During our family retreat from June 21 to June 25, I was encouraged to take an opportunity to work through ART (Accelerated Resolution Therapy) to assist with my long-strained issue with fireworks which stems from my sole deployment to TQ, Iraq. I had previously attempted to attend only one firework show on Del Mar Beach on Camp Pendleton over the 4th of July in 2008. My wife and I were taking our one-month-old son to enjoy the fireworks for the first time since we’d been married. I don’t remember a whole lot of what happened, but according to my wife, at the first launch (not even explosion) I hit the deck and disappeared. She took nearly an hour to take our child and stroller off the beach and through the parking lot to find me hidden behind vehicles. Since then, I have spent the week of the 4th loaded on muscle relaxers and sleep aids, falling asleep well before nightfall and waking well after sunrise.
Obviously, there are rare occasions where explosions and fireworks cannot be avoided, and I’ve spent 10 years working through different therapies and medications to cope with the anxieties and physical reactions with nearly no success outside of complete avoidance. This being my 3rd and final LSF retreat, and having had both others at the Crystal Beach location, I was fully aware and mentally prepared for the possibility of beach fireworks. Saturday night when I had just laid down to sleep, three simultaneous explosions set off a violent sub-conscience reaction that lasted a few hours into the night and I required a heavy dose of medication to relieve the stress.
Sunday morning, as is usual following such a night, came early and the day was set to be stressful and exhausting. During a quick conversation with Denise and Pat (the LSF chefs), they asked me to try ART with Paula (the LSF Team Lead) for night terrors as my wife was worried. I can’t say with any conviction that I was in any physical manner to be able to put 100% into the therapy, but I was willing to try anything to help my wife’s concerns.
Following the first session of ART, Paula quickly directed me into another session for fireworks. The previous night and the first session had completely exhausted all my physical energy, but knowing I was a Marine and would push on to find results, we pressed through another 45-minute session attempting to conquer this trouble.
I was less than confident in the results of the session and perhaps just hoping I would get some minimal effect, but just as our Team Lead jumped into the second session, she jumped into a suggestion of testing the results of our ART. She almost immediately asked if I would go to the beach that night (our last night) and set off fireworks with the entire group as a part of a closing ceremony. Unsure of myself, the therapy results and the potential outcomes, I told her to hold off and allow me to discuss the idea with my wife. I did so, and she circled back with Paula expressing our concerns. We decided that just myself, Paula and my wife would set off only a couple of smaller fireworks. Anxiety coupled with exhaustion led us to the beach and what followed was a full body of emotion, unexpected emotion; no fear, no animosity – just deep appreciation, joy and truth that I’d overcome a decade of avoidance and fear or reaction through one 45-minute session of ART.
After the second firework went off without a hitch, I looked at my wife and Paula and said, “go get the boys.” We set off four more and pure joy (resetting as I write this) filled my entire family, and Prairie (one of our equine therapists) ran down to the beach to experience that raw emotion. She shared with me her own personal fight against fireworks with her own veteran and said simply she wished he’d had the option of ART because the length and stress of dealing with this issue at this time of year is only one addition of unnecessary stress among the veteran community.
We deal with many issues and have enough difficulty trying to fit in with society. If you as a veteran, spouse, child or family member of a veteran can remove just one emotion, one stress, one unseen injury using ART, take the jump. It’s worth the chance and the relief that can come reaches deep. To Marcus Luttrell, Paula, Denise, Pat, Prairie and the rest of the LSF therapists and board members and to my family for having the courage to come forward to seek help on my behalf, thank you from the bottom of my heart.
To learn more about Lone Survivor Foundation retreats, please visit https://lonesurvivorfoundation.org/service-members/