I first heard of Post Traumatic Growth through researching issues for people in the Returning Veterans Project, where I am a volunteer massage therapy provider for vets and their families. At first, I thought, “Is this just another excuse to deny the trauma of PTSD?” No it isn’t. It is more than surviving trauma and making the best of a bad situation. It is using the trauma to grow, to master the ups and downs of life, to find a perspective that strengthens you, often with faith-based or religious or spiritual ties.
The Army started identifying characteristics of people who can go through war and attain PTG, rather than acquire PTSD. They found people with purpose and drive that allowed them to use their pain to overcome obstacles and suffering, sometimes awakening to profound personal experiences. The army wanted to train people in resiliency in preparation to face trauma. They call it the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program.
PTG is more common than you might think. And not for just vets:
- It shows up in single moms who lose everything in a fire;
- Stacey Kramer on the TED show spoke how her brain cancer brought her family together and strengthened her faith;
- In hurricane, tornado and flood victims who recognize with gratitude what they have left;
- The sacrifices people in Japan made to help each other. Among them, the immensely courageous people who volunteered to work in the downed nuclear plant after the tsunami.
Is PTG hard? Does it take training?
How does this relate to the rest of my massage clients? All of us have had trauma of one kind or another, whether as children or as adults. Comparison of trauma doesn’t help. Suffering is suffering. But there is a way out. In the Buddhist approach, “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” Our reaction to events determines whether we suffer or not.
We can cultivate mindfulness, practice internal forgiveness, embrace what is. Perhaps some of us can develop more resiliency and strength to turn our suffering into service to others, a bright light that shines on our path and is shared with others, rather than a darkness that haunts us.
How can I help Vets?
I invite any massage therapist who is able, to offer your services to the veterans of the recent wars and their families. Many vets have PTSD and have not found their way out of the darkness yet. Please consider being a light and support to them as they climb up and reintegrate into civilian society. If you are in Oregon or Southwest Washington, I encourage you to sign up at Returning Veterans Project. Those vets could use more compassionate, hands-on volunteer providers.