Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can feel like a loosely defined group of symptoms similar to those of grief, fear, anxiety and insecurity — something that happens to someone else, or perhaps a title a professional has placed on typical reactions to traumatic situations. One of the more significant barriers to recognizing the need for help is lack of understanding about the nature and seriousness of PTSD. It is easier for the general public, as well as military personnel, to understand the need to treat a broken arm or open wound, in part because the damage to the body is external and easy to see.

Wounds to the nervous system due to exposure to trauma, while every bit as serious as external wounds, are far less conspicuous and more complex. Also, military personnel are trained to be physically and mentally tough in order to endure the rigors of combat and not dwell on negative emotional states. As a result, it is counterintuitive for Veterans to focus on the negative symptoms associated with PTSD, no less be willing to seek out treatment. Finally, the warrior culture of young men and women in the military stigmatizes the idea of seeking help for PTSD, trauma, depression or anxiety as a sign of weakness or failure.

So, the first and most important step to moving forward is recognizing and honoring the validity of PTSD, and work toward healing without judgment of yourself.

You are not alone, even it feels that way

The first thing people with PTSD should understand is that you are not alone. Cases of trauma-induced PTSD among soldiers have been depicted as far back as 2,500 years in Sophocles’ drama, Ajax. Over the last 100 years, PTSD has also been referred to as “battle fatigue” or “shell shock.” Although you may feel isolated and as if your symptoms are a sign of weakness or personal failure, for better or for worse, you have honorable company in this struggle and your physiological reaction to the trauma you’ve witnessed or experienced is not uncommon.

Fortunately, Veterans today can receive many types of effective treatment to address this condition. Although the personal struggles are different (although not always, there is a high comorbidity of addiction and PTSD), many addiction therapies have been found to help PTSD patients.

In addition to non 12-step recovery methods like cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapies, new approaches to PTSD treatment, like mindfulness, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, sensory experiencing and sensorimotor therapy show great promise.

For some, tenets of 12-step recovery programs like Alcoholics Anonymous can be helpful as a set of loose guidelines and philosophy toward better living, particularly the psychological reframing of the issue from a failure of self-imposed willpower to an acceptance of new tools and community support. If we think of PTSD as trauma to the nervous system that ruptures the individual’s ability to regulate or affect emotions, then the use of drugs or behaviors can be seen as misguided attempts to numb or otherwise discharge this negative emotional state.

The important takeaway, regardless of which form of treatment you choose, is to get the help and support to which you are entitled. Yes, you are strong, you are brave, you are proud, but this is not a “walk it off” or “brush some dirt on it” situation. True courage also lies in looking within, recognizing the need for help and finding the voice to ask for it.

Camaraderie through community

There is anecdotal evidence that suggests dually-diagnosed Veterans can enjoy better outcomes in treatment centers and recovery communities with significant Veteran populations. Veterans report there is a special bond formed among those who have endured combat. This connection also seems to increase levels of trust, understanding and safety for individuals needing to process traumatic events, and relieves you of the awkward limitations of trying to fully convey the gravity of your situation to a civilian who hasn’t shared the experience. Seek out organizations or meet-up groups that cater to Veterans, even if they aren’t therapy or support-oriented, and find your people.

Also, find a passion. Whether it’s fitness, the practice of mindfulness, volunteering, connecting with nature, reading, tinkering or art. Start building yourself up by investing time with people and projects that bring you happiness, or at least a distraction.

In terms of treatment, there is a growing awareness in and outside of the military that PTSD is a serious medical condition for which Veterans should receive treatment. VA has created the National Center of PTSD, specifically designed to provide Veterans with services to assess, diagnose and treat PTSD.

Accept and persevere

You wouldn’t think a diabetic was weak for taking insulin, right? The same is true with seeking help for PTSD — it’s a real diagnosis with symptoms that can be managed with treatment. Admit to yourself that you need help working through the symptoms of your trauma in order to live a more powerful life, recruit others who can either support you or understand your journey, show your bravery by living authentically and honor your past by easing the trauma to make room for growth.


Dr. George Cave is a psychotherapist that specializes in addiction treatment and the family dynamics involved in rehab. He works with patients at Malibu Hills Treatment Center and Prominence Treatment Center, two rehabilitation centers in California.

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Published on Feb. 28, 2017

Estimated reading time is 4.5 min.

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  1. Ruth Ruddock March 14, 2017 at 8:38 am

    As a veteran, I am interested in the many ways that PTSD is treated. Over the years a method known as EFT or Emotional Freedom Technique has been shown to help so many of the men and women with this condition. Study of this method with veterans by Gary Craig is available to see online but I am sorry I do not have a website for that. Just google Gary Craig and Veterans with PTSD. It is well worth the time to see it. Also, Dawson Church, another proponent of EFT for Veterans, has gone before a Senate committee promoting the use of this very effective treatment method.

  2. OLDMARINE March 13, 2017 at 3:02 pm

    Psychiatry in the Military: The Hidden Enemy—Full Documentary

  3. Adam H March 8, 2017 at 5:06 pm

    This makes a lot of sense. I attended rehab with several veterans with PTSD and saw how intimately related it was with addiction. I think a lot of the principles that underlie recovery apply to healing from PTSD and healing in general.

  4. Michael Buchanan March 6, 2017 at 8:30 pm

    I have severe traumatic brain injury, from volunteer firetruck wreck in May 2012 , seven weeks in a coma then a fluid problem they put a medical port in my head it’s been turn down twice. Trying to get my drivers license back, regular not the CDL class A I had but a regular operators license

  5. James Lee Moore March 4, 2017 at 3:37 pm

    Any way to obtain a Ipaf or Laptop PC. I am a 100 percent disabled and that would allow communiation, book listening and Number One gift Listeng and Sudying my Bible. Thanks SSG MOORE , VIET NAM VETERAN

  6. Paul March 3, 2017 at 7:56 pm

    Post-traumatic stress disorder sucks sometimes I wonder why I went in the Marines. Combat sucks I should I join the Coast Guard. I’m not the same person that I was before I went into the Marines. It’s all different now.

  7. Gillamd McGuire February 28, 2017 at 4:16 pm

    As a former case manager volunteer, for Homeless Veterans. Many cases need of attorneys , for wrongful evictions etc need of private attorneys directory.

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