seals and joy for the younger veterans, but then articulated some envy: "We never really had a sense of closure, or that what we did had a positive ending." Another stated, "The end of the war for us was the evacuation of the Embassy in Saigon and the sight of helicopters being pushed overboard." One younger veteran simply said, "I feel like what we were doing over there had a purpose. We know now that what we did had some good." Another veteran cited all the bad news, questioning the mission, considering articles about warriors who kill themselves, and focusing on the criminal behavior by some soldiers in country or after returning home. The death of Bin Laden was clear, dramatic, sudden - a gift of good news in a society immersed in too much bad news and contention. Party lines evaporated, and a sense of justice, though transitory, was palpable across the nation.
I was reminded of a concept from the early days of treating PTSD: "sealing over." Sealing over puts violence into a meaningful perspective and provides a healthy container for emotional pain. It is the "welcome home" so coveted by returning soldiers. It refers to the gratitude and recognition we give to those who deliver justice or win a war. All the horror has a "seal" that helps the survivor move forward with a little less pain. Taking this concept further, we all search for meaning, especially in the face of loss, ambiguity, unfairness, death, and criminal wrongdoing. Yet, too often we have to accept ambiguity in terms of justice: prolonged trials, eluded capture, a lack of consequences for the perpetrators. Soldiers who have participated in the war on terror have not received a formal "sealing ritual"; however, even though it took almost 10 years, the televised outburst of elation this past Sunday evening made a contribution to the ritual.
Even more profound are the lessons from psychoanalyst and Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl. He taught us that we all seek a sense of future, meaning, justice, and purpose. What keeps us going is a yearning for ultimate clarity and meaning; we often need this in order to assume, envision, or trust in a future event. For some, this ultimate meaning might be determined by higher forces or a higher power. Frankl strongly asserted that we want and need to find meaning in suffering. When this happens, as it suddenly did on Sunday evening, most people rejoiced. Even if delayed, even if it lasts for just a fleeting moment, justice delivered swiftly and unambiguously provides a degree of the clarity and relief so desperately needed by those who suffer.
Jerry Boriskin, PHD
Jerry Boriskin is an author, lecturer, and clinician with expertise in trauma, PTSD, and addictive disorders. He began his career in 1979 when PTSD emerged as a diagnosis. In the mid-1980s, he began working with sexual abuse survivors and addicts.
Dr. Boriskin is a pioneer in extending the continuum of care and developed two extended residential treatment programs for co-occurring disorders. A passionate advocate for integrated treatment, he is a licensed psychologist and addiction specialist who recently resumed working with traumatized soldiers at the V.A. of Northern California.
He is the author of "PTSD and Addiction: A Practical Guide for Clinicians and Counselors" and co-authored "At Wit's End: What Families Need to Know When a Loved One is Diagnosed with Addiction and Mental Illness."
The Meadows, one of America's leading centers for the treatment of addiction and trauma, presents an ongoing series of videos featuring leading experts in the field of mental health, including Dr. Jerry Boriskin, Maureen Canning, and John Bradshaw, among others.
In the first installment of this series, Dr. Jerry Boriskin, senior fellow at The Meadows, introduces himself and discusses his 30-year career as a licensed psychologist and educator working in the fields of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and co-occurring addictive disorders. (Co-occurring disorders exist in an individual who has one or more addictive disorders and one or more psychiatric disorders.)
"My passion is teaching about how PTSD and addictions work together," he explains.
Dr. Boriskin is an author, lecturer, and clinician with expertise in treating trauma, PTSD, and addictive disorders. He was an early advocate for the use of extended care and has developed two extended residential treatment programs for co-occurring disorders. He has authored several books, including PTSD and Addiction: A Practical Guide for Clinicians and Counselors and At Wit's End: What Families Need to Know When A Loved One is Diagnosed With Addiction and Mental Illness. He currently is working on a book focusing on Complex PTSD, the most complicated type of post-traumatic stress disorder. The working title is Dancing With Demons: Why People With Complicated Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Live in the Past, Dread the Future, and Live in the Moment.
"I think that title captures the essence of a lot of what I'm trying to teach," he says.
To view Dr. Boriskin's video - and other videos in the series - see www.youtube.com/themeadowswickenburg. For more about The Meadows' innovative treatment program for PTSD and other disorders, see www.themeadows.org or call The Meadows at 800-244-4949.
"It's enough," said the 64-year old.... "Something has changed. The world feels strange now. Even the way the clouds move isn't right." (Excerpted from an article on the 7.1-magnitude aftershock in northeastern Japan, USA Today, April 8, 2011.)
Dissociation: Personal Transition in a Chaotic World
Traumatic events set off a chain reaction of biological, emotional, psychological, interpersonal, and spiritual changes that can disrupt your entire sense of self and how you view things going forward. When your world is shaken and you no longer feel safe, you can lose your sense of identity. The resulting shifts in perspective and perception can cause a disintegration of your baseline ego.
Survivors of traumatic events say things like:
"I was so frightened, I stopped feeling. It was like I reached a point where I didn't care anymore if I lived or died."
"Once I got through this and accepted my own death, my fear went away. I was able to get through."
"It is odd; I would look at myself, look at my hand, and it was like it was no longer attached. Everything shifted from three dimensions to two; it is like colors disappeared, yet everything was intense. I can't really describe it; I just went numb. I became disconnected from my body."
Such shifts in perspective and dimensionality are a core component of dissociation, which tends to follow in the wake of absolute fear or panic. Permitting one to detach from emotion, it can be very adaptive. For instance, it can help soldiers to act as a team and follow orders. In Vietnam, many soldiers would recite a simple chant while doing horrible tasks: "Just another day, no big thing...." This helped to desensitize them, reinforce dissociation, and establish the numbness required for survival.
Dissociation also permits emergency room personnel to disengage from the horrors they see and do their jobs. ER workers who are “in touch with their emotions” may not be able to act as efficiently in a crisis as a focused, emotionally dissociated team. Optimally, rescuers need to perform first and process their emotions later.
Soldiers, healers, and survivors encounter problems if they cannot reattach to their bodies or emotions after the intensity diminishes. If they remain in a state of constant arousal, it negatively affects their sense of balance, communication, self-awareness, and connection to loved ones. Once your core is shaken, it is difficult to resume a "normal" perspective. Everything feels different. On one hand, things that upset others might not set you off. New crises are familiar, almost expected; they may even be welcomed or become "the new normal." Survivors often adapt well to overload. They feel comfortable, perhaps even comforted, within new arenas of challenge or intensity. This, in part, is why so many soldiers devastated by war would enlist again if offered the option. They get used to functioning well at the edge; it almost becomes addictive.
Paradoxically, little things can cause overreaction. A partner's complaint about a failure to clean the kitchen, for example, might result in a temper tantrum, a fit of righteous indignation, or a violent clash. The big things become little, and the little things become big. The new normal is numbness, punctuated by fits of rage or terror. In this "fifth dimension," everything is scrambled. You are numb and detached; nothing hurts. It's "just another day, same old thing...." Yet everything is different - even the clouds.
Dr. Jerry Boriskin is a Senior Fellow at The Meadows. He is an author, lecturer, and clinician with expertise in trauma, PTSD, and addictive disorders. Dr. Boriskin is a licensed psychologist and addiction specialist who recently resumed working with traumatized soldiers at the V.A. of Northern California. He is the author of "PTSD and Addiction: A Practical Guide for Clinicians and Counselors" and co-authored "At Wit's End: What Families Need to Know When A Loved One is Diagnosed with Addiction and Mental Illness."
In an article on NewsFirst5.com in Colorado Springs, they discussed treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In the article, they discussed a conference in Colorado Springs, where Dr. Bessel van der Kolk discussed his concerns regarding treatment for soldiers diagnosed with PTSD. The article reports, "Local experts say that 10 to 30 percent of military coming home from war could be diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder." Dr. van der Kolk discussed the need for people to "feel safe." To read more about this go to:
On March 25, Dr. Jerry Boriskin gave a marvelous presentation titled "Complex PTSD and Co-occurring Addictive Disorders: Demystifying Demons and Developing Multidimensional Treatment Skills."
An expert in the field of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, Dr. Boriskin has garnered the support of a large group of professionals who gathered on a cold Chicago day to hear him speak. Providing an intense look at the complexity of treating PTSD and co-occurring addictions, Dr. Boriskin shared a documentary on a military case subject. Visibly moved, attendees gained a new appreciation for our military personnel.
The group then employed "group thinking" to come up with clinical solutions to a particularly challenging case. The results were varied and fascinating.
The day was a tremendous learning opportunity; most remarkable was Dr. Boriskin's evident passion for his field.
If you or someone you know is struggling with the effects of PTSD, please call The Meadows today at 800-244-4949.
By Jenna Pastore, National Community Relations Representative