Traumatic Stress: Resiliency & Healing with Yoga
- Are you or someone you know living with PTSD?
- Do you work or want to work with this population?
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August 5th, 2018
Today marks the 10 year anniversary of the Iron 44 Incident, August 5th, 2008. Heralded as the worst aviation incident in Wildland Firefighting history, 9 men lost their lives that day in a horrible way. (Looking back, I had no idea I would be Living with PTSD for the next 10 years…)
as told by SYF Founder Marc Titus
I was on the phone that day, nearing the end of shift… 100+ Helibase personnel gathered outside for the debriefing in a few minutes. Nothing was amiss, all of my aircraft safely on the ground, I was looking forward to my end of shift responsibilities so I could grab a bite and get some rest. The Type 1 team I was assigned to, and subsequently would become a member of, was timed out, and transitioning, as I recall… they were leaving the next day or two. I was just completing my final training assignment to be a fully qualified Type 1 Helibase Manager during the California Firestorms of 2008. That was a bad season, the two previous days 2 fatalities on 2 other fires… All was well, under my watch, though I remember thinking… that was my job.
I was speaking to a New Zealander, over as part of the assistance that comes when wildfire season is epic, he, too winding down the shift… there was a crew shuttle happening… last mission of the day on the Iron Complex, the Incident to the north of mine, we discussing our overlapping areas of responsibility for next shift… I remember commenting on the crew shuttle… “cutting close to pumpkin time, or something to that effect.”
“Fuck…” came from the earpiece of the old fashioned phone receiver.
“What,” I asked.
“AFF went black…” referring to the Automated Flight Following GPS system we used to track aircraft.
The system, back then, still glitchy… this not necessarily a cause for concern, as it had happened many times before and all was good, I asked our ABRO, Air Base Radio Operator, to zoom our screen out and take a look…
No more than 15 seconds passed.
“Helicopter down…. We have an aircraft down.” The New Zealander on the other end of that old school phone receiver breathed.
Even, today… recalling this experience for you now, I am transported back… and am reliving it in all its technicolor glory… however, today… there is NO Emotional CHARGE, well, it still saddens me, but ultimately I am now at peace with it…. That has been transmogrified, perhaps still a #transmogrificationinprogress,, but nevertheless, today is different…
Than the last 10 years…
My mind raced… as he told me what little he knew and over the next 10 minutes (or less) I was on the phone with him AND my supervisors…. This was a horrible time for this to happen, my mind raced, it would be dark soon, pumpkin time being my original concern regarding the mission they were completing… shit… incoming or outbound, my mind screamed…
“Outbound… Full Load.” He said, as if hearing my silent cries for some form of help, but from where…, this was on me!
My heart sank…. There could have been as many as 15 Souls on Board, as pilots often would report on takeoff…
In that 10 minutes… 15 max, as I listened to the phone in one hand, repeating relevant information to my supervisors on the phone in the other… I finally realized the entire helibase was still gathered outside for debriefing. UNAWARE of what was going down. What had gone down… with as many as 15 souls on board…
I got off the phones… told the ABRO, aircraft base radio operator to continue to monitor the situation… Fought back the tears… gritted my teeth… stood in front of the door…
It opened, and one of the Local Volunteer Fire Department Personnel whom over the past 14 days I had become good friends with, peered in. His gaze met mine… and he knew. He stepped in and whisper… “I’ve tried to keep it quiet,” he said, “but, don’t know how much longer I can… Is it true?”, he asked, showing me his pager. “Dispatch is calling for a multi-jurisdictional response, mass-casualty incident, helicopter crash.”
“Yes… I will be right out.” He closed the door and I steeled myself…. my mind raced… what was I gonna do… how was I gonna be… how were we going to get through this… how could I help… what was I going to say to those men and woman outside…
I took deep breath… opened the door…. Calmly walked out,
By now, ALL the local pagers were going off… ALL OF THEM… people were starting to look confused, concerned, helpless…
I heard… “mass casualty” come from one pager…. “All available resources respond…” from another….
I looked out at these men and woman… whose job it was to protect, my duty… and I spoke.
“Roughly 15 minutes ago, during a crew shuttle November 612 Alpha Zulu crashed outbound at helispot 44 on the Iron Complex,” (the Complex burning immediately to the north of our incident.) “I don’t know anymore than that… Please let’s take a moment to pray for those on board.”
Pagers were going off still, although that was dying down…. As something else picked up. A Local Volunteer FireFighter had handed me a local radio… as I turned the volume up… we could now, hear the local radio traffic…
MASS CASUALTY INCIDENT, IRON COMPLEX… HELICOPTER CRASH… MULTI-JURISDICTIONAL RESPONSE…
Another Agency firefighter, who had the Iron Complex Air Frequencies programmed into a radio handed me his radio it was filled with traffic… Dead Silence… but for the radio traffic, I turned the volume up to hear a familiar voice… a pilot, from Carson Helicopters I had managed many times as a Helicopter Manager…
AIRCRAFT IS ON ITS SIDE… BURNING… ATTEMPTING BUCKETS… WE NEED HELP UP HERE… SEND HELP.
We were already in a rough circle for the briefing… I stepped to the center and set the two radios down… volume up…. Lit a cigarette…
And thus, my whole life changed… indelibly, I was marked.
For the next 2 hours… we listened as the reality unfolded…
For the next 7 days… I managed the aftermath…
For the rest of the season… I did my job and was promoted… I kicked ass. and took names. saved lives… ALL went home on my watch. EVERYONE.
For the next 4 years, I rolled with that team and peaked in my career.
Until one day, I began to falter…
Today, after 10 years… I finally feel whole again. I have struggled with PTSD, come to find out since that season… it finally taking me out completely some 6 years later… I have learned a lot… and oh, boy have I suffered.
But, this experience I recount… and more, well… they’ve been transmogrified. (you’ll learn more about this if you want, too! keep reading…) I am now at peace, and come to see how these experiences have allowed me to become who I am today… they have become my guide and I have become grateful for them.
Why, you might ask…?
Well, I am ready to share… and it begins with this.
9 things I have learned Living with PTSD
1. Educate yourself.
I had no actual clue what was going on; those around me thought I had turned into a complete jerk (actually way worse… and not funny), my relationships at this point suffering to the point of breaking and many did. Looking back, now, I realize my departure from the Incident Management Teams was a result of the slow, but sure degradation of the abilities that once had allowed me to excel in this world of bringing order to chaos. I faltered, amidst my brothers and sisters; yet none of us knew what was happening to me, on the inside. Least of all me.
The life you save, it could be your own; it could be your brother or sister in service. Get educated. Admittedly, the resources have improved and the awareness has increased, yet we still have a long ways to go in removing the stigma attached to mental health in the world today. Living with PTSD is a very real problem. More and more research is coming out these days alerting us to a huge crisis of Spirit looming on the horizon.
Living with PTSD will become absolutely unbearable and people are killing themselves everyday because of this affliction; the numbers don’t lie. It is a problem. I am part of the solution. And you are, too.
2. Speaking of the above; elephant in the room. It’s real.
I know that feeling; that deep, intrinsic, inescapable sense of dread; dis-ease. 24-7 non-stop. I don’t care who you are… how strong you think you are; this shit is different. It haunts from the inside in insidious, dark and demented ways. It erodes the faith you once had in yourself… Living with PTSD goes beyond the regular dialogue of self- doubt and deprecation.
Eventually, it becomes completely unbearable and we will often do anything to get relief. At first, relief will come in more work, exercise, eating, drinking, sexing, drugging, you name it, there are innumerable unhealthy ways for us to try to fix this problem we are unaware of.(See #1) Ultimately all we are doing is masking and making matters worse. After months or years of this unconscious behavior aimed at easing our internal suffering, only one destination awaits; misery, a complete and utter miserable shitshow for you and those whose lives you touch. And trust me, up to this point has been miserable, you just didn’t know it, cuz of all the self- medicating.
Look, a person doesn’t just wake up one day and say, “ya know… <thinking face>, I think the best thing for me to do today, is jump off a cliff. Yah, that doesn’t happen; it’s not normal. So, if that’s you… right now. ***stop everything and call someone right now, get help. Worst case scenario 911***.
Yes, this is what happened to me. I was still un #1ed, so I still had no clue I was living with PTSD, neither did my wife… I was scared. I got help.
3. Life is Worth Living, I am worthy of Life.
I spent 40 days in a mental hospital. Guess what? No-one has ever said to me, “hey that sounds like fun!” And while it likely saved my life, it was far from fun. I was ready to stop suffering, tho and for a few weeks, I did. During that stay, I made peace with the voices of #2… and met others like me who had the same insidious inspirations inside their wounded minds. You mean… I wasn’t alone…! nice. Well, not, as that meant others were suffering, too. But, yes, nice; you are not alone, either.
So, what did I learn from my stay? Life is worth Living; I am worthy of Life.
I was clearly able to see and establish that those voices, intending my demise, were NOT real and as such, I made a deep commitment that if they ever came back, I would be much better equipped to manage them. And I am. Let me clarify, they are not real, but they do exist. And they seem to be rooted in something much deeper, to a place that I was unaware of; an inner landscape devoid of Self-Love and Self-Worth.
It turns out there’s this thing called the sub-conscious and we all have it. (Remember #1) It is filled with all kinds of stuff that form the basis of who we are, how we perceive the world and stuff. Much of what is in the sub-conscious is helpful in the sense that we don’t have to think about it… driving is a good example. We learned to do it and now for most of us ( I’ve been driving for 30+ years) we don’t even remember the actions of driving; they are completely second nature. Ok.
Other stuff gets in there, too… Belief systems get tucked away down there, outta sight, outta awareness. Habit. Samskaras. Patterns. Behaviors. Fears, insecurities, and something called self-worth. Well, guess what, after long bouts of PTSD, anxiety and depression one’s self-worth can hit an all-time low and if it get’s reinforced, like by me bemoaning my very existence, well then it gets sent straight to the sub-conscious after awhile as a belief. Whether we realize it or not, this belief now begins to influence all of everything in our lives. And I mean everything.
So, we need to not only be aware of this and how it works, but actually take steps to remedy this as quickly as possible. This is where affirmations and mantra come in; repetition being the key, we want to start reclaiming our self-worth and courage from our sub-conscious beliefs. We start small and build, as gain momentum. I suggest starting with I am Worthy and Courageous. Or… I meet life with Calm, Clarity and Conviction. (if your feeling really good, string them together!) There is a whole science to this and one can get quite sophisticated with it from many different perspectives, but for now… start small. I am worthy of life… and so are you! (Remember #1? Go ask the Oracle (Google) about Mantra or Japa, or affirmations. And roll with your findings. Spoiler alert… #5)
5. You need to Heal!
What you are gonna find out if you continue on this path of recovery, is that PTSD is a nervous system injury and as such, you are gonna need to heal. Trust me, this is part of the stigma attached to mental illness. Sometimes, I thought, even said to those around me, ‘it would be easier if it was a broken bone or something; something others could see.” Ha… Bullshit, more victim language, so be on the lookout for this. People who do #4 don’t talk like this. They take responsibility, and as such will focus on their healing.
Make healing your #1 priority.
When I finally made healing my priority, things began to move in a positive direction. I began to gain traction and eventually momentum. It still wasn’t easy, there were setbacks and breakdowns, but all were now framed within the context of healing my nervous system; reclaiming my life, and life force. Finally, and just recently, making healing my #1 priority I have been able to consistently create positive experiences in my life, amidst the inevitable chaos! Now, we’re talking! Booyah! Living with PTSD is no joke… take care of yourself!
Guess what… and you may not like it, because it is likely to go against everything you have ever been taught in this life! But, get ready… sit down. Take a deep breath. Relax…
that’s right, RELAX…
Remember #5? Well, your nervous system is made up of the sympathetic (fight/flight/freeze) and parasympathetic (#1). We’ve been stuck in the sympathetic side and that is NOT a good thing! The sympathetic is for outrunning tonights dinner so you may eat or outrunning the saber-toothed tiger so you may eat breakfast tomorrow. It’s for heroics and life saving deeds, quick thinking, even quicker reactions and actions; put bluntly it is there to keep us alive in the world we live in.
It is designed to come online without thought or consideration to insure our very survival, then go offline after the threat has passed. <Face Palm.> They told me when I was admitted to hospital that I was in what’s called “always on” and likely had been there most of my adult life.
Let’s look at this another way for some perspective. Orgasms are nice and they play a large role in our human experience; for the reason of procreation, for one. Biologically without orgasm, likely human beings wouldn’t have come this far. But, could you imagine orgasming 24/7 for decades… <thinking face>… yeah, me neither.
What’s the antidote?
that’s right, RELAX…
The parasympathetic nervous system is also known as rest and digest, or feed and breed, being associated with things like digestion, defecation, urination, tears, salivation and sexual arousal. It is the compliment to fight/flight, returning the organism (not orgasm) to a state of balance, homeostasis. It is imperative for our health, vitality, wellness and Spirit to live in balance. PTSD is an affliction that takes the body out of balance and the way back is…
that’s right, RELAX…
(#1 some Yoga Nidra, and give this slam-dunk healing tool a try! It was a key to my healing.)
7. Be Grateful.
While you are getting your groove on, ya know, so relaxing, let’s implement a key learning that, for me, was actually quite difficult. It’s called Gratitude. Yup, giving thanks! For some reason, my ability to do that had come to a complete halt. Can you imagine? lol… Maybe you don’t have to, maybe you are in the thick of it now. Either way… Do, do this… (he said doodoo…)
Start a gratitude journal…
Gratitude is a muscle, that if not flexed withers away to almost nothing. (A lot like #3) Trust me, I know as this was, and sometimes still is very difficult for me. But I DO IT, NOW!!! why, because it has helped. And continues to help. I have been doing it consistently and momentum is building. The muscle needs exercise.
There is something about FEELING grateful, deeply grateful that makes a difference, deep inside. Remember do do ( :-0 )your #1 and find out why.
8. Bad Days.
Im gonna be honest with you, as you know it has sucked and/or witnessed the suckage in a friend, spouse, family member, community member, etc.
Bad days come… and bad days go.
You’re gonna have bad days. That’s what happens when you are Living with PTSD. (but there’s hope!)
But, you are still here and are committed to still moving forward. (If not, see #2 and call for help!) May I remind you (reminding myself, too) you have come this far and those bad days are in the past. Gone! You can’t do anything about them, but you can do something about NOW (see #4). Do you work. (still #4) and the bad days of yore, will begin to diminish. The absolutely crushing despair I used to feel has been replaced with Hope, with Trust and Faith in something bigger than me; a higher power of the Source within me, within us all.
Where I was and where I am are light years apart; I can tell you I have my share of stories, nightmares more appropriately, but I AM STILL HERE. A bad day actually hasn’t existed for me in a while now. :-D. Tough moments, yes. Challenges, of course. Crushing/debilitating despair… yup! Those thoughts we don’t like to think about…. Hmhmmm. But, I haven’t had a bad day in quite awhile.
What used to crush me for days, weeks, even months, has subsided in intensity; the work, its been working. Now, I have moments as described above, moments, not lasting debilitation. I receive relief during the day, not a week later, because of all these things I have shared with you… and more. In short, living with PTSD has become easier…
9. Higher Power.
The best for last? Shoulder shrug… but it is important, very important it turns out. And I am not gonna belabor it, cuz its up to you to sort out, for yourself. Its personal; between you and the Creator. If you do your #1, you will find it is the ingredient necessary to facilitate massive transformation in your life. What is it? Belief in something greater than you… Bigger. I call it God… Source. Creator, the great mystery, Prana, Chi, Energy, Universal Energy, the Lord… did I say, God… Love, it has been monikered by all cultures throughout time, and pointed to by the masters and great traditions as the Source of All that Is. It has been called Love. And I have experienced its benevolence; its grace. In fact, it could be said… that is why I am here today.
By Grace… By God.
The same goes for you…
Well… that got a bit in-depth, I gotta say! It has been a wild ride home, but today, August 5th, 2018… as I write this, I can say I am free. I’m back, or perhaps better said… I’ve been reborn, forged from the fires of my own making I emerge in service and on purpose. No one ought suffer like I have… No one should have to endure that pain. But, we do… until it becomes unbearable… and then we find our road… HOME.
Drop me your email address below, and I will send you the entire article, 9 Insights from Living with PTSD… AND a Yoga Nidra Guided Meditation Recording. These two resources alone can help you! help yourself… or someone you know. Don’t make the same mistakes I did… Get on this list. You will also receive emails from me (and can unsubscribe anytime.) They will be inspiring and filled with real-life insights, in real-time. Stories from my career as a Wildland Firefighter, tools & practices, guided meditations, movement & exercise, spiritual & material practical solutions that worked for me ( and many, many others). It all begins today, with 9 INSIGHTS FROM LIVING WITH PTSD. I have been relatively vocal about these challenges, in the past… told my story each year, charting my progress, as the Host and Facilitator of the annual SYF Trauma Training, as I call it… but never have I really shared, deeply what has worked for me. And how it may work for you, or help someone you know. I will also keep ya posted on the 2018 SYF Yoga for PTSD Training, and perhaps some behind the scenes look into the world of the Sedona Yoga Festival. I do still have some pull… *wink*
It’s time… I am ready and blessed to share what I have received.
Living with PTSD
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