My brother at arms called me the other day to shoot the breeze. After a few minutes he says to me:
"So King, tell me more about this breathing stuff."
"Of course, what's up?"
" I don't know man, couple of weeks ago I started having these dreams, crazy ass dreams and I'm getting nervous about falling asleep." ( He is 4 months back from tour in Afghanistan, his second tour. His first was with me in Iraq)
One of my favorite things about this particular battle buddy of mine is that he is hands down one of the coolest dudes I know. I love this guy like family so when he asked me about mindfulness I knew he was dealing with something new and menacing.
To hear him describe the dreams he was having you would think he was simply talking about the weather.
But after I heard what he had to say I knew his dreams had taken him over the edge.
The three images below are the best way to understand what it means to fall off the edge.
Picture one represents the first problem: getting sucked in.
In the beginning, there is a sense that you are losing control. For me, it started with a feeling that something was off. The best way to describe it was a sense of foreboding.
Picture two represents already falling in and there is nothing you can do about it. The last time this happened to me my mind went nuts and started perceiving a situation vastly different than the way it was. My wife can tell you all about it.
Picture three is where you end up. Everything is FUBAR.
Imagine a dream only a demon would love, imagine a mindset full of confusion, doubt and anger.....imagine madness, and you will get an idea of what certain spans of time are like for guys and gals transitioning from traumatic experiences.
Now understand this because this is a very important point--this type of experience, at first, is not constant. It happens here and there.
I think this reality is part of the reason I waited so long to address the problem. What's one meltdown or one bad dream a month?
The reason you wanna deal with issues like this sooner rather than later is because these experiences can create dread, fear and anxiety.
I dreaded going to bed because I was afraid that I wouldn't fall asleep. At times this got really bad, which contributed to the frequency of these maddening episodes.
Mindfulness helped me fill some of the time between these experiences with more peaceful states. This helped me break up the fear, dread and anxiety cycle.
To create these peaceful states, I practiced bringing my mind back to my breath a little every day.
As I practiced bringing my mind back from distractions, I began to have a relationship with my mind.
Somedays I could really influence my mind and stay focused; other days, not so much.
I learned that staying one way or the other was not the point. The point was the process of working with my mind in the first place.
Combat troopers have dealt with and seen some hairy shit. Our training is designed to help us ignore what we see and Charlie Mike (Continue Mission).
The main problem is that after the mission is over our minds begin to pull this stuff out to try to deal with them.
What I told my buddy was that he should use mindful breathing techniques to begin working with his mind in a safe environment.
I emailed him one of the breathing exercises they gave me at the DC VA and told him to practice for 5 minutes a day.
The last point I want to make is very, very important. I told my buddy this before we got off the phone: there is nothing wrong with you.
If you are having dreams like my buddy, or meltdowns like me, understand that you are experiencing a natural reaction to combat. There is absolutely nothing wrong with you. That said, you do need to address the issue.
Think of it like PMCS'ing your mind.
We weren't trained to monitor the functionality of our gear daily for nothing, Hooah!
This post was guided by the 30th stanza of the Art of Peace, a book written by Morihei Ueshiba , the founder and creator of the Martial Art, Aikido.