PTSD, an Army Veteran and Accelerated Resolution Therapy

Alex Cook did tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

By Alex Cook

Accelerated Resolution Therapy: it involves moving your eyes back and forth (which stimulates both sides of your brain) while envisioning a traumatic memory, and resolving that memory so that it no longer bothers you.

I was pretty nervous about the idea of a psychiatrist tinkering around with my memories; even the ones that trouble me make who I am, and I wasn’t going to give any of them up.  I also worried that I wouldn’t be a good candidate for the study: I imagined it would work best on someone who is troubled by a specific instant that they can’t get over, and I worried that my wartime experiences wouldn’t make the grade.

I still called, though, and was given an appointment the following Monday.

They had to find out if I was right for the study by asking me questions about my experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I expressed my concern that I don’t have flashbacks to a specific moment where I feared for my life.

I was just a camera guy, a broadcaster in an infantry brigade’s public affairs office, who rarely saw combat.  I saw plenty of what comes after, though.  The camera guy went to every memorial ceremony every time someone died, which was often.

Alex Cook in Afghanistan.

I’d fly or convoy out to the small chapels or hangars or gravel pits where the men who fought alongside the dead gathered to mourn their fallen brothers.  I listened to officers’ speeches about heroism, and the guys who’d just seen their buddy die in horrific circumstances struggle to honor their memory through uncontrollable sobs.  I rarely had time to edit a ceremony and burn copies for the unit and the dead soldiers’ family before I was called to another one.

I guess I did about 70 between my two deployments.  Sometimes they’d honor two or three guys that died in the same incident.  It was a mundane part of my life for a year, then another year.  I have lots of feelings about it.

They said I was a good candidate for the ART study.  I filled out a packet, assigning number scores to my emotions and describing some of my difficulties.  They gave me $50 for it and scheduled my first session a few days later.

The first thing you do in ART therapy is assess what is physically going on with your body and try to relax it while following the therapist’s hand back and forth with your eyes.  You do it as much as you need to, willing yourself to stop sweating, loosen your jaw, unclench your fists, or whatever your physical response to your memories might be.

I described a specific memorial ceremony, which I wrote about for this blog last year, and found it extremely difficult to relax my throat and jaw. I realized that they are perpetually clenched.  I have lots of feelings about the dead soldiers, but the strongest was apparently anger.  This surprised me a little bit.

I envisioned the memory several times, willing my body to get over it in between reliving it in my head.  The therapist sent me back in several times, with instructions to change things to make myself feel better.  I imagined the dead soldier as he was when I met him, catching me when my knees buckled the moment I realized that I was at his memorial ceremony.  I imagined him telling me that it was OK, that he’d died for what he believed in, even if it wasn’t what I believed.

It wasn’t my job to decide if his death had meaning.  I imagined him telling me that the last thing he would have wanted his death to cause was more pain in the life of one of his fellow soldiers.  I tried not to cry in front of the therapist, and I loosened my jaw.

I still remember what happened, but I’ve changed how I feel about it.

I picture this soldier, once a symbol of a good man suffering a meaningless death, as sort of a kindly big brother figure.  I smile sadly when I think about him, instead of grinding my teeth at the injustice.  Since the ART session, I’ve been able to talk to people more openly about how my experiences make me feel, instead of just bottling them up.  I’ll never forget what happened, but now I can live with it.

Which is what ART is all about.  I recommend trying it. Information is available HERE or by calling (813) 974-9310

Check it out.  Call them.  Give it a shot.

E-mail me if you want to.

6 Responses

  1. Hey Alex! It’s Laura’s mother in law again. I love what you expressed about how emotions manifest themselves physically. I think it is a beautiful breakthrough for you to realize what you unconciously do with your physical body, while experiencing something with your emotional body. I am fascinated with your blog. Keep writing honey, wow what a lovely person you are to everyone around you!!!

  2. Thank you kindly for your inspiration, Alex. I am not military ptsd, but I still have childhood trauma issues at my age 63. I’m a Mother & GMa. I heard about ART, looked for a definition and your article appeared, like some kind of miracle. I read your point of view, and now Im going to my first session next Monday.
    Peace to you, brother.

  3. […] last I wrote for Off the Base, I described a PTSD treatment study that I took part in. I wrote my entries from my little brother’s old room in my parent’s house.  I was […]

  4. Alex: Thank you for sharing! I hope that you’ll continue to be work on letting go of what could be holding you back. Thank you for your service. You’re very bold in sharing your experience. I know it will help a lot of people.

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