When Do the Nightmares Stop?

Re-experiencing traumatic events is the most difficult symptom for Veterans to deal with because he or she relive them everyday (Cash, 2006), may find it difficult to fulfill family responsibilities (Friedman, 2012, p. 5), and asking for help may show signs of weakness (Dattilio, 2007, p.497). As a Disabled Veteran (2004), I recently observed what re-experiencing looks like and how this symptom was shared by two Veterans: one – a young Marine who fought in Afghanistan (2010-11) and the other – an Army veteran from Vietnam (1966-67).

The Story

Not too long ago, I sat and had lunch with a young Marine, who had recently returned from combat in Afghanistan and an Army Veteran from Vietnam. After finishing our meal, the young Marine started talking about an experience in Afghanistan. We listened as the Marine described a firefight experienced from a post in the mountains. Shortly after finishing, the Vietnam Vet began crying and started sharing stories of war. The Marine and I were speechless. After a short moment of silence, the young Afghanistan Vet asked, “When do the nightmares stop?” Without hesitation, the Vietnam Vet replied, “They don’t. You just need to learn how to deal with them.”

Even though the two Veterans experienced combat in two different wars, a generation apart, they did however share the same symptom of re–experiencing combat-related trauma. Without sharing the location or context of our meeting, these two individuals and I needed help dealing with the realities of life after the military so that we would not harm ourselves or anyone else. It was extremely difficult for each of us to find support from our families and friends. However, eating a meal with other Veterans, gave us the freedom to share our traumatic events with each other.

Veterans must endure the process of recovery in order to regain a piece of something lost. “Being traumatized is not incurable, recovery is possible, but it is a slow process” (Wright, 2003, Locations 2216-2217). Family and friends can help in that process and doctors can treat the symptoms, but the individual must discover that deep-rooted issue and learn how to live with it. Rarely do Veterans share anything personal with anyone except other Veterans. A Vet helping other Vets is a possible first step in the process of recovery. Unfortunately, re-experiencing the traumatic event amongst peers would be extremely painful, but a necessary step to recovery.

Cash, A. (2006). Wiley concise guides to mental health: Posttraumatic stress disorder. Hoboken, N J: John Wiley & Sons.

Dattilio, F. M. & Freeman, A. (2007). Cognitive-Behavioral Strategies in Crisis Intervention, Third Edition. [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from www.Amazon.com

Friedman, M. (2012). Post-traumatic and acute stress disorders. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett.

Wright, H. N. (2003) The New Guide to Crisis & Trauma Counseling. [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from www.Amazon.com

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