A Key Notion in Both PTSD Recovery and Citizen Activism
You know you should be asleep. The more you stress over it, the more difficult it becomes to go to sleep. All the proper sleep hygiene techniques have been applied. The windows are totally blacked out and the gentle hum of a fan is all that can be heard. The bed is clean and comfortable and positioned for your comfort in the room. You didn’t oversleep the previous morning and got some exercise during the day. You didn’t eat anything that would upset your digestive process and the house is secure with alarms double-checked. You’ve been through multiple diaphragmatic breathing exercises, some meditation, and used your Chinese stress balls. You even got up when you knew you shouldn’t lie in bed awake more than 15 to 30 minutes. You’ve emptied your bladder and even tried a sleep med. Still, you are staring at the back of your eyelids and not able to drift away from the world. Another trip out of bed to try to bore yourself to sleep is only going to piss you off enough to make you go another grueling full day of trying to be sharp when you need to be, all through a fog of insomnia-induced despondence. Maybe you think about incorporating another coping mechanism to comfort yourself to sleep. Comfort food, sex/masturbation, favorite movie, or hobby. No matter the scheme, you know this is just one of those nights when you aren’t going to cooperate with yourself.
Frustration can certainly curb someone’s enthusiasm for the introspective approach, but learning to listen to what one may have previously not been aware of is a great way to learn. What works for me may not work for you and vice versa, but I’ve found the proactive approach of a strong, individual sense of self-identity to be key. Learning to become my own best friend has been so positive in my life as to effect my well-being on many levels. Being assertive about what you sincerely believe is best for yourself is essential when you have a bunch of ‘professionals’ giving you various contradictory ‘professional’ opinions about your health, recovery, and well-being. Ultimately, the burden of responsibility for what causes one’s issues is probably not as important moving forward as the fact that the individual is the only one who can take responsibility for one’s own recovery. Nobody else can recover from PTSD for you. It is an individual’s journey. Others may join you for legs of it, advise you along the way, and maybe even surprise you in ways you never dreamed. It doesn’t change the fact that you have no hope of getting better unless you decide you want to. It may very well be that only when you learn to listen to your own needs and be your own caretaker that you can finally start to experience that which will help you break free to recovery.
You’ve done your research. You’ve read the headlines in the leading papers, grabbed the best magazines from the rack, stocked your shelves with the books you think matter, and spent an embarrassing amount of time online. You’ve been to the meet-ups, the town halls, the council and committee meetings, etc. You’ve talked about the issues with your friends and family, voted for another slick stuffed shirt, and even felt proud to exercise your freedom of speech at demonstrations. You’ve done interviews and written extensively about your views on the issues to rally others to your righteous cause. Still, you may feel as though you haven’t made a dent in the daunting political problems of the day. Maybe you consider donating to the next cause or lobby you think is productive, or phone bank and door knock for another politician who makes glorious promises. Maybe not. All in all, you know you’re just never going to get everything you want out of the political process.
It’s easy to be disillusioned when it seems like it’s you against a well-funded political machine operating on multi-trillion dollar budgets and a slew of entrenched bureaucrats. With the constant onslaught of corporate media, distracting conspiracy theories, irrelevant topics, disinformation, and just the enormity of the amount of information available in the internet age, it can seem quite impossible to ever find out both what matters and the truth of a matter. So many voices vying for one’s attention might make it a real task of knowing to which to listen. In all the confusion, it might be easy to forget to listen to yourself. The marketplace of ideas has no shortage of loud and overbearing advertising to drown out the critical thinking in which a truly concerned individual might engage. Yet, this is exactly what needs to happen if people are to regain control in their own lives. We can probably just about all identify areas in which the voting sheep are easily corralled into supporting idiotic and wasteful activities of government, but it can also sometimes only take the first person stepping out of the fold to change the direction of a bad situation. It first takes a maverick to sometimes unplug from the collective narrative and boldly speak truth to power. That lone dissenter who rocks boats and slaughters sacred cows is almost assuredly always someone who learned to not always defer to the group, but to listen to their own conscience or rational understanding first. Leaders don’t always have or need followers, but are many times discernible as leaders for the simple reason that he/she learns to listen to that internal voice of discernment. Learning to be free in your own mind certainly seems to me to be more likely than that freedom will ever be granted by some silver-tongued office-holder.
Recovering from a health problem and engaging in citizen activism have much in common. Both can be gravely serious. Both may involve extensive research and action. Both tend to come with a lot of other people telling you what you should think, how you should act, and on what you should focus. Learning to actively listen and hear others is an invaluable trait to develop, but learning to listen to yourself can be extremely empowering both on the road to recovery and in citizen activism. If you take charge of self-government, the rest becomes clearer. Both in the shell-shocked mind and the halls of government, peace is only possible if we still believe we can choose it. While it may be good advice that we sometimes just lighten up and get over ourselves, let me also encourage that you listen to yourself and be free.
While Americans busy themselves with spending money they don’t have on shit they don’t need for people they don’t like, there’s still a real war going on in our name in Afghanistan. Part of the fallout of what I can only describe as the longest and most muddled war in American history, is the ever-growing number of returning veterans with disabilities, including serious psychiatric issues such as PTSD. Recent figures released by the U.S. government and other sources indicate that the American military in Afghanistan is effectively committing suicide faster than they are being killed by an outside enemy. Veteran depressive episodes, rate of divorce, substance abuse, and other health and welfare indicators continue to be alarming. As a veteran recovering from PTSD, I’ve found a great deal of inspiration from Ayn Rand’s admonition to have a healthy sense of self.
As a young evangelical Christian, my fundamentalist upbringing had basically taught me to detest myself as my flesh, and its desires were the hell-bound enemy of God. Rand’s very bold presentation of selfishness as a virtue sent red flags, horns, whistles, flashing lights, and apocalyptic trumpets going off in my head the first time I heard it. It wasn’t until I began to understand how some of the problems I had with the way the church bullies the culture with anti-freedom ideas such as legislating Christian morality, that I made the connection to why I always believed it was my conscience above all else that led me away from religion. As it turns out, churches and religions can be just as oppressive as any corrupt government. Both are institutions of control which are almost inherently collectivist, or at least easily susceptible to the cons of collectivism.
Ayn Rand’s assertion of moral egoism (not to be confused with egotism) was not just a refutation of the role of the church in making public policy, but an advocation of what she perceived to be a superior morality to the religious tendencies of self-sacrifice, self-denial, and self-loathing. The superstition of the church has gotten away with breaking people’s legs to sell them a crutch for centuries, and Rand had the gumption to call them to the carpet for it. In the age of reason, it would seem to me now to be obvious that an individual’s instinct of self-preservation would logically extend to self-ownership, and therefore everyone has the right, much as the Constitution lays out, to be secure in his/her own person and papers and use of his/her own property and labor. The critical idea here has everything to do with good stewardship and personal responsibility, but is the opposite of what makes Catholic saints, Islamic martyrs, or spiritualistic gurus—the idea that you are an individual who is responsible for your own life and what you do with it, that you must ultimately live with the consequences of your actions regardless of others, and that you are neither anyone else’s master or slave. The old libertarian mantra of “live and let live” is a plea to let freedom and peace prevail in the face of blood-thirsty, warmongering, religious neo-conservatives, fundamentalist Islamic jihadists, and radical militant Marxists/socialists alike. Surely the amount of respect one may be expected to have who embraces the non-aggression principle could also be commonly associated with someone who has learned a healthy self-respect. A lot of this just goes back to the basic idea that embracing yourself is healthier for your well-being as an individual than if you reject yourself. Changing the world often means changing ourselves first. To do either, learn to listen to and love yourself.
About the Author: A.G. House is a veteran in recovery from PTSD and has been involved in various forms of citizen activism for many years. He has been a factory laborer, truck driver, Steelworker, salesman, U.S. soldier, libertarian activist, drummer, licensed minister, atheist, student, home-owner, tax-payer, pod-caster, blogger, entrepreneur, smoker, artist, (porn star in his own mind), metal-head, friend, father, and ass-hole. Picker, grinner, lover, sinner….. and just another human being like you.