Friday, September 28, 2012

Wounded Warriors: From addiction to well-being

I missed being sent to Viet Nam during that “conflict” by a matter of weeks. Many of my friends were not that lucky and have stories to tell that don’t much focus on the glories and honor of having participated in a grand cause. Drug use and “self-medication,” as coping mechanisms for both stress and boredom were the norm.

A recent report by an Institute of Medicine panel has responded to statistics linking alcohol and drug abuse to record suicides plaguing the military today.  The report calls for better policing and treatment programs that have not essentially changed since the Viet Nam War era.

Prescription medications handed out by military caregivers has soared since the Afghanistan War began in 2001. Five million prescriptions for pain medication, tranquilizers, muscle relaxants, stimulants and barbiturates were provided to troops last year, up from less than a million in 2001, according to Pentagon data.
Much of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan has been borne by the Army where one in four soldiers admitted in 2008 to abusing prescription drugs during a one-year period. 63,000 GIs who served in those countries last year admitted they have a drinking problem. Military officials are evaluating the report and say they want to come up with new programs that work.

If there is a strong institutional intention to restore physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health for service men and women, so many of the new and even ancient proven methods and practices available could begin to find their way onto bases everywhere and into the Veteran’s Administration’s treatment programs. 

These non-drug alternatives have slowly made their way into modern medicine, from acupuncture to effective stress management and meditation techniques. Included in programs could be the new energy medicine along with the ancient tai chi chuan (a martial art), chi gong, yoga, and more. Doing so could save millions of our tax dollars while helping to bring about true well-being for so many. That’s not to say symptom relief through the measured use of prescriptions is not in order--it should become a part of the solution, not abused as a panacea.

I’ve received training in a technique known as Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT or “tapping”) that has already achieved amazing success in relieving post-traumatic stress for victims of war in other countries. And by now, certainly some military personnel have discovered it can help resolve many a physical and mental complaint.
As a matter of fact, my trainer has been working to demonstrate the  effectiveness of EFT with vets in order to receive acceptance into the VA system.

Perhaps an even deeper source of the problem of suicide and self-medication in the military lies in the fact that a man (or woman) in the role of warrior must be assisted in connecting to what is truly meaningful and satisfying for them about their work; what and who it ultimately contributes to on a daily basis.

If there is no connection with a felt sense of meaning and purpose, it leaves an empty hole in one’s heart and soul that can never be filled with a prescription. Without that there is no hope for a healthy warrior, one who is at the same time passionate about a mission of service and able to nurture and realize complete health and well-being with full institutional support. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Horseboy- Fatherhood, autism and shamanism

Long ago I had a five year old boy in my home. My partner, his mother, was a marvel of love and patience when it came to those "moments," and I learned a great deal from her.
Many a parent knows something about the sheer volcanic force of a temper tantrum wherein a young body can morph into a whirlwind of emotion and like a volcano spew forth words and sounds that can penetrate one's very soul and undermine even a saint's composure.

What if that were the primary experience of a child, hour by hour, day after day after day? What then?
It's not easy to comprehend the kind of volatility and unpredictability of behavior in some children with autism. And the incredible suffering of the child.

Recently viewing the 2009 movie, Horseboy, gave me an entirely different view of parenthood from the inside perspective of those who have been there and continue to be at the frontline of adversity in coping with this strange multi-spectrum condition in our culture we call autism.

Let's say you are not a parent of an autistic child or closely associated with one and you are cruising the aisles of a grocery store when it's difficult not to notice a child having a tantrum. What is your first response? I have to admit mine is "what kind of a parent would let their kid do this in public?" And that's not uncommon. On top of parents with autistic kids feeling terrible about their inadequate parenting already, they become immediate social pariahs just trying to do the everyday business of life.

Modern medicine is making greater strides in understanding and treating autism and it turns out that sex differences between boys and girls do matter in both diagnosis and treatment.

A striking finding of the recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, showing a 78% increase in cases over the past decade, is that the ratio of boys to girls in autism spectrum disorders, (ASD) is about 5-to-1. That is higher than what is usually reported in other studies, where a ratio of 2-, 3- or 4-to-1 is more common. Though the numbers are consistent the explanations are less conclusive with the ways we socialize boys and girls being among several factors. It is reported that boys with autism are more often bullied.

In Horseboy, the father Rupert Isaacson is on an amazing quest, not just to deal with his son's seemingly intractable condition, but to discover at root how we view autism from more than one cultural perspective. And how people at the other end of the earth might help relieve his son's suffering in ways modern medicine has yet to conceive let alone condone. With his doubting but willing wife, Rupert travels to Mongolia seeking shamanic healers on horseback and there begins one of the wildest rides I've ever viewed on film.

The more I watched, the more I appreciated both the limits and unlimited capacity we humans have for being with and for each other in some of the most challenging relationships. The love of this father for his son is truly as or more breathtaking than the scenery of the Mongolian steppes.

Watch a 3 minute trailer of the movie:
How girls and boys differ when it comes to autism: