Dr. Metzner's excellent article on PTSD in the military and the dramatic possibilities of healing via psychedelic psychotherapy.
Baffling Rise in Suicides Plagues the U.S. Military
Of the crises facing American troops today, suicide ranks among the most emotionally wrenching — and baffling. Over the course of nearly 12 years and two wars, suicide among active-duty troops has risen steadily, hitting a record of 350 in 2012. That total was twice as many as a decade before and surpassed not only the number of American troops killed in Afghanistan but also the number who died in transportation accidents last year.
Even with the withdrawal from Iraq and the pullback in Afghanistan, the rate of suicide within the military has continued to rise significantly faster than within the general population, where it is also rising. In 2002, the military’s suicide rate was 10.3 per 100,000 troops, well below the comparable civilian rate. But today the rates are nearly the same, above 18 per 100,000 people.
And according to some experts, the military may be undercounting the problem because of the way it calculates its suicide rate.
Yet though the Pentagon has commissioned numerous reports and invested tens of millions of dollars in research and prevention programs, experts concede they are little closer to understanding the root causes of why military suicide is rising so fast.
Yarindin: Healing the Warriors Richard Grossman
In many of the Native American healing ceremonies, a prayer is said at the beginning that includes a line that deeply moved me when I first heard it: "We do this not only for ourselves, but for all the children." When one person heals an issue as deep as war, rape, or abuse, a way, a camino, is opened for others to heal the same wound. This is the subject of the upcoming documentary film, Yarindin, in which a band of warriors journey deep into the jungle to heal their souls with indigenous plant medicine. To heal war.
There are many different ideas about the purpose and use of Ayahuasca. Some see it as a religion, some as a way to receive powerful visions, some as a way to divine who is sleeping with your spouse or who stole your property, some as a way to find out who caused a disease via a curse and then to throw that curse back onto the sender, some as a connection to Divinity, some as the work of the devil. In much of the upper Amazon, and in the more than 25 years I have been working with her, she is, above all things, a doctor, a healer, and a teacher.
As curanderas (healers), the plants used in Ayahuasca combined with the heart of the healer have an agenda -- to heal the human species on all levels: body, mind, soul, and spirit. The question that arises, that must arise is then, how does this happen? What is the real purpose of this work, and most importantly, how does it integrate into our current culture in a way that will benefit not only those who come from the psychedelic community -- many of whom seem to see Ayahuasca as just a stronger way to trip -- but also those for whom the need for healing is intense beyond most people's ability to comprehend.
I first met Steve at a healing circle near where I live. He is a survivor of Operation Desert Storm, the first Iraq war. To say he was a haunted soul would be understatement. Tortured by memories of doing things, being forced to do things that no human should ever have to do to another human being, he carried with him all of the symptoms of the complex condition referred to as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
PTSD occurs after life events overwhelm the nervous system. Surviving a natural disaster, being a victim of assault or domestic violence, incarceration, and witnessing disasters are all potential triggers. And war. Of course, war.
The way the symptoms of PTSD manifest are well known. The vet who takes a dive for cover after hearing a car backfire or a helicopter pass overhead is nearly cliché, yet the effects can be far more insidious. The National Institute of Health lists the following major categories:
Reliving the event disturbing day-to-day activities -- flashbacks, repeated and uncontrollable memories of the events, nightmares, strong reactions in situations that remind you of the event.
Avoidance -- emotional numbing, feeling detached, loss of important memories around the event, loss of interest in normal activities, avoiding people and places that might remind you of the event, loss of hope for the future.
Arousal -- difficulty concentrating, startling easily with exaggerated responses to those events, hypervigilance, irritable and/or outbursts of anger, trouble with sleep.
Survivors Guilt -- Why did it not happen to me?
Various symptoms of anxiety, stress, and tension.
Exactly how PTSD is caused and how it ravages a person are unknown. What is known is that there are changes in brain chemistry and neurological changes, especially in the amygdala, which is part of the limbic system and deals, in part, with aggression and depression. The amydgala is strongly affected and changed in response to the neurotransmitters formed in response to acute stress, dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine -- exactly those chemicals that would exist in great quantities in combat situations.
There is a shift in perspective about treating PTSD with psychedelics. We see it in the groundbreaking studies and advocacy work MAPS is doing with MDMA. Ayahuasca has some added benefits. When used in a sacred manner and in a ceremonial context this ancient plant medicine invokes something mysterious and indefinable. There is a consciousness, a teacher that invokes a soul-healing inner journey, which cannot be reproduced in any other setting.
When Steve returned from Iraq, he was not properly debriefed. Debriefing -- talking it out -- is considered an important part of preventing the lasting effects of PTSD, and to be effective (and it is not always effective) it needs to be done shortly after the triggering events. Like many returning vets who try to get care for their symptoms, Steve was given the usual barrage of psychiatric drugs, group sessions, support groups, etc. When those failed, he self-medicated with drugs and alcohol. All to no avail. The healing group where I met Steve offered him deep acceptance and love, and most importantly, many deeply caring hearts to hear and share his story and his pain. Yet even that was not enough.
One night Steve had a dream. In his dream, the person who founded the healing circle, an elder in the community, told Steve that I would take his demons away. At that time, Steve knew nothing about my work in Peru with Ayahuasca. Given the situation, I could only invite him into a situation where he could experience the healing of La Madre.
There was some risk in this. With PTSD as severe as Steve's, you never know when a flashback might occur. I had to weigh the remote possibility of someone much stronger than I am, and trained in hand-to-hand combat against the message of the dream. I chose to trust the dream and the medicine. This turned out to be a wonderful choice.
It is difficult for a civilian to understand and empathize with the trauma that soldiers go through. Currently more returned vets are committing suicide than have died in the wars -- a statistic that is not talked about much. In the media, the public is shown a highly sanitized version of what the soldiers go through. Gone are the real battlefields reporters, having been replaced with carefully screened and controlled embedded reporters. We do not and cannot know what is really going on there. Add to this the sexual violence against women in the military. These vets are coming home wounded in body, mind, and spirit.
Many are homeless. Many are abusing drugs and alcohol. Many are perpetrators or affected by domestic violence. Holding down a job or participating in the normal activities of society is often impossible.
Though Steve was never homeless, he was plagued by many of the above symptoms. In his first ceremonies, he went through reliving many of his Iraq war experiences, often dramatically purging them out. In many ways, this was a process for him of letting go of his past, coming into the present, and of deep self-forgiveness. It was not until his sixth ceremony that we reached the first deep root level of his PTSD.
Midway through the ceremony, he called me over and pointed to his belly, and said that it was all there. I asked him if it would be OK if I helped him release it, and he agreed to go through the procedure, even though it would be painful.
Neurologists are now recognizing what several indigenous cultures have known for a very long time. We have three centers of consciousness. One in the head -- very familiar to the Euro-centric cultures, one in the heart, and one in the belly. They roughly correspond to the chakra system, with the belly brain being the instinctual center of consciousness concerned with survival. In addition, I believe, it is a place in the body where traumas are somatically locked up as a method that the body's wisdom utilizes to try to protect the conscious mind. However, it is nearly inevitable that they affect everything in a person's life.
I reached into his belly and found the very tender spot he was pointing to, deeply massaged it, and then released it from his body. The next morning, Steve was laughing, joking around with people, and amazingly, hugging many of the people who were with him the night before.
However, it was the next ceremony that a real miracle happened.
He spent much of the first night in a bowed down position -- facing the east. In the morning circle, he shared that he was doing that to try to understand the souls of the people he had killed. In the next ceremony, with the magical synchronicity that so often occurs, a Palestinian man was in the room. At the point of the strongest effect of the medicine, I asked the Palestinian to sing the call to prayer to Steve. Shortly into that beautiful prayer, Steve was weeping. A few minutes later nearly everyone joined him. Magic happened.
In our council the next day, when Steve was sharing the power of his experience, I heard that Still Small Voice within whisper: "Do this for the vets. Show their lives as they are. Tell their stories. Let others see their challenges, their pain, and their healing. Show their transformations. Make it available for other vets to experience it so that they too may find the beauty of healing."
You have healed my soul and my body,
I am your child and I deserve pardon.
I give you gratitude Queen Mother
For giving me a new birth,
And for returning me to joy.
I invite you to join us in supporting this journey. Please visit the Indiegogo page Yarindin at www.indiegogo.com/p/111875. And please share with others.
Image by Richard Grossman.
The recent British film In Our Name is a returning-soldier dramafeaturing a married woman, Suzy, who leaves her husband and little girl to fight in Iraq. Because she’s involved in the killing of a little girl during her tour—this part is based on a true story, but it happened to a man—she returns home only to steadily fall apart under the stress of soul-destroying anxieties.
VA spent $717 million on a drug deemed as effective as a placebo
By Bob Brewin 08/22/2011
This is the thirteenth story in an ongoing series.
Over the past decade, the Veterans Affairs Department spent $717 million for an anti-psychotic drug to treat post-traumatic stress disorder that a recent study shows is no more effective than a placebo.
Data provided by the department in response to a Nextgov query showed that VA doctors wrote more than 5 million prescriptions for risperidone from October 2000, the beginning of fiscal 2001, through June 2010. Risperidone is the generic name for Risperdal, a second-generation anti-psychotic drug originally developed by the Janssen Pharmaceuticals division of Johnson & Johnson to treat severe mental conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
But a paper by VA researchers published Aug. 2 in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded, "treatment with risperidone compared with placebo did not reduce PTSD symptoms."
After much work, Yarindin.com has become public. A tremendous amount of work went into what you have seen so far, yet we're just at the beginning stage. In Andean philosophy, there exists the idea of the Pakarina. The Pakarina is that place, that moment, when water first comes out of a mountain spring. It's the inception of an idea, that moment when an "ah ha" happens. While small, tiny even, it heralds the possibility and the formation of a great river. Even the mighty Amazon starts as a pakarina. This is where the Yarindin project is today.
Tomorrow we will be a creek, then a stream, then a river.
Many people have been asking how they can help make this dream, this pakarina, into a reality. Certainly, we wish to be inclusive for all who wish to help. I envision screenings in theaters and homes throughout the world. I envision groups gathering together for support and for growth who will discuss the important issues that face our world today; especially how we can, as a species, as a tribe, heal from the thousands of years of PTSD we have all lived with. I envision groups of traumatized vets gathering together to help each other heal. I envision healing centers throughout the world where this can happen, aided by the wisdom and beauty of our indigenous brothers and sisters.
But first, we need to make this movie, and to do so we need funding. Our initial need is for $600,000 USD. That will cover all of the production and travel costs. This is where you can help now. More opportunities will be available in the near future.
Results of an important study on treating veterans with PTSD with antipsychotic medicines shows, simply, that they don't work.
Patients with military-related, chronic posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and symptoms that were not improved with use of an antidepressant medication did not experience a reduction in PTSD symptoms with use of the antipsychotic medication risperidone, according to a study in the August 3 issue of JAMA, a theme issue on violence and human rights.
Posttraumatic stress disorder is among the most common and disabling psychiatric disorders among military personnel serving in combat. Antidepressants are the predominant pharmacotherapy for PTSD, and within the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), 89 percent of veterans diagnosed with PTSD and treated with pharmacotherapy are prescribed serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs), according to background information in the article. "However, SRIs appear to be less effective in men than in women and less effective in chronic PTSD than in acute PTSD. Thus, it may not be surprising that an SRI study in veterans produced negative results. Second-generation antipsychotics (SGAs) are commonly used medications for SRI-resistant PTSD symptoms, despite limited evidence supporting this practice," the authors write.