In therapy, we call it a breakthrough

I don’t really use the term “breakthrough” when I’m with a client, unless it’s jokingly.(I also never say “and how does that make you FEEL?”- too cliche)   I do see the moments of “breakthrough” on client’s faces though- when they get the insight they’ve been blind to all along, or are able to break down a defense mechanism.  It’s kind of a “Eureka” moment. Some clients will be able to recognize that a change has taken place.  Others just feel a little lighter, like a weight has been lifted.

Often there is crying (that’s not a requirement, it can be a no tears moment).  Overall, its accessing deeper or buried feelings, recognizing cause and effect or achieving more insight, especially insight that affects their treatment goals.

I don’t know if there is a similar thing for authors.  Could a breakthrough be overcoming writer’s block?  Finally finding the exact way you wanted to phrase a thought?  The rush of the moment when you finish a chapter, or even the whole manuscript? (Before edits and rewrites, of course.)

I don’t know what to call it, but I had an author breakthrough on Sunday.  I was writing some backstory for one of my main characters and I got really caught up in the scene.  It was almost like I didn’t have to think.  As I came to the ending of the scene a tear hit my laptop.  I was crying!  Even though I was composing this, it was  so emotional it made me cry.

Now, I cry when I read certain books, but to cry while writing one? That’s hopefully a sign of good character development!

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The Next Revolution will Start with Chips & Salsa

If you follow my blog, you know that I have a weekly tradition of going out to lunch with my Dad, when he’s in town for his Vet Center visits.   Over the past six weeks, these lunches have expanded to include several other Veterans that are from his group.  They are all Vietnam Vets, and they are all an endless source of information about the war.

They always want to eat Mexican food (not a problem with me!) and the one time we strayed for barbecue, while it was enjoyed, everyone agreed that it would be back to Mexican food the next week.

Lunches are even more fascinating with multiple war stories from the Vietnam era. I would love to say it would be enough for another book.  There’s one problem.  I hear the same stories every week.

Veteran:  “Did I ever tell you about the time I learned to like Lima beans?  We were camped out in the jungle, and that was all that was left from our C rations were cans of Lima beans.  I hate Lima beans.  But one of the guys took a few peppers growing wild in the jungle, chopped them up and heated them with the beans.  It tasted great!”

Dad: That reminds me of the times I would buy rice with over easy eggs on it.  These Vietnamese women would cook it and their kids would come sell it to us.  $2 for a huge plate of rice with a few eggs on top, and it was hot!  My 1SG threatened to write me up if I got hepatitis, but I knew it was good.  (Bonus points if you can find a part in the book where Dad also claims he was threatened by the 1SG for his food choices.)

This leads to reminiscing and quite often, the same stories.  Dad loves to talk about Cuban Revolution in Durham, a place he often eats before Durham Bulls Games.

Dad: Oh, you should have seen the steak they gave me, so tender!

Veteran: Where is this place?

Dad: Durham.

(Repeat this exchange at least twice per lunch, every week)

So I’m sorry to say that these lunches will probably not lead to a volume 2 of the book, but they will give me awesome memories and invaluable time with my Dad and other Vets.

Side note-  Dad will not eat “not authentic’ Mexican food (Sorry, Aye Toro! in Sanford) but he will eat at On The Border.  Can anyone explain this to me?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anti Military

I don’t consider myself as having a sheltered life.  I also don’t consider myself to have a very un-sheltered life either (there are no antonyms for sheltered that fit).  I’ve not seen combat or been in the military, but I’ve been exposed to it all of my life, grown up around it and live in an area that is teeming with Military.  I used to (naively) think that there was only Army (and a little Air Force) here at Bragg.  I learned quickly when working there that Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) brings Service Members from all branches to train, work and strategize together.

That being said, maybe I am sheltered in some sort of pro-military bubble.  I have experienced and seen anti-war protests, but I would challenge that anti-war demonstrations are not not anti- MILITARY, just against whatever current engagement (s) our military is involved in or the idea/idealogy  of war itself.  I find that organizations and protests that are anti-war are usually very pro-Soldier.  They want Service Members and Veterans to be supported, to get the help, money, and benefits they have been promised to them and to be treated humanely.  I can definitely stand behind that.

All of this build up to say that I was shocked and stunned when I was at an event in Raleigh (state capital of NC) with others from all over NC last week.  We were discussing many various topics, but somehow the conversation led to Veterans and Service Members  and why NC has such a high concentration of both.  Most people there could only identify Fort Bragg, but I was quick to point out that we also have an Air Force Base (Seymour Johnson), a Marine Base ( Camp Lejune), two Marine Air Stations (Cherry Point and New River), as well as smaller locations such as Sunny Point or Elizabeth City Base.

The others all nodded and someone made the comment “wow, NC really is a military based state, I can see why we’re called a military friendly state” to which another person replied “I should hope not!”  I felt like I had been punched in the stomach.  She said it quietly and was shaking her head.  I felt my temper going up, and then realized this was not the time or place to engage in a debate, and that as much as I might disagree with her, she was entitled to her opinion.

As I sat there analyzing her statement and my reaction (and ignoring what was going on around me) I realized that she probably hasn’t been touched by the military like I have.  In my family, you can’t go out to dinner with us, a  family get together or similar without the Service Members and Vets outnumbering the civilians.  My family aside, living in Fayetteville, I can’t throw a rock without hitting someone that served, serves, or has a family member that serves.  I deal with the military on a daily basis.  I also deal with disenchanted, broken Service Members and Veterans.  You know what?  Not one of them has ever uttered an anti-military statement to me.  There have been plenty that have been mad at their unit, chain of command, the situation, the war, a specific battle, etc.  but no one has ever hated the military (or their branch) outright.  Even those that have said in session, out of anger said “I hate the Army” will moments later begin listing all of the good that the Army gave them/caused them to experience.  I’m not just talking money and benefits either.  The brotherhood, the support is usually the biggest thing they miss when they are out.

I write this as a challenger to anyone that thinks they are anti-military or would be ashamed that their state/work/family was associated with the military.  Are you anti-military or anti-military state?  Are you anti-war?  At the least, are you pro-Service Member?

Don’t drink the kool-aid (or the Haterade, if you will) without really analyzing what you dislike.  I promise to not drink the military kool-aid without also being able to analyze and name some things I do disagree with (which I can).

I’ve made it a point not to address all of the recent terrorist killings, police killings and police overuse of power on my blog or social media for the simple fact that I believe that sometimes that can lead to a bigger divide.  I will say that I believe that this “all or nothing” mentality  is a problem. Not all military is bad,  yet it should be questioned.  Not all cops are bad, but not all are good either.

As my editors will tell you, summaries/endings are my weak spot, so I will end with this quote, from a famous author.

“Divide and rule, the politician cries; unite and lead is watchword of the wise.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My search for the elusive, probably nonexistent, perfect gift

Have you ever heard of the 5 Love Languages? If you have, chances are, you might have attended a chaplain’s marital retreat, marriage counseling, or some kind of couples/marital focused retreat or seminar.  If you haven’t feel free to click that link.

I have been on enough Strong Bonds (chaplain’s) retreats to be able to recite the 5 languages in my sleep.  I use them in therapy, at times.  I curse the fact that Gary Chapman came up with this idea and developed them, because it sure would be nice to be the therapist that developed the languages.  If that was the case, my assistant would be typing this blog as I dictated it to her, most likely while flying somewhere tropical.

I digress.  The point of knowing which Love Language you identify with and what your partner and/or children identify with is important.  I take the quiz every time I’m on one of the retreats and my main language never changes: Gifts.  I swear when I took the quiz the first time (2006) the official title was Gift Giving.  The website now shows it as Gift Receiving.  That throws me off a little, but I’ll explain what it means to me. I love gift giving.  I love taking the time to search through stores to find “just the right” gift for someone.  It doesn’t matter if it’s Christmas, their birthday, or a “just because” gift.  I frequently bring back gifts for others on my travels, no matter how far or not far the trip was.  My husband has learned to accept this about me, and has gotten better (over the years) of showing emotion and really expressing his appreciation of any gift I bring him, not just saying “thanks” or “you didn’t have to get me anything” and then stuffing the gift back in the box.

My mother also seems to have this language and she knows how to gush over a gift, no matter how small.  My father does not have this.  As I’ve said in past blog posts, when he saw the finished book he proclaimed it “fine.  pretty good.”  Not the exact enthusiasm I was looking for, but luckily, working with my dad for the book taught me more about him and I wasn’t expecting a big show of praise or emotion.  That being said, you would think I would have learned for when Father’s Day approached.

Dad is hard to shop for because 1) he has everything he wants and if he doesn’t have it he can buy it  2) he doesn’t have a hobby or collection, which is great for a default place to start.

So when I was at a charity event to benefit ALS in May I saw it– the perfect gift (well, the second perfect gift).  It was an autographed baseball, signed by Jim “Catfish” Hunter.  This was perfect (slightly only less perfect than tickets to the Atlanta Braves game at Fort Bragg on 3 July).  I knew I had a snowball’s chance in Mexico to get the game tickets, so the baseball was the best present I could conceivably obtain.  You couldn’t just buy the baseball, it was an item in the silent auction.  The signature was faded, but it was there and authentic (I Googled).  I put my bid in and realized that my chance of winning was small. I had to leave the event around noon for another engagement (a baseball game, how ironic) and the bidding didn’t end until 1700. Luckily, my awesome friend, Jessica, agreed to go back to the event at 1630 and call me, discussing the current bid and what I could afford to go to.   She called right around 1700, we agreed on a final price and then she called me back to say she thought I had won, as they had taken the bidding sheets away and I had the highest bid. I danced in my row at the stadium, and sure enough, a few minutes later I got a call from one of the organizers to arrange payment.

Fast forward to Father’s Day.  After lunch and a brewery tour, I present the ball, in a baseball themed gift bag.  Dad looks at it, squints at it and kind of just stares at it.  “Do you see who signed it?” I asked, about to burst.   He squints some more and says “I can’t really read it.”   “Catfish Hunter!” I exclaim, like a five year old that can finally let the almost two month long secret out.

“Well, that’s nice. Thank you!” he said and hugged me.

“How did he like the ball?” Jessica later texted me.  “I think he was underwhelmed.  Or possibly overwhelmed, or tired.” I replied.  She understands.  She knows my dad.

Fast forward to late June, Father’s Day has passed.  I’m at work and receive a call from my husband.  He NEVER calls me unless there is big news/an emergency.  I was with a client, but I took the call.

“Guess who just won tickets to the Braves game??” he shouted (if you know my husband, you know this is a LOT of excitement and expression for him.)

“Awesome, how many?” was my first question.

He wasn’t sure, but we had already discussed this. If we had won two tickets, they were going to Mom and Dad.  We felt that as much as we really wanted to see an MLB game, especially at Bragg, that Mom and Dad deserved them more than we did.  He later found out that we had gotten four tickets, so we could all attend. (Did I mention Dad is a die hard Braves fan?)

(Special thanks to Alicia, Josh, Cheryl/Eric, and everyone else that also tried to get me tickets LEGITIMATELY.)

I called my Mom with the news and she said Dad seemed ok with the idea.

We went to the game.  It was a long night (game time was 2008, and we got there at 1745 due to parking, shuttles, etc).  It was awesome!  We were three rows from the Marlins dugout, and I could hear them talking. Braves lost, but it was still a great experience- a historic, once in a lifetime experience. We didn’t get out until almost midnight.  I knew Dad was tired.  Guess what, he was also somewhat underwhelmed.

Lesson learned: there is no perfect gift.  The time spent together is the best present ever.  Even if it seems underwhelming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

PTSD is an injury, not an illness

I had a working vacation this week.  I took 4 days off, didn’t see clients, left the state, crashed at someone’s place that is in a heavily traveled city (for free, score!) and forced myself to work.  Boy, do I know how to party 😉

That being said, I’m proud of what I accomplished over those four days even if it was not everything I wanted to get done.  I am the kind of person that always starts with a giant “to do” list, knowing it might not be possible to get it all done.  I know there are others out there that either don’t use a to do list (any accomplishments are a bonus) or have a very realistic to do list.

I did accomplish taking 13 hours of CEUs in trauma, and passing their exams, allowing me to sit for the Certified Clinical Trauma Provider exam which I passed on the first try.  Its not just the initials that I get to add to my alphabet soup, its the knowledge I got from these courses.  I take a lot of Continuing Education hours.  I’m required to do 40 every two years, but that’s not the only reason I take them.  Some I chose because of their reduced price, their convenience or because friends and colleagues are taking them.  This particular set I chose to take because I wanted to sit for the CCTP and I wanted even more information about trauma.  Because PTSD is in the forefront with today’s news stories, in the military and frequently trending on social media, it gets a lot of attention.  It also gets a lot of funding and research.

These two days of classes gave me a whole new way of approaching trauma with my trauma survivor clients and for that I’m grateful but it also gave me a new perspective on PTSD itself.  Dr. Genty, the professor, told us not to view PTSD as an illness, but as a brain injury.   The reasoning being, once the trauma has effected you, it does damage your brain- it changes how you perceive reality, threats and future traumas.

I can totally get behind that statement.  I have often used the linear explanation to try to get trauma survivors to understand why they have flashbacks and other symptoms that come out of nowhere.  The linear explanation is that our brains like to learn in linear patterns. So if you learn to tie your shoe, as your brain is learning this task, it fires synapses in a particular pattern.  Whenever you tie your shoe in the future (even when you don’t have to think twice about it) those synapses will fire.  Trauma can’t be contained in a straight line, as it doesn’t “make sense” to our brains.   Therefore, it embeds itself all over our brain, and it can be activated by different things.

This is why I like the brain injury model.  It makes a lot of sense.   It also gives a new perspective to treatment, making an even further distinction between PTSD and Moral Injury, but that is a post in and of itself.

 

My Call to Arms

I hope I have made it abundantly clear that I’ve never served and that I have admiration for those that do. The more I work with Service Members and Veterans though, the more I can relate to certain experiences or emotions that they express.  I have heard from many SMs and Vets that 9/11 was a pivotal moment in their military careers- it made some join, it made some re-enlist, and it made others (that thought  they were finished with their military career) join again.

I feel that there is a certain pivotal moment going on for therapists. Unfortunately, it is taking more lives than those that were lost in 9/11. With 22 Veterans a day committing suicide and the inability of the VA to handle Veterans’ needs effectively, it makes me wonder if I am in the right place, career-wise.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE what I do.  I love having a private practice, I love being my own boss, I love the clients I have and working with them.  I love my contract job, where I get to work directly with Service Members, Vets and their families “off the record”.  Yet I wonder, could I be doing more at the VA?

I would like to think I don’t have unrealistic expectations or an overly optimistic viewpoint of what I could accomplish by working there.  I have no superhero complex, trust me when I say that I am tired and a bit cynical in my current line of work and I’m pretty sure the VA would make that worse. I remember working for the Department of the Army.  I remember the red tape, the stupid bureaucracy, and how many of our policies seemed to hurt the Soldiers more than it helped them.  I know that those same limitations would be at the VA at the very least.

That being said, I wonder how many former Soldiers, Sailors and Marines (I know, I know, there is no such thing as a former Marine) thought the same thing when they thought about re-enlisting after they thought their military career had ended. They probably loved the freedoms the civilian world offered them.  Yet they made that choice, that sacrifice.

It’s enough to keep me up at night.  Right now, I deal with it knowing I’m doing the best I can with the clients I have and the opportunities that are afforded to me.  I also write.  I write to let people know about the horrors that these Service Members and Veterans face and how they aren’t getting the help they need.  For now, that will have to be enough.

A post about my mom

I know that the main focus of my book (and thus, this blog) is my dad, but my mom is pretty remarkable too.

She joined the Army in 1974 when it was still the Women’s Army Corps. (WAC)

Yes, they wore skirts during basic training. (I didn’t know this until  I started research for my book).  They were also tough, bad ass women.  I mean, today, women in the Army are pretty common, especially now that they are allowed in  combat positions.  In ’74, not so much.

She went enlisted as a information specialist (now known as PAO, or Public Affairs Office), mostly writing for the newspaper, stationed at Ft. Bragg for two years before deciding to go to Officer Candidate School at Ft. McClellan, Alabama (no longer in existence) then Officer Basic at Ft. Benjamin Harrison, Indiana (also, no longer in existence).  She was taught the skills to be an Adjutant General  Officer  (personnel administration and management).  She was then sent to Ft. Jackson, SC (still in existence, where little sis went to Basic Training) where in true Army style, she did NOT perform AG work, she was a training officer/executive officer for female basic training.

She transferred to Ft. Bragg after marrying Dad in 1977, and was assigned to 1st Corps Support Command (Coscom, now called “East Bragg” or Theater Sustainment Command).

She went into the Reserves in 1980, after having me, and continued to serve in the Army Reserves until 2004 (30 years), retiring as a LTC (Lieutenant Colonel).

Mom served in Desert Shield and Desert Storm, as a Mortuary Affairs Officer (if you’re wondering where I get my morbid sense of humor from, there’s your answer!)

I just wanted to take Mother’s Day to tell everyone that I’m just as proud of my mom as  I am of my dad.  While she might not be a Combat Vet, she overcame all sorts of challenges in the early years of her career, and went on to be pretty amazing.  “Your Mother wears combat boots” has never been an insult to me.  I’d always reply “yeah, and she can kick your wussy mom’s a$$!”

(This pic is of Mom, as a 1LT in 1978 or 1979)

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An Uphill Battle

As”Walk Season”* ends for me on Saturday, I find myself with something I haven’t experienced in a few months- free time!

Despite the waiting list at my office, the planets must have aligned, because I actually have six hours without patients today.  (Spring Break has a lot to do with this).

I found myself itching to write, and that’s what I’ll be doing today.  First from the library (where this post is being composed), then a local frozen yogurt shop that is hosting a charity event for our Walk today.  Then I’ll go to work for a few hours, then back to the yogurt shop.

My writing partner in crime is still out of town (miss you!), but I’m not without things to work on.  I want to do a blog post for my OTHER blog ** about bingeing,  then I want to work on my novel.

Even though I haven’t cracked open the laptop to write until today, my novel is always on my mind.  I work out scenes and dialogues in my head as I drive, do mundane tasks, and try to sleep.

I have a question for my fellow fiction writers ***  – Do you always know the details before you write the story?  I have a beginning and an end, meaning, I know what’s going to happen to my main character.  I’m still trying to work out the middle, the details, and what happens with other characters.   Feel free to leave me feedback, tips, advice, plot summaries, money, etc. in the comments 🙂

 

Footnotes:

* Fayetteville’s Walk to Defeat ALS is THIS Saturday, 2 April 2016. I’m super passionate about this cause and I am the Walk Committee chair.  This means I’ve been crazy busy the past 6 weeks.

** I forget I have another blog.  That’s a bad thing.  I started it out for my practice, as a marketing tool.  I didn’t do a great job, but my practice is booming so, I guess it all worked out. I would put the link here if I even knew the link.  See how bad this is?

*** See what I did there? “Fellow Writers” — I considered myself a writer 🙂

 

Always have a signing pen…

(Fun fact: I originally typed “Always carry a signin’ pen…” for the title.  Does my Southern show?)

As this author status continues I’m learning little helpful hints.

The first is, seriously, have (carry, keep in your possession) a decent pen for signing.  My patients and others continue to surprise me, producing copies of my book when I least expect it.  I fumble in my purse for a “good” pen and produce gum, lint, a piece of candy that I forgot I had put in there and a few crappy, freebie hotel pens.  No more! I have my preferred pens (not too smudgy, not too light) zippered into my purse pocket for just such occasions.  And a shout out to the patient that surprised me with TWO copies of the book she purchased off Amazon. Thank you. At least we were in my office, with pens a plenty!  Dad’s support group member that also surprised me by buying two books from Dad (I didn’t even know Dad had books of mine to sell) and presented them to me at lunch the other day for signing. And thanks for letting me fumble for a few minutes for the right pen.

Have an elevator speech prepared about your book.  What’s an elevator speech? It’s a term that a now rich person came up with for “really short, succinct, synopsis of your book/product/practice that tells the person asking a lot about it in three sentences or less.” See, the term “elevator speech” is like an elevator speech of it’s own definition.  I had a marketing guru help me come up with an elevator speech  for my practice a few years ago.  I think I need help with one for FPWP.  I was recently at an event where several other authors all hit me with “tell me about your book?” and I did the “um, well, it’s in 2 parts…”

Thanks for sticking by me followers.  I look forward to doing my second presentation on PTSD of 2016.  The first was on the 4th of March at a non profit organization in Fayetteville and was open to the public.  It went really well. My next presentation is on Thursday (I need to find something professional that’s green to wear) to a group of nursing students.  I have been practicing my brain biology so I can pronounce “amygdala” without sounding like an idiot 😉

Random ramblings, musings and maybe a coherent thought

I am aghast that I have been “absent” from social media for several weeks.  As a self diagnosed “Facebook junkie” (I only chip with Twitter) for me NOT to be updating my blog, my author page, and other assorted accounts means there’s something big going on.

Or that I’m sick.   That was part of it.  An Upper Respiratory Infection that got so bad I went to the doc to make sure it wasn’t strep or the flu knocked me out for almost two weeks.  I reduced my work hours, sidelined my work projects and even cancelled three patients one day (I was just too sick to keep working).  That being said, I think I came to the conclusion that I’m really a writer.  I missed it.  There were days I would come home, look at the time and think “I could really knock out a blog post or a 1,000 words on the novel” but sleep always prevailed.

I suppose I could have fought the sleep, but I think I needed it.  Since, FPWP  has been out for a few months, I’m getting used to my “new normal”.  1) Both at my office and my non-profit work I have waiting lists of clients that want to get in.  That is a new one to me.  2) I’m being invited to give a lot of talks/lectures on PTSD to a wide variety of audiences.  Some of these audiences have many more letters after their names than I do, and I feel a bit intimidated. (I do the talks anyway, got to break out of the old comfort zone). 3) Feb-April is my “busy season” when it comes to personal life and side projects.  Mom, Dad and Sis all have birthdays (2nd Christmas).  I LOVE to gift give (it’s my love language) so lots of time and energy has to be dedicated to that– even when I am two days late with a gift 😦  Sorry, tiny LT.  It will hopefully be worth it.

Also, March-April is Walk to Defeat ALS season.  7 Walks across NC and I am the chair of the committee for my hometown walk.  Lots of emails, appeals and plain old begging to get this enormous task pulled off.  Every year I tell my husband “don’t let me be on that committee again next year” as I try to pull myself out of bed after sleepless nights, and every year I volunteer.  I love it.   In a somewhat masochistic way.

That being said, when something (or things) have to get shelved and pushed to the side, my writing was one of the first to have to go.  I need to plan better, and as soon as the busy season is over, I plan to get back on my 5-9 hours of scheduled writing time per week.

I’m learning that novel writing is a completely different beast than the memoir/non fiction side.  So many opportunities to change the story line.  Then I read the current, best selling fiction and it all seems to have an awesome, epic twist in it, that I did NOT see coming.  I had lunch with a few friends a few weeks ago (one a writer) and we agreed that “I do NOT need a twist” is going to have to be my mantra for this experience.

So that’s that, followers.  No twists, unless its a twist of lemon or lime in my water (or maybe something stronger).