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Recovery requires open doors, open ears 
By Air Force Master Sgt. Cheresa D. Theiral, High|Ground Editor 
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It’s a curse to be human. When we’re happy, we tend to forget most of life’s ugliness; but when we experience trauma, the emotional toll can be costly.

How do you measure the emotional cost of a traumatic event? How do you explain it to others who haven’t experienced it? And most important, how do you deal with it yourself?

From birth, our bodies and brains work in tandem to ensure our survival. Simple things, like breathing, are automatic. Similarly, the “fight or flight” response is our nervous systems’ automatic response to acute danger. Our brains release an inordinate shot of adrenaline to give us the necessary energy to either defend ourselves in an attack, or elude a threat altogether. It’s a natural, innate reaction – no thinking required!

The brain also has a function that enables us to repress traumatic or undesirable events. While there is much debate regarding the value this function, most professionals agree there are cases in which our brains may trigger our bodies to experience repressed trauma again and again. And these reactions may manifest in unexpected – and often frightening – ways.

For many who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, one of those unexpected reactions doesn’t come from within. It comes from the social stigma associated with its diagnosis, and according to some, can leave far deeper scars than the traumatic event itself.

Reaction to trauma of any kind is a natural process. It’s what human brains were designed to do in order to allow us to cope. But if reaction to trauma is a natural process, as most psychologists agree, why is it becoming such a “Scarlet Letter”?

Dictionary.com defines the word “disorder” as “a disturbance in physical or mental health or functions.” Merriam-Webster’s says it’s an “abnormal physical or mental condition.” And abnormal, after all, is simply a deviation from what we readily accept as average.

History is proof we’re survivors, and the brain is a wonderful tool that has helped us tremendously in coping with the inordinate stressors we’ve experienced, despite what may seem like illogical symptoms.

In this issue, High|Ground feature writer Staff Sgt. Aaron Rognstad takes you into the world of three Soldiers, each from different eras, who have experienced trauma in their lives and have subsequently been diagnosed with PTSD. You’ll read about their experiences, their grief, their decisions to recover – and what brought them to that decision point. You’ll also understand why at first they chose to suffer in silence.

We’re inherently social creatures – even the loners among us need to talk to someone every once in a while. But before many will open that first critical dialogue, we – their peers, leaders, subordinates, friends and families – must ensure a safe, supportive environment that strives not associate PTSD with self-worth.

It’s alright to talk about problems; we all have them, but some are worse than others. Talking – or writing, or gardening or any other ways you have of meditating – can help you overcome. But when that’s not enough, professional help is readily available.

Bottom line: The first step to gaining control is gaining ears.

3/31/2010