Friday, August 22, 2014

Transform Your Health: Write to Heal

Do you know that writing can help you to heal?

Research tells us that expressive writing has the power to help us transform our physical, mental, and spiritual health. In fact expressive writing has been shown to:

  • Decrease the heart rate
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Enhance breathing
  • Strengthen the immune system so that it can better fight off infection
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Help manage stress

Writing can help us face our most difficult challenges with past or present experiences and even future challenges.  Put another way, when we write we can gain perspective on our circumstances, we provide provident information to our body, and we engage our internal healing resources.

"I was finally able to get the thoughts out of my head and put them down on paper instead of fighting with the difficult thoughts that kept recurring."

"This has been one of my highlights at Duke Integrative Medicine."

"(The workshop) gave voice to something I always knew was important, but didn't know how to approach."

"My experience was excellent, empowering, and fun."

"I'm still benefiting months later."

"I believe I sleep better, and I certainly feel much less stress about this issue that I have been dealing with for a very long time."

Sources:  Duke Integrative Medicine, John Evans, MAT, MA, EdD writing workshops, and Pennebaker, J.W. & Chung, C.K. (in press). Expressive writing and its links to mental and physical health. In H.S. Friedman (Ed.), Oxford handbook of health psychology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Owning your story: How writing helps veterans heal - Article in SOLDIERS

The Veterans Writing Project (VWP), a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, has several goals in mind – primarily, to help people involved with the military tell their stories by providing tools and advice to build a foundation for good writing.

A Soldier for 25 years, Ron Capps completed two tours in Afghanistan, and was later sent to Iraq as a Foreign Service officer (he has also served in Rwanda, Darfur and Kosovo). He was traumatized by the violence he encountered.
“(I) came very close to committing suicide – I was actually interrupted. I survived, obviously, and now I’m here. Writing helped me get control of my mind.”
Capps is a regular Time Magazine contributor, and has been a featured speaker on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” In 2008, he left government service and attended the graduate fiction and nonfiction writing programs at Johns Hopkins University, where he got the idea to start the project. More here and here.

WLA: War, Literature, and the Arts - A Journal

"From time immemorial, war and art have reflected one another, and it is this intersection of war and art that WLA seeks to illuminate. If it seems to fall to the historian to make distinctions among wars, each war’s larger means and ends, the trajectory for the artist, regardless of culture or time, seems to fall towards an individual’s disillusionment, the means and ends of war played out in the personal. For the individual soldier, the sweeping facts of history are accurately written not in the omniscient, third-person plural, but in the singular first. We live in a culture that values the individual. Our works of art about war mirror this welcome bias." More here.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

How to Heal a Moral Injury

Sometimes, the warrior whose finger pulls the trigger is wounded.  They don’t bleed. But they do hurt.

The concept is called “Moral Injury.” Thirty-nine-year-old Mark Jarrett lives it daily.

“I was well-trained, well prepared, to go and fight my nation’s battles. I did my job professionally," said Jarrett. "What I was not prepared to do, is what I did. Which is kill little children.  I did it for my country.  And absolutely I feel like I murdered people. That’s moral injury.”

Jarrett is one of more than a hundred who gathered at the Loudermilk Center in downtown Atlanta Friday for a one day conference called “The Warrior’s Journey: Exploring Ethics, Morality, and Healing in Military Service and War.”Center for Ethics and Corporate Responsibility at Georgia State and Veterans Heart Georgia put on Friday’s symposium.    More on the symposium here.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Field Guide to Veteran Writers

Say Homer, Hemingway, Whitman, and Bierce, and you've only begun to scratch the surface of great writing by veterans. A Field Guide to Veteran Writers is a blog dedicated to those known and less known, and names you might not have thought of as veterans--some gone from us and some just now on the rise. More here.

What is Catharsis?

Catharsis (Pronounce it  -  from the Greek κάθαρσις katharsis meaning "purification" or "cleansing") is the purification and purgation of emotions—especially pity and fear—through art or any extreme change in emotion that results in renewal and restoration. (Wiki)

Calvet's catharsis: 
how painting saved this colourful artist's life
"Having lived an eventful life as a bent cop, underworld bodyguard, criminal fugitive, nightclub impresario and out-of-control drug addict, Calvet eventually hit rock bottom. He holed up alone for three months in his Nicaraguan villa with nothing but drugs (heroine, crack, alcohol, you name it) and paranoid delusions for company. But just when death was on the doorstep, a remarkable thing happened: Calvet discovered painting. Literally discovered it – in the form of some paint cans under the stairs, which he began cathartically flinging at the walls. 'All my hate came out,' he says. 'It was like I was vomiting non-stop … I saw what was disturbing me inside. In fact, no. I saw what was killing me.'" More here.

As a Literary Term

Catharsis is a metaphor originally used by Aristotle in the Poetics to describe the effects of tragedy on the spectator. 
“Tragedy is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; . . . through pity [eleos] and fear [phobos] effecting the proper purgation [catharsis] of these emotions” (c. 350 BCE, Book 6.2).

The Psychoanalytic Use of Catharsis

A catharsis is an emotional release. According to psychoanalytic theory, this emotional release is linked to a need to release unconscious conflicts. For example, experiencing stress over a work-related situation may cause feelings of frustration and tension. Rather than vent these feelings inappropriately, the individual may instead release these feelings in another way, such as through physical activity or another stress relieving activity.


The act of writing is a kind of catharsis, a liberation, but I never really concerned myself with that. I write because it interests me. ~Nathalie Sarraute

I thought music could take you to a place where you didn't even feel ownership of it, you just felt lucky you were there. It's like church without God, or something. It's about feeling, hope and catharsis and things that are nurturing.  ~Wesley Schultz

My view of actors is that basically they're all harmless lunatics who'd be on the psychiatrist's couch, except that we get this sort of catharsis every six months or so, and we go and be absolutely someone else.
   ~Michael Caine

National Initiative for Arts & Health in the Military

The National Initiative for Arts & Health in the Military was launched in January, 2012, following the success of the first National Summit: Arts in Healing for Warriors at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) and the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) in October, 2011.

Hosted by Rear Admiral Alton L. Stocks, in partnership with a national planning group of military, government, and nonprofit leaders, the Summit marked the first time various branches of the military collaborated with civilian agencies on a national scale to discuss how engaging with the arts provide opportunities to meet the key health issues our military faces—from pre-deployment to deployment to homecoming. More here.

Military Experience & the Arts

Military Experience & the Arts
MEA is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, volunteer-run organization whose primary mission is to work with veterans and their families to publish creative prose, poetry, and artwork.
Our volunteers are based all over, including college professors, professional authors, veterans’ advocates, and clinicians. As such, most of our services are provided through email and in online writing workshops.
All editing, consultations, and workshops are free of charge to those accepted for publication. Veterans and their families pay nothing for our services, and they never will. More here.
Steve Beales / Hope & Fear / The Journal of Military Experience, Vol. 2

Making Your Own ‘Combat Paper’: A Step-by-Step Tutorial

More here and here.

Veterans art show in West Haven promotes healing from war, trauma

Veteran Artist Program - National

Here is a Veterans Artist Program on the national scale. 

VAP, a 501c3 nonprofit, takes artists who are also veterans, and propels their works and careers into the mainstream creative arts community through networking, mentorships, collaborations with professional artists, and original productions. We are based in New York City but are currently creating programming across the country to expand the network and visibility of veteran artists.

Just behind the pain

Where Connecticut Avenue and 18th Street converge in Washington, DC, there sits a statue of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow decked in his collegiate robe and duly contemplating. I came across him as I hunted for a place to take a lunch break from a conference on what the Humanities have to say on trauma. It amazed me how many experts in fields such as medicine, mental health, and the military had crowded the halls that morning, seeking out sessions on narrative, film, and ancient classical drama. Why then were these highly skilled, obviously well-off specialists flocking in to learn about the Humanities? What could it possibly have to offer a victim of violence, a person ravaged by illness, or a suicidal veteran?

I sat down under Henry, munched on a spinach empanada, and mulled over a quote of his I had often thought of in my own efforts to come to terms with and write about the experience of trauma, particularly that caused by violence:
If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.
Pragmatically-speaking, and by all outward appearances, an eye for an eye makes perfect sense. But just beneath the surface, where compassion resides, such “justice” can be seen for what it is—simply a perpetuation of forces that create suffering in the first place, and so it loses all its sense.

I don’t know of any way to arrive at this conclusion other than in the Humanities, which tends to illogically turn rules in on themselves.

As I was walking the two blocks back to the hotel, I came across another writer, this time leaning against the
hotel wall and smoking a cigarette. It was Tim O’Brien. I asked him, was it healing to write all that he had written on the Vietnam War? Tim said he does not know what healing is. But writing was a chance to dive into the wreck and salvage something.

Then I heard him talk. In his speech, he managed to show the insanity in our sanity and the sanity in our insanity, and therein lies much of the grace in the Humanities. It is Lear’s fool. Through its weird wit it gives us unpalatable truths and calls us to be better than we are. “This is you,” it says, “and you can only have seeing eyes by every now and then walking the walk of another.” Sometimes rather than urging us to pick up more knowledge, it begs us to lay down what we know and walk through experience naked of insight. Doing so allows for the field to lie fallow so that eventually a richer understanding can rise inside us. But that takes time and bafflement and a sort of yielding that makes us squirm.

If we are living at all, we live in paradox. We are all victims and perpetrators of contradiction to a greater or lesser degree. Cognitive dissonance is that uncomfortable feeling of holding two contradicting ideas simultaneously. The discomfort comes in the form of surprise, dread, guilt, anger, or embarrassment. To reduce it we choose one of two actions:  we change or we lie.

Successful art catalyzes that process, and you can feel the shift in an auditorium just after a play or an earth-shaking speech like Tim O’Brien’s. Often the directions are mixed. Some are profoundly moved, some frame the experience within a construct they have not escaped and so fall into justifying, blaming, denying, or happily tucking away the cell phone they reprogrammed throughout the event. You cannot make people take what you want them to out of a work of art. Art is and always will be only an invitation. Keats’ famous maxim “Beauty is truth, truth beauty” suggests that to allow, even invite cognitive dissonance and purposefully experience surprise, dread, guilt, anger, and/or embarrassment in search of truth can lead one to gain a larger, deeper perspective, where the angels of the human psyche—compassion, empathy, connection, dignity, and integrity—reside just behind the pain.

Writing Can Help

Writing Can Help is a new group led by a 30-year veteran for those who have experienced trauma. Its purpose is to encourage release, hope, help and healing through writing.

When an injury in Iraq concluded thirty years of military service for Jerry Bradley, he turned to writing as a cathartic outlet. Since then, he has been actively involved in Fayetteville’s writing community, serving as
“Remember, disabled does not mean unable.” 
President of the Writer’s Ink Guild and helping to launch Methodist University’s Veterans Writing Collective. Knowing how much writing has helped him, Bradley wants to bring those same benefits to people with a similar background: military men and women, retirees, veterans, government civilians, battlefield contractors, first responders and their family members who have experienced or who are experiencing events resulting in mental (such as PTSD and TBI) or physical trauma and disabilities. “This will be,” says Bradley, “an environment in which members feel comfortable and free to express themselves while developing and learning the benefits associated with writing in a positive and productive manner.”

There will be workshops, discussion groups, critique groups, special projects, and guest speakers.

When: Saturdays, twice monthly at 10:30 AM
Meeting Location: Room 202 of the General Classroom building (All American Veteran Center/Book Store Bldg.) on the Fayetteville Technical Community College (FTCC) Campus.

Visit us online or call/email the facilitator, Jerry Bradley.
Phone: (910) 574-5019

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The library so far

It's a start, humble but earnest.

War and the Humanities--a vital connection?

You might think there is no connection whatsoever, let alone a vital one, but I think there is.

Cognitive dissonance gets alchemized through art into paradox. 

And when you're talking about war, that's huge, because experiences in war have a way of creating deep cognitive dissonance--
the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values. 
Jonathan Shay posits that cognitive dissonance is a major contributing factor in the complex we call PTSD. We all hate cognitive dissonance. It creates riots, arguments, depression, anxiety, even substance abuse. It makes for a lot of unresolved tension.

Now let's look at a golden word used by those in the Humanities: paradox--
a statement that apparently contradicts itself and yet might be true.
Through paradox, contradictory elements are reconciled. Tension moving toward resolution, however uneasy, makes art come alive. Art allows the insufferable experience that can plague and alienate to become, as Ed Tick points out, not only processed but communalized. Many of the greatest works of art and literature stem from experiences in war--because they were the necessary footwork to do in order to recover from war.

When I put these two together--cognitive dissonance and paradox--I wanted to shout this connection from the tallest mountain, because you see, I truly do believe that this is how story heals...or at least makes life easier to live.

Welcome! I'm glad you're stopping by.