Friday, 4 March 2016

Writings From Wartime Help Healing

War veterans are the modern knights in shining armour that do things for the country that no one else would. In fact, occasions like Veterans Day are dedicated to honouring the actions and sacrifice made by these brave individuals. But what truly goes on in the mind of a war-ravaged veteran, and is recognition alone enough to help one cope with the psychological effects of war? For those who have served their country, have done so with utmost pride, but a large proportion of them are unable to emotionally deal with the consequences of their actions. Sadly, the numbers of military men and women who undergo these agonies are huge; a quick look at important stats of number of military bases and per base population at is enough to realize that.

Thankfully, a highly-effective method is being developed to help these war-stricken veterans heal the wounds that war has left them- it’s as simple as penning war time experiences and sharing their stories with their near and dear ones.

How Does War Impact a Soldier?

In order to understand how writing from wartime helps heal battle-scarred veterans, it is important to understand what war does to a person’s psyche. War trauma is said to produce an intensification of senses that gradually peak and then shut them out in order to protect the mind’s fragile state. And though this is the body’s natural reaction to help preserve peace of mind in the short run, it has a number of mind-numbing long term consequences. This series of “frozen” memories remain etched in the mind of the affected, leading to numerous flash-back moments that can damage the veteran’s sense of being. Narrating their experiences to others gives them a way to defuse such uncomfortable memories.

It Isn’t Good To Keep Secrets

There have been numerous studies and experiments involving veterans who were prompted to write about their experiences, and many of them have ended up sharing stories that they have never even told their families. The fact is that most war veterans find it difficult to come to terms with the things that war has exposed them to. Sitting through an emotional conversation with such veterans makes it difficult to understand their situation, or the immense emotional baggage that they carry with them. For most of them, living with the pain of the past has become a part of their daily life. The ancient story of the Trojan horse is the perfect example of the destructive power of secrets. And just like the subconscious guilt faced by soldiers after a conflict, these things recur with increased intensity.

The premise of war can be quite devastating to a person who tries returning to civilian life after the end of their tour. The most psychologically impactful problem that most soldiers have with war is related to the act of killing. The problem stems from the moral issue of killing someone, which somehow seems to be justified when it comes to war. Some veterans live the remainder of their lives bearing the burden of their actions, without sharing their experiences with anyone.

How Does War Affect Veterans?

The transition from disciplined military life to regular civilian life can be a daunting experience, especially after extended tours of active duty. Veterans can experience some truly dark periods as they struggle to cope with problems of cognitive impairment and mind-numbing migraines, apart from any sort of physical injuries that they might have sustained. The negative symptoms of veterans affected by war are classic, and includes aimlessness, alienation, and alcohol & drug abuse. A large number of veterans even experience suicidal tendencies. Another interesting fact, albeit not too surprising, is that most war veterans don’t watch war movies or read war-based books, for the fear of have flashbacks of all the atrocities from their first-hand experiences. Another reason veterans avoid such topics is because the media portrays them as weak-willed individuals that cannot take the pressure of war.

How Does Writing Help?

Anyone who was stressed out about an issue and felt relieved after sharing it with someone else will understand how writing can help make things better. It is human nature to heal after telling a bad story because it releases all the pent up energy created by the experience. But the process of healing through writing is as much physiological as it is psychological; by allowing others to feel empathy towards a personal situation, humans move out of their sense of isolation, and into one of community and belonging, a vital prerequisite to healing.

Wartime Writing Has The Power To Heal – Says Research

There has been extensive research in to the practice of healing through writing over the past 20 years, and even medical practitioners have begun to realize the importance of what is now being called as "narrative medicine". A number of medical schools, including the University of Columbia have launched their own Narrative Medicine programs. These programs focus of fortifying clinical practice by using a veteran’s narrative competence to identify, assimilate, analyze, interpret and change their perspective.

This is Just the Beginning

The realization of the immense healing power of writing & storytelling to heal war-damaged veterans is quite obvious, with dozens of army and civilian sponsored writing workshops that aim to help them overcome their psychological issues and realign themselves with civilian life.

One of the most unique programs among these is the Telling Project, an initiative that works with veterans in numerous fields and communities to come together and create innovative performances. The program interviews, trains and rehearses the veterans in a manner that allows them to share their experiences on a stage, in front of a live audience. Writing the script themselves is a large part of the story telling process as it enables veterans to create a sense of order amidst the chaos of the memories of war .

It is nearly impossible to sit down with a war veteran and not feel the deepest level of empathy for the problems they face after giving their lives to the service of the nation. And like so many of the brave souls that have seen the worst of humanity and never spoken about it to anyone, penning down their chronicles and sharing them with others can lead to the possibility of a full recovery from war trauma.

A men to that !