What is life from the vantage point of no frills – fried skin, mutilated limbs, and a dismantled brain? Imagine you are stuck in your mind totally disconnected from your body.
Johnny Got His Gun is a 1938 war novel written by Dalton Trumbo about the hell, hounds, and horrors of war from the perspective of Joe, a paraplegic with no limbs, eyes, mouth, or ears, but still alive in his mind. In the book, Joe loops through the memories of his first love, the special moments with his father and mother, and the many pleasant and promising memories of life before his time on the battlefield.
Joe vividly describes the fresh vegetables his dad grew when he was a kid and the smell of fresh jam and hot biscuits his mother made, he described it as eating the riches of mother earth’s gifts. In these reminiscent moments he would be floating in his dream, but then he would be jolted to back to reality with immense fear that he had no nose to smell such gifts anymore.
Now he laid on the hospital bed teetering between dreams of yesteryear and the reality of being blown to pieces in World War I. But as Joe says in the novel, he didn’t die, he was just a piece of meat now only with a mind, suffocating in the numbness of the leftover stump of his flesh. He was trapped in the prison of his mind, seeing the sunshine on the other side, but only in his dreams. His eyes, why all his sense organs, the pathways to his soul, were gone. He was numbed in fear.
The men and women that enter our military take an honorable, courageous, and heroic vow upon entering service – to protect our country and our citizens so that we may carry on in peace all the rights and privileges we enjoy every day. They don’t always agree on the political reasons for going to war, but they all committed to protect our county and our citizens. They gave up their lives, so that we may live ours.
Many of our military men and women come back from their service numbed in fear and their minds are completely disconnected from their bodies. There are some like Joe in Trumbo’s gruesome war novel, but countless others are sitting right across from you on the plane or at the restaurant you frequent, living in torment disconnected from their minds and bodies, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which wreaks havoc internally and externally – to themselves and their families – as they return to their civilian life where they face deep trauma and wounds, and they face transitions from being treated like heroes to hounds.
Trumbo poignantly describes the effects of the battlefield on our warriors in Johnny Got His Gun –
“Hickory dickory dock my daddy’s nuts from shell shock. Humpty dumpty thought he was wise till gas came along and burned out his eyes. A dillar a dollar a ten o clock scholar blow off his legs and then watch him holler. Rockaby baby in the tree top don’t stop a bomb or you’ll probably flop. Now I lay me down to sleep my bombproof cellars good and deep but if I’m killed before I wake remember god its for your sake amen.”
What happens now to our wounded warriors after they transition off the battlefield into civilian life?
There are some alarming statistics. At least 20% of living combat veterans have suffered or are suffering from PTSD. 3 million of our veterans suffer from PTSD, but most of them receive no treatment. The PTSD numbers are increasing at a high rate upon service men and women’s return from Iraq and Afghanistan. Most combat veterans are not diagnosed or treated. The most alarming of these statistics is that every day 22 veterans take their own life, that’s a suicide that occurs every 65 minutes.
Carl Salazar saw these alarming statistics and took action. Carl Salazar, is a veteran and founder of Expedition Balance, a non-profit organization, which brings mindfulness techniques of meditation and yoga to thousands of wounded warriors to assist in healing their mind/body/spirit. As his volunteer work in bringing mindfulness techniques to wounded warriors has increased, he along with Kristina Keller, a seasoned yoga teacher and educator, presented the first teacher training for Expedition Balance a few weeks ago, training yoga teacher volunteers the tools needed to assist wounded warriors on their path to healing. I had the pleasure of attending and taking the training with Carl and Kristina and learning some of what I am sharing with you today.
Why yoga and meditation for our wounded warriors?
Let’s look at the PTSD symptoms briefly. PTSD symptoms include avoidance behaviors, nightmares, denial, grief, anger, and fear. When veterans are affected by traumatic war events, they experience anxiety and numbness that make it very difficult to reconnect to themselves and their families when they return home. PTSD can be manifested in many unhealthy behaviors such as depression, broken families, abuse, homelessness, alcohol and drug dependence, and now at an alarming rate, suicide.
Yoga and meditation help reconnect our mind-body so that we may heal by releasing trauma from our bodies, we rebuild our neural pathways and networks for optimal processing of energy and information in our brain (these pathways are broken down on the battlefield), and it helps clear neural pathways to fuse the symbiotic relationship of our mind/bodies, which creates the foundation for our spirits to fully live and flourish in our body. Yoga and meditation are great tools to heal and manage PTSD symptoms naturally and successfully.
Expedition Balance works with veterans and families of veterans at the VA Hospital that are part of a special program. Some of the veterans that Expedition Balance works with have no limbs, some limbs and are wheelchair bound, but mostly the veterans suffer from minds that are fried from trauma (PTSD) and their neural pathways have roadblocks and the mind/body messages are frozen or short-circuited so often that wounded warriors and their families suffer something neuroscience teacher Mark Brady, Ph.D., calls “spasmodic trauma-linked brain disorganization, which shows up in emotionally expressive ways.” These ingredients together create an environment ripe for internal and family explosions where the trauma cycle repeats itself deepening the grooves of pain, numbness, and disconnection.
Expedition Balance is bringing a little light to the hellacious darkness pervading our wounded warriors’ lives as they transition from the battlefield to civilian life. This is no small feat, but a process, bringing healing and connection to one vet and breath at a time.
If you would like to learn more about Expedition Balance or make a donation, please visit www.expeditionbalance.org. Expedition Balance hosts a number of donation yoga class events around town, so please visit their website and Facebook page and stay wired in and come support our wounded warriors’ path to healing.
Thanks to the work of Carl Salazar and Expedition Balance for bringing Johnny Got His Gun to Johnny Got His Yoga Mat where our wounded warriors and their families are armed with the tools of yoga and meditation to reach into the depths of their being to heal and recreate their lives, release trauma, reconnect mind/body, and embody spirit –right here, right now.
Om Shanti Om ~ Athea