Sunday, January 13, 2013

The gestalt of recovery from sexual assault

The VA Domiciliary at Temple, Texas, is the site of an intensive therapeutic program for sexual assault
- Third and last of a series -

Temple - Patient X is young for a Cold Warrior - less than 40 years of age.

He is one of America's veterans of what is often called America's forgotten war, the Korean War.

Its veterans hold that it was largely forgotten, even during its hottest periods, derisively called a “police action” by the United Nations, and then filed away in the annals of the affairs of state, its warriors ignored, their exploits and victories unheralded, their tragedies largely unmourned.

Freedom House at the Line of Demarcation on the DMZ
The Korean War experience spans generations of men, their thunder stolen by diplomatic euphemisms, political correctness, international expediency.

But the truth is, the Korean War is still very much an active war. There has never been anything like a declaration of conditions of surrender, only a cessation of hostilities maintained at an edgy place called the DMZ, a three-mile-wide swath of territory that straddles the Korean peninsula, and the Joint Security Area, or JSA, at the “village of peace,” Panmunjom.

Patient X served in this high tension hell hole as a military policeman. When intelligence analysts recruited him into a spy network, he played along the way any young man would. After all, in his youthful perception, nothing in the world had ever gone wrong. Chances would be, he predicted in his young man's way, nothing ever would. Let the good times roll.

And then came the fateful morning when he woke up in a ditch, wounded in the most personal of ways, his honor shattered, his perception of his manhood thrust into limbo.

He is desperately seeking recovery at a local VA hospital after a decade and a half of marginal employment, substance abuse, and aimless wanderings, sometimes with very abusive people who have no regard for his best interests. It's a self-destructive pattern from which he is looking to free himself.

Recently, while on break from a therapy session with female patients who have suffered the same thing – sexual assault - he watched a female VA police officer escort a convicted criminal into the Domiciliary, past the front reception desk, and into a more private area.

The man was shackled at wrists and ankles, a chain around his midriff connecting the two sets of cuffs, forced to waddle along at an uncomfortable pace set by the policewoman. The fact that a man in trouble with the law was checking into the treatment program is, in and of itself nothing unusual. Courts often divert veterans who are accused or convicted to the VA therapy programs.

Most patients arrive unshackled and unescorted by police. They enter treatment voluntarily, and though the rules are strict – no weapons, alcohol or drugs allowed, strict adherence to curfew, and no visitors in the living areas – they are free to come and go as they please.

But this was gratuitous, somehow startling, rather vicious and sick-making in its appearances, says Patient X.

“It was, like, hey, everybody, look at me. I'm a cop,” he recalled, with incredulity.

A familiar feeling of rage consumed him as he watched his fellow patients recoil in horror. He felt the burn of true empathy, shared their pain.

Why should these women, traumatized by their military experiences, suffer the same kind of unsightly, disturbing scenes at the time of their treatment for invisible wounds? The system both inside the military establishment and in the civilian world has too often and for too long blamed themselves for what a predatory actor backed by a rapacious system did to them.

He wound up in the office of the director of the program, buttonholed the chief of staff, talked it up with his fellow patients – and obtained a promise that, in the future, staff will take pains to make such dramatic entrances at a more private, rear entrance.

For one of the first times in his adult life, he didn't get drunk and stoned over something he can, in fact, change if he only acts with a positive and socially correct demeanor.

Patient X says it's all part of a total pattern – the gestalt – of a situation that is much more powerful than any of its individual components, an immersive bit of culture shock America's veterans and military community is experiencing in a new millennium in which sexual assault is no longer viewed as a sexual act, but one of power relations skewed and gone horribly wrong.

Therapists have tapped into the technique; they're using it to their advantage to break up patterns of thinking, just as other professionals throughout the culture are using the method to inculcate patterns of behavior through group thinking.

“They're trying to provoke some kind of reaction from us,” he mused.

It's something Patient X sees in his university classwork, on the job, where he brings bail bond absconders to the bar of justice, and in the brave new American world at war of the 21st century.

“It's like what happened in Germany in the twenties and thirties,” he explains, a time when group thinking, the building of consensus, began to dictate reality, rather than empirical observations elucidating a reality perceived from truthful answers to definable questions.

He says it scares him, this inexorable thrust to a world of more rigid control forced by some undefined yet constant emergency.

But let Patient X tell you his story - in his own way. It is the first time in his life that he has opened up to the people of the world and talked about his psychic wounds.

In this audio segment, Patient X compares and contrasts the world of the bounty hunter, or bail agent, with that of a trained intelligence operative working a war zone, a war zone that extends from border to border in the interior of the U.S., according to new laws such as the Patriot Act and the National Defense Authorization Act.

He says it's all about control, a control achieved through intimidation and fear, anger - and feelings of hate.

Privately, female soldiers and sailors, airmen and Marines say that they experienced the same group think when they were sexually assaulted by men suffering combat fatigue and the stress of war time conditions. Group think forced them to some hard changes, and they find themselves still traumatized, sometimes many years after the fact.

One may hear an audio interview with Patient X on the subject of how the trauma of sexual assault while on active duty has affected his posture toward work, family, his fellow man - and his nation. Click here:

The first two installments of this series may be read by clicking on the links below:

Soldier on soldier violence is the scourge of Ft. Hood

Our military is broken

1 comment:

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